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Through the Heart of the Rhodopes 67

Walking through the Heart of the Rhodopes

Overview

This is an amazing self guided walking holiday in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, unique to The Natural Adventure Company. The Rhodopes are the vastest and most culturally diverse mountain range in Bulgaria, offering endless exploration possibilities. The trip starts in Plovdiv, the oldest city in Europe has been continuously inhabited since around the 6th millennium BC. Originally a Thracian settlement, the city was conquered in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon – the father of Alexander the Great. The first walking part of this trip is focused on the scenic Buinovo and Trigrad gorges, and then the itinerary will take you to the less explored pastoral area of the Chaira Lakes, and the remote village of Mugla located at the very heart of the mountain. At the end of the tour, you will be able to relax and reflect on your adventure in the village of Shiroka Laka, famous for its authentic architecture and preservation of national folklore traditions. This trip is suitable for travellers who want to explore the highlight natural sights of the Rhodopes and also experience some wilder and more off the beaten track regions, away from the standard tourist routes.

Highlights

Itinerary

Day 1: Plovdiv

Arrive in the charming city of Plovdiv. Depending on your arrival time, you will have the rest of the day to explore the cultural riches and the charming old town of the city. Designated European City of Culture 2019, Plovdiv is one of the most pleasant city to hang in before departing on your mountain adventure.

Day 2: Yagodina / Eagle’s Eye

Morning transfer to Yagodina (115 km / 2.5 hours) – a small village in the picturesque Buinovo Gorge in the very heart of the Rhodopes. Visit the beautiful Yagodina Cave (optional). Afternoon hike to the Eagle’s Eye platform offering impressive views to the mountains. In good weather, the entire Rhodope Range and even parts of Greece are visible from the platform. Overnight in Yagodina.

  • Walking for the day: approx 7km, approx 3-4 hours, ↑410m ↓410m
  • Accommodation: a nice 3-star hotel with spa facilities (Mursal) or a more basic but charming family-run country hotel (Yagodina)
  • Meals: Breakfast

Day 3: Trigrad

Walk from Yagodina through the picturesque Buinovo Gorge to Trigrad and then to your hotel. Once you arrive in the village, you will also be able to visit the Devil’s Throat cave. Overnight near Trigrad.

Day 4: Circular Walk through Kesten and Zhrebevo

The main walk for the day will take you above the village along a ridge that will descend in Kesten, one of the most southern villages of Bulgaria. On the way back you will also be able to pass through the village of Zhrebevo, once a no go area because of the Greek border proximity these villages are now open for visitors but they are mostly abandoned and stuck in the past as it once was in the communist period. In case the walk is too long for you, there are also two alternative routes to another small village or to a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the village of Trigrad (both take between 2-3 hours so can be combined in a day).

Day 5: Trigrad – Chaira Lakes – Mugla Village

Today you will head to the very heart of the mountain. The route will first take you to the pastoral Chaira Lakes area where you can pass by the hut for a lunch. The second part of the walk will take you to the village of Mugla, it is quite isolated as the road leading to it is in a very bad condition, still, the place is having a lot of visitors because of its central location in the mountains and authentic atmosphere. If you are not too tired from the walk you can visit a short eco-trail at the end of the village. Note that because of the difficult car access to the village there is no luggage transfer included so you will have to pack for two walking days/one overnight before leaving Trigrad and your main luggage will join you tomorrow in Shiroka Laka. Overnight in a family hotel.

  • Walking for the day: 15km, approx 6-7 hours, ↑970m ↓850m
  • Accommodation: Family Hotel Mugla
  • No luggage transfer included to Mugla (main luggage will join you on the next day in Shiroka Laka)
  • Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 6: Mugla – Gela – Shiroka Laka

The first part of the walk will take you to the region of Gela, known for its scenery and for hosting the annual National Bagpipe Festival. For those of you who would like to challenge themselves, there is a possible detour (2 to 3 hours) to peak Karlak, the second-highest in the Rhodopes, which will reveal you an amazing 360-degree view in good weather. You will then continue descending to the village of Shiroka Laka, where you will be able to walk around its cobbled stoned streets and enjoy the local architecture preserved from the 18th and 19th centuries.

  • Walking for the day: 17km, approx 6-7 hours ,↑970m ↓850m (without the extension to Karlak peak)
  • Accommodation: Family Hotel Kalina or similar (standard version); Shiroka Laka Spa Hotel (optional upgrade)
  • Meals: Breakfast

Day 7: Bachkovo Monastery / Departure or Extra Night Plovdiv

A transfer will take you back to Plovdiv, passing en route through Bachkovo Monastery, the second biggest in Bulgaria and not less beautiful than the more popular Rila Monastery in Rila. In case you would like to enjoy Plovdiv for an additional day or two, you can book an additional overnight upon request.

  • Meals: Breakfast

What to Expect

Hotels

Small family hotels and guesthouses as listed in the itinerary. All places have been carefully hand-picked by us, and we monitor their quality regularly. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Sample standard hotels

Ego, Mursal, Arkan Han, Vila Rosi, Family Hotel Mugla, Family Hotel Kalina

*Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will provide you with the exact accommodation details upon booking confirmation.

Optional hotel upgrade

In case you would like to spend some of the overnights in a higher-class accommodation offering additional amenities (including spa facilities in some places) we can offer you the following upgrades upon request: 8 1/2 Art Guesthouse on Day 1, Trigrad Hotel on days 3 and 4, and Shiroka Laka Spa Hotel on day 6.

Meals

Breakfast is included every day. When no restaurant is available on the route, lunches and snacks should either be bought from local shops, or you can pre-order packed lunch from your hotel the night before. Dinner is included only on day 5 as in Mugla there are no alternatives, on the other days it is available either from the restaurant in your hotel or restaurants and taverns in the village near your hotel.

