Day Trips From Plovdiv To The Magnificent Rhodope Mountains
Plovdiv lies at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains – one of the most stunning mountain ranges on the entire Balkans. The region is known for its incredible biodiversity, countless natural sites, hiking trails and many breathtaking landscapes. The area is well suited for mountain, ecological, hunting and fishing tourism so it’s no wonder so many people explore it each year! If you’re staying in Plovdiv, take out a day (or two) from your schedule to experience its magic for yourself, especially if you’re visiting in the warmer months. Here are some of the best day trips from Plovdiv to the magnificent Rhodope Mountains!
The Rhodope Mountains
Compared to Rila and Pirin, the Rhodope Mountains (pronounced ‘rodopy’) offer much more favourable conditions for year-round visits, with a milder climate and generally even terrain that’s perfect for hiking, climbing and exploring. The mountain range has been inhabited for centuries, particularly due to its unique geographic position – it was often considered a ‘’shelter’’, especially during times of turmoil such as the 5-century Ottoman rule. During those times, the Rhodopes were heavily populated and Bulgarians had adapted to living out in the mountains. Much of the history from that period (and even earlier) can still be seen today in various parts of the mountains. There are countless churches, monasteries, caves, fortresses and archaeological masterpieces that all speak of the fascinating past of the region.
As for nature, expect many diverse landscapes, unique rock formations, caves, mountain peaks, forests, lakes and endless green meadows. There are many hiking trails to choose from – ranging in difficulty, depending on where in the Rhodopes you go. Many of them are suitable for a day trip and offer a great chance to relax, recharge and enjoy nature!
Hiking in the Rhodopes (a few tips)
When going for a hike in the Rhodope Mountains, it’s always best to check the weather beforehand. If you’re hiking in the warmer months you won’t really need any special gear or heavy clothing. A jumper or jacket will be just fine. Hiking shoes, on the other hand, are always recommended. In some parts of the mountains, the weather is significantly damper and the earth can get muddy and slippery. Try to stay on marked routes only, use a map (or google maps on your phone) and always have your phone charged before the trip. Domino’s Western Rhodope Mountains Map is one of the best out there and generally great for those visiting for the first time. The Mountains of Bulgaria: a Walker’s Companion remains a good guide for walkers and is definitely worth the read.
A Day Trip to the region of Asenovgrad and Bachkovo
Bulgaria is one of the top 3 countries in Europe when it comes to forest biodiversity, and the region around Plovdiv is a great example of this. Bachkovo and Asenovgrad are both located in the Rhodope Mountains and the fact that they are located so close to Plovdiv (less than a 1-hour drive) makes them an excellent choice for a day trip.
Bachkovo and the Red Wall Reserve
Bachkovo is one of the most picturesque villages in the Rhodope Mountains. While the main attraction there is Bachkovo Monastery, the village itself and the surrounding area are both full of natural sites that are perfect for hikes and exploring. Those looking to spend some quality time in nature will surely enjoy a day trip to the Red Wall Reserve, which happens to be located right opposite the monastery (you can combine the two in one day).
The Red Wall is the largest one out of 4 biosphere reserves in the Rhodope Mountains. It was included in UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme back in 1977 due to its rich biodiversity. There, you can explore waterfalls, long green meadows, several well-marked nature trails, a chapel, and you can even go up to the church where the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was originally found. Make sure to stop by the Slivodolsko Padalo Waterfall – one of the biggest in the Rhodope Mountains (with a 50 meter drop).
- Difficulty level: Easy/Medium. If you’re hiking through the main paths and meadows the path is pretty straight and easy to trek. If you’re heading up towards the chapel and church there will be some climbing of stairs and rocky paths.
- What to bring: You can buy drinks and snacks from the local shops and stalls near the monastery, and there are several restaurants where you can taste genuine Bulgarian cuisine.
- When to visit and getting there: Since Bachkovo isn’t that far up the mountains, you can plan your visit in the spring, summer and even late in autumn if the weather allows (April till late October). There is public transport available so you can hop on a bus from the Bus Station ‘South’ in Plovdiv. Alternatively, it’s just a 30 min car ride, or you can opt for a guided tour to Bachkovo Monastery.
Asenovgrad & Belintash
Asenograd is located at a 30-minute drive (or less) from Plovdiv so it’s ideal for a day trip. It’s a popular place for the citizens of Plovdiv as well as a transit stop for other cities such as Smolyan and Kardzhali. The town is mostly known for its stunning Medieval Fortress.
The fortress is located at the end of Asenovgrad in the direction of Smolyan and is easily accessible by car. The fortress itself has undergone major reconstruction in recent years so it’s more convenient to walk through it. Make sure not to miss is the inscription of Tsar Asen II while there, or the view from the very top – it’s absolutely worth the climb!
- Difficulty level: Medium
- What to bring: Bring food for the day, some snacks and lots of water. Comfortable, hiking shoes are essential since there will be some walking uphill.
- When to visit and getting there: The best time to visit would be from May until October (if the weather allows). You can reach the entrance directly by car or walk from the bottom (as many people do in the warmer months). It’s a great hike to the top (2 hours or less) and you can buy some souvenirs from the stalls near the entrance. There is a small symbolic fee of 1-1.50 euros for entering the fortress.
