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Bulgaria in Summer

Tour Code: BGR04

An 8-day wildlife holiday to Bulgaria's Pirin Mountains National Park in search of the birds, butterflies and alpine flowers of this under-visited corner of Europe.

8 days from £1495(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1195 SRS: £195

The beautiful Pirin Mountains, in south-eastern Bulgaria, offer the naturalist an interesting variety of landscapes and scenery from alpine meadows dotted with glacial lakes, to conifer forests, dry Mediterranean habitats and rocky tree-lined river valleys. This 2-centre wildlife tour – based first in the town of Bansko and then the attractive village of Melnik – focuses on all aspects of the natural world including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and flowers. Wildlife walks in such areas as the Struma Valley, Kresna Gorge and Ruptie Hills may yield birds such as Rock Nuthatch, Isabelline Wheatear, Hoopoe and Bee-eater, plus butterflies including Little Tiger Blue, Violet Fritillary and many others. A visit to the beautiful Rila Monastery is yet another highlight of this popular tour.

  • Walks in the beautiful Pirin Mountains National Park
  • General wildlife tour focusing on birds, butterflies, dragonflies, plants & other wildlife
  • Levant Sparrowhawk, Pallid Swift & Syrian Woodpecker amongst avian highlights
  • Over 80 species of butterfly possible
  • Dragonflies such as White-tailed Skimmer & Scarlet Darter
  • Visit Melnik, one of Bulgaria’s most attractive villages
  • Explore the beautiful Rila Monastery
  • Expertly led by a British Naturetrek naturalist & local guides


All included in the price.


Simple but comfortable hotels with private facilities.



Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly Sofia and transfer to Melnik

Day 2/3 Pirin Mountains from Melnik

Day 4/7 Pirin Mountains National Park from Bansko

Day 8 Fly London

Bulgaria’s exceptional natural history is well known to those Naturetrek travellers who have previously joined our popular spring and autumn tours. This holiday now allows us to enjoy the highlights of the equally interesting summer season, concentrating on the birds, insects and alpine flowers to be found in the beautiful Pirin Mountains. This time we will stay in just two centres and visit a contrasting range of upland habitats as our explorations take us from the drier south-western slopes of this picturesque region to the high alpine meadows in the north-east of the Pirin range. With few long drives and most of each day spent on foot exploring the forests, meadows and rocky peaks, this is an ideal choice for those with a penchant for a general natural history tour amidst spectacular scenery.

The Pirin Mountains lie in the south-western corner of Bulgaria, close to the border with Greece. This is a landscape of exceptional natural beauty, boasting 100 high peaks over 2,000 metres, alpine meadows dotted with glacial lakes, forested hillsides, spectacular rocky gorges and precipitous cliff faces. After flying from London to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, we drive to the small town of Melnik where we will be based for the first three nights of the tour in the shadow of the mountains. Melnik is famous for its locally produced wines and over the years has witnessed the passage of the Thracians, Romans and Byzantines, each of which have left their mark on the town’s unique and attractive architecture.

The character and physical appearance of the mountains change significantly from the dry, Mediterranean habitats of the southwestern slopes to the wetter, pine-covered hills of the north-east. Melnik is situated in the former region and we begin our natural history walks in the Struma River Valley and Kresna Gorge, part of which is protected within the Tissata Reserve, a reserve recently classified as an ‘Important Bird Area’s by BirdLife International. The Mediterranean flora here is matched by a wonderful selection of butterflies and birds, including among the latter, both Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Roller, Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow and Black-eared Wheatear, together with such typically Balkan species as Sombre Tit and Barred Warbler.

Hot thermal springs are a feature of the volcanic Rupite Hills which occupy the third day of our tour. Once again the climate and flora are predominately Mediterranean in this dry, rocky terrain which is dominated by the huge crater of the inactive volcano Kujuh. Another interesting selection of birds is in prospect with such species as Egyptian Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk and Crested Lark to look for. The sunny conditions are also likely to encourage a variety of butterflies and dragonflies to take wing and add their colour to the displays of wild flowers. Great Banded Grayling, Swallowtail, Freyer’s Purple Emperor and Hungarian Glider are just a few of the butterflies recorded from here.

Insects, and in particular dragonflies, are also well represented at our next destination, a series of small freshwater lakes and ponds in the Struma Valley. Here the aquatic influence is reflected by birds such as White Stork and Great Reed Warbler, but the patchwork of woodlands and meadows bordering the ponds also provides habitat for a wider range of birds such as Olivaceous Warbler, Hoopoe, Cirl Bunting and Spanish Sparrow. The variety of butterflies is particularly diverse with Large Copper, Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Krueper’s Small White and Bulgarian Marsh Fritillary among the attractions.

After two full days in the south of the mountains we drive 120 kilometres to Bansko, a small town that nestles in a valley on the north-eastern slopes of the range. We will be based in Bansko for a further four nights and will follow a similar programme of day walks and excursions into the surrounding mountains in order to best appreciate the diversity of the various habitats. Bansko is the gateway to the huge Pirin Mountains National Park which straddles the highest peaks in the range, reaching a maximum elevation of over 2,900 metres. Here we find ourselves in a completely different landscape to the south as we walk amid lush pine forests and high alpine meadows, venturing into the subalpine zone, framed by a myriad of rugged peaks and ridges. The avifauna and flora is as exciting as the scenery and some of the birds we hope to see in this northern sector include Golden Eagle, Crag Martin, Alpine Accentor, Firecrest and Grey-headed Woodpecker. Butterflies also abound in these high altitude meadows with the striking Apollo one of the most impressive species.