Getting there

The closest airport is Plovdiv. Ryanair currently has direct flights to Plovdiv couple of times per week from London Stansted. Alternatively, many more flights are available from the UK and many EU cities to Sofia. From London to Sofia there are direct flights with Bulgaria Air, British Airways, Easy Jet, and Wizzair. There is public transport to/from all of them, or we can arrange a private transfer.

Day 1 (arrival day) – From Plovdiv Airport To Plovdiv Hotel 

  • Take a taxi from Plovdiv airport to the Old City of Plovdiv is around 10-15 BGN (6£) and you will reach your hotel in about 20 minutes.

Day 7 (departure day) – From Plovdiv Hotel/Centre to Plovdiv Airport

  • From the Old City of Plovdiv take a taxi to Plovdiv Airport. It takes 20 minutes and about 10-15 BGN (6£).
  • The included transfer from Shiroka Laka can drop you directly at the airport as well (upon request)

or

Day 1 (arrival day) – From Sofia Airport To Plovdiv Hotel

  • Take a taxi from Sofia airport to Sofia Central Bus Station, it will take you between 20-40 minutes 10-15 BGN (6£). You can also use the Sofia Underground.
  • By bus to Plovdiv Central Bus Station, the journey will be 2 hours 15 BGN (6£).
  • Take a taxi from Plovdiv Central Bus Station to the Old City of Plovdiv, takes around 10 minutes and costs 5 BGN (2£).

Day 7 (departure day)From Plovdiv Hotel/Centre to Sofia Airport

  • Take a taxi from the Old City of Plovdiv to Plovdiv Central Bus Station, takes around 10 minutes and costs 5 BGN (2£).
  • The included transfer from Shiroka Laka can drop you directly at the bus station as well (upon request).
  • By bus to Sofia Central Bus Station, the journey will be 2 hours 15 BGN (6£).
  • Take a taxi from Sofia Central Bus Station to Sofia Airport, it will take you between 20-40 minutes 10-15 BGN (6£) or you can use the Sofia Underground.

Check public transfer options from Sofia

Difficulty, terrain and navigation

The holiday is appropriate for regular walkers and requires a good level of fitness. The trip covers an average of 16 km (6-7 hours) of walking per day. There are no exposed or technical sections (read more about difficulty grades).

You will walk mostly on unpaved timber roads and hiking trails; some sections may include walking on asphalt. Most of the trails are well-marked and signposted. We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.

When to go

This trip is available from May until October. Weather is best in June – September. As July and August are the busiest months, it is preferable that you book as early as possible. The flexibility of self-guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your vacation on any time in the season – so please indicate desired beginning date when booking.

The climate in the Western Rhodopes is temperate continental with an average 200 days of sunshine a year. It is influenced both by the colder air coming from the north and by the warmer breeze from the Mediterranean. Depending on location and altitude, temperatures vary, but, in the May-September period, the daily averages are 20 – 25C. Spring and autumn are pleasant in the Rhodopes with cold nights and occasional rain. High summer daytime temperatures are rarely too hot as even though temperatures can occasionally reach 30C, the mountains and forests remain cooler, dropping at night to 12-18C. The Rhodopes are recognised as having some of the purest air in Europe.

Inclusions

Included

  • Detailed pre-departure holiday information pack including GPS-checked and regularly updated route descriptions and road notes; maps with daily routes and optional hikes marked
  • Accommodation for six nights in hand-picked 3-star hotels or family-run guesthouses as listed in the itinerary
  • 6 Breakfasts
  • 1 Dinner
  • Luggage transport to next accommodation on all walking days except on day 5 (on this day your main luggage will be transferred to Shiroka Laka where it will join you on next day) – 1 bag of up to 20 kg per person
  • All internal ground transfers and baggage transfers as listed in the programme
  • 24/7 phone assistance from our offices in Sofia and Plovdiv

Excluded

  • Flights and connecting land transfers to first / from last accommodation
  • Lunches, dinners (apart from the dinner in Mugla which is included), drinks & snacks
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal expenses such as phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
  • Any items not explicitly mentioned in the programme

Supplements, options and extras

  • Where individual members of a group require a single room, a single room supplement is applicable
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers. As costs are not shared, a supplement is payable on the standard trip cost
  • Private airport transfers
  • Hotel upgrade on days 1, 3, 4 and 6

Extensions

  • One extra night in Plovdiv before or after the holiday

Spend one additional night before the start of your vacation in a charming hotel in downtown Plovdiv, the city of the seven hills with its picturesque old town and ancient Roman amphitheatre and stadium; designated European City of Culture 2019.

  • One extra night in Sofia before or after the holiday

Enjoy one extra night after your holiday in the heart of the vibrant city of Sofia, walking distance from the main shopping and entertainment area – the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard.

Map

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Walking through the Heart of the Rhodopes
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by Chester on King Ludwig Way

Delightful moderate walk building up slowly to an interesting climax over the days. Varied and friendly hotels. Kirchberger in Wildsteig deseerves... Read full review

We are a retired couple of 73 and 70 years old. We enjoyed the trip very much. The trip was well organised; all went smooth, the accommodation... Read full review

This holiday not only had erupting volcanoes, fabulous hospitality and a plethora of dramatic landscapes to walk in, it also featured gorgeous... Read full review

We had a really great holiday and appreciated the good organisation from your company. Everything went to plan, very well organised and good... Read full review

We just completed the Catalan Coast and Mountain week-long self-guided walking tour. February was perfect in the off-season! [The] itinerary... Read full review

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