Which is the easiest and maybe the most relaxed way to discover three of the most spectacular mountains in Bulgaria, at the same time? The answer is simple: the Septemvri-Dobrinishte narrow gauge railway. Have you ever travelled by a narrow gauge train? If your answer is yes, you know that if you do it again, the experience will definitely worth it. And if you are not – this is something that must be put in your list of unique experiences. This train does not ride from point A to point B; this train takes you to a wonderful adventure. This journey will show you what patience means and after 5 hours and 125 km, you will be able to put in your memory box, one of the greatest moments in your life. In case that you’re still wondering why to choose this way of movement to Dobrinishte instead to go there, as with your car, here are some facts that might interest you.
This railway is the last narrow gauge in Bulgaria and the distance between its metal tracks is only 760 mm, almost the half of the standard size. The route of the train connects the most western part of the Upper Thracian Plain with the Western Rhodopes, Rila and Pirin mountains. It is also a direct link between the SPA (Velingrad) and the SKI (Bansko) capitals of the Balkans. If you catch that train, it can take you to the greatest palaeontological field in Europe (the village of Dorkovo), the most modern sanctuary for retired dancing bears on the Balkans (Belitsa Bear Park), the highest valley in the country and the unique gorge of the nearby river. The road passes through an indescribably beautiful mountain areas with many scenic spots and under more than 40 tunnels. The highest point of the route is the Avramovo Railway Station (1267.40 m), famous as the highest railway station in the Balkans. The word station is maybe far-fetched because we talk about a little yellow house, situated in the middle of the valley, but that is not very important. The specific deflection of the line right before Avramovo forms an interesting figure, the so-called “figure of eight”. If you are in an adventurous mood this part of the line and the slow speed of the train will allow you to get off the train, take a little walk and get on, all this while it is in movement. It may seem impossible but as I said an important thing that should be noted is the speed of the train. Or rather its slowness, only 35 km/h – thanks to which you can see in detail everything in its path. Imagine what a wonderful journey will be and as a bonus, it will cost you only 6.50 BGN in one direction.
The magnificent views and outstanding nature is not the only thing that might attract you to the journey with the narrow gauge train. It is also a place where you can find new friends and become part of the local colour. The notion of time here is different and it became slower with every kilometre which brings you away from the civilization. This is maybe the only place where you can see engine-drivers to go down at any station to pour cold mountain water from a fountain, conductor and chief train to take snack of the little pavilions during the 10-minute stops of the train and along with this, a few foreign tourists taking pictures, even of the typical Bulgarian station platforms, in striped plate with white paint. Common view is to meet an old man who brings a box of pigeons and chicken under his arm, prepared for sale on the market in the bigger mountain towns in the area. Unique for the narrow gauge train is also the transition between the coaches, which is open and is called a “bridge”. Bridge is a great attraction for all passengers in the train. The transition is not dangerous and to stay there during the travelling is great, although prohibited. At every station the train makes at least a 3-minute stay, allowing each passenger to get off to stretch his legs and take a picture with the new friends, the personnel of the or even with the composition itself. This journey definitely can be called – road trip to the past.
For the tourists this railway is maybe just another way to see the beautiful mountains of Bulgaria but for those who live along the line it is a matter of survival. Hundreds of people living in villages and hamlets walk miles on foot, to the nearest station or stop, loaded with milk and agricultural produce, so they can catch a train to some of the larger towns, where they sell their wares to buy bread and go home. “Without the railway there is no life for us” locals say. The significant social role of the line is one of the reasons why it is still functioning, despite many attempts to be closed. Interesting fact is that the narrow gauge railway is part of the Guide to European railway timetables, issued by the German Railways. The guide presents the most interesting railway lines in Europe.
Author: Lyuben Grancharov
“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” (Augustine of Hippo). I enjoy filling up the page, called “Bulgaria”, both working as a guide and writing about the mountains of Bulgaria on this blog.