Location: Eastern Rhodope Mountains Type: nature landmarks; historical landmarks; road trip; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Have you ever visited the Eastern Rhodopes? You are bound to fall in love if you do. Narrow roads, endless green hills and nestled picturesque villages, ancient shrines and strong energy – how not to love them?
We embarked on our long-awaited road trip to the Eastern Rhodopes in the beginning of June. The thunderous weather forecasts have failed to dissuade us and thank god. The weather turned out perfect. We rented a floor of a house near Kardzhali dam in the village of Glavatartsi via Airbnb – with a garden, a pool and a magnificent view of the dam. We only had 3 days available in the region, but they were enough for what we`d planned. We`ll surely come back again: we didn`t manage to capture on photo the famous meanders of Arda river (while on the road searching for them we`ve missed the turnoff to the village of Suhovo, where you can find a place boasting a nice view). The area around Kardzhali is also a good starting point for day trips to Greece. But even if you don`t reach our southern neighbor country, the peace and beauty around will be enough to keep you in the embrace of the Eastern Rhodopes.
Eastern Rhodopes: top 5 sites around Kardzhali
1. The Stone Mushrooms
The first site that we`ve visited in the region was the natural landmark known as the Stone Mushrooms, while traveling from Sofia to Kardzhali. To reach them, after passing the town of Haskovo and on your way to Kardzhali you have to turn to the village of Beli Plast and follow the directions of your GPS. You won`t go far away from the main road. When you arrive, don`t be surprised to leave your car right at the road because there is no parking lot. In fact, the only evidence marking this landmark is the ugly mesh fence. We`ve found the entrance at the side of the road, as well as an elderly gentleman who had set a table with different stones and crystals for sale (similar improvised shops we`ve met at all the landmarks in the area). There is no entrance fee.
The sight of the strange white rocks and the surrounding green hills were slightly surreal, especially against the backdrop of the dark blue sky with angry clouds. The so-called Stone mushrooms are up to 2-3 meters in height and are located on an area of 3 hectares. If you look closely at them, you will notice a few different colors – pink on the stumps, blue and green on the caps. This is due to the fact that they are made of different minerals. They were formed 20 million years ago under the influence of underwater volcanic activity when the area was a sea bottom, and then were shaped with the help of the erosion. They were declared a nature landmark in 1974 together with the Stone Wedding near the village of Zimzelen next to Kardzhali. The two rock phenomenon are also known as the Kardzhali pyramids – we found out this fact while exploring the routes in advance online.
The visit to the Stone Mushrooms in the Eastern Rhodopes won`t take you much time. If you have a baby or a toddler, it`s best to put him in a baby carrier. You won`t need a baby stroller. But go and feel the energy of the place and admire the interesting natural shapes. And, as we`ve already mentioned, you won`t stray away much from the road to Kardzhali.
2. Devil’s Bridge
We combined the trip to the famous Devil’s Bridge with a stroll around the Thracian rock complex Eagle Rocks (or Orlovi skali). Both are located near the town of Ardino in the Eastern Rhodopes, and we chose to go first to the Devil’s Bridge.
A typical narrow Rhodope road, adapted for a two-way traffic with many turns, took us from Ardino to the abandoned village of Dyadovtsi and the area along the Arda river where the bridge was built. Signs began to warn us that we were approaching it and that there was an entrance fee of 2 lv. The road became similar to a dirt road but passable and we finally decided to leave the car on the next plate that claimed we had 800 m to get to the bridge. The distance seemed more, but it didn`t matter – the walk through the shady forest road in the hot morning compensated that we didn`t leave the car in the parking lot in front of the bridge itself. We didn`t pay for an entrance, as we arrived before 9 am (our daughter is an early bird and so we became once, too), and there was no one in the booth to pay the fee to.
The view that opened before us as we arrived was magical: the beautiful stone bridge is nestled along green hills, and the rumble of the tranquil river and bird songs perfectly added to the pleasant picture. If one wishes to sit down and admire the nature, there are several gazebos built around.
You know, it`s interesting how sturdy the bridge had to be in order to endure and preserve over the centuries. It was built in the 16th century on the orders of Sultan Selim I, and once it was part of an important trade route linking the Upper Thracian Plain with the Aegean Sea. There are numerous legends around its creation. The most widespread is that the craftsman to whom it was commission to build it, has to sell his soul to the devil in order to cope with the task in time – for just 40 days. From there comes the name of the bridge. It`s also said that if you stand at the bridge between 11 and 12 o’clock at noon and look down at the waters of the Arda river, you`ll see the devil’s image. Well, we didn`t have this opportunity, so I can`t confirm or deny this claim.
3. The Eagle Rocks
It turns out that the rock niches are a sight typical for the Eastern Rhodopes. Our landlords from the house on Kardzhali dam told us that if we take a boat trip around the dam, we`ll see such rocks, but they are hard to reach from the land. We`d also heard about Chit Kaya near the village of Lisicite on the near dam Studen Kladenets (however, access to the village is only on foot through the longest rope bridge in Bulgaria – 261 meters). For our June road trip and since we were traveling with a toddler, we decided to visit the other popular rock-cult complex and much more easily accessible in our situation – the Eagle Rocks.
