Continuing north I bypassed Kazanlak on the E871 then turned right towards the E85, otherwise known as the Shipka Pass. The 13km mountain pass rises to a height of 1150m, links the towns of Gabrovo in the north to Kazanlak in the south and was the site of many battles with the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish war between 1877 and 1878. It’s a great road, very twisty and very little traffic. There are some great views of the area and climbing up the mountain the temperature drops to much more comfortable levels.
At about half way and the highest point of the pass is a turning off which takes you higher up the mountain. The road surface detiorates rapidly and you have to carefully pick your path around some large potholes. The road narrows and becomes gravel in places and the sun shining through the trees creates a mottled effect on the road which makes it even harder to see the potholes. As you continue ascending, it’s not long before you reach the tree line and the landscape opens up.
Navigating the tight bends, gravel and potholes requires a certain amount of concentration and it’s almost a surprise when you round a bend and see the Torch Monument in front of you.
From here you can see the Buzludzha Monument and it’s only a short ride to reach it. Buzludzha is a 1432m peak in the Balkan mountains and was the location of the final battle between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire in 1868. It’s also the location of the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party (better known as the Buzludzha Monument). The monument was opened in 1981 but has stood derelict for the last 30 years following the fall of the Iron Curtain. The views are staggering and it seems as if you can see the whole of Bulgaria.
The Monument is in a very bad state and covered with graffiti but still very impressive. I spent ages just looking around and admiring the views. It was difficult to leave, not least because the temperature was a perfect mid 20° and I knew it would be a lot warmer once I reached the lower altitudes.