Summer is the perfect time for sightseeing in the mountains, as the cooler climate and high altitude suggest the much-coveted coolness and escape from the big city.
Today we bring you to the Eastern Rhodopes, having prepared an itinerary for at least a few days if you want to visit most of the popular places in the region. As a base, you can use the town of Kardzhali and accommodation options around the dam.
The meanders of the Arda river
The river is one of the most picturesque and full-flowing Bulgarian rivers, and the most beautiful, according to all travelers, is its middle course. Here are also the fantastic meanders that we have been seeing all over social media lately. These breathtaking turns of the water are not one or two, so you can easily spend even a whole day to go around them all. They are located near small and abandoned villages, but the road past them is extremely picturesque. Zavoya, near Star Chitak and Ribartsi, is often cited as the most beautiful. It’s called so because of the specific U curve that the water makes. In fact, it’s formed by different tributaries of the dam. On the left is the Arda river, which flows a few kilometers higher, and on the right is the Berkovitsa river. A curious fact is that on the opposite rocky peninsula are the remains of the Patmos fortress. To get there, take the Ardino-Kardzhali road and then the turnoff for Borovitsa. There is a turnoff to leave your car and then on a path, after just a few minutes of normal walking, you will be presented with a truly unique and breathtaking view.
Perperikon is located in the Eastern Rhodopes, 20 km northeast of the town of Kardzhali. The archeological medieval complex of Perperikon is one of the most ancient monumental megalithic monuments, completely cut into the rocks. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria. The cult activity on the rock peak began as early as the 5th millennium BC and is connected with the cult of the Sun God of the Stone-Copper Age people. Here they created the first sanctuary and laid out vessels of food for the gods. These rituals continued throughout the Bronze Age (III-II millennium BC). The royal residence of the Thracian Bessi tribe was probably located there. Subsequently, the Romans brought their luxury and sophistication to Perperikon, and the Goths devastated and burned Perperikon in 378. At the beginning of the 5th century, the rock city became an episcopal center after Christianity was accepted in the Rhodopes. In the 7th-14th centuries, Perperikon flourished as a regional center. Wars were fought many times over it between Bulgarians and Byzantines. At the end of the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks conquered and destroyed the fortress, whose ruins gradually sank into oblivion.
The holy city is unique in archaeological, historical, natural and multi-religious aspects, one of the wonders of the world. Many of the finds discovered during archaeological research of Perperikon can be seen today in the History Museum in the city of Kardzhali.
It can be reached by a well-maintained asphalt road, and there is a parking lot at the foot of the hill.
Suspension bridge, Lisitsite village
It was built in 1975 and is known as the longest rope bridge in Bulgaria. The length between the columns is 260 meters, and its width is about a meter. This is also the only pedestrian link in the village of Lisitsite, which is located at one end of the Studen Kladenets dam. It can be reached in two ways: by train or on foot. For rail transport, you should use the Momina Skala station, and the starting point for walking is the village of Shiroko Pole. You should travel there by car, and then the walk takes about 30-40 minutes. After crossing the ropeway, you will find yourself literally decades back. Lisitsite is a very small, authentic village where there are no roads, water comes from wells, and the center is a slightly wider space between several houses.
The Stone Mushrooms
The rock formations are located east of the village of Beli Plast, next to the road connecting Kardzhali with Haskovo. Locals call them Mantarkaya. They represent harmonious pieces of rock in the shape of natural mushrooms, with pink stumps and greenish caps. The height of the stumps and the width of the caps is up to 2.5 m. They are sculpted in rhyolite volcanic tuffs. The tuffs from which the stone mushrooms were formed are the result of intense underwater volcanic activity dating back to the Paleogene.
There is no parking, so you have to leave your car on the side of the road and cross, but their area is not too big and you can go around them quickly.
In 1974, the Stone Mushrooms were declared a natural landmark. The area in which they are located is protected and around them you can see some rare species of birds, among which snake eagle, Egyptian vulture, red-crowned swallow and others.
The Stone Wedding
The natural landmark is located in the land of the village of Zimzelen, 3 km from Kardzhali, near an asphalted road. There is a sign in the town itself that indicates the direction. You have to pass the cemetery park and then the village, and then there is another kilometer on the road. Take the path to the left and after about 15 minutes you will reach the phenomenon.
An extremely beautiful group of numerous stone pyramids, reminiscent of a wedding procession. The figures are extremely diverse in shape and size, ranging from 0.5 to over 10 m in height.
Locals can tell you a few legends that surround the unique place, but according to science, these are rock formations resulting from past volcanic activity.
The Monyak fortress /Mneakos/ is located near the village of Shiroko Pole and is one of the largest and highest fortresses in the Rhodopes. It consists of two parts.
The outer fortress wall surrounds the hill tightly from the north. In the western part is the entrance, with a tower on either side. The northern one is a solid trapezoidal bastion, and the southern one had several floors, preserved today at a height of up to 7.80 m. The wall continues to the south, following the contours of the terrain, and reaches an impassable rock drop with a height of more than 50 m.
The fortress had an important strategic role, as it guarded the Iron Gate pass and the approaches to the medieval city, located around the St. Yoan Prodrom monastery, located in the present-day town of Kardzhali.
To get to it, you have to turn right just before the village. The road all the way up is rutted and black, so it's a good idea to be mindful of your vehicle and park when the bigger rocks start. Then you should continue on foot, the view is worth it!
The name Vishegrad is of Bulgarian origin and means "high city" - given to fortresses in other European countries as well. Among parts of the local population, the fortress is also known by the toponym Hisar Yustyu (Upper Fortress).
It can be reached by a good road. It occupies an area of 562 sq. m on a rocky peak above the Studen Kladenets dam. The fortress wall surrounds the peak from all directions. In places, walls with a height of up to 7 m and a width of up to 1.75 m have been preserved. It was most likely built in the 12th-13th centuries. Traces of two rectangular two-story inner towers have been preserved. Their walls are about 2.20 m thick and plastered with mortar mixed with broken bricks. The first floor was used for a water reservoir. They clearly show stages of completion of the premises and the wall in a later period of the existence of the fortress. The entrance was from the southeast. The fortress was studied in the period 1971-74. Both whole pieces and fragments of clay vessels with sgraffito decoration, an iron mask, arrows, spears, ornaments, etc. were discovered. Note: The fort is easily accessible. It is convenient to visit.
The location of the Utroba Cave and the fact that it was an ancient sanctuary used by the Thracians has been known to the inhabitants of the village of Nenkovo for many years. The official discovery of the site for archaeologists is thanks to the speleologist teacher Mincho Gumarov from Kardzhali, who kept the location of the cave a secret for eight years. The location of the cave was pointed out to Gumarov by local goat herders on March 20, 1994.
Initially, the cavity was karst and only 16 m deep. The human hand extended it and carved it in the form of a woman's womb, along the walls of which water is constantly flowing. And in the inner southern end of the cave, an altar has been carved, symbolizing the uterus. The height of the hole is 3 meters, and the width - about 2.50 meters, and enough light penetrates inside.
This is not the only womb-shaped cave. Similar caves were built in ancient times in the cult of female fertility. More than 25 womb-shaped caves are known in Bulgaria.
It can be reached by two different eco-paths, with a climb and the journey takes about an hour. There is no water, so be sure to bring your own. There is a ladder next to the entrance itself.