In February, people leave Sofia and head to Samokov for a single reason – to visit Borovets, the winter resort up into the pine woods of the Rhodope.
Our motivation, however, is different and this is not only because of the warm weather. Samokov, a town nestled in the plain between the Vitosha and the Rila is worth a separate visit. In the Middle Ages until the end of the 19th Century, it was a busy commercial and mining centre outshining Sofia by far. After the 1878 liberation, Samokov gradually lost its economic power. Yet, what is now a sleepy town is still dotted with arresting sights from its past. There are the Revival Period churches and the nunnery; the richly painted mosque and the beautiful Ottoman water fountain; the empty shell of a synagogue and the spacious house of a Jewish family; the charming city museum and the brazen community house from the interwar period.
The road to Samokov was our biggest draw. Going upstream the Iskar River, squeezed between the mountains, it is the perfect opportunity to test the power of the new Mazda3. Indeed, while in congested Sofia, the car attracts envious looks of passers-by. But this sleek beast of a car needs a road to roam freely with its 2.2 diesel 150 horse power engine – and the road to Samokov is just that.
Bend after bend, the road climbs, passing villages, hotels, the Urvich Fortress and the Iskar Dam. There are some potholes, some water and some sand on it, but despite these the Mazda3 with 6-speed automatic transmission accelerates and slows down easily, staying stable at any moment.
The speed shines on the Mazda Head Up Display along with every bit of important information you might need while driving, including the messages from the navigation system.
Lost in the moment of driving – and in the music booming from the BOSE® HiFi Sound System, – we arrive at Samokov as if we have been on the road for just a few minutes. When the long walk around the city is finally over, we hesitate. We want to prolong our Mazda3 trip as long as possible.
The navigation offers a solution – returning to Sofia on the longer road through the village of Zheleznitsa.
We don't hesitate anymore. We sit in the comfortable seats and hit the road running through the plane, towards the Vitosha looming on the horizon. We are lost in the pleasure.
When we enter the Vitosha, night is coming on and the lack of proper road signs makes the road barely visible. However, the Bi-XENON lights, the system for radar cruise control which checks the distance to the car in front and the Lane Departing Warning are making it easier to drive. Upon arriving in Sofia, we are not tired at all. Actually, we are ready for another Mazda3 adventure.