Centuries-old beech trees and virgin forests have borne witness to Bulgarian history for the last 240 years. One of the most typical trees for Europe, which without human intervention would cover nearly 40 percent of the territory of the Old Continent, is the reason why a section of the Central Balkan National Park is part of the world natural heritage, and the centuries-old beech forests that grow there are under the protection of UNESCO. Bulgaria is a one of the 12 countries in Europe that have the honor of defending this natural heritage of the continent. Hundreds of tourists travel to Europe every year to walk under their cool shade, and to see for themselves the symbiotic relationships between the beech and local flora and fauna. It is no coincidence that this is one of the latest trends in European tourism – ecological tourism, running away from “civilization”, exploring wild and natural nooks and crannies.
The European beech spread after the end of the Ice Age, mainly due to the fact that it is extremely stoic, can survive almost any climate, and thrives even on infertile soils. Plants need the life-giving power of the sun, so under the beech’s dense foliage the herbs and shrubs on the ground can only grow during the spring or late autumn.
Adventure and hiking lovers are certainly already intrigued by the opportunity to walk through “virgin forests” and see dozens of plant species in their natural environment. The national park is suitable for individual visitors who can follow the marked trails, and for specialized groups who want to enjoy one of the green lungs of Europe. So don’t wait, grab your backpacks, and head out for your next wilderness adventure.
Beeches purify water, protect against floods, and stop erosion
The beech forests under the protection of UNESCO in Bulgaria have a total area of 11 thousand hectares and are located in nine reserves on the territory of the Central Balkan National Park – Boatin, Tsarichina, Kozya Stena, Steneto, Sokolna, Peeshti Skali, Stara Reka, Jendema and Severin Jendem. In the reserves they occupy over 55% of the territory, and the massifs in the entire park reach up to 15% of the area of the Central Balkan. Hiking fans can escape from civilization and walk through the forest massifs under the shade of hundred-year-old trees for days, while making sure to respect the treasure around them and follow all rules of protecting nature.
“Virgin” or primeval temperate forests are rare in Europe due to long, continuous human use and high human population densities. The Balkans are the “bank for beech forests”, since here the ancient tree spread and re-colonized Europe about 6,500 years ago, after small local beech populations survived the last ice age. This is why Bulgarian beech forests are so attractive for tourists – this is where their redistribution throughout Europe began.
With an average lifespan of 133 years, the beeches in the Central Balkans are the patriarchs of the forests. In fact, over three quarters of them are centenarians, and those over 150 years old occupy more than 14 thousand hectares. In some places, there are also forest massifs over 240 years of age. A large part of them are “virgin” – people have never interfered in or influenced in their development. Among the most famous beech trees in the park is the so-called Boatin Beech.
The beech forests reside in mid-mountain parts – between 800 and 1600 meters above sea level. They prefer a northern exposure, where the moisture is more abundant and the soil is deeper, but they also grow in drier places and shallower soil. In the Central Balkan, beech forests are spread out almost evenly on both sides of the mountain ridge.
Common beech most often coexists with the common hornbeam and the fir, but it can also “make friends” with the sycamore, the mountain ash, the maple, the rowan, the hemlock. Because of the dense shade under the beech trees, there is not a plethora of other plants, but the smelly yarrow, also known as lazarkinia, as well as the svelicica, successfully cope with the difficult life in the forest. In certain parts of the Central Balkan, yew vegetation as well as cranberries are also found in beech forests. The beech forest which coexists with the evergreen laurel – a tertiary relic, is one of the rarest and most specific types of beech forest in the National Park, and the largest and most compact deposit is located in the Trojan Balkan.
So if you are a fan of botany, just grab your backpack, do not forget your camera, and go ahead to discover rare and beautiful plants.
Beech trees are also very useful, as even after death they provide a natural living environment for hundreds of plants and animals, prevent erosion, form a favorable climate, and even protect against flooding by slowing down rainwater flows. In addition, beech forests have the property of purifying water, and if you have drunk water from a spring in the Balkan, you have tasted for yourself how fresh and pure it is. And if you have not – here is another reason to look for the remedies of the green beech forests. The nature park is also suitable for climate treatment and medical tourism, as the beech forests purify the air and saturate it with oxygen, thus healing its visitors. So, walks are not only pleasant for nature lovers, but also healthy and medicinal.
In addition to the beech forests in the Central Balkan National Park, UNESCO also emphasizes the importance of 4 unique natural attractions within the park, which you can visit if you are not afraid of hiking. In some cases, you will also need climbing skills. The Novoselski rocks are located on the territory of the Northern Jendem reserve and represent a rocky crown with a height of over 500 meters, which impresses with its extraordinary beauty, but also with its inaccessibility. Within the region one can find numerous rock walls, caves, and other geomorphological forms.
Another natural attraction are the singing rocks, which are located in the reserve of the same name. They also represent a rock crown formed on the ridge of Stara Planina, north of Mount Triglav. The Taja gorge is located in the Jendema reserve. The gorge includes interesting geomorphological forms – narrow and deep gorges, rock walls and towers, strange karst forms, and waterfalls. Near the Steneto reserve, you can see a rock bridge, also called the hole of Krali Marko. The park is also home to Bulgaria’s deepest abyssal cave. This is the Raichova dupka cave, which is 377 meters deep.
So, if you are a nature lover, there is certainly a lot of beauty to discover and enjoy in the park. However, we advise you to visit it with a well-trained mountain guide and seek more information about the area from the park management.