If you’re in Sofia, Bulgaria you have to make the trip to see Rila Monastery. The UNESCO world heritage site, located about two hours away from the capital, is a monument to God surrounded by mountains and blanketed by blue skies. The site is magnificent and a day trip there includes a few other surprises.
Waking up after a late night out it’s always hard to get up early and salvage an otherwise wasteful day of movies and lying in bed. With only one day left in Bulgaria I didn’t want to lose the day, so when my alarm went off at 8am I struggled out of bed, hopped in the shower, and set out to visit one of Bulgaria’s most impressive sights.
For 20 Euros per person most hostels in Sofia offer organized trips to the Rila Monastery. Although it’s possible to get there using local transportation or organize your own taxi, booking through a hostel is the easiest way and not much more expensive.
The drive from Sofia to the Rila Monastery is spectacular as you cruise through deep valleys and along rolling hills towards the Balkans Rila mountain range. When you get there, make sure to drive past the monastery in order to visit the smaller church just up the road.
There you can go for a short mountain side hike, and after taking a few pictures you can climb through the small cave sanctuary. Just up from the church is a shrine where people write prayers on a piece of paper, crumple them up, and hide them in the rocky façade. There’s also a small fountain can fill your water bottle with fresh mountain water.
After my hike and a visit to the cave sanctuary I finally entered Rila Monastery where I was blown away by what I saw. It is probably one of the most spectacular monasteries I have ever seen. The massive complex, decorated with thousands of murals, sits inside a massive walled complex that is surrounded by mountains. You can easily spend an afternoon visiting its various museums and exploring this peaceful sanctuary, but for me a half an hour visit was perfect.
On the way back to Sofia I couldn’t resist the lure of the locals, their fresh produce lining the highway right in front of the orchards where it was picked, and stopped to buy some fresh cherries. As a day trip the drive is a bit long but seeing the Rila Monastery, going for a short hike in the hills, and reflecting on the beauty of the area is well worth the trip.