From Sofia to The Rhodopes
That's where you go if you want real experiences - in rural Bulgaria. Not in Sunny Beach or Bansko. And for something really different visit The Rhodopes.
Why Rhodope Mountains?
At least because of the following reasons (and then some more):
The Rhodopes is divided on East and West Rhodopes. The West Rhodope flows into Rila Mountain and offers higher altitudes.
Places To Visit and How To Get There
There's really too much to see and visit there. So let's just focus on several places that can be visited, and how to get there from Sofia.
These aren't villages or tows, just landmarks. Many of them can be a bit touristic but this shouldn't stop you from going to visit them.
The Devil's Throat (see pics) is a cave located just 1.5 km away of Trigrad. So you have to reach the village Trigrad and then it's a walking distance. Trigrad is near Devin and Smolyan. Read the Towns section below to learn how you can get there from Sofia.
Yagodinska Cave is 10 km long cave with 1 km tourist trail. It has some unique stalactites and other interesting stuff to see, in case you like caves. The cave is at 2 hours walking distance from Trigrad.
The Trigrad Gorge is obviously again close to Trigrad (1.5 km away). It's a famous beautiful place to see.
Belintash is historically important rock. It's purpose is not fully clarified yet. What's sure is that there are great views once you climb on it. Belintash is located 32 km away of Asenovgrad and seems to be best reachable by car.
And then Perperikon.Perperikon is an ancient Tracian city and definitely one of the most impressive archaeological landmarks in Bulgaria. It's a must visit especially being just 2 km away of the town of Kardzhali. See the towns section later below to learn how you can get to Kardzhali.
Finally, the Asen's Fortress is from the middle age and only 2 km away of Asenovgrad. This is one of the famous mountain fortresses in Bulgaria and one of the easy ones to visit.
Saying "finally" I didn't mean we have exhausted all the interesting places in Rhodopes. These are just some of the most important ones.
And a Few Nice Towns and Villages
We like to visit the towns and villages when we go somewhere, not just the landmarks. And in most cases you have to stay in some place anyway. So here are several nice towns to visit in the Rhodopes with info on getting there.
Smolyan is located far South, near the border with Greece. Don't expect hot weather though, except in the summer - the town is 1,000 m above the sea level. The winter is long. Why go there? Because it has a lot of churches, great mountain views, and an observatory. Getting there from Sofia is by bus or car. The bus trip takes a little bit more than 4 hours and buses are available several times per day. There is no train going to Smolyan.
Madan is a mountain town in the middle of the Rhodopes. It's one of the places with mostly Muslim population. Getting there from Sofia takes 5 - 6 hours with a bus, and there aren't many buses per day.
Chepelare is most popular as winter resort. It's near Smolyan and Pamporovo. Besides the ski thing you can visit the Museum of Speleology. From Sofia it takes nearly 4 hours bus ride to get there. It might be a better idea to go to Plovdiv first and then take the bus to Chepelare.
Asenovgrad is located near Plovdiv. It's usually recommended mostly because of the Asen's Fortress but I would say it looks like a great town to visit by itself (haven't been there yet!). Plovdiv is very easy to reach from Sofia through the highway or by a train or bus, and then you have only 15 km to go to Asenovgrad.
Bachkovo is a small village 9km away of Asenovgrad. It's most famous for the Bachkovski Monastery. To get there go to Asenovgrad first - which is easy by car, bus or train.
Zlatograd, accordingly to Wikipedia, is the southernmost town in Bulgaria. With population of only 7,500 it's a very calm place with rural atmosphere. There is areal complex there where you can almost feel the life from 1 - 2 centuries ago and buy some old stuff. A lot of other touristic places are there to see as well. Currently there are 3 buses daily from Sofia taking about 6.5 hours to reach Zlatograd.
Kardzhali is a lovely town in the South. I have spent a lot of time there as a kid there so no surprise I am recommending you to visit it. With the Arda river, Perperikon just 2 km away, great nature, fortresses, monasteries, and landmarks like the Stone wedding it's a must-visit place. You can go there by train but you will have to change trains twice and spend 6.5 hours for the trip. By a bus it takes 4.5 hours and there are several buses per day.
Devin is close to Pamporovo and Chepelare. Currently is most famous for its mineral waters. Getting there is by bus or car only and takes 3 - 4 hours from Sofia.
I've been to Dospat once for fishing (when I used to go fishing as a kid) because of it's large dam. Dospat is a really small town at altitude of 1300m so don't expect hot summer days. Although there aren't many landmarks or touristic objects it's a great place to visit. You can get there from Sofia for about 4 hours by bus or car. There's no train going to Dospat.
If you want to know about other specific places in the Rhodopes, let us know in the comments please.
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