Short Excursions off The Beaten Track around Bulgaria – Mountain Adventures 4

Rodopi (or Rhodopi) Mountains are located in the most southern part of the country. With the highest peak – Golyam Perelik (2191 m) they occupy the 7-th place among the Bulgarian mountains.

The best known in the Rodopi is the Pamporovo resort which is suitable for both skiing holidays in the winter and hiking holidays between late spring and autumn. It is an excellent example of a micro climate that permits a fat snow cover to be preserved for a long time and yet to experience many sunny days during the snowy months. As we have already written about Pamporovo in this newsletter we will focus on other sites which are a lot less known especially to foreign visitors.

The Rodopi are bordering the valley of the Maritsa River to the north, the White Sea plain to the south (with part of the mountains spreading on the territory of Greece), to the west – the valley of Mesta River and to the east the valley of Arda. The Rodopi Mountains are covered with some of the most beautiful forests which are centuries old especially in the high western part. There are 15 nature reserves some of which are listed by UNESCO.

The western Rodopi are the bigger part of the total area, the higher, and more developed and visited part of the mountain. The highest and best known peaks are also here (more of 10 are over 2000m) including the leader – Golyam Perelik (2191 m). Among the interesting peaks are Shirokolushki Snezhnik (2188 m), Golyam Persenk (2091 m), Btashki Snezhnik (2082 m), the wonderful Turla (1800 m).

Plovdiv can be used as a starting point for a visit to the Western Rodopi. From there one can take a bus to most points of interest or to take the road through Asenovgrad to the heart of the mountains towards Smolian town and Pamporovo ski resort. Alternatively one can take the route to Velingrad town or through Peshtera to Batak dam.

Velingrad is a small town at the mountain foothills famous for its mineral springs. It is green and one of the nicest places in the town is the Kleptuza lake – a small lake surrounded by a park with restaurants and cafes. From Velingrad you can head by car towards Tsigov Chark. It is a small resort on the Batak dam which is very picturesque being surrounded by the hills and with the distant views towards the highest peaks of Rodopi and Rila mountains.

One of the most picturesque routes is between the Batak dam and the town of Dospat. The road would take you up in the mountain and passes centuries old beautiful forests, curves around the picturesque dams of Goliam Beglik and Shiroka Poliana before reaching Dospat. The views on the way and over Dospat dam are magnificent. The mountain is crossed by ground roads and paths which can be taken for few hour walks in the forests and around the lakes.

Not to miss a very beautiful place, from Dospat we would return to the most south-western part of Rodopi near Gotse Delchev. From there one can take the picturesque road to Leshten and Kovachevitsa – unique villages with amazing 300-400 year old stone houses. It is worth spending a day or two in Kovachevitsa, to walk around the houses and experience the atmosphere of the small restaurants.

In the other direction from Dospat, to the east, is located the karst area with Yagodinska cave, Trigrad Gorge and Devil’s Throat cave – some of the most dramatic sights in Rodopi. If you happen to be in the area it is a must to visit those sites for a day. The gorge to Trigrad village is passing among the 250 m high cliffs reaching the Devil’s Throat cave. You could stay overnight in Trigrad in one of the small family hotels or return to Dospat, Smolyan or Pamporovo.

If you travel from Plovdiv to Smolyan or back you can visit the Bachkovo monastery – the second biggest one in Bulgaria and one of the oldest and most beautiful ones. Another beautiful natural phenomenon on your way – the Wonder Bridges rocks – is a good stop for a short sightseeing. Note that the road to this site is not very good though.

The Western Rodopi around Velingrad, Smolyan and Dospat are very suitable for combining a family holiday for hiking, walking, fishing with visiting beautiful natural sights and places with typical culture and customs. Rodopi’s rolling hills are not a big attraction to lovers of extreme mountain walks but the beauty of the forests and hills deserves a visit.

The Eastern Rodopi are lower and less popular although they have a lot to offer. Several great archeological findings in the recent decades make them one of the most interesting parts of Bulgaria for lovers of ancient history.

Kurdjali is the regional centre for the Eastern Rodopi. It is a calm town with lots of greenery and a starting point for your visit in this part of the mountains. There is an extremely interesting museum in Kurdjali located in a picturesque building of a former Muslim school which shows a lot of the archeology, customs, traditions and nature of the area.

Perperikon is the most interesting place to visit. This is the largest Thracian city discovered by the archeologists, located on a steep hill surrounded by a picturesque valley. Whatever you read about Perperikon will give you just a very modest idea of the beauty of the place. Another must to visit sight which would be on your way is the Rock Mushrooms not too far from Perperikon.

Here are the large dams Kurdzhali and Studen Kladenets that together with the rivers Borovitsa and Varbitsa offer great opportunities for water and birdwatching tourism. The region is rich in thermal mineral springs. Dzhebel has national reputation for healing many different diseases.

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