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Exploring the Rhodope Mountains


One of Bulgaria’s many attractive landscapes – the Rhodope mountains – are in Southern Bulgaria. At just about two hours from Sofia and forty minutes from Plovdiv, you drive right into them. You’ll pass steep cliffs and deep valleys. You’ll have wide views over mountain lakes and rivers. Enjoy a coffee in a small village surrounded by green, wild mountains. Or, what about sleeping in a traditional, Rhodope-style guest house? Your hosts will make sure you feel very welcome, by pouring you some homemade rakia or even preparing you a meal with produce from their own garden! It has never been so easy to explore Bulgaria. The Rhodope mountains, some of the last remaining wilderness of Europe, is more accessible than ever. Good roads connect the towns and you can get high up to explore any village. Follow your senses – you never know what you’ll find. Waterfalls, green meadows with flocks of sheep or one of the many regional museums. The Rhodope mountains are packed with treasures that are yours to explore!


As you drive east from Sofia, make sure to leave the highway early and check out the remains of the ancient fortress ‘Tryanova vrata’. Meaning ‘The Gate of Trajan’, the fortress reminds us of the ancient border between the regions Thrace and Macedonia. Bulgarian historians know this place, on top of a hill, for the major Battle of the Gates of Trajan. It was fought in 986, between Byzantine and Bulgarian forces. Bulgaria had a great victory over the Byzantines – this was the largest defeat of the Byzantines whom fought under emperor Basil II. After checking out the remains and imagining the enormous battle in what is nowadays a quiet forest, let’s continue towards the Rhodope mountains.


Dospat Reservoir Беловска базилика Velingrad


Take the old road to Burgas instead of the highway, passing through Momin Prohod and Kostenets. Don’t forget to check out the Chavcha waterfall just a few kilometres out of Kostenets, easily accessible by car. Then, if the weather’s on your side, have a swim in the public pool just east of Belovo. You’ll notice paper is sold on the streets of Belovo, the town has a large paper mill. Seemingly an uninteresting town, its history dates back to the New Stone Age. Evidence of inhabitation dates back as far as the Third until Sixth Millenium B.C. Belovo is a rather important town in Bulgarian history. Remains of a large basilica (6th Century) can still be admired at about 10 kilometres south of Belovo, 1,5 kilometres from the neighbouring town Golyamo Belovo. The last part of the trail, leading towards the basilica, is inaccessible by car. Therefore, check Google Maps for ‘Беловска базилика’. You´ll be close to the fortress, yet it can be hard to find because of the lack of signs.

Batak Trigrad Golyam Beglik


You are now in the Rhodope mountains. Should you drive south, you´ll be right between the Rila mountains (Western Bulgaria) and the Rhodope mountains (South/Southeastern Bulgaria). You may choose to drive south and visit Velingrad for a luxurious spa retreat. There are many stunning hotels – yet there are plenty of regular guesthouses as well. You may design your trip as you like, Velingrad has something to offer for each individual. Yet, everyone enjoys the same in the end, the quiet and relaxed atmosphere, the pure and fresh air coming from the mountains and the dark skies packed with stars at night.

No matter the direction you choose, it would be a pity to skip a visit to Batak. This serene mountain town has houses in a typical Northern Rhodope style. This means most houses are built of bricks and concrete, whereas houses in the Southern Rhodopes are mostly built of wood and finished with a white layer of plaster. Batak is again a historical town. As in several places in Bulgaria, remains of several Thracian, Byzantine and Slavic fortresses were registered in the area. During the Ottoman era, Batak played an important role. Especially in the April Uprising in 1876. The Batak Massacre was one of the most horrific acts to the Bulgarian people. Eventually, it was reported worldwide and this caused an outcry in many nations. This created a favourable position for the Russians to eventually enter and take a stand against the Ottomans. The Old Church, right next to the New Church in the center, is a historical monument to be visited when you’re in Batak.


Yagodinska cave Chepelare Rhodopes


Nowadays, Batak is a popular destination from tourists from all over Bulgaria and abroad. The forests around are very dense and just stunning. Plenty of attractions can be seen nearby, such as the Batak Dam at 8 kilometres from town. There’s plenty of hiking opportunities nearby, such as to the peak Golyama Syutkya (2.186m.). Or, how about exploring the underground world? Bulgaria is famous for its many caves and Snejanka, at 15 kilometres north of Batak, happens to be one of the most beautiful. Snejana means ‘snow white’ in Bulgarian, in case of the cave this derives from the nature-made crystal-white figure in the main hall of the cave. This hall is called the Magic Hall.


