Flying is an incredible thing. It is so completely foreign to our mind and body but at the same time: so liberating, thrilling and scary in a good, challenging way. Almost everyone I have talked to has had a dream in which they were flying, but not everyone dreams of actually trying it.
The best present I ever got was the opportunity to fly a plane (because Stef is the most wonderful person). It was a little (co-piloted by an instructor, of course) flying monster with one engine which sent my heart up in the air. You can read a short description of it in this fun challenge by Svetoslav Dimitrov, who compiled the travel experiences of 16 bloggers, who had to tell their favourite stories in only 50 words.
Flying has made me realize that not only I have no fear of heights: I most probably have no instinct for self-preservation whatsoever. But anyway: when my boyfriend got a paragliding flight as a present from his friends it did not take a lot of hesitating before I joined him with my own air ride (you can’t have more than one person + the instructor during paragliding, so if there is two or more of you, you have to wait for your turn).
There are dozens of paragliding sites across the country, but we decide on Sopot- in the Southern Central part of Bulgaria. The road to there is fun and beautiful unless you have spent most of the previous evening drinking craft beer with your boyfriend’s new best friends from Euroko. The problem with craft beer is that it is often above the standard 4%, so 3 flavour-heavy beers are more than enough to call it a night. My hangover is killing me and the extreme turns on the road are not helping: how on Earth am I going to fly?
In fact we weren’t sure until the last minute whether we will be paragliding. There was an uncertain weather forecast, so we literally got a call from the instructor and hopped in the car. There’s been a quite long Indian summer this year so we almost regret getting the car: there are dozens and dozens of motorbike riders on the way, enjoying the last sunny days. When we finally get to Sopot we realize there is an extra reason for the motorbike traffic: there had been a motorbike/rock fest in the city during the weekend.
Anyway: Stef is the one with the present, so he goes first. We leave our things at the car and he sets off with the lift. I am more than happy to spend some time with a warm cup of coffee, fighting last night’s beer demons.
I am pleasantly surprised by how nice the coffee/lunch place is. It is right next to the lift entrance and it offers breakfast snacks and lunch meals. If you are into the whole bio trend you can find lots of healthy options here: otherwise there’s plenty of beer and good moussaka. Obviously: I am a bad target for the beer offerings right now so I stick to coffee and bagel.
I’ve brought my monster zoom Panasonic with me so that I can get some shots of Stef in the air. Luckily, the instructor has a Go Pro and promises to send videos and more photos later on. So photo-wise: we are all covered: from the ground and up in the air.
Having backup footage from Go Pro is great, because most paragliding wings really look like each other and it is hard to recognize the passengers without additional zooming help. After dozens of shots of a 14 year old girl, I finally detect Stef in the air and judging by the loops in the air: it seems like he is having a lot of fun.
About an hour after he set off with the lift, it is finally my turn and I head up the mountain. The lift ride is absolutely fantastic.
There is a gorgeous view over the city of Sopot and the higher you get into the mountain, the more beautiful it becomes.
It takes about 15 minutes or so to go up to the hill, where you will jump for the paragliding ride.
There are some pretty hard core cows up there, under the very last stop of the lift- never realized they can wander off so high.
And of course: there are many bike riders and off road motorcycle enthusiasts. The area is great for all kinds of extreme sports and outdoor activities and mountain bike contests are often held nearby.
The wind is changing so it takes a while until we are ready to jump. It’s easy: you just follow the guidelines and make a nice sprint to gain momentum.
Valery, the instructor, tells me his parents were professional parachutists so it isn’t a big surprise that he himself has turned to this sport. So far he’s got over 5K paragliding flights in Bulgaria and abroad but he tells me these are just numbers and it all depends on how quickly you learn: some people pick it up quickly, others aren’t ready to teach paragliding even after a huge number of flights.
There are many different accounts (so if you know more about the topic, feel free to drop a comment!) on when was the first paragliding attempt in Bulgaria and who was the very first para-glider. More or less, it seems like the birth year of this sport was 1987 so we are peers.
For those of you who aren’t into Eastern European history: Bulgaria was part of the Soviet Bloc so the pioneers of (Western) extreme sports either had to have the blessing of the powerful elite or go really under the radar about such activities so even on professional sports forums there are disputes and missing information about the history of paragliding here.
Anyway: the experience is more than amazing. You feel freedom, excitement, curiosity, fun and all kinds of positive thrills. The view is gorgeous- even on a cloudy, gloomy day.
If you have a strong stomach: definitely say “Yes” when they ask you whether you want to do loops in the air. Even with all my last-night-beer-hurdles I still opted in for the loops and it was amazing. My head was spinning for almost half an hour after that but it was worth it (Note: if you have any proven vestibular issues, please disregard my comment and don’t do the loops).
There is nothing scary or dangerous about it if you are with a skilled, experienced instructor (trust me, telling mothers that you are about to jump from a cliff and go paragliding can truly change your perspective on what is fun and what is considered by them to be exteeeeemly dangerous).
Silly me- never learned to properly put on a helmet 😀
✓ Paragliding is not seasonal: you can enjoy it all year round as long as there are suitable wind conditions
✓ By all means: call the paragliding instructor and book a day in advance. It is not just about how many other people are in line to try it: it is about picking the right weather conditions, so don’t count on just showing up. You might be lucky, but it’s always good to sort it out with the instructor beforehand. We tried Sky Xtrem Paragliding
✓Wear warm, wind-proof clothes: even if it is quite warm in the city, up in the mountain, where you will be paragliding, can get chilly. Flying adds more wind and chill into the picture
✓On sunny days sunglasses and sunscreen are a good idea
✓Set aside some time for it and don’t schedule anything shortly afterwards: it takes 15-20 min to go up with the lift, 5-10 minutes to set up all the gear and 20-30 min to hover in the air. However, the wind is not always right: so it might take a while to wait out the right kind of wind in terms of speed and direction. It could take 5 minutes to be ready to set off on a good day or more than an hour if there are issues with wind direction. It could take even more. One of the reasons to book in advance is that instructors are always monitoring the forecast and trying to pick a day with good weather conditions.
✓The lift ride is 10BGN: not all paragliding companies include it in the price of flying. Obviously, you need it only on the way up 😉
How to get there?
The side road to the Sopot Mountain Lift is on the left side of the road, just before entering the city of Sopot, on the sub-Balkan road from Sofia to Karlovo.