My visit to Dryanovo started because of an incorrect caption on a Pinterest photo. As I’ve previously mentioned, my plans for Bulgaria were basically non-existent before arriving. Part of my itinerary building was simply looking at pictures of Bulgaria on Pinterest and finding places that caught my interest. One really cool photo that drew me in was of a vast cave with several holes in its ceiling. The photo was captioned as Bacho Kiro Cave, not far from the town of Dryanovo and the city of Veliko Tarnovo.
During my stay in Veliko Tarnovo, I decided that this would make an interesting day trip as there was also a monastery nearby the cave. The photo that had inspired me to visit would later turn out to be a photo of a totally different Bulgarian cave, Devetashka Cave. Had there only been a cave – the wrong cave – to see, I may have come away very disappointed. So while I still haven’t visited the cave that first caught my eye, I did end up with a pretty fun day exploring the area around Dryanovo.
After meeting up with some other travellers who were also keen to explore and see a cave, we set off for Dryanovo. The monastery and cave are actually about 6km outside of Dryanovo along the main road towards Gabrovo, a bigger town. Once we reached our bus stop, we hopped off basically in the middle of nowhere. Nearby was a big sign pointing off the road to the monastery and cave, so we ventured down the side road towards out first stop, Dryanovo Monastery.
The monastery is situated at the bottom of a valley by the Dryanovska River, so as we drew closer so did the cliffs above us. Arriving at the monastery, we were met by a genial old man. He was offering his services as a tour guide for the monastery complex. Even though we weren’t interested, he happily chatted with us until a tour bus rolled in. Throughout the day, we only saw 2 tour buses and a handful of families at the sights. Most definitely off the beaten track.
Dryanovo Monastery is a Bulgarian Orthodox Monastery built in the 12 century and is still functioning to this day. The monastery is devoted to Archangel Michael and was renowned for its extensive library. Sadly, it was destroyed twice by fire under the Ottoman rule. It’s present state is thanks to restoration work carried out in the 19th century. The monastery also played a role in an uprising against the Ottomans in 1876, shortly before their war for liberation in 1877.
Information on the monastery is pretty scarce without a guide, but I think a big part of a visit here is about the ambience and the setting. The monastery is almost concealed within the valley, making it incredibly peaceful. It also sits at the meeting of the Andaka and Dryanovska Rivers, making for some gorgeous scenes. Probably the main attraction aside from the setting is the church which is very ornately decorated. For kids, there’s also a small animal centre with ponies and goats. Entry to the monastery is free.
Once we had crossed the river we sought to head towards our main stop, the Bacho Kiro Cave. We knew it was close to the monastery and thought we had to follow the river, so we set off heading upstream along the Dryanovska River. What started as light undergrowth slowly got thicker and thicker and we began to climb and climb. We were a little surprised we soon encountered a modest waterfall.
Having not seen any signs, but curious to see what was ahead, we pressed on along the river. Soon we were diverted into the woods and eventually hit a sheer rock face that looked to be used by locals for rock climbing. Admitting defeat, we wandered back to the monastery where we quickly spotted the signposts to the cave.
After a quick and cheap lunch at the little restaurant by the river, we followed the actual path leading up the Andaka River. We were soon met by more waterfalls, even bigger and steeper this time. Further up was what looked like an old military bunker and from there we left the river behind, climbing stairs into the forest. Not too far away we reached Bacho Kiro Cave.
Bacho Kiro Cave
The entrance to Bacho Kiro Cave looks fairly unceremonious. With its low hanging roof and iron fence, it didn’t look like much at first. Once we had paid at the booth, we ventured into the dark, dank cave. At first the cave was exceptionally dark (and thankfully flat), before it opened out and then there was some lighting along the walls. Now, I’m really not a fan of being underground as I get claustrophobia, but Bacho Kiro Cave is really quite expansive inside.
The large cave is made of limestone rock and so features plenty of stalagmites and stalactites, making for some incredible details, particularly when lit up. For those interested in the geology of it all, the cave is likely to have formed over the past 1 – 2 million years, by underground rivers flowing through the limestone rock. The formation of the cave and the nearby Dryanovska River valley are said to be connected.
Bacho Kiro cave is said to have four stories and you can occasionally see several of them at once. Many of the chambers have been named with cute names like the Rain Hall and the Concert Hall. During your visit, you will climb up and down between these large chambers, each lit in different and unusual ways. The further you get into the cave, the trickier it gets as the lighting gets more inconsistent and the ground gets wetter. One of the people I was with described the cave as ‘gooey’ and I think that may be the perfect adjective for the cave. If you visit, wear good footwear!
At some point I began to realise that this wasn’t the cave I had expected and while I was a bit disappointed, Bacho Kiro was worth the visit. There are two types of tickets possible to the caves. The short visit is self-guided and takes roughly 25 minutes, costing 2lv. The long visit is a 60 minute guided tour, taking you deeper into the cave and costs 4lv. Unfortunately, the long visit is only available to groups of 10 or more.
Boruna Fortress Ruins
Leaving the cave, we wondered what we ought to do next. It felt too early to head back already, so we took a quick look at the nearby board showing hiking trails. The main trail led to the nearby village of Bozhentsi 15km away, but we had seen also a sign to ruins. So off we set, climbing up the hill and into the forest.
Eventually we reached a viewpoint with stellar views over the valley and could even spot Dryanovo Monastery below through the branches. From above, you can clearly see how sheer the cliffs are either side of the valley.
Further up through some long grass, we started to come across the ruins of Boruna Fortress. Boruna was built around the 5th – 6th century and lasted until the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Given its proximity to the capital at Veliko Tarnovo, it was probably fairly significant. Today there are only partial ruins of the fortress walls and some residential buildings. Still, it was kinda cool exploring some overgrown ruins in the middle of a forest.
On the way back down, we veered off to explore another waterfall we had spied earlier. This time, we were above the falls and boulders and I couldn’t help wonder what was further upstream. Certainly a fantastic spot for waterfall lovers!
The area around Bacho Kiro Cave and Dryanovo Monastery is surprisingly untouristed as of yet. I didn’t see any tours available from Veliko Tarnovo and only the Tourist Info Centre had information on buses and schedules. I highly recommend talking to them before heading out. Buses/Minibuses heading to Dryanovo Monastery (direction Gabrovo) leave from the West Bus Station. For more information on the Dryanovo Region, please see their local tourism page here.
Have you ever been misled into going to the wrong place? Did it work out in the end? Please share in the comments below.
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