When the snow falls, here is where we go – to Velingrad with the narrow gauge railway, Bulgaria

My daughter and I are huge fans of the white fluffy snow and when we see it falling, we immediately head outside to play. Besides the ski resorts, there is no better place for playing in the snow than Velingrad. I might be a little bit addicted to the white miracle of the snow and the quietness in the town after a whole day’s snowfall, but this is my little mania.

We are not in the Apls or in Switzerland but we still have our small train that crosses the mountains. Travelling with the narrow gauge railway is one of the most exotic and beautiful ways to reach Velingrad in the winter. It is an unforgettable journey and the view through the windows is totally worth, no matter what season it is.

Narrow gauge train near Tsepina station. Bulgaria
Narrow gauge train near Tsepina station. Bulgaria

My wife Maria and our friend Maria dropped me on Tsepina train station of the narrow gauge railway. (Comment by Maria, the wife: Andrey was calmly driving when he spotted the train. A few minutes later he just stopped the car, got off and said “I’m taking the train, you’re going to make it to Velingrad, aren’t you?”. Then he left us).

Tsepina train stop

So, Tsepina is a small picturesque train stop on the line between Varvara and Velingrad. It was built in the 1920s but it is now retired and abandoned by the state’s railways. Luckily, in the recent years it was revived and nowadays volunteers maintain it. Just after I stepped on the platform I saw the train arriving. As Tsepina is not a regular train station, I had to wave to the driver in order to stop the train. He seemed to understand my gestures so a few seconds later I was on the train.

The exotic Narrow Gauge Railway
The exotic Narrow Gauge Railway

The ticket for narrow gauge railway from Tsepina station to Velingrad costs 2,10 lv. On the station you can also see signs pointing to Tsepina fortress (3 and half hours walking) and Milevi Skali peak. If you feel like trekking, you could try the eco path.

History of the Rhodopean narrow gauge railway

The train travelling to Velingrad is the only narrow gauge railway in Bulgaria. The whole route goes from Septemvri to Dobrinishe and some of the notable stops are Velingrad, Yakoruda, Belitsa, Razlog and Bansko. The journey from the first to the last stop takes around 5 h 30 min.

Narrow gauge trains at Avramovo train station
Narrow gauge trains in the Rhodope mountains, Bulgaria

The line was opened in 1929 between the stations Sarambei (Septemvri) and Ladzhene (Velingrad). The composition consisted of 3-4 cars, driven by a small steam locomotive. The line between Velingrad and Avramovo was launched in 1937. The whole line had to reach Nevrokop (Gotse Delchev) but eventually it went no further than Dobrinishte. Avramovo station is the highest located train station on the Balkans – 1267 m above the sea level. On December 9th 1945 the line between Bansko and Dobrinishte was opened.

The narrow gauge train on its way to Septemvri
The narrow gauge train on its way to Septemvri

There is so much history around this small train. It is very cosy, warm inside, the car is slightly swinging, and the view from the windows is marvellous. The cars are very clean and the seats are really comfortable. There were only four people in our car and I appeared the only one enjoying the journey as a kid. After some 20-30 minutes, we reached Velingrad in wonderful mood.

Railway Station Velingrad
Railway Station Velingrad

My favourite place to stay in Velingrad

Velingrad is the capital of SPA in Bulgaria with its numerous hot mineral springs. The climate here is milder than the neighbouring towns and villages. Local people told us that snow is a rare view in Velingrad and it does not last long because even the ground is warm because of the mineral springs and it quickly melts.

This natural phenomenon makes a wonderful ground for tourism and in Velingrad there are numerous of hotels. However, we have our favourite place and this is still Villa Vuchev. It is a luxury villa in Kamenitsa quarter, not very close to the city centre but near a wonderful forest.

Villa Vuchev in Velingrad, Bulgaria
Villa Vuchev in Velingrad, Bulgaria www.pandevonium.com

We had been to this wonderful villa before but never in the winter. So we couldn’t wait to go there in snow time. We recently started making a list of the nice places with open-air hot pools and Villa Vuchev is one of them. It offers the ultimate relax – you jump in the pool and someone is taking care of the wonderful homemade food and the good wine. Staying there is an unforgettable experience and it is never long enough. Last time we stayed for 3 days but we could have stayed at least 3 more.

Villa Vuchev, Velingrad, Bulgaria
Villa Vuchev, Velingrad, Bulgaria – the outdoor hot pool
If the weather outside do not make you happy, you can go and visit another interesting place near Velingrad – the carpet factory in Kostandovo village. There you will see how amazing carpets are being woven by hand. Most of them go to palaces and royal mansions, including the Versailles.

Chapels, snow and the most serene views to Velingrad in the winter

When the sun comes up and the moon is still high - Velingrad, Bulgaria
When the sun comes up and the moon is still high

No matter how much you enjoy the pool, the most valuable thing in Velingrad is the clean nature surrounding the city. Many people are too lazy to go for a walk in the forest but if you are staying in Villa Vuchev, you will find the forest just a few steps away. Luckily, there are no wolves and bears there so I totally enjoy the walk.

Morning views around Velingrad
Morning views around Velingrad

A walk to St. Nikola chapel on sunrise

I had woken up early that morning – about 6 am when it was still dark outside. I had my morning coffee in the pool and then I headed to the forest. The -15 degrees cold outside did not scare me at all. The sun was just rising behind the mountains. From Kamenitsa quarter you can reach two small chapels in the forest. The closer one is “Sveti Georgi”, located just after the last houses.

But my favourite one is “Sveti Nikola”, located on a hill in the nearby forest – a 30-minute walk from our villa. Walking to the chapel and enjoying the view, I met the first person for the day – a man going to clean the chapel. I was really impressed by his enthusiasm at 6 am.

"St. Nikola" chapel  Velingrad
“St. Nikola” chapel

A few minutes later the sun rose high above the peaks and lit the whole city below. I hurried to the hotel to have breakfast and play with my daughter that was already waking up.

Sunrise near Velingrad
Sunrise near Velingrad

Evening romance in Velingrad

Every journey is full of many small stories and walks. Twilight time was perfect for exploring the vicinities of Velingrad by the small paths to the chapels. We also met other enthusiasts, watching the lights of Velingrad city. Around Kamenitsa quarter, it is very beautiful and calm and it is worth surviving the cold to enjoy the view and to take some pictures.

Velingrad, Bulgaria
Here I am, waiting for the perfect shot
Here I am, waiting for the perfect shot

The villages around Velingrad

If you want to enjoy pastoral views, you should go to any of the villages around Velingrad. Sveta Petka is a really nice place and you can spend a lot of time enjoying the peaceful views to the neighbouring hills. The Rhodope mountains has always been an unbelievably beautiful mountain.

Villages near Velingrad, Bulgaria

What else to do in Velingrad

Besides enjoying the SPA pleasures, you can visit many local attractions in Velingrad. However, I admit that the city is best for walks in the warmer seasons. In better weather you could enjoy the many green parks around the city. However, the main attraction is Kleptuza Karst Lake. It is a popular recreation area in the warm seasons with its nice park, cafes and restaurants and boat attractions. In the winter, the area is a little bit deserted but the lake does not freeze because the water temperature at its springs is around 8 degrees.

Kleptuza lake, Velingrad, Bulgaria

Another attraction in Velingrad we would like to try are the many public baths. But there are so many spa hotels that we have not found time for this yet.

River near Kleptuza lake, Velingrad, Bulgaria

if you want to know more about Kleptuza and the other interesting places in Velingrad, visit our spring article about the city.


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