You could continue south, past the two main attractions in the Batak region – the Golyam Beglik and Shiroka Polyana reservoirs. It’s lovely to have a picknick by the side of the water, or to visit one of the many restaurants that serve local, Rhodope specialties. Again, the nature is quite wild and bears, foxes and deer are just a few of the many inhabitants of the deep forests. Farther south is the second largest reservoir in Bulgaria, the Dospat Reservoir. Named after the town Dospat, on the Southeastern end of the reservoir, this place is again rich of many flora and fauna. Even though accessing the lake other than from the Southeastern part is quite hard, this doesn’t stop many fishermen and tourists from the excellent opportunities for recreation in this area. The views of the lake and the forests around it are just breathtaking.


Bachkovo Waterfall Bachkovo Monastery Zlatograd


The people in Dospat mostly rely on logging, woodworking and the textile industry. Hunting is also thriving and so is the picking of forest fruits through summer. Tourism is developing and several families are now more than willing to accommodate you in their hotels. Through summer, water sports and activities on and around the water are plentiful. The area is beautiful to visit for at least a day.


Now that you’re in the Southern Rhodopes, almost on the Bulgarian-Greek border, let’s move east. The Yagodinska cave is the longest in the Rhodopes and the third longest in Bulgaria, with its impressive 10.500 metres of length. Home to 11 species of bats, this cave is very important for Bulgaria’s biodiversity. Only a small part of the cave can be seen by tourists. Interestingly, the upper part of the cave was found to be the place of an ancient dwelling, having stood here in 4.000 B.C. Excavations led archaeologists to believe that this, at one point, was an important center for production of pottery and ceramics. The site was abandoned after an earthquake and the cave was discovered in 1963 by the Speleological Club of Chepelare, a town not too far away. Make sure to bring something warm to wear, as the part accessible for visitors is at a constant temperature of only 6 degrees Celcius.


From beneath the ground, it’s now time to go all the way up.. At only 2,4 kilometres from the Yagodinska cave is the Eagle’s Eye, a steep climb, however. A steel construction with a view platform raises 670 metres above the ground, at some 1563 metres above sea level! Here, you have a wide view over the Southern Rhodopes and it shouldn’t surprise you that this is one of the most popular sights in the whole of Southern Bulgaria. You should be able to see the peaks in Greece from a distance. Make sure to bring sun block, as the summers in Bulgaria are warm and you’re out in the open on this platform.


Should you be in the mood for seeing another cave, drive on through the Trigrad Gorge, a dramatic landscape of steep cliffs. After a while, you’ll arrive in Trigrad. There, you find one of Bulgaria’s most spectacular caves. It’s called the Devil’s Throat. It is said that the entrance of this cave resembles the devil’s head and through the cave rushes a gigantic waterfall. This is the so-called ‘throat’. The highest underground waterfall on the Balkan peninsula. Many attempted to track where this river goes after it falls down for 42 metres, yet pieces of wood never came out on the other side, outside the cave. It’s obligatory to be accompanied by a guide inside. The steps up and down are secured by a railing you can hold. In the evening, retreat to one of the many guesthouses around or enjoy a spa treatment in the town of Devin.


You have the possibility to continue farther east into the Rhodope mountains, all the way to the border with Turkey. South of Trigrad is Greece, so you’ll have to go north or east to continue your tour of the Bulgarian side. Either continue east towards Smolyan, Zlatograd and the Devil’s Bridge. These are all wonderful places in the Rhodope mountains that totally reward the patient traveler, driving through the mountains curve after curve. Continue north to Kardzhali, with the huge Kardzhali and Kladenets reservoirs. Enjoy some freshly caught fish in one of the lakeside restaurants just outside the city. Then, continue north to Perperikon, an ancient arcthitectural complex that dates back as far as 5.000 B.C.


Should you want to return towards Sofia earlier instead of taking this detour, drive east from Devin and take the road north near Smolyan. You’ll have a wonderful trip through the Central Rhodopes, past towns such as Chepelare and sights such as the Wondrous Bridges. You’ll pass Bachkovo Monastery and eventually Asen’s Fortress, just south of Asenovgrad. Then, you’ll be close to Plovdiv and with a good impression of Bulgaria’s unique Rhodopes, you can head west to Sofia by taking the highway again.