Belintash is believed to be an ancient Thracian cult site and is considered to be one of the most energetic places in Bulgaria. The site is located about 30 kilometres from Asenovgrad and consists of a large rocky plateau split into 3 different areas. The forest area around it is truly stunning and perfect for walks and hikes in nature, and you’ll find that during the warm months, many people spend their days off there. From the top, you can enjoy the incredible 360-degree panorama that unfolds right before you.
- Difficulty level: Medium
- What to bring: Bring food for the day, some snacks and lots of water. Comfortable, hiking shoes are essential since there will be some walking uphill/downhill.
- When to visit and getting there: The best time to visit would be from May until October (if the weather allows). Ther route to Belintash is well marked and you can park your car at the bottom and enjoy a nice hike to the top (roughly 1 hour).
A Day Trip to Smolyan and the region
The idyllic forested region around Smolyan is a favourite amongst locals and foreign visitors. The area boasts pristine nature, plenty of beautiful sites and numerous nature trails that are suitable for both experienced and non-experienced hikers.
The Smolyan Lakes
The Smolyan Lakes are located about 10 kilometres north of Smolyan and they spread south to Pamporovo (a local ski resort). The area is an extremely popular camping spot during the warmer months as locals and visitors head there to enjoy some time in nature. The stunning pine forests, lakes and meadows there show the true beauty of the Rhodope Mountains.
The lakes are scattered throughout the valley starting from Orpheus rocks and reach the very town of Smolyan. Today there are 7-8 remaining lakes out of 20, as the rest have become swamps. The ‘’Muddy Lake’’ is the highest one and it lies 200 metres away from the ‘’Clear Lake’’ and the ‘’Grassy Lake’’. The view from there is truly breathtaking! You can reach it by the steep trail that starts at the main road between the two lakes.
- Things to keep in mind: Although the lakes are very rich in different types of fish, fishing is strictly prohibited. Be careful when climbing towards the highest lake as there is some danger of falling rocks.
- Difficulty level: Medium
- What to bring: Bring food for the day, some snacks and lots of water. Comfortable, hiking shoes are essential since there will be some walking uphill along the trail and the area around the lakes can get slippery.
- When to visit and getting there: The best time to visit would be from May until October (if the weather allows). The hiking routes are well marked and easy to find, however, they are largely covered in forests so do bring some warm clothes even if you’re visiting in summer. To reach the lakes you’ll first need to get to the town of Smolyan and then follow the road signs. There is no public transport that goes to the lakes.
The Canyon of Waterfalls
The Canyon of Waterfalls is not only one of the most stunning forest routes in all of Bulgaria, but also one of the calmest and easiest to trek. This trail is perfect for those who prefer to take their time while hiking and there are plenty of beautiful spots where you can stop and take photos. You’ll find over 60 waterfalls along the trail with different sizes and shapes. The route is very well marked and you can’t get lost!
- Difficulty level: Easy
- What to bring: Do bring a packed lunch, some snacks and lots of water. Comfortable shoes are essential since the area around the waterfalls is wet and slippery.
- When to visit and getting there: First you’ll need to make your way to the city of Smolyan and pass through it to exit in the direction of the village of Mugla. After less than 1.5 miles (2 kilometres), you’ll see a big wooden road sign where you should turn right. When the road ends, put your comfortable shoes on and go explore these stunning waterfalls.
The Bride Eco-trail
The Bride eco-trail lies between Pamporovo and Smolyan. The eco-trail is light and pleasant, making it a favourite amongst families and inexperienced hikers. You can walk at a leisurely pace, enjoying the tranquillity and beauty of the region. There are several open points where you can take pictures of the stunning mountain panoramas. The first viewpoint along the trail is called “Beautiful” (Krasiva) and its location is marked by the well-crafted gazebo where you can see the city of Smolyan and the surrounding mountains.
The second point is called “Incredible” (Neveroyatna). It’s located at the very peak of the eco-trail and there you will get to see a full 360-degree panoramic view of the area, including Smolyan, part of the Smolyan Lakes, Pamporovo on the other side, and even Pamporovo’s Snezhanka Tower. Those who are in the mood for some adrenaline rush can get on the zip-line down a 100-meter line to an opposing cliff. This incredible experience is suitable for children and will cost you just 4 euros per ride.
- Difficulty level: Easy
- What to bring: During the warmer months, you won’t really need any special clothing or gear. Good hiking shoes are recommended and a picnic basket full of snacks and food will come in handy too (there are many areas where you can enjoy a picnic in nature). Bring plenty of water, just in case.
- When to visit and getting there: The best time to visit would be between May and September. The trail is very well marked so there’s little chance of you getting lost. It begins about 20 metres away from the Smolyan – Pamporovo road. The journey from Plovdiv to the trail is 1 hour and 45 minutes with a car (the fastest option).
Getting to know the beautiful Rhodope Mountains is an incredible experience so don’t pass on a chance to go for a day trip if you ever get the chance. For more ideas where to go near Plovdiv, check out our other blog posts: