Part 1: Villages clustered in the western Rhodope mountains
Written and photos by Clabbe Bjurstrom, edited by Lindsay Martin.
Did you know there is a huge diversity of interesting places in Bulgaria? As a foreigner, it is easy to stick to the touristy places like Sofia, the roman ruin riddled city of Plovdiv, the many towns by the Black Sea, or hiking on Vitosha mountain. But, there are many more places to experience and explore outside of the beaten tourist path.
Here is the first part of our selection of interesting small towns and villages you can visit in Bulgaria. Each of these villages is clustered in the western Rhodope mountains.
You might recognize this name from water bottles in shops or restaurants, but it is also a small spa town located in the Vacha river valley. It is a popular destination for Bulgarians due to the abundance of hot springs, which claim to have healing properties.
Historically, Devin was a part of the Republic of Tamrash between 1878 and 1886, an area proclaimed by the local Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims). Aside from the many hotels and spa facilities, the town has a church – St. Ivan Rilski, founded in 1936, and a mosque. But the true gem of Devin is the local hot spring, Struilitsa, located just outside the city. Here, you can sit in the spring-fed pool, relax and watch the surrounding mountains. Let the supposed healing properties of the water do their magical work or opt to have lunch at the on-site restaurant.
For those who wish to capture the magical beauty of the Devin mountains, you can explore the nearby Devinska river valley with its waterfalls and hiking trail through the gorge. It’s also easy to reach the Devil’s Throat cave and Yagodina cave from Devin.
Near the border of Greece lies the picturesque village of Trigrad. The village is believed to be one of the oldest in Bulgaria and is well preserved from the bustling, noisy modern world. Time seems to pass at its own unique pace here.
The name Trigrad is believed to come from the three small villages that used to be located at the site of current-day Trigrad. This is also where the Republic of Tamrash was established in the summer of 1878. In that same year, Hasan Aga of Trigrad became the first chief of the Republic. During the Balkan Wars, the village was burnt down not once, not twice, but three times in rebellion of the Kingdom of Bulgaria.
Trigrad is an amazing place to relax and try the local Rhodopi cuisine and hospitality. Or, it’s an ideal stopover while exploring the nearby national sites of The Devils Throat Cave, Yagodina Cave, or the Trigrad Gorge. On the road between Trigrad and Devil’s throat cave, there is an unconventional museum dedicated to the brown bear and its life.
Originally named Stanimaka, this town was named in honor of Tsar Ivan Assen II of Asenovgrad in 1934. It is nicknamed “Little Jerusalem” due to the 58 chapels, 15 churches, and 5 monasteries surrounding the town.
Asenovrad is also known as “City of Bridal Gowns” due to the number of bridal ateliers and shops for dresses and accessories. It is not uncommon for brides-to-be from around the country to visit Asenovgrad to shop for the perfect wedding dress. If this is not your cup of tea, then the most visited site, Assen’s Fortress, is situated on a rock 3 kilometers outside the city at the entrance of the Rhodope mountains. Of the original complex, the only wholly preserved building is the church of St Bogoroditsa Petrichka. The views and the freshness of the air and surrounding area is what draws most people to the site.
If you want further views, then a hike up a small winding path to the higher located chapel of St. Elias is recommended. Make sure you bring enough water and that you are not afraid of heights.
If you would like to visit Asenovgrad, there are several daily bus departures from Sofia or hourly trains that change in Plovdiv.
To reach Devin from Sofia, three buses depart daily.
From Asenovgrad, you have a choice between a bus or train to Plovdiv with a bus transfer in Devin five times a day.
Being the most isolated, Trigrad is harder to reach. You have to go to Devin first and change to the bus going towards Trigrad. The bus departs once a day from Devin.
To properly visit these places, and to especially explore the Trigrad Gorge, we recommend that you rent a car to enjoy your trip fully.