The Thracian rock sanctuary, known as the Eagle Rocks (although translated from Turkish the name must be Raven rocks) and dating back to the V-IV century BC, is located about 4 km from the town of Ardino on a narrow and steep road with many sharp turns. Trust your GPS, it will take you to the end of the road and in front of a information plate where you have to park the car. A courteous elderly gentleman, which we`ve paid an entrance fee of 2 lv, told us we have to continue on foot up the hill on a narrow and steep path in order to get to the Eagle Rocks. He pointed out that this is the direct path and it takes 5 minutes, and that there is a tourist trail that will take us 15 minutes. We chose the fastest route. Honestly, here I`ve regretted that we didn`t take the baby’s carrier for our daughter. But my husband did well with the task without it – he quickly reached the end goal with our daughter in his arms, while I was slowly and carefully choosing where to step over the rocks. At the end of the trail we`ve reached a gazebo in front of the Eagle Rocks.
Different theories are trying to unravel the origin and the reason behind the creation of the niches in the rocks in the region. The rock here (yes, the Eagle rocks is actually one rock) is 25 m high, and the nearly 100 niches are carved on the most inaccessible places. According to some scientists, once they had held funeral urns. Others believe that their carving was part of a ritual of initiation through which the young men had to pass. Others develop a theory that the ancient people were putting burning fires in the niches before battles. One is clear – they were obviously very important or the ancient people just had a lot of spare time available. Legends also tell that the Eagle Rocks can heal (what and how is not very clear). In any case it`s interesting to see and the walk around is pleasant enough.
4. The Stone Wedding
The trip to the Stone Wedding was scheduled for our third day in the Eastern Rhodopes when we had to go back home to Sofia. First we went to see the Stone Wedding, and then we took a stroll around the center of Kardzhali and had lunch at the Old House – a tavern I had visited on a previous trip to the city and I knew it was worth it – with delicious dishes and pleasant atmosphere.
But let’s go back to the Stone Wedding. The site can be reached very quickly from Kardzhali – the distance is 5 km on (big surprise!) a narrow road with many turns. There is no parking lot or entrance fee, you`ll know that you`ve reached your goal when you see a stall with stones and crystals. Then you`ll notice the information plate. A short and not very steep path will take you up the hill to the meadow with the Stone Wedding. The terrain here is again not suitable for a baby stroller, but a baby or a toddler can easily be carried in arms or in a baby carrier. The path is easy and not as steep as the one at the Eagle Rocks.
Once we walked out from the path and into the meadow, it seemed like we`ve stepped into the sandbox of giant children who suddenly tossed their toys and rushed to do something else. The rock formations here are more than those at the Stone Mushrooms, but according to the scientists they are formed in the same way: they began to form 40 million years ago duo to underwater volcanic activity, and then the erosion did the rest of the job. The most remarkable part here are the two 10-meter rocks placed away from the big rock cluster, which actually give the name of the area. They resemble the figures of a hugged man and a woman (if you trust your imagination).
The legend tells of a young man who fell in love with a girl from a near village. On their wedding day, his father saw the bride`s face for the first time and fall in love. His thoughts turned all wedding guests along with himself into stone. Only the bridegroom didn`t meet this fate, but he cried and begged to be turned into stone, too. And so it happened and he stood by his beloved for the rest of eternity, and a pool full with his tears could still be seen at the foot of one of the rocks. We didn`t check if that it`s true. Instead, we enjoyed the view of the green hills and the colorful meadows with flowers amidst the strange white rocks.
5. Perperikon and Tatul
We didn`t manage to visit them on our June trip, but they are among the mandatory sites if you are in the area. The ancient city of Perperikon is located 20 km from Kardzhali, and you can read about it in our previous publication here. And the rock sanctuary Tatul near Momchilgrad, which some archaeologists associate with Orpheus, we`ve marked for our next trip to the Eastern Rhodopes.
Bonus: the house near Kardzhali dam
For our trip to the Eastern Rhodopes, we were again very lucky with finding great accommodation. While browsing Airbnb, we`ve stumbled upon a lovely house with a big yard, barbecue and a swimming pool located right in front of Kardzhali dam in the village of Glavatartsi, 7 km from the town of Kardzhali. We liked it, booked it and fell in love with the view from the porch on the second floor.
Even if we hadn`t planned to visit all the sights described above, I would have been quite pleased to just sit on the porch and admire the water and the song of the birds. In the evening the courtyard became silent and filled with fireflies. Like in a beautiful fairytale. The landlords turned out to be super nice people, too, with a toddler, with whom our daughter quickly made friends and was running and playing. We strongly recommend their house if you are planning to explore the area or just want to relax in the nature. They rent the first floor (with a bedroom, a large living room and a bathroom) and the second floor (with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room with a fireplace and a kitchen) from their house, and live on the third floor. Their place is suitable for large companies, but keep in mind that you have to be quiet in the afternoon and night hours. There is nothing spectacular to be seen in the village of Glavatartsi – mostly hotels. But the sight of the dam, the nature and the calmness are all worth the visit. So go check it.