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Rhodope Mountains

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Autumn in the Rhodopes

The Rhodope Mountains, or the Rhodopes, are a mountain massif and a cultural region in southern Bulgaria (83%) and northern Greece (17%).

Understand[edit]

Map of Rhodope Mountains

The Rhodopes are a preferred destination by many tourists because its unique nature and remoteness due to the limited number of roads and the steep hills and the deep forests. The highest peak is at 2191 m of Goljam Perelik in Bulgaria. The winter ski resort of Pamporovo and Bansko are in the Rhodopes. "The home of Orpheus" - the Greek mythological poet that went to hell to save his loved one - is a region with a distinct cultural influence. Rhodope music is world famous: many foreign musicians have been fascinated by the sounds of Rhodopes and even the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin performed by Valya Balkanska is one of the few performances included in the Voyager Golden Record selection of music, part of the Voyager 2 space probe, that is expected to play across space for at least 60,000 years.

On the Greek side there is the Rodopi Mountain Range National Park, and on Bulgarian side the Pirin National Park.

Climate[edit]

The location of the Rhodope Mountains in the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula also determines the climate. It is characterized by a transitional climate as it is influenced by both the colder northern air masses and the warm breezes of the Mediterranean (Aegean). The average annual temperature of the Eastern Rhodopes is higher and more stable and is around 12- 13 °C. In the western Rhodopes - under the influence of higher altitudes above sea level - the average temperature ranges from 5-9 °C. The transitional climate in the Rhodope Mountains it is also noticeable through the annual course of precipitation. In the eastern Rhodopes the peak of precipitation is in December and in August they are minimal. In the western Rhodope it is the other way round, here are prevailing summer precipitation. The mild climate combined with other factors favors the development of recreation and tourism.

Cities[edit]

In Bulgaria:

  • 1 Batak — Famous for the nearby Batak Lake Recreational & Resort.
  • 2 Chepelare — Mainly known as a winter ski resort and summer hiking area.
  • 3 Devin — A spa resort with a wide range of summer activities such as hiking, horse riding, mountain biking and tennis.
  • 4 Kurdzhali — The closest town to the remarkable ancient city-sanctuary of Perperikon.
  • 5 Madan — Charming village with Muslim majority.
  • 6 Momchilovtsi — A ski resort set in a forested area of Rhodope Mountains at 1,352 m above sea level.
  • 7 Pamporovo — One of Bulgaria's most popular ski resorts, known for its forested surroundings.
  • 8 Shiroka Laka — Tiny village, known for its old Bulgarian architecture and for its musical tradition, kept alive by a number of contemporary performers.
  • 9 Smolyan — Traditional settlement and popular ski resort atop Mount Rozhen.
  • 10 Zlatograd — A traditional town, set in valley across the Greek borders.

In Greece:

Get in[edit]

The closest airport in Bulgaria is 1 Plovdiv International Airport (PDV IATA). Ryanair operates a flight from London-Stansted. 2 Sofia Airport has more options. On the Greek side, the closest international airport is 3 Kavala International Airport and 4 Alexandroupolis National Airport.

Get around[edit]

Due to the remote character of the area public transport is rare or not available. To explore the region either a 4WD or a normal car with enough ground clearance is best. The dirt roads within the Greek Rhodopes are usually well signposted what makes it easy to find the attractions.

See[edit]

Bachkovo Monastery

In Bulgaria[edit]

