A narrow road rolls along a deep rocky river gorge. It is the only connection of the border villages with the rest of the country. Some time ago the villagers lived in constant fear caused by the propaganda for eventual attack by the neighboring country. It was decided that this beautiful river may be sacrificed for security reasons. The rocks have been loaded with dynamite which explosion would be triggered in case of emergency and stop the invasion of the enemy.
This is neither a fiction, nor a story from ancient times. This place still exists at the frontier and holds the stories of the many who tried to escape outside the Iron Curtain in hope of a new life.
Today nobody fears the enemy. The picturesque gorge is still there and the road along the river leads to the iron remains of the Cold war. Protected areas have been declared thus confirming that the former restricted zone turned out to be a refuge for the wild nature. The isolation has preserved the purity of the border regions which we invite you to visit with a bicycle.
Through Romania to Iron Gate at the Danube
The Iron Curtain Trail goes underneath the oldest railway track of Romania at Oraviţa and close to the ruins of the Terezia fortress towards Petrivola. From here the ICT follows the Euro Velo 6 – the Danube. At the Iron Gates National Park the river’s gorge is only 150 meters wide. The route passes through quiet and beautiful places where access was allowed only with a special pass during the Cold war. The intensive mining in Moldova Nouă has transformed the nature and scenery into a living reminder of the communist regime. The road follows the Danube below limestone rock faces with spectacular caves and places full of history.
From Iron Gate to the Balkan Mountains
After crossing the Danube at the spectacular gorge Iron Gate the trail follows the western outskirts of the Balkan mountain that gave its name to the whole peninsula. Between the Serbian towns Negotin and Zajechar the road goes only dozens of meters from the border line. Worth visiting in this section are the wine cellars of Roglevo – a unique UNESCO heritage site offering wines and liqueurs. The intense traffic stretch from Zajechar to Knjazevac can be avoided by using a calmer road having a non-asphalted section though. The next town Pirot is in the lowland, then the route leads to Dimitrovgrad at the Bulgarian border.
From the town of Kalotina to Strumitsa
After entering Bulgaria the trail goes through a mosaic of mountains, valleys and basins. Abandon barriers, border posts and monuments are the remains of the Socialist regime. The road passes the town of Tran, then Kyustendil with its many mineral water sources and architectural landmarks. The ICT continues its way at the foot of Osogovo Mountain and along the Struma River valley to Blagoevgrad. An up-hill leads to the border crossing point with FYR Macedonia followed by a descent to the town of Delcevo. The outskirts of Vlahina and Maleshevska Mountains are the trail’s scenery to the touristic town of Berovo. The highest point of this section is the Suvi Laki recreational village in the Ograzhden Mountain followed by a nice down-hill to the lowland where Strumitsa town is situated along with interesting historical and architectural sites.
From the town of Strumitsa to Gotse Delchev
The route continues eastward through the outskirts first of the “Macedonian” and then the “Bulgarian” part of Belasitsa Mountain. Vast sceneries to the north show the valley of River Strumeshnitsa and Ograzhden Mountain. Belasitsa Mountain is a protected area with pristine flora including century-old plane trees and chestnut trees. After the town of Petrich the route crosses the Struma River valley and climbs the Paril col between Pirin and Alibotush Mountains. Two former frontier posts reconstructed into mountain huts offer accommodation, but the nearby villages do not have asphalt connection yet even though the area is no longer restricted. The route descends to Mesta River valley and Gotse Delchev town.
The relatively high western part of Rodopi Mountains is challenging the traveler, with its steep terrain, but also mesmerizing his sight by beautiful meadows, river valleys, dense forests and tall rock faces. Optional loops invite to touch the border itself and the remains of the Cold war’s infrastructure. This part of the mountain is famous for its preserved nature and biodiversity and the hospitality of the locals.
The Eastern part of the Rodopi Mountains is lower and the valleys become wider. After the town of Zlatograd the route leaves the main road and goes up to the medieval fortress Ustra. From Kyrdzhali to Ivailovgrad the road is relatively flat. Before leaving the mountain a possible loop south from Ivailolovgrad offers a visit to an ancient Roman villa and other interesting sites.
Thrace Valley and Sakar Mountain
The road enters Greece and the Thracian valley passing the small town of Kyprinos and Petrota village. Soon the route returns to Bulgaria at the town of Svilengrad – starting point for many pan Asiatic cycling adventures. The ICT continues to Sakar Mountain entering the buffer zone with restricted access in the past and a lot of remainings of the former border infrastructure. There lies the almost deserted village of Matochina and its remarkable medieval fortress Bukelon. Being an external border for the European Union this frontier is yet carefully guarded. After crossing Tundzha River the route enters Turkey.
The Republic of Turkey
The route enters Turkey descending from the Dervent hills along Tundzha River on well maintained roads though partly covered by gravel. This calm area, dominated by oak-trees and open spaces, is the habitat of the Eastern Imperial Eagle. The colorful town of Edirne, famous for its wrestling contest, the beautiful Selimiye Mosque and other architectural sites, invites for a stroll. Then the trail continues through agricultural landscapes to the town of Kirklareli. The road back to the Bulgarian border leads through the western part of Yildiz/ Strandzha Mountain, where the forest become denser and encompasses more and more of the landscape.
After its last return to Bulgaria the route passes through the territory of Nature park “Strandzha” – the biggest protected area in the country. One of the reasons for the abundance of flora and fauna in Strandzha is the area’s geographical location at a bio-geographical crossroad between the European and Asian continents. Here the road once again gets really close to the border entering the former security zone by the village of Slivarovo. Following the valley of Veleka River through dense forests the trail finds its way to the Black sea at Sinemorets resort. Only ten kilometers left to the rocky seafront at Rezovo village where the Iron Curtain Trail has its Grand Final! A watchtower at the frontier post is still strictly observing the estuary of the river that marks the border between Bulgaria and Turkey reminding that crossing is not allowed. Fortunately, boat-serviced border crossing point is planned to be build by the government.