Through hiking from Istanbul to Italy following the mountain ranges in Bulgaria, the Carpathians (Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia …) and the Alps : the way, the daily stages, tips, accommodation, GPS tracks..
4 months hiking, 3800 kilometers from Turkey to the Italian border through Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Austria and on some more or less parts in Greece, Serbia, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary to get to Italy. Twelve countries and even two continents with a symbolic start on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.
A hike mostly on the other side of the old iron curtain. Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Mitteleuropa … these countries with shifting borders were surrounded by powerful empires. They have gained their independence over the past 150 years. Nowadays, they are at a key moment in their history: to heal the wounds of this troubled past, consolidate democracy, develop the economy to close the gap with the West and anchor (or not) themselves to Western Europe.
Twelve countries, outside and in the European Union, Cyrillic or Latin alphabet, twelve languages, several minorities, a long part in the Orthodox world but also Catholic areas (Greek Catholic, Uniates …), Protestant and Muslims at the beginning (Turkey, south of Bulgaria).
It is a very multi-cultural area that I hiked but with a common thread: the mountains. After the warm-up in Turkey, I was almost always in mountains (Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila, Balkans, Carpathes, Tatras, Alps …). It was a physical challenge with more kilometers and elevations than in previous years.
My Eastern Europe thru-hike
I started in Istanbul on the Asian side of Bosphorus. Crossing it from Asia to Europe is always a very strong experience. To reach the Bulgarian mountains, I hiked through Turkish Thrace with few kilometers on the shore of the Black Sea. It has been a good warm-up almost without elevation and many villages.
Arriving in Bulgaria, I walked 400 kilometers and began the hike through all the mountains of the country : Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila and Balkans with a passage through the capital Sofia. I met my first difficulties in the Pirin with still a lot of snow. To cross the Danube where the Carpathians meet the Balkans at the Iron Gates, I walked a short week in Serbia.
After 1000 kilometers in Slavic countries (Bulgaria and Serbia), I discovered the Latin Romania for 1000 kilometers. This is the country where I walked the longest distance. I was always in the Carpathian Mountains and went half circle to follow those. I had several long parts of autonomy, in high mountains, especially in Retezat and Făgăraș. To enter Ukraine through an official border post, I ended my Romanian journey in the rural and touristic Maramureș.
A week with 240 kilometers has been necessary to hike through the Ukrainian Carpathians. The mountains are less high and less steep. There are also more villages. It was the least developed region of all my hike through Eastern Europe.
Back in the European Union, I hiked along the border between Slovakia and Poland. The beginning was quite easy in the continuity of the Ukrainian Carpathians before, in the central part, the hike through the High Tatras. They culminate at 2655 meters with steep terrain, high mountains. It is a touristic range with marked trails, huts and I was there in high season, in August. Then the Carpathians gradually are getting less higher along the Czech border to Bratislava, on the banks of the Danube.
From the Ukrainian border, I walked 730 kilometers, but like last year when I played extra time with a part of Via Alpina, I continued in the Austrian Alps, to the Italian border with half a thousand kilometers for dessert.
See the details of the stages, the GPS tracks, as well as all the information on logistics (supply, accommodation, water …) in the pages dedicated to each of the 6 parts of my hike :
Internet website- thru-hikes :
Forerunner of Europe through hike from West to Black Sea, Patrick Leigh Fermor walked from London to Istanbul, between the two wars. His book is very informative about this region during this troubled time.
More recently, in 1992-1993, Nicholas Crane hiked from Cap Finisterre in Spain to Istanbul following the different massifs (Pyrenees, Alps, Carpathians …). He published his story in a book “Clear waters rising”.
The thru-hike of the Carpathians was carried out by Simon Dubuis in 2011.
In 2004 and 2013, Łukasz Supergan thru-hiked Carpathians. Have a look to his website for more informations.
In 2015, Romanians hiked all Carpathians from Serbia to Austria.
In 2015 and 2016, a Czech, Vicky went via the Carpathians to Istanbul. In 2017, a Czech walked from home to Istanbul following roughly the same route as mine.
Two French, Nil and Marie began in 2018 a crossing of Europe from the southern end of Portugal to Istanbul with an expected arrival in late 2019. Their adventure is reported on their website Deux Pas vers l’autre.
In 2019, 3 Canadians began a crossing from Cape Emine in Bulgaria to Cape Finisterre (Macedonia, Via Dinarica, Via Alpina, Pyrenees …) on a route they named the Trans European Alpine Route (TEAR).
I wasn’t the only one in the area in 2019 because another French hiked from Romania to Portugal for a way Carpates-Alps-Pyrenees (CAP). His tracks are available on Visugpx.
In 2019, Poyerbany Włóczykij thru-hiked all Carpatian following this way. Another Pole, Roman Ficek, Roman Ficek, trail runner succeeded to thru-hike all the range in 40 days.
Also in 2019, Michal Medek hiked through Carpathian mountains from Czech Republic to Danube river in Romania. There is a lot of informations (GPS track, water, resupply, blog) on his website Transcarpathian.org.
Borders crossing (for EU citizens) :
Schengen Countries : Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Italy.
European Union but not in the Schengen area : Bulgaria and Romania.
Out of European Union : Turkey, Ukraine and Serbia. An updated ID card is needed for Serbia and Turkey, but the passport is required for Ukraine (without visa).
Ticks : I made the choice to be vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis. Eastern Europe to Switzerland is part of the affected sectors. For Lyme disease, the areas crossed are mostly in medium risk areas ( see map ).
Bears : there are bears in almost all the country (6000 in Romania…). I saw two. I saw traces repeatedly. The first was afraid of me and fled quickly. The second, leaving a village, seemed accustomed to human beings and did not seem to be disturbed by me. Most of the time, I avoided camping. In the wild, I frequently used the whistle to signal my presence.
As on the Appalachian Trail, I bring 20 meters of rope, a carabiner and a waterproof bag to hang food using the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) method.
Dogs : as a precaution, given what I read about the aggressiveness of dogs, especially in Romania, I got a rabies vaccination.
Shepherd dogs can be very mean. The shepherds say : this one is bad and often has difficulty to contain it.
My experience :
1 Best solution, first be spotted by the shepherd who accompanies you to cross the area occupied by the flock
2 Walk without paying too much attention to the pack that follows you barking
3 To whistle. In my backpack there is a whistle as a chest strap. Useful as, it has often stopped the pack of dogs
4 Show the stick but without aggressiveness otherwise they are even more excited
5 I always had stones with me
Nevertheless, the only time I was bitten was in case number one…
I keep the equipment of my Appalachian Trail 2017 adapted during my thru-hike of the Balkans in 2018. It gave me satisfaction. I needed everything and did not miss anything. There are just a few slight variations in branding on some equipment and trying to optimize to get closer to 8kg in base weight without water and food. Without ultra light hiker, this weight seems very reasonable to be autonomous and be able to stay comfortable with slightly negative temperatures.
I could have reached the 8kg by changing the heavy stuffs (backpack, tent, sleeping bag, mat) with new products, now on the market and lighter. I stayed with my tent. I’m happy. I’ll use it for the fourth year. Large enough (made for two persons), it can be comfortable when you are confined, with the backpack, in bad weather. There are now lighter-weight mats, but that would be investing to avoid just a few grams. Others backpacks as North Face with its Hydra 38l around a kilo or Salomon with its Out Week 38 + 6l announced for 815g could deserve to be tested.
On the other hand, I have studied everything else in detail to earn article by article and finally 400 grams less than in previous years.
In each of the parts, I put comments on the “consumable”: gas cartridges (type MSR, Primus, Coleman …), food …