  • 5 Bachkovo — A tiny hamlet in which the medieval monastery of the same name is situated. Thе nearby "Васhkоvо" wаtеrfаll іѕ fоrmеd bу kаrѕt fаult. It‘ѕ a bеаutіful 10-mеtеr wаtеrfаll with numеrоuѕ аrmѕ and brаnсhеѕ. Тhе аrеа аrоund thе wаtеrfаll іѕ ѕuіtаblе fоr а рісnіс and еquірреd wіth tаblеѕ and bеnсhеѕ fоr rеѕt. About 6 km north of the village is Asen's Fortress, a a medieval fortress on a high rocky ridge on the left bank of the Asenitsa River. It is one of Bulgaria’s most celebrated and visited Medieval attractions.
  • 6 Marvelous Bridges (Chudnite mostove) — Amazing natural arches formed by the erosive activity of the Erkyupryia River. The larger one (upstream, 45m height) is shaped by three vaulted arches and is passable under the vaults. The river flows under the middle-sized arch. The smaller bridge (200 m downstream, 30 m height) is impassable. The site can be reached by an asphalt road from the village Tschepelare.
  • 7 Devil‘s Bridge (Дяволският мост). Nice place with old stone bridge over a river. A 3-km path leads through a forest to the bridge. The view is great! Legend says that the bridge was built by the Romans to connect the Aegean Sea and the Thrace region of Bulgaria. The bridge is the largest and best-known of its kind in the Rhodope Mountains, Dyavolski most (Q2458142) on Wikidata Dyavolski most on Wikipedia
  • 8 Stone Mushrooms. The stone mushrooms are a rock phenomenon near the village of Beli Plast. They reach a height of 2.5–3 m.
  • 9 Snezhanka Cave — A beautiful cave, rich in stalactites, stalagmites, and sinter lakes.
  • 10 Buynovo Gorge - The Buynovo Gorge is the longest gorge in Bulgaria formed by erosion as the Buynovo River that flows through marble rock. It is between the villages of Yagodina and Teshel. The cliffs on both sides of the canyon rise hundreds of meters and can be visited on foot or by car on a paved one-lane narrow road along the base of the cliffs. As traffic goes in both directions patience is often needed. For a good overview over the Buynovo Gorge its worth to visit the “eagle’s-eye view point,” a metal platform built on the cliff face of the Saint Iliya Peak at a height of 1,563 meters, with impressive views over the entire area.
  • 11 Trigrad Gorge — A gorge enclosing the course of Trigrad River which plunges into the "Devil's Throat Cave" where, according to the Greek mythology, Orpheus, the legendary Thracian singer, attempted to retrieve his beloved Euridice from the Underworld.
  • 12 Uhlovitsa Cave — A show cave with an impressive flowstone formation, known as the Icefall, at its end.
  • 13 Yagodinska cave A spectacular cave, the third longest one in the country, ranking 89 in the list of Bulgaria's most significant landmarks. The part of the cave with its marvellous stalactites and stalagmites that is open for tourism is 1100 m long with electric illumination. Tours take about 45 min and take place every hour. Not far from The Yagodina Cave there is a natural bridge, and close to the bridge is the beautiful Praskolo waterfall.
  • 14 Canyon of Waterfalls is a blend of 46 isolated waterfalls.The tour takes 3–4 hours, depending on physical condition. It is not particularly difficult but also not easy. Sometimes it is steep uphill, but you do not have to climb. Anyone who has no health problems can go the way. The waterfalls themselves are not really spectacular, but the view from the panorama point Eurike to Smolyan is worth seeing. The route could be better signposted in some places. The best way to get information is to go to the Information center at the beginning of the forest trail. It’s recommended to visit the Canyon of Waterfalls in early summer when the water levels are at their peak
  • 15 Fortress Ustra The fortress was built in the 10th century to protect an important trade route. It frequently changed hands but the Byzantines held it most of the time. The trail to the fortress is quite difficult and takes about 1 hour but the views from this fortress are breathtaking
  • 16 Fortress Momchil The fortress was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I (527-565) who launched massive military construction projects on the territory of the entire Balkan Peninsula. It was burnt down later and reconstructed until the invasion of the Ottomans at the end of the 14th century. At that time it was burnt down again and was never reconstructed.

Archaeological sites[edit]

