Exploring The Abandoned Villages in The Rhodope Mountain In Bulgaria

This is a 6-day tour dedicated to the most picturesque, but almost abandoned villages and regions in the eastern, and to some extent, in the western part of the Rhodope Mountains. 

The tour may start from Sofia or from Varna. The itinerary starts from Mezek, not far away from Svilengrad, with its winery and the fortress. We will pass by the tahini workshop in Ivaylovgrad on our way to the valley of Byala reka and the extraordinary villages of Odrintsi, Mandritsa, Dolno Lukovo, Gorno Lukovo and Meden Buk, where we will have a short walk along the meanders of the river. Beside the remarkable sericulture houses in the region, we will get familiar with the local traditional activities, as for instance the growing and processing of sesame, we will see how the group of German people lives in the village of Odrintsi and will visit the noteworthy church in the village of Dolno Lukovo.

We keep moving forward to the abandoned neighbourhoods of the village of Djanka, and afterwards we will pass by the dam lake of Studen Kladenets, reaching the guesthouse Tepavitsata, in the village of Rabovo, where we will have the chance to get acquainted with the cultivation of spelt and traditional preparation of bread. One day will be dedicated to villages in the area of the Valley of Borovitsa River. We keep moving forward to the Western Rhodopes and Ardino, the abandoned village of Dyadovtsi and Devil’s Bridge, Shiroka Laka and the abandoned village of Kukuvitsa (which we will visit depending on the circumstances). We finish this journey with walks along the gorges of Trigrad and Buynovsko, before we leave to Sofia/Varna.

Basic Information

Type: a guided or a self-drive tour.
Duration: 5 nights/6 days
Minimum number of places to be visited: Mezek, the valley of Byala reka and the extraordinary villages of Odrintsi, Mandritsa, Dolno Lukovo, Gorno Lukovo and Meden Buk, Djanka, Rabovo, the Valley of Borovitsa River, Dyadovtsi, Kukuvitsa, the gorges of Trigrad and Buynovsko.
Price: We specialise in tailor-made travel to Bulgaria and our travel suggestions are individually designed to suit your personal requirements. If you would like us to contact you with a proposal for this tour, please use the form at the end of this page or the other communication channels on our contacts page.
Tour dates: round the year;
Tour mileage: 1,200 km from Sofia;
Minimum number of travellers: 2

More details

Day 1 Varna/Sofia – Mezek – Ivaylovgrad

We leave from Sofia at 8AM (Vasil Levski Stadium) or from Varna (Antim I str.) to village of Mezek (near Ivaylovgrad), where we arrive at noon.

In this village we will visit the winery Mezek, where we will have wine testing and will get familiar with the production process. Here you may buy wine. We will make a short tour of the Mezek fortress.

Mezek fortress is a medieval Byzantine fortification, built between the 11th and 12th centuries. The defences functioned as border sentinel fortification. It safeguarded territories between Maritsa and Arda rivers.

We continue toward Ivaylovgrad and Eastern Rhodopes. Before our accommodation in the hotel, we will visit the sole working tahini workshop in Bulgaria. Karakehayovy family uses the entire old production process of the sesame tahini, which we will have the chance to see. Overnight stop in the town.

Day 2 Ivaylovgrad – meanders and villages near Byala Reka 

After the still coffee and breakfast at the hotel, we head for meanders and villages near the river Byala Reka.

We will take a walk and will photograph the villages Odrintsi, Mandritsa, Dolno Likovo and Gorno Lukovo, as well as Meden Buk.

In these southern lands is established the first in the country sericultural micro-region. Favourable combination of Mediterranean climate and fertile soils in the valley of the river Byala foreordain the excellent conditions for thriving of mulberry trees, used for feeding of silkworms. Sericulture remained here until about 1980. Today, the big sericulture houses remained as desolate witnesses of the effervescent days of these rich families of the beginning of XX century.

In the village of Odrintsi live 22 Germans and two Africans who are recovering some of the sericultural houses. While walking around the village, we will definitely meet some of them, we will talk with them and learn the reasons why they have chosen to live in this wonderful village.

Mandritsa is the sole Albanian village in Bulgaria, and a part of the population still speaks Albanian. In the village, the big, old, three-storied adobe and brick Greek styled houses are preserved, being excellent representatives of the Thracian region’s architecture, with carved ceilings, wrought-iron balconies and colonnades. In the village we may see the oldest church in the Eastern Rhodopes (1708) – “Sveta Nedelya”.

In Dolno Lukovo we will see the 200-year-old church “St.St. Constantine and Helena”, built in 1806 by the Christians in the village. In the women’s section, there are neither frescoes nor altar, while the men’s section is decorated with carvings and frescoes, made by unknown carvers and painters. Frescoes themselves are very interesting and certainly remarkable.

Gorno Lukovo has two inhabitants only. Walking through this almost deserted village, just a few hundred meters from the border, is like travelling in the past. Many of the houses, though abandoned, are preserved and may be seen from inside.

We continue to the village of Meden Buk, where we will take a tour through the meanders of the river Byala Reka.

Depending on the season we can observe various phases of cultivation and processing of sesame. Overnight stop at hotel, in the village Mandritsa.

