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Where am I going in 2021?


The Covid situation continues to be uncertain with regard to overseas travel to Bulgaria. If the situation allows, I'll organise a two week multi centre holiday in September, staying in 2 or 3 hotels and exploring the local area from them. I'm hoping to run the cancelled 2020 programme in 2022, that would be the Eastern Balkan and Central Balkan Mountains tours.

My experience and style

What to expect


Who am I?

For the past 30 years I have been organising cycling holidays in the UK and the rest of Europe for family and friends. Since meeting my wife in Sofia in 2006 Bulgaria is a country I’ve got to know well and love. In total I’ve spent about 5 years in the country, getting to know the landscapes, the culture and the language; I also discovered what a fantastic country it is for cycling! I love sharing what I’ve discovered with others, so since 2015 I’ve been organising tours in Bulgaria for CTC Holidays. 

Other countries I know well are Switzerland and Germany; I’m half Swiss, speak German and have lived in both countries. In the future I’d also love to share my favourite bits of those countries’ cultures and landscapes by organising holidays there; however that will have to wait until my son is a bit older!

My tour leading style

For me, a holiday should be relaxed, sociable, fascinating and enjoyable. So that I can be relaxed on tour too I make sure I’m super organised in the background - that means trying to think of everything before the tour starts but remaining flexible for anything that happens on the tour. Everyone has their own individual requirements and their idea of what a perfect holiday is, so I aim to accommodate these as far as possible, from preferred cycling style to dietary requirements. For those who are about enjoying the scenery we use a human signpost system at junctions so you don’t have to navigate and always have a leader at the back to sort out any eventuality; nobody gets left behind! For those who like to push themselves I provide GPS tracks and additional routes where appropriate. In the mountains it’s important everyone can ride at their own pace on the climbs. I time the route so there’s no need to hurry, unless that is you want to be first to the top! Personally I prefer to drop into a low gear and enjoy the scenery. To keep it fascinating I provide lots of information about the places we go through and involve local people so you can follow your interests en route and have the chance to chat with someone from the country. Remember, it’s important to carefully read the holiday description before booking to make sure the holiday is suitable for you.

The roads I take

I prefer quiet roads where we can really get away from it all, even if this occasionally means taking a dirt road or poor quality tarmac. It does mean we can relax more and chat while riding along. I don’t mind riding through or staying in towns en route provided there’s a reasonably quiet route into and out of town. I love mountains and that’s often where the quietest roads and best scenery are to be found. My attitude to a long climb is that, with a low enough gear and a slow enough pace there’s no need to put in more effort than you would on the flat, so don’t be scared of the climbs. I do a lot of research to find the most interesting and quiet routes and then do a recce to check out the routes, interesting sights and hotels. 

The places we stay

I like to stay in interesting and varied places so expect to stay in a mixture of town centres, villages and remote locations in the mountains. Hotels are chosen on the basis of being good quality and comfortable with en suite facilities; beyond that I try to find the most interesting options. For staying more than one night I’d look for perhaps a spa hotel, or one located in a town that's  interesting to explore. They can sometimes be smaller family run establishments where we’re treated as friends, or there are the large, renovated old communist town centre hotels, or occasionally even a hotel that was a luxury retreat for the old regime. Some hotels will be quirky and others will be in historic buildings; all will be carefully chosen. Evenings are spent relaxing, we’ll generally sit together at a large table and dine in the Bulgarian way – slowly, sociably and sharing the wide choice of high quality food.

Where do I go?

I’ve been developing a series of linked up routes that cover the most interesting parts of Bulgaria. Across the centre of the country lie the Balkan Mountains, I’ve devised a series of 3 two-week routes covering the eastern, central and western parts of the mountains. All these routes link together so on 3 visits it’s possible to cycle across Bulgaria from the coast in the east to the Serbian border in the west. Sometimes I’ll run more than one route consecutively giving the possibility of a 4 week continuous route - maybe in the future I’ll even do 6 weeks!

