Emen Gorge is super close to the Balvan village, which is about 20 minutes away from Veliko Tarnovo city centre. We had no idea at the time that Emen is walking distance to my mum’s home in Balvan and its pretty awesome this place is literally in her back garden. It is a little local secret, tourists are unaware of Emen Gorge and it is difficult to get to if you don’t have a car- but not impossible. There are local buses from Veliko Tarnovo to Balvan and Emen or you can get a taxi straight to Emen village & the Gorge- however taxis and buses only run until around 5pm in regards to going somewhere out of the city centre, so if you did opt for local transport, timing is crucial in order to catch the last bus back from or tell your taxi driver to collect you at a designated time. There is also no phone signal out there so other than the local kiosk in Emen village that has a landline phone, you have no way of contacting a taxi company AFTER your walk around the Gorge- so pre-book your taxi journey back to Veliko before you visit Emen and please make sure it’s before 5pm, the drivers will get grumpy with you and charge you even more or in our case, just decide its not worth their time!
That being said, we didn’t know all this information when we went there, ha! We booked a taxi to take us there which took 10 minutes from Balvan to Emen and when we were done exploring, Jon realized there was no signal so he couldn’t ring up to get a taxi back to my mum’s home and we had missed the last local bus (You might need to check for local buses to and from Emen, we mainly used buses to and from Balvan for day trips because that was our main base).
Thankfully the lady who runs the Emen kiosk took pity on us, gave us water and rang up a taxi company from the shop’s phone line, however as stated above, the company wouldn’t come out to get us as it was after 5pm. One of the locals over heard our issue and said he was going to Veliko Tarnovo after he’d finished his beer and do we want a lift? We said yes as it was our only option being stranded in this place, he dropped us off in Balvan and we gave him some money for a couple of beers as a thank you and then we found out that Emen is walking distance from Balvan- so we could have walked home. Walking from Emen to Balvan is about an hour and 30 minute walk, which would have been nice to take in the scenery on the way back to my mum’s house because we are a couple that loves walking plus saving money in the process- ah well!
So upon arriving, there is a bat cave that you are allowed to visit. There is no charge and you are free to explore but do keep in mind this is part of a nature reserve so be respectful, be quiet and don’t leave your litter everywhere either-if you have noisy, misbehaving kids, don’t take them in the cave, it will disturb the bats which is not fair. Before you enter, you walk up some steps surrounded by wild flowers and Bulgarian bees (who are a lot more curious than British bees- still friendly but exceptionally inquisitive so don’t wear perfume.) I think this is my first encounter with a bat cave and it was such an magical experience for me. I felt so close to the bats and I loved hearing their chirps and squeaks echo on the cave walls.
Interestingly in the days under Socialism, a military base, storing arms, used to be situated above the cave with an elevator shaft taking them down to the cave where mushrooms were grown and cheese ripened by local state farmers.
We stayed for about 30 minutes just to marvel at the place, then left to trek around the Gorge. Because it was so dark, we were unable to take good quality images of the bats, so I’ve left it to your imagination!
The Gorge is easy to walk around, however there is no wheel chair access or safety rails- kids can roam around as they please but you need to be doubly aware of the lack of signs or safety barriers in places like this in Bulgaria. This is something that I do love about Bulgaria, places of natural beauty are not ruined by humans- there are no handle bars, metal bridges, plastic signs or steel pathways or even litter bins- its just you and nature so its up to you and your common sense to keep safe and be clean- meaning do not drop your litter, take it with you! And I think this is how it should be, the UK is becoming such a Nanny country- overly worried and overly obsessed with safety- it just ruins the landscape you are visiting.
From the top of Emen gorge, the trail takes you through woodland on one side and stunning views of the gorge with the occasional cave openings on the other side. Amazingly, still (just about) standing are the original wooden bridges connecting the enormous rocks protruding from each side of the cliff edge; remnants from the time the canyon was first proclaimed a protective reserve in 1980 and later attempts at making the area hiking-friendly. Once a Roman settlement, archaeologists have since found artifacts on the site dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Emen Gorge is a beautiful and very quiet eco-path. You do meet a few locals during your walk who are very friendly, dog walking is also allowed but again, please clean up after your dog. We made our own lunch before we left and had a picnic whilst over looking the valley and river below. There are a couple of benches dotted about for those who prefer to sit higher up but I love sitting on the floor, in the dirt and with the earth- to me that just seems right. The walk itself is walkable by all ages, we saw an elderly couple walk this gorge and there are no real difficult hills or slopes to climb. Its a gentle, leisurely stroll around this Gorge so if you are a nature lover do try to visit here if you are residing in Veliko Tarnovo, however be careful when it rains, some paths do get slippy.
The Emen Canyon is a picturesque haven of beauty where you can walk some 50+ metres above the river and along the gorge’s eco-trail which has been shaped from the Negovanka River that runs through its valley.
Here, Jon decided it would be a good idea to ignore the sign telling him this part of the walk is currently unstable and therefore dangerous. Much like the locals, they also ignore these signs and do what they want- Bulgarians see it as “The sign is there, if they ignore it, its at their own stupidity if anything happens, not our problem.” Luckily Jon was safe and managed to climb the small rock from the little bridge in order to see the views from there. As with anything in life, sometimes you have to take small risks to marvel at something, life is short and if you calculated that the dangers were low, then do it.
Soon after, we walked across a different bridge and into the woodland. Here it takes you to a lovely waterfall surrounded by the cliff face and the lake below that looks like a lagoon.
The official name is Momin Slok Waterfall or ‘Girl’s Leap Falls’, which is named after the story of three Bulgarian girls who jumped from the top to escape the capture from the Ottomans. They would have been sheltered by the rocks above making it a secluded place to hide but today you can take a dip in the pool if you like, on a hot summers day. This is fresh water from the mountains, it is very good for your skin and it is safe to swim in.
Emen Gorge is the perfect, picturesque eco-trail for those who want a day drip different from the bustle of a city or beach resort. Take a picnic, your loved ones and a book and just relax. You can spend the whole day there just taking in the views whilst reading a much loved novel.
Up next: Etar Living Museum!
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