Womb Cave
Eagle Rocks sanctuary
  • 1 Gradishte Historic Landscape Park. The prehistoric settlement and Thracian sanctuary. This ancient temple dates from the 5th millennium BC. According to archaeologists, it is one of the largest in Bulgaria and possibly in Europe. The sanctuary is on an approximately 700-m-long ridge. In some places there are petroglyphs of human profiles, animal figures, fish, turtles and birds.
  • 2 Hisarya. Hisarya, a Thracian cult, is located on the Hisarya ridge in eastern Rhodope near the village of Senoklas. The archaeological site includes a Thracian cult center with rock sanctuary, rock niches, rare rock suns and the ruins of a large Thracian and medieval fortress.
  • 3 The Deaf Stones. The Deaf Stones Rock Sanctuary is one of the largest Thracian cult monuments. It consists of several large boulders, in which deep chambers are carved. In the boulder in the east, a staircase has been carved, which leads to the summit. The remaining three rocky peaks are dotted with more than 200 religious niches.
  • 4 Karadzhov-Stone. (Karadzhov Kamak) is an interesting rock phenomenon near the village Mostovo. On a high plateau (1,448ml), a gaping fugue has formed on its vertical walls, in which a huge stone is stuck, as if displaced by higher forces there. Since antiquity, this place has been something special for the people - the ancient Thracians built a sanctuary here in which they honored their dead. To this day, small pits cut into the rock for religious purposes have been preserved, as well as steps leading to the upper part of the massif
  • 5 Perperikon — An archaeological site with monumental megalithic structures, dating back from the Bronze Age and is considered to be the largest megalithic archaeological site in all of Bulgaria.
  • 6 Tatul - The Thracian sanctuary is one of the most imposing megalithic monuments discovered on the territory of Bulgaria. The sanctuary is a massive rock structure and its top is a truncated pyramid. The complex comprises two sarcophagi, a rectangular bed for the main altar, and a 3-m-deep well. It dates back to the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 4th centuries BC.
  • 7 Fotinovo Turtles Turtle-like reliefs, cut in the rocks by an ancient culture. Largest is 7 by 5 m.
  • 8 The Womb cave This Thracian megalith - The Womb Cave (Cult complex “Utroba cave” Тракийско светилище Пещера Утроба) is located near village of Ilinica. The temple is shaped like the opening to a vagina. It leads into a 22-m-deep cave. At the end of the cave, a carved altar (1.3 m in height) symbolises the womb itself. At midday as the sun approaches its highest point, the sun light seeps into the cave through a special opening in the ceiling and projects a perfectly recognisable representation of a phallus onto the floor. As the sun progresses further, and the light slants across the interior of the cave, the phallus grows longer, reaching out to the womb altar. Only during some months of the year, when the sun is lowest on the horizon, the phallus becomes long enough to reach the altar and symbolically fecundate the womb. A well marked tourist route exists through Enchec village and around 300 m after mountain cottage “Borovica”. The way to the cave includes around an hour of walking up. The path is steep but with three big alcoves and a shelter right under the cleft of the cliff. Local people know the place as Dangardak kaya (The echoing stone). Today childless couples visit the Womb cave to gain a long-awaited child.
  • 9 Thracian cult complex “Orlovi skali” Orlovi Skali (Eagle Rock Sanctury) is a historic Thracian site near Ardino and consists of niches cut into a large rock standing above the forest. The site was obviously of religious significance. This Thracian phenomenon, the "trapezoid alcoves" are found all over the Rhodopes dug high in difficult to reach rocks. There is no definite answer as to how or why the Thracian people made them. The Orlovi skali (Eagles' Rocks) site carries about 100 insections. From Ardino an asphalted road takes you to a small parking at the start of a trail. It takes about 15 min of moderate intensity walk to get there.

In Greece[edit]

Nestos Gorge
  • 17 Ag.Barbara Waterfall and Lake: A little lake 600 m from the road with waterfall. Good for resting and taking a cold bath in the lake. From the main road you branch at the signpost and follow the dirt road for about 300 m to a parking space. There you cross the little river walking over a bridge of tree trunks. The waterfall is about 500 m inland passing an animal shelter. The waterfall is not at the river that you had to cross! There are banks and tables where you can make picnics. All litter has to be taken back as there is no litter service.
  • 18 Lepidas Waterfall. A scenic waterfall near the village Dipotama
  • 19 Loutra Thermion. Hot thermal springs of 80 °C. In illegally built corrugated iron huts, some of which are open, you can take a hot bath.
  • 20 Livaditis Waterfall. A scenic waterfall near the village Levaditis with 3 pools to relax in the water. The waterfall is well signposted as soon as you reach the village of Livaditis. After leaving the village you drive 3.5 km on an asphalted road. Then you reach a larger parking lot, from which a 2.2-km-long dirt road leads to a small place with shelter. Without 4WD the dirt road is to be used only with caution. From there, a beautiful, well-walked and signposted 2-km-long footpath starts downhill through the forest to the waterfall. Even in the summer, plenty of water is available for a cool bath.
  • 21 Gorge of Nestos at Toxotes is of particular natural beauty. Breaking through the limestone mountains the river Nestos meanders and shaped a unique landscape. Along the ravine a trail of about 10km in length leads along high cliffs with beautiful views of the river. In hot summer its a pleasure to have a refreshing bath in the ice cold river.
  • 22 Thracian Μeteora — Amazing rocky peaks that remind of a mini version of the famous Meteora rocks near Kalambaka. It's surrounded by abandoned settlements. Access by car through a dirt road (15 km) that starts east of Iasmos village. There are also some nice caves near to Thracian meteors next to Políarnon village
  • 23 Cave of Maras: Limestone cave in nice environment and with stalactites only, but no stalagmites due to an underground river [1]
  • 24 Cave of Alistrati: one of the most beautiful limestone caves of Northern Greece [2]
  • 25 Kompsatos Bridge. A magnificent old stone bridge over the Kompsatos river
  • 26 Macedonian Tomb. A small but well preserved Macedonian tomb from the first half of the 4th century BC. Chr. at Stavropolis
  • 27 Monastery Metamorfosis Sotiros. The monastery is worth a visit, especially because of the scenic location. It is located next to the village Prasinada
  • 28 Fort Rupel. Fort Roupel (Greek: Οχυρό Ρούπελ) is a fortress at the north border of Central Macedonia, Greece, built in 1914. It became part of the fortifications of the Metaxas Line in the 1930s and became famous for its defence during the German invasion of Greece in April 1941.

