The “Byala Reka” valley is known for the river of the same name, remarkable for its clear water, the magnificent nature around, and the unique sericulture villages along the only road in the valley. This is a remote, off the beaten path and almost untouched area in Bulgaria, very close to the Greece Border. From Meden Buk, the last settlement at the end of the road in the valley, begin the “Byala Reka” beautiful meanders, a clean, exotic, and lovely place for nature lovers and hiking. Until the 1980s, silkworm breeding (sericulture) was highly developed in the valley. The favorable combination of Mediterranean climate and fertile soil determined the excellent conditions for the growth of mulberry trees, used for silkworms. Today you can see the unique sericulture houses in Odrintsi, Mandritsa, Dolno and Gorno Lukovo, and Meden Buk. The cultivation of sesame was also widespread in the region. Today it is still alive in many places, unlike sericulture.
The first village on the only road in the “Byala Reka” valley is Odrintsi. A wild place, very close to the Greek border, without a mobile connection, forgotten by both God and people. While the Bulgarians sought to emigrate to the more prosperous western part of Europe, Germans settled here. A small group of 22 people recently decided to buy a few abandoned houses and start a new life in Odrintsi. More about these people here.
There are about forty, half-destroyed sericulture houses in the village, and about five people live there permanently, except for the Germans. Mulberry trees can be seen everywhere, used to feed the silkworms in the silkworm farms in the past.
The next village is Mandritsa, known as the only Albanian village in Bulgaria. Today Mandritsa has a population of about 50 people, part of whom still speaks Albanian. You will find the same three-story brick houses as in Odrintsi, with carved ceilings and wrought-iron balconies.
There are two churches in the village. The “Holy Sunday” Cemetery church is a small one-nave building built-in 1708 – one of the oldest churches in the Eastern Rhodopes. The village church “St. Dimitar”, built-in 1835, is a three-nave pseudo-basilica made of masonry with a wooden roof. There are eastern influences in the motifs of the carved wooden iconostasis. This church was partially destroyed.
The next village further into the valley is Dolno Lukovo.
The most exciting place here is the 200-year-old church “St. st Konstantin and Elena”. It was built in 1806 by the Christians in the village entirely from donations. They made it literally in a matter of days to comply with the Sultan’s decree that a religious temple with a built roof should not be destroyed. The construction of the church is made of flat river stones. It was built in the form of an agricultural building. It has no bell tower, and until 1950 a wooden eyelid hung on a tall oak tree next to the church announced to the laity for prayer. Since 1992, the church “St. St. Constantine and Helena” has been declared a cultural monument.
In 1896 the sizeable three-nave basilica “St. Archangel Michael” was built in the village center.
Sesame cultivation is the most exotic agriculture activity preserved to this day in the “Byala Reka” valley. Sowing the sesame is of great importance. It is done by hand, at sunset in late spring. Ivaylovgrad is one of the few places in the country where there is still a workshop for making tahini, the main product obtained from sesame.
Tobacco, grapes, and fruit trees are also grown on the land of the village.
There were intensive trade relations between the communities of Dolno and Gorno Lukovo and Soufli (present-day Greece), based on the sericulture and the production of silk by old and unique handicraft methods.
Today Gorno Lukovo is a ghost village. It was once prosperous because of the crafts, trade, and proximity to Greece, which is only a kilometer from here. You can imagine the 50 families living in the stone houses, nowadays abandoned but still in good condition. Exactly when Gorno Lukovo was created is not clear. Information about this part of the Eastern Rhodopes, from the time of the Ottoman rule, is scarce. The church is said to be about 350 years old. It is made of stone, like all the houses around. After the Russo-Turkish war of liberation, the region remained under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Not only the geographical remoteness makes “Byala Reka” valley an exciting place to visit, but also the unique nature. The Mediterranean climate influences flora and fauna, which are visibly different from the rest of Bulgaria, similar to those in northern Greece and European Turkey. The relief of the valley is characterized by steep slopes and many meanders. They actually gave the name of the protected area “Meanders of the Byala Reka”, a protected area of the Eastern Rhodopes under NATURA 2000.
You can reach Ivaylovgrad by bus from Sofia or the nearby Kardzhali and Haskovo. For the “Byala Reka” valley it would be good to have a car, as there is no public transport to the villages. From Meden Buk, the last settlement on the road in the valley, you can hike along the river. The summer and autumn seasons are suitable for hiking because the river is shallow, and walking is much more comfortable. The meanders of “Byala Reka” is one of the most beautiful places in Bulgaria and the Balkans.
HOW TO GET THERE
The preparation of a guided tour program/offer is free of charge. You’ll get a package price from us up front, which will include the services of a professionally qualified tour guide; pick up and drop off from your hotel/accommodation; transportation by A/C vehicle, fuel and parking expenses; accommodation, transfers from/to airport and all other additional services you might need.
You will obtain from us a Final Trip Plan of this tour in both web and pdf formats. Please have a look at sample web version with photos, maps and video here. Please download a sample version of a Final Trip Plan in pdf format here.
You can use the Final Trip Plan to make the needed reservations and reservations by yourself.
The Final Trip Plan of the trip will contain: a web version of the tour; a pdf version of the tour (see the sample above), а short description (Resume); Basic information about the trip (duration, places to be visited, tour mileage, the period of travel; а trip budget with detailed expenses table (downloadable pdf file); а Google map with the itinerary and bookmarks for places, hotels and restaurants; а link to a Google Earth interactive map with features like “Street view”, 3D etc; A link to a Google KML file, which can be uploaded to a cell phone and used during the trip; а detailed program day by day with activities and places to be visited, recommendations for accommodation and nice restaurants with links for bookings and reservations.
Additionally to the Final Trip Plan we make all the bookings and reservations on your behalf. We do this through our licensed travel agency “Thousand Voyages” Ltd.
- Transportation and logistics: We coordinate, book and manage all the transportation elements of your trip – planes, trains, rent-a-cars, busses… everything to and from your destination, and between various places during your trip.
- Accommodation: We coordinate, book and manage all of your selected accommodations. We recommend the best selections at every destination on your trip, including hotels, airbnbs, bed and breakfasts, that fit your tastes, budget and are available during your travel dates. You will find the names of the properties in Final Trip Plan, with connections to the websites or booking forms. Sometimes the chosen by us accommodation is not on booking.com or any other platform, especially those in the distant areas. In this example we provide the name of the owner and a telephone number.
- 24/7 emergency support with a dedicated travel consultant: 4/7 Support throughout your journey (SMS, Email, Skype).
Secure Payments upon delivery of services: We offer two options: 1) PayPal – You will receive a PayPal invoice with the total amount to be paid. You can pay using your credit card or PayPal account; 2) A Revolut Business Account (in Euro) (UK) for a bank transfer.
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TRAVEL SERVICES, WHICH MIGHT HELP WITH YOUR TRAVEL TO BULGARIA AND THIS REGION
We would be glad to help you reach this place. Please use one of the options above. Please also have a look at all the services we offer in Bulgaria here. For your stay in Bulgaria or to organise the trip by yourself, you may use the travel services we recommend and work with, and which you can book by yourself using the links beneath. Of course, you always can contact us at any time, and we will do our best to help.