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by Leon de Leeuw
Youtube: Visit

Car rental in Sofia, Bulgaria

Savoy Rent a Car is one of the leading car rental companies in Bulgaria established in 2003. Our goal is to provide our customers with high quality services at the most competitive rates. Savoy offers a wide range of vehicles. Whether you are travelling for business or pleasure, we have a vehicle to suit your needs. Our fleet contains economy, compact, mid-size, SUV, minivans and full size cars. We guarantee: - Unlimited mileage - Full insurance coverage - 24/7 customer support - Free delivery - Delivery & transfers to every point in Bulgaria

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Best places to visit near Sofia

Welcome to Bulgaria. Where you have an endless amount of places to see on a small surface. Where the climate is fantastic and allows for year-round tourism. You can make trips through the whole country and be surprised by something unexpected and pretty every moment of your stay. It might seem like you have to make a long round trip to make the best of your visit to Bulgaria. And making such a trip with your rental car is certainly worth it! However, it’s not necessary to go from hotel to hotel. There’s enough to see around Sofia to entertain you. For a trip as long as you wish. There’s so much to see around the capital, that you can stay there and make day trips. It’s just as fulfilling and will leave you with good memories. It is recommended that you use a rental car service, however. Public transport is relatively reliable but with a rental car you are considerably more flexible to do as you please.   We will have your rental car, including insurance, ready in Sofia. You can choose one of the many hotels in our capital. In the wide array of accommodation, there will definitely be something that suits your needs. Most hotels have a place to park your car, so you can make your day trips and return in the evenings. Then, you can enjoy the many good restaurants of Sofia and the nightlife of this cool city! You might feel more comfortable and relaxed if you keep one and the same hotel during your stay and make day trips from where you are. No need to carry around your luggage, you take a daypack knowing you’ll be back at night. So, pick up your rental car from our office, and you’re ready for your first day trip!   Vitosha Mountain   Day 1 As you most likely already saw from the airplane, Sofia has a huge mountain right next to the city. In fact, there’s houses built against the slopes. This mountain is called Vitosha, with 2.290 metres quite a tall mountain to be right next to a metropolis. It’s a popular destination for local people as well as tourists. To get a breath of fresh air, to go hike or to practice winter sports. The mountain offers all kinds of ways to relax or get active during your trip. You could take the cable car up or drive towards the mountain hut ‘Aleko’, from where you can make excellent hikes. On the way, you will pass the Kopitoto tower. This TV tower itself is not accessible for the public but you can stay outside and enjoy the wide view over Sofia. During the day, it’s an excellent place for a picnic. At night, you will surely have the best view over the many lights of the busy Bulgarian capital. It’s a good place to celebrate New Year’s as well, if this is the time you visit. Just imagine looking at the fireworks you get to see! The place is best reached by car. There is a cable car but it’s not working since a long time – hiking there is too far from the city.   If you come during the winter season, we will make sure your car is equipped with winter tyres so you can drive to the resorts safely and enjoy your winter activities! Apart from the slopes on Vitosha mountain, Bulgaria has several more and even better slopes for some action in the snow. Drive to Borovets, just under 70 kilometres from the capital. You could make a day trip – just as many locals do. Alternatively, you could surely spend the night there. Then there’s Bansko, however it might be a bit too far for just a day if you plan to spend many hours outside practicing sports. Visiting Vitosha mountain or Borovets is a wiser decision if you’d just like to spend a day.   Day 2 If you come through any other season than winter, it will be interesting for you to see the Iskar gorge north of Sofia. The river, that was once far wider and mightier than it is now, carved many interesting shapes into the rocks. After many thousands of years of erosion, you can now admire the  rock formations and tall cliffs that reach north of Sofia for over a hundred kilometres. A unique and scenic drive. Each village on the way will have something interesting to offer you, such as the Batulia monastery off the main road in Rebrovo, the little town Svoge with the Soleil restaurant ( or the wide views from the village Zhelen. Then, there’s two waterfalls in the villages Bov and Gara Bov. The ‘Vazova ekopateka’, in Gara Bov, will surely be a good option if you enjoy a hike uphill. Not too difficult and totally worth the climb. You’ll be rewarded with a wide view on the Skaklya waterfall. Keep in mind that it tends to dry up in high season, best is to come in early spring. Continue to Lakatnik and see the arguably most beautiful cliffs in the country. Visit one of the mountain huts that are up in the hills, to enjoy a strong cup of herbal tea. These mountain huts, called ‘hizha’ or plural ‘hizhi’, are spread all over the country. The ones you can visit on this day trip are Hizha Trestenaya or Hizha Gubislav.   