Rhodope (also Rodopi or Rhodopi) is the largest mountain in Bulgaria, spanning one seventh of the territory of the country. The mountain is situated in the Southern part of Bulgaria and the southernmost part of it is situated on the territory of Greece. The highest peak is Golyam Perelik (2191m a.s.l.). The name of the mountain has a Thracian origin. The Thracian tribes inhabited the Rhodopi centuries on end. Around the mountain there are lots of remains of their culture, such as megaliths and sanctuaries. In geomorphological aspect the Rhodopi is the oldest mountain range in Bulgaria. The mountain can be divided in Eastern and Western Rhodopi. The two parts are very different from each another. The Western part is much higher and the climate is mostly mountainous. The Eastern part has low mountainous and hill relief, where the average altitude is only 230 m. The climate is very mild during the winter and very hot in the summer. A significant part of Bulgaria's hydropower resources is concentrated in the Western part of the mountain range. There are lots of hydro-cascades, built on dams used for electricity production, irrigation and as tourist destinations. Fifteen reserves have been established in the region, some of which are under UNESCO protection.
There are more than 50 huts in Rhodope Mountains. Unfortunately, some of them are closed down altogether; others are open only in the warm period of the year. Most of the hikers and visitors of the mountain prefer to stay in some of the numerous guesthouses and small hotels situated in the villages and the small Rhodopean towns, such as the towns of Smolyan, Chepelare, Kardzhali, Velingrad, Devin, Zlatograd and the villages of Shiroka Laka, Yagodina, Gela, Trigrad, Orehovo, Kovachevitsa and many others.
Lots of hiking and walking trails are crossing the Eastern and Western part of Rhodope Mountains. Unfortunately, only the most popular are very well marked. During most of the hikes it is not very difficult to get lost. The Rhodope Mountains are suitable for differently experienced hikers. You can either make short walks around some of the villages or the interesting sites (i.e. using as a centre for example Trigrad village), or hike many days in line for more than 6-7 hours per day (some self-guided walking tours offer the option to walk with just a daypack, having your luggage transferred between the accommodations in the meantime). In any case the walking trails here are easier compared to Rila and Pirin, providing good opportunities for easy to moderate difficulty hikes. The Rhodope Mountains are some of the best places in Bulgaria to combine sightseeing and hiking. Hiking for a couple of days here is included in all itineraries, coverning the best of the Bulgarian mountains. The parts of the mountains, close to the border with Greece had a very limited access during the communists’ times and now they slightly reveal their secrets and traditions. And they are unique. For sure this is the place to experience Bulgarian hospitality in the true sense of the word. The most visited is the region between the villages of Orehovo, Trigrad and Smolyan. The most often visited hiking trails and the most popular tourist sites are situated there.
Natural and cultural sights:
They are so many, but let’s mention some of them:
• Environmental centre “Eastern Rhodope” – located in the town of Madzharovo. There you can learn about the vultures and see them in their natural habitat.
• Chudnite mostove (Wonderful Bridges) – a marvelous rocky phenomenon. The two bridges are situated in the foothills of Golyam Persenk Peak and were formed by the erosive activity of the once high-water river.
• Some of the famous caves you can visit: “Yagodina”, “Bacho Kiro”, “Uhlovitsa”, “Snezhanka”, “The Devil’s Throat” etc.
• Kardzhali – in and near this town you can find many interesting places: the Historical museum; Kardzhali dam; the unique Womb cave; strange rocky formations – the Rocky mushrooms and the Rocky wedding; the ruins of three fortresses - Moniak, Hisara, Ustra.
• Perperikon and Tatul – two very famous Thracian sanctuaries.
• The Devil’s Bridge - a spectacular bridge over Arda River, near the town of Ardino. It was build 500 years ago and stands still this way. There are interesting legends about the architect and the erection of the bridge. Some people say that if you are observing the construction and the water below it in a particular moment of the day you can see the face of the Devil.
• You can take a walk along some of the nice Eco-trails, most of them are with duration 2-4 hours. The most visited and beautiful is the “Canyon of the waterfalls” near the town of Smolyan.
• Shiroka Laka village – an architectural and folklore reserve with preserved old houses.
• Rhodopian dams – you can relax and enjoy the picturesque scenery on the shores of the dams of Kardzhali, Beglika, Vacha, Shiroka polyana, Dospat, Toshkov chark.
• Zlatograd – in the center of the town is situated an open-air Ethnographical complex.
• Mezek – a Thracian tomb near the border with Greece.
• Belintash – a Thracian sanctuary, near the village of Mostovo.
• Bachkovo Monastery – the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria.
• Kovachevitsa – another small village with preserved old houses.
• Two wonderful gorges – Buynovo and Trigrad Zhdrelo.
The great climate and soil diversity determine the large biodiversity in the Rhodope Mountains. There are more than 2000 plants, 90 of them are Balkan Peninsula’s endemic species. The most famous plant in the region is the Rhodopean Haberlea. The legend tells that the plant grew from the blood of the Thracian singer Orpheus. Typical representatives of the deciduous trees are oak, hornbeam, durmast, wild pear, beech, ashtree. From the coniferous trees the most widespread species are spruce, white and black pine. You can see them only in the Western part of the mountain.
Representatives of the mammal species are wolves, wild boars, brown bears, wild goats (Balkan Chamois), rabbits. The connoisseurs can enjoy a variety of 200 ladybirds. The East Rhodope is a paradise for the ornithologists. There are more than 270 bird species. Among them are three species of vultures and almost all European eagles and falcons. The region hosts the largest populations of Griffon vulture and Egyptian vulture on the Balkan Peninsula. Trigrad Gorge is world-famous place for watching Wallcreeper.
The number of festivals and events taking place in the mountains is huge and some of them have century-old history. There are just a few of them:
• National Bagpipe festival – takes place every first weekend of August in the village of Gela. You can enjoy the unique sound of Bulgarian bagpipe. (VIDEO CLIP – the official world record – ensemble of 333 bagpipes)
• Festival of the bread – takes place every year in August near the village of Rabovo. You can see the path of the bread, from the mowing of the spelt (the oldest cereal plant in Bulgaria) to the baked bread.
• Beglika fest – takes place very year in August around Beglika dam. A festival of the activity and creativity in open air. It combines sports, art, education, music, environmentalism. A festival with sustainable environmental thinking.
• July Jazz – an open-air festival for ethno-jazz music. It takes place near Perelik peak, every year in July.
You can enjoy the cosmic voice of Bulgaria: The song “Izlel e Delyo haidutin” performed by Valya Balkanska was one of the chosen and included in the Golden disc of the space ship Voyager in order to be a musical message from the Earth to the distant space. In 2004 Voyager exceeded the boundaries of the Solar system.
TOURS IN THE RHODOPE MOUNTAINS
SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOURS:
> In the footsteps of Orpheus, Rhodope Mountains
> The best of the Rhodopes (Rodopi) and Mount Rila
> The Grand Balkans Circle
GUIDED HIKING TREKS:
> Hiking trek in the Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila and Vitosha mountains
CENTRE-BASED HIKING VACATIONS:
> A centre-based Mount Rhodope programme
COMBINED WALKING HOLIDAYS:
> Rural Bulgaria – Balkan, Rhodopes, Pirin and Rila
> Along Bulgaria’s mountain and heritage trails