Kresna landscapes and the Struma River gorge

Traveling on Route E-79 between Sofia and southern Bulgaria or neighboring Greece takes us through a forced area, the deep gorge of the Struma River.

The Struma (or Strymónas) is a river that rises in the Vitosha Mountains, southwest of the Bulgarian capital, and heads south until it empties into the Aegean Sea, already in Greek territory. This river of great importance in ancient Thrace is today a place of beautiful landscapes and ideal features for sports such as kayaking or rafting.

Route E-79 (or European Highway 1) is the main connecting route between western Bulgaria and the south, as well as a necessary step to connect Sofia with Athens. This road runs parallel to the Struma River and the railroad.

A tunnel on the road E-79 in the Kresna Gorge
One of the tunnels on Route E-79.

If we start from Sofia on the A3 Highway, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south, we will arrive at the city of Blagoevgrad, the capital of the homonymous province and that we will be touring with IaniWorld in the coming days.

In this city, the highway ends and the E-79 continues to the south in the form of a conventional route. A few minutes later we will find an imposing mountainous area where the Struma River runs forming a narrow valley where the road and train tracks also circulate.

Struma river between mountains

This gorge, which takes place between the towns of Simitli and Kresna, is located in the middle of the Maleshevska Mountains to the west and the Pirin Mountains to the east.

The deep gorge is 18 kilometers long, its average height is 222 meters and it stands out for its sinuous curves. This is the segment of the river most visited by those persons in search of the proper flow for Kayak or Rafting between the rapids and the rocky slopes of the mountains.

Struma Gorge wood in autumn
The Struma River gorge is beautiful at any time of the year.
Rocks and mountains in the Struma Gorge
Different strata of vegetation and bare rocks form part of the mountainous landscape.
The E-79 route, close to the Struma River
The E-79 road is one lane in each direction. The A1 highway, which is being built in parallel to it, helps to speed up traffic and decongest the current route.

Among the many curves in the gorge, you can find some roadside restaurants and gift shops. Some have tables overlooking the river.

Stores and restaurantes close to the E-79 Route
Making a stop at one of the posts along the route. Here you can eat and buy things before continuing the trip.

Kresna road restaurant

Stores of souvenirs, e79 route

pedestrian bridge over struma river

There are some nice pedestrian bridges like the one in the image. In the gorge section, the Struma River has a faster flow and numerous rapids. For that reason, it is visited by athletes in search of action practicing kayak or rafting.

Near the town of Simitli is located the meeting point of athletes and companies that provide the service. A crossing of 12 kilometers of rapids in the Struma gorge takes around 1:30 or 2 hours and the prices are around 50 levs (25 euros), including equipment, advice by specialized guide and transfer from the final place of the crossing to the meeting point. Something important is that anyone, even without experience in sports, can perform the activity.

Monument near route, Kresna

We arrived in Kresna

Once we cross the gorge we arrive at Kresna, a town that is located on Route E79 and on the banks of the Struma River. It had 5,441 inhabitants in 2011.

This beautiful town has many restaurants, bars and road kiosks and consists of several houses and some factories.

The sandos of Melo stand out to the east of the town calling attention to travelers as soon as they enter the place.

In addition to visiting its small but picturesque center, or iconic places such as the King Samuel Monument or the St. Ivan Rilski Church, Kresna can be used as a starting point to visit other nearby attractive places such as those listed below.

The town of Vlahi, located 8 kilometers to the east and which is accessed by a dirt road that winds through the Pirin Mountains.

In Vlahi we find a small quiet and mountainous town known for its healing mineral springs. Here is one of the oldest churches in the region, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and dating from 1750. Another interesting site in Vlahi is the medieval monastery “Saints Cosmas and Damian” (Sveti Sveti Kozma and Damian).

kresna streets

To the southeast of Kresna we find the Gradeshka Banya water spring.

The monument to the fallen in the Kresna-Razlog uprising carried out by the Bulgarians and Macedonians against the Ottoman rule between 1878 and 1879, is located in the central area of the town.

About 22 kilometers east of Kresna is the Sinanitsa (Blue Peak), a peak 2.516 meters (8.254 ft.) high in the Pirin Mountains.

The Sinanitsa is composed of gray-pink marble and has a vertical wall of 200 meters high that allows category “A” mountaineering activities.

Near the summit of Sinanitsa and next to the climb path, there is a hut and the Sinanishko Lake, one of the most beautiful in Pirin. From the lake to the top there is about an hour’s walk.

To the west of Kresna, in the Maleshevska Mountains, and along the Breznishka River is the famous place known as the kingdom of the old banana trees.

On the hill above the Breznitsa village, you can visit the old monastery Saint Elijah The Prophet.

About 5 kilometers south of Kresna and on Route E79, the village of Dolna Gradeshnitsa is located, where the remains of the ancient city of Neyne are located.

On both sides of the Struma River is the Tisata Reserve, the largest habitat of the juniper tree in the Balkan peninsula. The reserve shelters more than one hundred species of birds.

The village of Oshtava is located 18 kilometers northeast of Kresna, on the Pirin Mountains. In the place there are two springs of mineral waters: Charming and Vrata Bath. The site is frequented by people who seek healing to problems in the bones and joints. It is located in the beautiful area of ​​Banishteto.

Kresna center town
The quiet streets of Kresna in summer.
Saint John of Rila Church
Church in honor of St. Ivan Rilski. (Photo: Anton Lefterov)

Accommodation and Gastronomy

In the center of Kresna are the Hotel Strimon Bed & Breakfast and the Hotel Restaurant Struma, with prices of around 15 euros per night. Then there are other options a few kilometers further south such as Family Hotel Byalata Kashta, in Dolna Gradeshnitsa; Kareliya Complex, Guestrooms Struma Dolinata or Wine Cellear Kiossev, in Strumyani.

Some options in the gastronomic offer are: Restaurant Rai, located on route E79, in the river gorge north of Kresna; Restaurant Pri Emo, at the northern entrance to the town; Djunglata, in the downtown area; Motel Rosi, Pri Mitaka, Mehana Raiski Kat and Vodenichkata, these last four located in Dolna Gradeshnitsa.


Kresna is an obligatory way for those who travel by land between Sofia and Athens, so it is very easy to reach it.

Bus companies such as Trans 5, Struma 11 or Union Ivkoni allow travel between Sofia and Kresna. The price is 6.15 euros one way and takes about 2:30 hours.

By train, the Bdz company covers the route between Sofia and Kresna. The prices start from 4.50 euros one way and the trip lasts 3:30 or 4 hours.

Keep in mind that to visit some attractions far from the central area of the town, it may be necessary to hire a transport service or have your own vehicle.

Kresna and Struma Gorge area map
The Struma River runs from north to south in the province of Blagoevgrad, southwest of Bulgaria. The gorge of the same one is located between the towns of Simitli and Kresna. The area is a must for those who travel between Sofia and Athens.
Kresna map and attractions
The small town of Kresna has many attractions in its surroundings.
Iani Nikolov
News Reporter

1 thought on “Kresna landscapes and the Struma River gorge

  1. A somewhat unknown place, but imposing without doubts. I had the opportunity to be there on my trip through the Balkans in 2016.

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