Do[edit]

Karadzhov Megalit
  • Skiing: there are several ski areas of which Bansko is best developed
  • Hiking: a famous annual marathon takes place starting in Paranesti.
  • Swimming: best places for a refreshing bath in hot summer are at Nestos river and the lakes at the waterfalls
  • SPA: take a cure at the thermal springs

Thermal springs in Bulgaria:

  • 1 Velingrad. Over 70 hot springs and many hotels offering spa services and thermal pools.
  • 2 Ognyanovo village. Known for its mineral springs for centuries and is a popular spa destination with many hotels and guest houses. Miroto is entrance-free and accessible anytime, even at night.
  • 3 Devine. Devin is not just known for its spa qualities, it is also a base for some of Bulgaria’s best hiking and exploring. Just on the outskirts of town, next to the thermal pools, is the Devin Eco Walk, a beautiful 7-km trail running along the river past waterfalls and through gorges.
  • 4 Sapareva Banya. In the town there are many places where you can enjoy the healing thermal water – both hotels with own pools and a public spa complex with pools. An attractions is a hot geysers where the water comes out with more than 100 °C.
  • 5 Kostenets villages. It is not among the most popular spa resorts in Bulgaria
  • 6 Varvara village. There are 2 hot outside pools there – in Varvara Complex and another one in Aqua Varvara hotel.
  • 7 Banya village. Numerous mineral springs and almost every hotel offers mineral water in a beautiful nature. Hot mineral water is also pouring from several fountains around the village.

Thermal springs in Greece:

  • 8 Nigrita.
  • 9 Siderokastro.
  • 10 Agkistro.
  • 11 Thermia of Paranesti. In thermal springs there are no special facilities, just natural baths in dirty homemade corrugated iron huts but nice surroundings

Eat and drink[edit]

Traditional Rhodopean dishes are :

  • Patatnik (Potatoes Pie) — Made of potatoes and sirene (white cheese) garnished with yogurt. Various spices are added, such as onions, salt, pepper and a type of mild mint called Gyosum in Bulgarian. It can be baked, fried or boiled
  • Rhodopski klin (Rhodope style banitza) — A mixture of beaten eggs, pieces of sirene, rice, parsley, well salted and put between sheets of thick filo dough and then baked in an oven about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Parlenka: thin bread, thickness and size as small or medium pizza. Baked on pan as pankake, but the dough is for normal bread and their thickness is slightly greater with mountain cheese on top

Sleep[edit]

Marvelous-bridges

In Greece:

  • Forest Inn Ecotourism Hotel at the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park. At the edge of the hotel is the information centre, where the National Park Management Organization has a permanent exhibition of photographs and audiovisual material as well as a souvenir shop. Visitors are transported by bus to the observatory, where they have the opportunity to watch the birds with telescopes at the tavern. For hikers, there are specially engraved and marked paths through the forest.
  • The Forest Village of Erymanthou is in Drymos Forest, at an altitude of 1,350 m. It consists of twelve wooden self-service dwellings which are a great place to stay in summer as in winter. A restaurant is located in the Forest Village, offering also coffee and refreshments, and operates Saturday–Sunday.
  • Elatia Forest Village, within the Rodopi Mountains National Park (75 km from the city of Drama), +30 25210-57841 (Drama Forest Inspectorate), +30 25210-57827, +30 25210-91338 (or Forest Village of Elatia), +30 25210-91339. In the area of the Forest of Elatia, owned by the Forest Department. Accommodation is in log cabins, free of charge but arrangements with the Forest Inspectorate must be made well in advance.

For those who need more comfort and a greater choice of restaurants the villages Didymoteicho, Stavroupoli, Paranesti are good places to stay as a starting point into the Rhodopes.

Stay safe[edit]

The area is partly very solitary and you can walk for hours without seeing other humans. In many areas are no restaurants, hospitals or any infrastructure. It is advisable not to go alone into the forests.

Go next[edit]

In Greece:

  • Kavala: harbour town with scenic old town. Ferry boats to Thasos Island start here.
  • Thasos: one of the most beautiful Greek islands
  • Samothrace: a small island of stunning natural beauty and peaceful silence.
  • Chalkidiki: one of the main Greek tourist areas with hundreds of beaches

In Bulgaria:

  • Plovdiv: is the second-largest city in Bulgaria, and one of the oldest settlements in Europe.
  • Melnik: a photogenic traditional town with wineries and wine cellars
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