Just a 50 minute southbound drive from Vidin will take you to Belogradchik, a town surrounded by rock formations of unrivalled strangeness and beauty. The Belogradchik Rocks, covering an area approximately 30 km long and 3 to 5 km wide, look like intruders from outer space amidst the wavy uplands of western Stara Planina (Balkan range).
Why such a striking difference? This fairytale in stone was sculpted by nature more than 220 million years ago. The marl-sandstone rocks that were deposited here during the late Palaeozoic period were flooded by a sea. Tonnes of gravel, sand and clay were brought down by torrential rivers and deposited on the sea bed. They were eventually welded into conglomerates and sandstones with a reddish hue due to iron oxide. When the Balkan range thrust itself upwards, the area turned into land, which erosion made its studio. The unsurpassed natural sculptor carved the sandstones into fantastic figures resembling animals, human heads, mediaeval castles and towers, some of which rise to heights of more than 200 m.
The most spectacular rock formations are in the immediate vicinity of Belogradchik. Each one of them – The Madonna, The Monks, The Horseman, The Schoolgirl, The Dervish, The Bear, Adam and Eve, Haidut Velko, The Castle, The Little Shepherd, The Doves, The Lion – is associated with a legend.
The second group of rock formations lies to the west of the town. The best known among them are Zbegove, Erkyupria, Borich and The Twins. You will also get to see a gallery of rock pyramids similar to those found in the Rila mountain. Little and Big Zbeg have been used as a natural fortress over the centuries by the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians and Turks. Some 4 km east of Belogradchik is a third group of rock formations situated around the Latin Fortress and the Lepinishka Cave. The fourth group lies between the villages of Borovitsa and Falkovets, and includes the famous Pine Stone, Bee Stone, Torlak, and Maiden’s Stone. The last group of rock formations is located around the villages of Gyurgich and Belotintsi.
The Belogradchik Rocks were the only Bulgarian entry in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition (2007-2011) and were rated among the Top 77 nominees eligible for consideration by the UNESCO Panel of Experts. None of the 7 winners was located in Europe.
Helpful as it is, the above information doesn’t do justice to the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Belogradchik rocks. The surreal sculptures tend to change their form and colour depending on the time of the day and the viewpoint of the observer (thanks to the new attraction – hot-air balloon flight – they can be scanned from the sky as well.) And we cannot but repeat the humble admission of Konstantin Jireček, Czech historian and Education minister of Bulgaria in the 1880s, who exclaimed upon his first visit here: “No. This cannot be described. It has to be seen.”