The Rhodope narrow gauge Septemvri - Dobrinishte is something that every person who loves travelling should know about! It is called "Tesnolineyka" and it is the only operating 760 mm narrow-gauge line in Bulgaria. The train trip connects the town of Septemvri (located close to the town of Pazardzhik and close to the road between Sofia and Plovdiv) with Dobrinishte, a famous winter resort close to Bansko. This means that the small train travels along beautiful valleys and gorges between Rhodope and Rila mountains and its final station is at the foot of Pirin mountain.
The route is very scenic and the train stops at around 25 different stations which are all close to the mountains. This means that you can combine your trip with sightseeing or even hiking. The three very important stations (at least to me) are Velingrad (a famous SPA resort, only about an hour and a half after you leave from Septemvri), Avramovo (the highest railway station on the Balkan peninsula - 1267 m above sea level) as well as Bansko (very close to Dobrinishte, a famous winter resort at the foot of Pirin mountain where many hiking trails start, e.g. for Vihren peak).
As for the timetable of the narrow gauge, the train leaves four times a day from Septemvri to Dobrinishte and four times a day the opposite direction too. It is better to double check the timetable on the website of the narrow gauge or at the official website of the Bulgarian railway.
You can get on or get off at any station. This means that you don’t have to travel to Septemvri (numerous trains go there, though) or Dobrinishte in order to catch the train. There are buses from different Bulgarian towns to Velingrad, Razlog and Bansko pretty much every day. You can also travel by car, but I personally wouldn’t feel safe about leaving the car for a couple of days. Also, Dagonovo and Belitsa station are relatively close (around 12 km away) to a place that I find really special – the Dancing Bears Park “Belitsa”. It is a park where around 20 former dancing bears now live happily in the mountain after being used as an attraction in their early years (and the method to teach them to dance was very cruel). Here you can learn more information about the park.
You can purchase a ticket in the train (it is really cheap, maybe around 4 EUR), but you can also buy a ticket in the beginning of your trip if you plan to reach the town of Septemvri by train. For instance, I bought a ticket at Sofia railway station directly to Bansko (via the narrow gauge line). I didn’t want to get off at the final station Dobrinishte, as my plan was to travel around Bansko. I definitely recommend checking the railway schedule in advance, so that the narrow gauge train leaves shortly after you arrive at the Septemvri railway station (at least this is how I did it and it was very convenient). At the Septemvri railway station there are signs that will take you to the railway for the narrow gauge – it is just around the corner, so you don’t leave the railway station.
Keep in mind that there is no water or food being sold in the train, so it is better to prepare in advance. The whole trip goes for about five hours and a half (from the first till the final station), but again – you can get off earlier, if you want to. I find the first couple of hours (from Septemvri to Avramovo) the best. The time goes by quickly - you will take plenty of photos! A joke among people who have travelled by the narrow gauge line is that the train is so slow that you can actually get off during the trip, walk for a bit and hop on again.
My train trip with the Rhodope narrow gauge was in autumn and I absolutely loved it. However, people say this is an amazing experience all year round … and I definitely don’t doubt that!