Wonders Of Nature Unexplored Treasures Of The Kotel Area

With its magnificent setting amidst gorgeous mountains and forests, Kotel is an ideal base for hiking, caving, bird-watching and other outdoor activities. Several villages around it, such as Zheravna, Katunishte and Medven, though smaller and less developed than Kotel, are increasingly becoming popular for their proximity to various unique and captivating natural attractions.

First of all, if coming to Kotel from Sliven, make sure to drive or take a bus that follows the mountain road, and not the plains route that runs south of the mountains. The former is a stunning and tranquil journey, where the narrow road is surrounded by almost uninterrupted thick forests, streams and occasional meadows.

These rich forests around Kotel and its villages are home to rare flora and fauna, including groves of silver firs unique in the eastern Balkans, and old woods of orlitsa beeches, where majestic golden eagles and other birds of prey soar overhead. Cliffside nesting areas of these eagles are found 5km west of Kotel at a place called, sensibly enough, Eagle Rocks.

The Kotel area is also very rich in caves, some 14 of them being located in the area between Zhelenich and Zlosten alone. Eagle Cave, 7km west of Kotel, is not for the squeamish, filled as it is with thousands of bats. The so-called Fairy Cave near Zhelenich comprises 3100m of galleries (the sixth-longest distance in Bulgaria) and features unusual stalagmite formations. Another cave at Zlosten, northeast of Kotel, is some 242m deep, the third-deepest in the country.

The most aesthetically pleasing of all local attractions, however, is near little Medven, a village that now has a few traditional guesthouses and restaurants to offer. It's best known for the sublime Siniya Vir (Blue Whirlpool), a crystal-clear pool of mountain water (part of the Medvenska River) into which a wispy waterfall tumbles 7m down from the cliffs that enclose the pool. It's about a 45-minute walk from the village to get there.

Unusual rock formations linked with the ancient Thracian religion are found at Yablanovo, northeast of Kotel, and at a place called Chobra Tash, 6km north of Kotel, close to the Urushki Rocks, a chain of bizarre limestone rocks believed to have been used as a sanctuary in the mysterious ancient Thracian religion.

For more details about the natural wonders of Kotel and environs, ask for the helpful Hristina Dimitrova at Kotel's municipal headquarters (ยง 0453-2030; [email protected]).

being now a rudimentary shop with vegetables thrown around, an old-fashioned scale and sometimes a cat sitting on said scale. On the right, there are a few small tables where colourful local characters drink coffee or down shots of rakia.

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