Most Inspirational Moment
The whole trip was inspirational, though the most inspirational part is learning about the bears and other wildlife that live in these mountains, then slowly starting to understand how it all fits together. In addition, the Rodopi mountains are beautiful, particularly in Autumn - there are some great hikes in this trip, with fabulous views. The hotel and food were also great, with local milk, cheese and honey straight from the village. It was also good to be based in a single hotel for the week, with lots of walks starting and finishing right on our doorstep.
Thoughts on Group Leader
Julian was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about all aspects of biology, particularly bears. He is clearly well-known and connected in the local area, and did a great job of making everything run smoothly. One of the highlights of the trip were daily 'lectures' from Julian, usually during our scenic picnic lunches, about the various aspects of bear ecology.
Advice for Potential Travellers
If you have a reasonable level of fitness and have some hiking experience, you should be fine on this trip. A typical day would comprises leaving the hotel with a packed lunch at 08:30 and returning at around 16:00, hiking slowly in the mountains in-between. We totaled 75 km and 3500 m height gain over our 6 days of walking, with hikes ranging from 8 - 14 km. So, the pace is pretty slow, as we were constantly stopping to look for wildlife / change camera traps etc. Julian will adjust the pace and route depending on the groups fitness level and interests anyway. That said, the terrain is fairly steep and rocky, though the trails are good. So, if you have new gear or are relatively inexperienced at hiking, it would be a good idea to put in a bit of practice beforehand so that you get the most out of your trip.
Don't come expecting to see a bear. This is not a 'bear-watching' trip, but a chance to explore and learn about the Eurasian Brown Bear and the habitat in which is resides, plus contribute to a long-term research program. We didn't see a bear during our week, though there was plenty of evidence throughout all of our walks. We did, however, see a group of 11 wild boar during one of the evenings at the hide, who seemed to be acting very defensively and on high alert, occasionally charging off into the undergrowth to chase something away. Sure enough, there is a photo of a bear on one of the nearby camera traps at the exact time we were there in the hide, so there is little doubt a bear was within a few yards of us.