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Chairlift To The Top Of The World In Panichishte & Bulgaria's Famous Rila Monastery

It's hard to forget a day like this. Clean mountain air. Excerise. Views. History. No, I will not be forgetting this day any time soon. 

Rila National Park

We didn't have two days to see the Seven Rila Lakes and the Rila Monestary so we had to squish the trip into one day. Our guesthouse owner didn't think it could be done. She doesn't know us very well. 

We drove through Sapareva Banya to reach Panichishte and rode the Pionerska chair lift through the Rila National Park. It was a mission to find as the signage isn't clear and we stopped to ask quite a number of hikers along the well. Little honey huts lined the street to the chairlift and their proprieters asked us to park at the bottom, I drove through and used the carpark at the top. My guess was they were hoping for business as we walked through. 

The chairlift was 18 lev each (€9) for a return ticket and the kids were free. That AUD$27 was worth so much more. The 20-minute chair trip goes over the most beautiful landscape you can imagine. Although I imagine in the winter it would be even more so. Tip: Bring a light sweater, the higher you go the cooler it gets. 


At the top of the chairlift Mia spotted snow on the mountain. And that was her newest wish, to have a snowball, so the adventure began. We commenced a hike to the top of a mountain just to get a snowball, oh and to see one of the famous Seven Rila Lakes, both were well worth the effort and scraped knees.

I was so proud of my 4 and 5 year old – this was their first “real” mountain hike. They really pushed themselves and it was all worthwhile being on top of the world.



In fact, I had an impulsive moment of insanity (possibly because of the altitude) and started singing a few lines from The Sound Of Music.

Or maybe I was just inspired by the immeasurably beautiful surroundings. You can decide.


The descent was a bit easier, although all of us ended up on our backsides at least once.


While many hikers continue down, we knew the kids had finished for the day and made our way back down via the chairlift. Despite the cool, refreshing wind, my shoulders got sunburnt on the 20-minute descent. So bring sunscreen.


Rila Monastery

After our hearty climb the kids were beat and napped as we drove to the world famous Rila Monastery.


It was a beautiful complex filled with a very rich history. Dating back to the 10th century, it has been damaged and rebuilt multiple times. It is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and is situated high within the Rila Mountains. The peace and serenity that surround it, due to its remote location, is just phenomenal.

The whole complex occupies about 8,800 m² in a strange square-type shape with the 19th century majestic church in the centre. With 5 domes, 3 altars and 2 side chapels it’s hard not to just stare at the exterior for the hours you spend there. But inside you will find famous frescoes from 1846 and icons dating back to 14th century.

The buildings around the outside are the monks living quarters and it was forbidden to climb the stairs and take a peek. Apparently there are 300 chambers, a kitchen and a library.

While we didn’t take the time to visit the museum, since the kids were bordering on boredom, if you have time we do recommend a visit to go see Rafail’s Cross. This wooden cross was made from a whole piece of wood and whittled down using magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. It took the monk 12 years to make. I wish we had given the kids an ice cream to tide them over and taken a look. 


The Rila Monastery is a beautiful, peaceful place, where one can meditate and enjoy the views. While realistically this is less likely to happen with children, they did find the small water fountains with giant steel spoons very fascinating just long enough for me to gain one minute of spiritual quietude.


We were so glad we had made the effort to squeeze this in before leaving for Poland. The road trip was one of the best memories we had of Bulgaria and this day topped them all... in more ways than one.

Here's what you have to say...

"I respond to every comment by private email. So please leave me comments, I love chatting to you" -
Posted by Josh Rueff on
Bulgaria looks amazing! Hadn't really considered visiting, but maybe I should. :)
Posted by Rosie @ Eco-Gites of Lenault on
Gosh - Bulgaria looks beautiful and Rila Monastery is simply stunning. Off to have a read through more of your blog posts and see the wonderful places you have visited.
Posted by Rachel on
I love that you took your kids with you hiking in Bulgaria! My husband and I plan on doing the same thing this summer. My girls are 9, 7, and 4 so seeing your 4 year old was able to do it is encouraging! Can I ask you a couple questions?

1. Did you drive yourselves? How were the road conditions? I was planning on taking a shuttle or hiring a driver, but if the roads aren't as bad as I'm hearing they are, I'd rather drive ourselves to save time.

2. What time did you get to the chair lift and about how long were you up on the mountains before heading down again?

3. Where did you stay the night? We have two nights so we don't have to cram everything in to one day. About how long did you stay at the monastery?

Posted by Lynn on
Hi ! Seven Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery looked amazing! My hubby and I are planning to go up to Seven Rila Lakes. However, we are a little worried as to the following:
1. We are planning to drive and am wondering if it is easy to find the place and also if there are any parking spots? (our driving roads in our home country are the opposite of Bulgaria system)
2. Once we get off the chairlift, is it easy to find our way around the lakes? We are just nervous as we are not really season hikers and is it possible to get lost?
3. What time do you have to leave in the morning in order to cram two places into a day?

Thank you so much!

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