The south of the country is also very mountainous and I’m likewise developing another series of 3 linked two-week routes which cross the country. Two of these have already been run taking in the Rodopi and Pirin Mountains. In future the route in the east would start at the coast and the Strandzha Mountains, probably take a shortcut across Turkey and then finish in the Eastern Rodopi Mountains. I’m also devising a route which starts in the south-west of Bulgaria, takes in Greece and North Macedonia before finishing in the Rila Mountains of Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is such a varied country that I’ve found each route has its own special character and is sufficiently different that lots of people enjoy coming back to try a different route. For the future I have plenty of ideas. For example there’s the Sredna Gora, a range of lower hills (up to 1604m) just south of the Balkan Mountains; this would have to be done during the rose harvest as it’s the region where much of the world’s rose oil is produced. Then there’s the Danube valley in the north which I’ve yet to explore; as well as the same river as it passes through Serbia where I have cycled and which is definitely worth seeing. Then there’s the possibility of really getting away from it all on the myriad of off road tracks found throughout Bulgaria...

Where have I been?

So far I have organised tours in several parts of Bulgaria and I’m working on adding more to the list. Things that make it a great country for a cycling holiday include the very quiet roads, beautiful scenery, high quality accommodation, mountain springs and fabulous food to keep you refreshed. Apart from that each region brings its own unique scenery, culture and character to keep things varied.
My favourite Bulgarian photos

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Central Rodopi Mountains

This is the first route I ran with CTC Holidays in 2015 and again with slight variations in 2016 and 2019. It passes through the Rodopi, a magical, unspoilt mountain range and the legendary birthplace of Orpheus. From high level viewpoints dozens of mountain tops can be seen rolling away in all directions to the far distant horizon; lower down, deep ravines cut through the landscape. These incredibly verdant mountains are unusual in character; the steep sided rounded peaks are covered in forests dotted with villages and traditional agriculture. The region has long been a backwater; under communism much of it was in the Border Area where development and travel was severely limited, helping preserve its character and huge biodiversity.

Like all of my routes so far it’s a 14 night tour and has the potential to be extended to 4 weeks if I run the West Rodopi & Pirin Mountains tour right afterwards. It’s fully supported with luggage transfer and a backup vehicle available.

Pictures from the route

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West Rodopi and Pirin Mountains

This route starts where the Central Rodopi Mountain tour finishes and was run for the first time in 2019. The first week continues in the Rodopi Mountains after which the landscape suddenly opens out, the mountains are higher with rocky peaks and wider valleys, the forest cover diminishes and the landscape is more arid. Even the local culture changes in this 'Macedonian' part of Bulgaria. Many different mountain ranges in Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria can be seen from the route.  Of particular note are the Pirin, Bulgaria’s second highest range (Vihren, 2914m). We cycle alongside this range and then over the only road pass to cross the Pirin mountains.
   Pictures from the route

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Central Balkan Mountains

This was the second route which I ran in 2017. The character of the Balkan mountains is quite different from the Rodopies; there is a distinct central ridge which crosses the entire country east to west, with smaller foothills to the north and south. Settlements are larger and signs of the rich history and culture are everywhere: in the monuments, architecture, monasteries and towns. It’s the area which was first liberated from Ottoman rule with the help of the Russians.
Pictures from the route

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Western Balkan Mountains

This route was run in 2018. The region is notable for its wide variety of impressive rock formations including gorges, soaring cliffs, caves and bizarre and beautiful sandstone pillars. It’s ridiculously photogenic! The tour includes a cave visit where 14,000 year old paintings can be seen and an area or rocks which was nominated as a candidate for the World “New 7 Wonders of Nature” list. To the north of the mountains the route also passes through and along the Danube Plain and the mighty Danube river which is up to a mile wide in this area.
Pictures from the route

Steve's contact details

steve@millard.ch
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