Iskar gorge Vazova Ekopateka Lakatnik   Day 3 Drive northwest towards the small town of Godech, where you can have a coffee and visit the small  river front with the many plants and flowers in springtime. Then, continue towards the waterfall Kotlite, which is at its best in spring. Late in summer, unfortunately, the waterfall is dry. Make sure to stop by at the Bukorovski monastery. You could walk downhill and visit Razboishte monastery, where you find a chapel inside the rocks and an interesting monastery complex of hundreds of years old. It’s situated along the Nishava river. Then, walk on towards Sveta Petka monastery. This place was abandoned but is now inhabited by a couple from Sofia, that is truly happy at this serene place.   Now let’s get back to your rental car. There’s even more to see on the road! Head north towards Berkovitsa. You’ll drive the Petrohan mountain pass, through the dense forests of Western Bulgaria. You’ll approach Berkovitsa and can turn right on the way to Varshets. Then, after just a few kilometres, turn right again towards the Klisurski monastery. At that junction, you find Complex Stalin, where you could have a delicious meal. At the monastery, they sell many products such as homemade wine, honey and jam. Berkovitsa itself is a nice town to visit – with a wide view over the mountains. If you have time left, drive up until Hizha Kom. Have some tea at the mountain hut and enjoy a walk through the beautiful landscape.   Day 4 Time to explore the region east of Sofia. There’s plenty to see! Drive towards Mirkovo, a little, peaceful town at the foot of the Stara Planina mountain range. The town has the second-largest golden dome of Bulgaria on a church, right on the main square. The first-largest dome can be found on the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia. You could have a meal or some drinks at the hotel/restaurant complex St. Ivan Rilski and perhaps enjoy a walk around the town. Then get back to your rental car and drive on towards Chavdar. Many say it’s the prettiest village in Bulgaria. This might count for the village square, which is renovated and indeed looks fine with many rose gardens and ponds, including fountains. As you drive east, you’ll come across many more towns and villages that will be interesting for you to see. If you’d like to return to Sofia, it might be nice to take the road south through Smolsko and Baylovo. You’ll most likely have the road to yourself, just be prepared to make sudden stops in case of animals on the road! You’ll end up at Gorna Malina, where, on a hot summer day, you could swim at the complex Vyatarnite Melnitsi. It means ‘Windmills’. Even though the entrance fee is not to be called cheap – the experience is certainly worth it! You could make a day trip out of just visiting the complex and once you had enough, then visit some villages. Design the trip as you want!   Klisurski monastery Kom Monuntain Complex "Windmills"   Day 5 Now let’s go south, the only direction you haven’t gone yet. On the road to Samokov, you’ll pas the Pancharevo lake. Another popular place for city folks to spend their free time. It’s nice to walk around a bit or to enjoy a picnic on the side of the lake. As you continue south, on your left you can’t miss the Iskar reservoir. This is an enormous lake where Sofia gets its tap water from. There’s several small paths leading up to the lakeside, where you can enjoy another stunning scenery. And you’re not even an hour outside of Sofia! Just a bit more south of the Iskar reservoir is the city of Samokov. The city is famous for its delicious potatoes – the best of the country. For that reason, and more, make sure to stop and spend some time in the center. An excellent place to have lunch is the Kokoshkova Kushta ( They cook wonderfully and have a spacious garden where you can enjoy their specialties. There are plenty of other small restaurants around town, all should serve the local potatoes! As you walk around, you’ll see plenty of architectural treasures in the form of old houses and churches. Many of these were built during the National Revival period in Bulgaria, starting around 1762 up until the liberation from the Ottomans in 1878. Samokov played an important role in the National Revival. The city used to have one of the three woodworking schools in Bulgaria and even nowadays, many examples of fantastic woodwork of masters from Samokov is found all over the Balkan peninsula. Mainly in churches. You’ll notice that there’s some tall mountains close to Samokov, this is the Rila mountain range. There, you’ll find the tallest peak of the Balkans, which is Musala mountain (2.925 metres). You could visit the mountain and ski resort Borovets or opt for a swimming or spa retreat in Separeva Banya.   You will be nothing but impressed by the opportunity to see a lot in just a day – even when spending the night in Sofia! Would you like to get some more information on destinations nearby? Do not hesitate to contact us. We will prepare your rental car so you can enjoy a carefree trip through the surroundings of Sofia. Enjoy!   by Leon de Leeuw Website: Youtube: Visit Read more fantastic stories about Bulgaria:

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