The Stara Planina Mountains are the third highest, but the longest mountain range in Bulgaria, stretching from the River Timok to the west to Cape Emine to the east. The range divides the country into two roughly equal parts: Northern and Southern Bulgaria.
The mountains have had a number of names- Haemus, Matorni Gori, Balkan. After the Turks had invited the peninsula, they called the range “Balkan”, meaning “a wooded mountain range”. This name was later adopted by the geographical literature of the West and the whole peninsula became known as the Balkan Peninsula. The Bulgarians called the range Stara Planina, which means “old mountains”. To the south the mountainside slopes steeply and quite impressively to the valleys, whereas the northern flanks slope down more gently.
The Balkan Mountains are divided into three sections: the Western, Central and eastern Balkan. The highest peak is Mount Botev-2 376 m high is
in the Central part. The main range is between the Pre-Balkan- densely wooded heights to the north, and the Sub-Balkan valleys to the south, nestling at the foot of the high-rising mountains. It is a natural climatic barrier which prevents the cold winds from the north from penetrating South Bulgaria, thus making its climate milder. The range is rich in deciduous forests, mainly of oak and beech. Natural coniferous are rare, but not unlikely to come across. The mountains are the habitat of deer, hares, bears, wild goats, etc. They contain deposit of coal, iron and copper. There are also a number of quarries, producing marble, limestone and sandstone.
The scenery of the Balkan Mountains is remarkably beautiful and it is a perfect hiking territory. There is a number of nature reserves like Boatin, Tsarichina, Steneto, declared such both for their scenic attractions and to preserve their flora and fauna.
The Mountains have been inhabited since ancient times. Thracians, Slavs and Bulgarians took refuge in their densely wooded hills when threatened by enemies. The mountains gave shelter to the Bulgarian “haidouti’- those brave men and women who took up arms against the oppressors during the Ottoman rule. The Russian troops and the Bulgarian volunteers defended their passes and peaks during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1978.
Traveling near the town of Sliven you can see the Blue Rocks-a spot of breathtaking mountain scenery. The famous Shipka Pass, connected with the glorious battles during the Russo-Turkish War, is one of the most important historical places in Bulgaria. Veliko Turnovo, once a medieval walled city and capital of Bulgaria (1185-1393), has a magnificent setting- perched high among the steep cliffs of the Yantra gorge. Lovech and Troyan as well as the Troyan Monastery are also worth visiting.
Driving westwards from the town of Bourgas to the Bulgarian capital Sofia via the Sub-Balkan valleys you can not help feeling fascinated by the beauty of the scenery along somewhat narrow and winding road. A number of small towns like Kalofer, Karlovo, Sopot, connected with the struggles of the Bulgarians against the Ottoman oppressors that have preserved the charm of the Bulgarian National Revival architecture, are picturesquely situated along the road. A Thracian tomb near the town of Kazanlak with unique wall paintings has been miraculously preserved here. The famous Valley of Roses is very beautiful and you can have a look at it during your driving rent a car in Bulgaria.