The trip to Strandzha commences in Burgas, at Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. From here, it takes an hour to get right into this protected area, which offers hundreds of animal species, exotic plants and countless historic sites.
Strandzha is very special in many ways. First of all this is one of the few regions which was not frozen during the latest ice age. Secondly, this region was already inhabited more than 4,000 years ago.
A shepherd, who is guarding his rather large herd on a huge pasture at the northern end of the region, says he has been doing this for fourteen years, without interruption. “There are no holidays for shepherds”. He does get some help from his wife and one of his sons. The other son lives in France.
Once, the shepherd had cows, pigs and chickens. Then he had a dream “in which God was telling me I would be a shepherd”. That settled it for him.
Four dogs are helping him to keep his 320 sheep together. According to him there are no bears in Strandzha, but wolves. He does need anti-serum against snake bites too. Every single sheep needs to be protected.
The E87 highway goes all the way to the Bulgarian-Turkish border. The last civilization outpost on the Bulgarian side is Malko Tarnovo. The small town has three restaurants, a beautiful church, a few little shops and a gas station.
Tourists love to come here, in order to check out the beautiful, historic architecture. In the town center, there are nice looking wooden houses, built the way they did hundreds of years ago. Bagpipe sounds are coming from the small museum located here.
Most tourists in Malko Tarnovo are Bulgarians who love hiking in the Strandzha hills. A stork has built a stable looking nest on a high post located in the poorest part of town. The bird is following the activities of those weird humans below, who are taking pictures from all angles.
Some 10 kilometers further west, the village of Braslyan welcomes tourists in guest houses. People from Sofia who arrive at this spot, in order to spend the Christian-Orthodox Easter days hiking, mostly bring their own food, good hiking boots and other utensils needed up here in the hills.
In the village, which is usually inhabited by 26 people, cows, horses, peacocks, cocks and hens walk around freely. Why shouldn’t they have the same rights as everyone else?
During the summer season, a bus full of beach tourists comes to Brashlyan every day. The stop at this village is part of a day trip program offered by one of the tour operators active at the Black Sea.
A little store with a sign saying “Shop магазин Le Magasin Geschäft” offers Coca Cola, potato chips, bread, chewing gum and even some art. When the owner is not in the store, she can be called by phone.
From here, the Turkish border is 4 kilometers away. During the refugee crisis, thousands of asylum seekers crossed into Bulgaria in this region, in order to bypass the actual “Balkan Route” located further west.
Strandzha hit the news back then, when xenophobic gangs roamed the hills, in order to hunt down refugees. According to NGOs, migrants were robbed, beaten and abused by border police officers. Some refugees froze to death up here, while trying to cross the green border in winter.
At this stage, there are hardly any migrants. Strandzha is a peaceful place again.
Dimitar Tonin, a former lawyer who became a book publisher and author many years ago, has explored every inch of Strandzha. He is about to finalize and release his book “Mystic Strandzha”, in Bulgarian, with hundreds of photos.
“Strandzha is a very special place”, Tonin says. “There are many very interesting objects which are more than 4,000 years old”. He is talking about tombs and necropolises scattered all over the place in the hills. Every few hundred meters, there is one archaeological sensation.
Indeed, Strandzha is an excellent spot for exploring and hiking. Good boots, plenty of water and food, and one of those black boxes saying “Nikon” or “Canon” should definitely be brought along.