All too soon it will be time to take our leave of the Pirin Mountains and return to Sofia for our flight to London, but like many before us we will doubtless have been captivated by the unspoilt beauty and abundant natural history of this wonderful region.

Brown Hairstreak (Kiff Hancock)Scarlet Darter (Kiff Hancock)Eros Blue (Kiff Hancock)Pirin National Park (Kiff Hancock)Scarce Swallowtail (Kiff Hancock)Queen of Spain Fritillary (Kiff Hancock)Purple Emperor (Kiff Hancock)Kotschy's Gecko (Kiff Hancock)Outskirts of Melnik (Kiff Hancock)Rila Monastery, Melnik (Kiff Hancock)Melnik (Kiff Hancock)Bird Watching (Kiff Hancock)Catocala sponsa  - Dark Crimson Underwing Moth (Alan Outen)Ciconia ciconia - White Stork family (Alan Outen)Cryptocheilus alternatus - a Pompilid wasp species (Alan Outen)Dactylorhiza cordigera  - Heart-flowered Marsh Orchid (Alan Outen)Decticus albifrons - a bush-cricket (Alan Outen)Epistrophe leiophthalma  - a hoverfly species (Alan Outen)Erebia euryale - Large Ringlet (Alan Outen)Graphosoma semipunctatum   - shieldbug species (Alan Outen)Melitaea phoebe - Knapweed Fritillary (Alan Outen)Myrmecaelurus trigrammus  - male  ant-lion species (Alan Outen)Oxycera meigenii - a soldier fly species (Alan Outen)Stauroderus scalaris - a grasshopper species (Alan Outen)Sympetrum depressiusculum - Spotted Darter (Alan Outen)Sympetum fonscolombii - Red-veined Darter (Alan Outen)Veratrum album - False White Helleborine (Alan Outen)Allium melanantherum (Alan Outen)Bee fly species (Alan Outen)Bembix bidentata  - a Crabronid wasp species (Alan Outen)Calliptamus italicus - a grasshopper species (Alan Outen)Calophasia lunula  - Toadflax Brocade Moth (Alan Outen)Carpocoris pudicus (mediterraneus)  - a shieldbug species (Alan Outen)Euomphalia strigella snail (Alan Outen)Polyommatus (=Agrodiaetus) ripartii  - Ripart's Anomalous Blue (Alan Outen)Lygistopterus sanguineus - a net-winged beetle species (Alan Outen)Melitaea phoebe - Knapweed Fritillary (Alan Outen)Metcalfa pruinosa - Citrus Flatid Planthopper (Alan Outen)Oryctes nasicornis ssp kuntzeni - European Rhinoceros Beetle (Alan Outen)Scopula rubiginata - Tawny Wave (Alan Outen)View of Bezbog Lake (Alan Outen)Zicrona caerulea - Blue Shield Bug (Alan Outen)
Driver was first class. Bus was spotless. Leader and guide could not have been more knowledgeable or helpful. I did enjoy my holiday greatly. The guides and the others in the group made it memorable.
Everything well organised. The minibus and bus driver were excellent; a very good driver in whom I think we all had full confidence. Alan Outen was a very knowledgeable naturalist. Assen Ignatov was very good on local knowledge and knowledge of bird behaviour, calls etc. He was also very friendly and helpful on other aspects.
Alan is a super leader and would definitely go on another trip with him. Very patient and very entertaining! Very widespread knowledge - amazing!
Alan is a super leader and would definitely go on another trip with him. Very patient and very entertaining! Very widespread knowledge - amazing!
A very enjoyable trip with excellent leaders, all experts in their own fields, and an excellent driver.
Very pleasant guides. Excellent birders (UK and Bulgarian) and butterfly expert. Highlight was the unexpected wonderful lunch on our penultimate day, following a walk from our Bansko Hotel. Great food, atmosphere and location. Lovely group of people. Never hurried (sometimes pace was a bit too slow for me!) Beautiful scenery. Niko had amusing tales and interesting local information to relate.
Stoyan was an excellent leader - his knowledge of butterflies and dragonflies excellent; he was also helpful, patient and able to impart his knowledge in a second language. He has an excellent command of English.
All in all we really enjoyed the holiday and we were grateful for the guides' expertise, particularly Stoyen. We were privileged to have Bulgaria's premier expert on invertebrates!
The guides were clearly expert in their various fields. They took considerable pains to show us whatever was around and tried to ensure that all of the group had a view. This meant we did see a lot of birds, butterflies, dragonflies etc. Overall we enjoyed the holiday - there was lots to be interested in and everyone was very friendly.
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Thu 18th July 2019 - Thu 25th July 2019



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Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

Regional Departures: Regional Departures are available. Call 01962 733051 for detailsMore info

Land only cost: £1195 More info

Room sharing options: More info

Visiting: Bulgaria

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Driver was first class. Bus was spotless. Leader and guide could not have been more knowledgeable or helpful. I did enjoy my holiday greatly. The guides and the others in the group made it memorable.
M.R., Buckinghamshire