Off the Beaten Track
Check out our authors' picks of must-see sights, local hangouts and unforgettable
Take a slow wander through the Rodopi Mountains, home to Bulgaria's most isolated
and ethnically diverse communities. The landscape takes in spectacular gorges
and steep rocky slopes which open onto tiered fields and pine forests. The traditions
of Bulgaria's Slavs are strongest in the Rodopi, and it is here most of the Muslim
population lives: ethnic Turks and Pomaks, whose ancestors converted during the
rule of the Ottoman Empire. During the communist period a 20km (12mi) exclusion
zone was enforced along Bulgaria's southern border, ensuring that the villagers
in this region were isolated.
Many travellers only get as far south as Bachkovo Monastery (read
more), 30km (19mi) south of Plovdiv. Smolyan, a large logging town 70km (43mi)
farther south, is a good base for visits to the surrounding area. The ski resort
of Pamporovo, 16km (10mi) north-west, is popular with package tourists
from Britain and Germany, but day-trippers are also welcome. Twenty km north-west
of Smolyan is Shiroka Laka, a scenic village of stone houses, meandering
goats and chatting villagers striking casual poses with pitchforks and donkeys.
The School for Traditional Music, founded in 1971 to preserve Rodopi folklore
and music, gives regular performances to the public.
Koprivshtitsa has been preserved as an open-air museum of the Bulgarian National
Revival and even today is only slightly tarnished by Coca Cola and Marlboro.
It was here on 20 April 1876 that Todor Kableshkov led an uprising against the
Turks which eventually led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. These events
are well-documented in the various house museums; but even without its
place in history, the village would still be worth a visit if only to walk its
winding cobbled streets and tarry on the stone bridges spanning trickling streams.
You can stay in many of the old houses, some of which even have hot water!
Varvara is a tiny fishing community 82km (51mi) south of Burgas. In winter
it's pin-drop quiet, but the village is transformed each summer when artists
and alternative lifestylers from Sofia camp on the fields above the beach. The
more established groovers have their own leaf and stick shelters which are repaired
each year. Private rooms are available in the village if you don't fancy sleeping
under the stars or bunking in with your new Bulgarian mates, and you can buy
fish and vegetables from the locals.