Hiking from Istanbul to Vienna and then to Italy following the mountain ranges in Bulgaria and then the Carpathians (Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia …) : 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 the beginning in Islam regions (Sunni, Alevi …).
It is a very multi-cultural area that I will cross but with a common thread: the mountains. After the warm-up in Turkey, I will hike almost always in mountains (Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila, Balkans, Carpathes, Tatras, Alps …). This will again be a physical challenge with more kilometers and elevations than in previous years.
Departure is scheduled from the Asian side of Istanbul on Monday, April 29. In the meantime, I just have to learn Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Polish, to improve my Greek and my Italian. For Serbian, minority languages (Hungarian, Russian), Czech and German, I’m giving up…
To see update information from may to september 2019, see the french version of Caminaire.
I’m planning to start 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 will hike through Turkish Thrace with few kilometers on the shore of the Black Sea. This start will be a good warm-up with little relief and many villages. The very brief passage in Greece will hardly give me time to drink a little μετριο.
Arriving in Bulgaria, I will have walked 400 kilometers to attack the hike through all the mountains of the country : Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila and Balkans with a passage through the capital Sofia. I will meet my first difficulties in the Pirin. The elevation is up to 2914 meters. I might be there too early in the season and opt for a lower altitude way. To cross the Danube where the Carpathians meet the Balkans at the Iron Gates, I will walk a short week in Serbia.
After 1000 kilometers in Slavic countries (Bulgaria and Serbia), I will discover the Latin Romania on almost 1000 kilometers. This is the country where I will walk the longest distance. I will be always in the Carpathian Mountains and will go half circle to follow those. Several long parts of autonomy, in high mountains, await me. This will be the case especially in Retezat and Fagaras. To enter Ukraine through an official border post, I will end my Romanian journey in the rural and touristic Maramureș.
A week with 240 kilometers will be necessary to hike through the Ukrainian Carpathians. The mountains are less high and less steep. Walking should be easier. There are also more villages. It will be against the least developed region of all my hike through Eastern Europe.
Back in the European Union, I will hike along the border between Slovakia and Poland. The beginning will be 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 should be 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 will have walked 730 kilometers, but I think I will need some more hikes… like last year when I played extra time with a part of Via Alpina, I will continue in the Austrian Alps, to the Italian border with half a thousand kilometers for dessert.
See the details of the stages, as well as all the information on logistics (supply, accommodation, water …) in the pages dedicated to each of the 6 parts of my hike (fot the moment only in the French version) :
Internet website- thru-hikes :
Forerunner on the crossing of Europe from West to Black Sea, the Englishman Patrick Leigh Fermor walked from London to Istanbul, between the two wars. His books are very informative about this region during this troubled time.
More recently, in 1992-1993, Englishman 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.
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 will not be the only one in the area this year because another French from Romania to join Hendaye for a crossing Carpates-Alps-Pyrenees (CAP). His tracks are available on Visugpx.
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…). 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.
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 …