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The Seven Rila Lakes are Bulgaria's most visited lakes. These glacial lakes in the mountains hold a natural scenic spot in Rila National Park, complete with a chair lift to reach close to the lakes. Located in the Rila Mountains in northwestern Bulgaria, the natural beauty of the area has made the lakes a favorite hiking destination less than two hours from the capital city of Sofia. Local legend tells of two giants, husband and wife, who once inhabited the spot. When enemies attacked them, the man fought valiantly but was eventually felled. The lakes were created by the wife's tears over her loss. Several endangered species of plants and animals are found here and in a few other locations in Rila National Park.
Created by glacial action, the seven lakes nestle one above the other, each draining to the next in a series of small streams and cascades. The outflow from the group forms the Dzherman River. Starting with the highest, the lakes are:
'The Tear', 1.7 acres in size and 15 feet deep, At an altitude of 8,317 feet, The Tear has exceedingly clear waters.
'The Eye', 17 acres with a depth of 123 feet at 8,010 feet, with an oval or eye-shaped shoreline.
'The Kidney', 21 acres and almost 92 feet deep. At 7,487 feet, this lake has the steepest shores and is shaped somewhat like a kidney.
'The Twin', 22 acres, 90 feet in depth, and located at 7,359 feet. Because the narrow, shallow center section sometimes dries up in midsummer heat, the lake is sometimes divided into two lakes.
'The Trefoil' has a highly irregularly-shaped shoreline. At 6.4 acres and 21 feet in depth, The Trefoil lies at 7,270 in altitude.
'Fish Lake', 8.6 acres and the shallowest lake at 8.2 feet. Fish lake has plenty of fish-primarily trout- and is found at 7,165 in elevation.
'Lower Lake'. With 15 acres and a depth of 36.1 feet, the lake sits at 6,873 feet.
Popular walking paths circle the lakes and are often quite busy in warm weather. Many times, walkers circle only some of the lakes, particularly if they have arrived by bus at the bottom of the chairlift and need to catch the last bus back to Sofia. Small ski chalets at the bottom and top of the chairlift serve basic meals and snacks. Other people carry a picnic lunch to eat overlooking the lakes. Tourist lodgings can be found at the ski huts but are usually rough, dormitory-style rooms. July and August are the best times to visit because the lakes are often ice-covered and surrounded by deep snow between October and June. A jacket is recommended even during the summer as surprise storms can appear here at any time. Although the trail is considered of moderate difficulty, sturdy walking shoes or boots are recommended as some short sections are quite steep and rocky.
Another impressive sightseeing destination in the Seven Rila Lakes area is the Rila Monastery. It is possible to trek from one to the other, but that leaves very little time to enjoy either, so most visitors try to schedule two days for the visit. Rila Monastery is one of the iconic landmarks of the Bulgarian national identity. Built originally in the reign of Tsar Peter I around 950 AD, the monastery is usually attributed to the hermit, Saint Ivan of Rila. In actuality, Saint Ivan lived in the caves nearby without material possessions, and the monastery was built by his students. The complex was rebuilt in the 14th century; the oldest buildings existing date from the 1330s. Although destroyed by the Ottomans in the 15th century, the monastery was again rebuilt with the support of Sultana Mara Brankovic, the Rossikon monastery of Mount Athos and the Russian Orthodox Church. The complex is impressive and contains relics from the various periods through which it has existed. Bus tours are regularly scheduled to the monastery from Sofia.
With 200,269 acres, the Rila National Park is the largest national park in Bulgaria and one of the largest in Europe. The park encompasses the Rila Mountain Range and includes many high peaks and snow-capped views. Hiking in the mountains is a popular pastime. Many trails, marked and unmarked, lead to over 200 small glacial lakes and offer views of abundant wildlife and birds. Many lodging and resort locations exist near the park, since it is a popular destination for a summer holiday. Organized, guided tours can be found to most of the more prominent natural features in the park, with lodgings and transportation arranged by any reputable travel agent. The destination is becoming more popular with European visitors each year.
About two hours north of Seven Rila Lakes, the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia offers some of the best historic sightseeing in Europe. Hugging the slopes of Mount Vitosha, the site was settled around 200 AD but didn't actually become a city until many centuries later. Located at the crossroads of two historic trade routes, Sofia has an impressive collection of ruins of buildings from its several incarnations under the governance of a number of different rulerships. Now a cosmopolitan city with over a million residents, this long and colorful history has left Sofia with numerous historic churches, palaces and official residences-turned-museums. Some of the more impressive attractions include the Museum of Natural History, the National Historical and Archeological Museum, a separate National Archeological Museum, the National Art Gallery, National Museum of Ethnography, and the elegant Ivan Vazov National Theater.
International conferences and scientific meetings are often held in Sofia. The city is well-supplied with international chain hotels augmented by more informal hostels, guest houses and inns. The hot spring mineral baths that enchanted the Romans are still open for business outside of the city center. The eclectic mix of nightlife keeps many visitors content. Two ski centers just outside of the city on Mount Vitosha offer plenty in the way of winter sports such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and sledding. Every season provides plenty to see and do in Bulgaria, but hiking to Seven Rila Lakes is best left to the summer months.
* Statistics listed on the sidebar are for the largest-Twin Lake-only.
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