Day 3 Ivaylovgrad – village of Djanka – barrage Studen Kladenets – village of Rabovo

After the breakfast at the hotel, we continue to neighbourhoods of Djanka.

Nearby is located one of the waterfalls of the river Dushan dere, declared a natural landmark, and 11 cliff niches in the neighbourhood Kalvach, which we may see. However, these abandoned neighbourhoods of the village, scattered in a ravishing landscape, remain our goal. Before Djanka is located the village of Kovil, which is very picturesque as well, and there an ancient Thracian complex from Late Bronze and Early Iron Age has been found.

We head north, we cross Kroumovitsa River with its beautiful meanders, which we may photograph from the bridge. Then we will pass along the dam lake Studen Kladenets, where we can make a coffee break and short walk around.

We call it a day in the fulling mill of Rabovo village, not far away from the dam lake Studen Kladenets. Our host will guide us around; will tell us about the bread of spelt, which he produces, as we have the opportunity to participate in the process of leaven and baking of bread and manual grinding of spelt in millstone. We will take a look at the fulling mill, used for carpet washing and for Jacuzzi in summer. We stay in the guesthouse for the night.

Day 4 Rabovo – Komuniga – Bezvodno, dam lake Borovitsa – Borovitsa valley – Nenkovo – the old Turkish bridge – Ardino

After the breakfast at the Fulling mill, we leave for Komuniga village, where we head for the valley of river Borovitsa, which is one of the most beautiful nooks in Rodhopes Mountain. The road between the villages of Komuniga and Bezvodno is particularly picturesque. We will go through countless hamlets, scattered on the mountain slopes, many of them abandoned or semi-abandoned. We will stop often for photos and walks. We will pass along the dam lake Borovitsa, which is one of the most beautiful in Bulgaria, and afterwards we will arrive in the village of Bezvodno, located at the end of the road.

There are splendid houses in the typical style of the region, but many of them are abandoned. Bread is supplied to the village twice a week, and the school bus rides every day several children to school in Komuniga.

Near to the village there is a waterfall (25-28 m), which we may see together with exceptionally picturesque gulch (the waterfall can be seen only in spring till July.

We go back to the dam lake Borovitsa and there we head for the village Nenkovo, along Borovitza river, which forms its very picturesque valley, one of the truly unique places in Rhodopes. Most neighbourhoods and villages are located on the other side of the river and can be reached by rope bridges. We will stop in some of these villages to visit them and shoot, but a little bit more time we will spend in the village Nenkovo and its old houses and small streets that have preserved the spirit of the area almost intact. In the immediate vicinity is located the medieval bridge, which will impress us with its majestic dimensions.

If we have enough time, we may visit the cave Womb, located in the area Tangardak kaya, halfway between village Nenkovo and the rest house Borovitsa. The cave may be reached after one-hour walk upslope.

At the end of the day, we will bypass the town of Kardzhali, to get to a small hotel over Ardino with magnificent views over the town, where we will spend the night.

Day 5 Ardino – village Dyadovtsi – Devil’s Bridge – Smolyan – Shiroka Laka – village Kukuvitsa – Teshel

Morning breakfast at the small hotel. Then we continue to abandoned village Dyadovtsi (about 10 km). In this village, Rhodopes style with bay window on the second floor is the fashionable architectural style of the last century, and the remains of this greatness can still be seen, though dilapidated.

The Devil’s Bridge was built in the XV century, as part of the way to the Aegean. The bridge is 56 meters long. 3,5 m wide and the height of the archway is 11,5 m. Stone masonry forms a second arch, having orifices designed to let the water pass through in case of high waters of the river Arda.

At noon, we head for the architectural reserve Shiroka Laka. Depending on whether we have a terrain vehicle or have enough time for walking, we can get to the village Kukovitsa and see its old houses, scattered on the heights, in 1550 meters of altitude. Today, in the village live two shepherd families, and in summer some of their relatives come back. An interesting rock formation in the shape of a human head is located on the mountain road to the village, 100 meters from the main road. If we are unable to get to the village, we will go to the village of Gela, which, although not forsaken, is located in beautiful nature and beautiful landscapes. The village has a nice restaurant, where we can eat or drink coffee or glass of wine

We end off the day in the village of Teshel, in family hotel with restaurant Orpheus, where will eat trout from Rhodopes and will spend the night.

Day 6 Gorges of Trigrad and Buynovtsi – Varna/Sofia

After breakfast at the hotel, will go through extremely picturesque Trigrad and Buynovsko Gorges. Optionally, we can visit the caves Devil’s Hole and Yagodinska. In the afternoon, we go back to Sofia/Varna

Guided and self-drive tours

A guided tour shall include: services of a professionally qualified tour guide; pickup and drop off from your hotel/accommodation in Sofia or Varna; transportation by A/C vehicle, fuel and parking expenses; accommodation;  transfer from/to airport and all other services you might need.

A guided tour does not include: international air fares; personal medical or travel insurance; food; any expenses of a personal nature.

A self-drive tour shall include: hotel reservations depending on your preferences; maps and detailed itinerary description + GPS coordinates of the places/hotels; information for places of interest; car rental depending on your preferences; extensive pre-arrival information and services and all other services you might need;

Typically a self-guided tour does not include: flights to/from Bulgaria; fuel, food; personal medical or travel insurance; any expenses of a personal nature. 

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