ROADTRIP SOUTHEASTERN BULGARIA
For car rental in Sofia, I recommend Savoy Rent a Car near metro station G.M. Dimitrov.
I followed the itinerary Sofia - Belovo - Perperikon - Kardzhali - Devil's Bridge - Suhovo - Abandoned village Zherka - Yedi Kizlar Mosque - Chirpan - Vinaroro - Marble Lake - Sofia.
The first night, I stayed at Cob Camp in Belovo. Easily one of the nicest accommodations I have stayed at. Check the place out on the Belovo page. The next morning, I drove straight into the Rhodopes with a quick break for coffee at the Konaka hotel/restaurant in Cherven village. Then through Asenovgrad to Perperikon, an ancient, holy Thracian city. The place has a long and fascinating history, for which I recommend this post. There are guides you can take and it will certainly make your visit more interesting. Otherwise, listen to an audio tour on for example Youtube.
From Perperikon, I drove straight on to the Devil's Bridge. Even though the distances are relatively small, it's still a long drive all the way to Ardino and then deep into the mountains. Before I got to Ardino, I stopped at the Eagle Rocks, a natural and cultural phenomenon. It was used as a place to store the ashes of loved ones and is over 7,000 years old. Then the Devil's Bridge itself had long been on my list. I'd been by the Arda river several times but never seen the actual bridge. It was constructed in the early 16th Century over the remains of an ancient Roman bridge. At one point, this was the route from the Aegean Sea to the Thracian Valley. Check out this post to learn more about the actual legend and why it's called the Devil's Bridge.
DABRAVITE VILLAGE NEAR BELOVO, PERPERIKON,
EAGLE ROCK, DEVIL'S BRIDGE
KARDZHALI, ABANDONED VILLAGE ZHERKA, YEDI KIZLAR MOSQUE
In Kardzhali, I stayed in the Family Hotel 'Garden', locally known as Hotel Gradina. Truly excellent, with on-site dinner and breakfast. Perfect for solo-travelers, couples and, as the name says, families. The next morning, I directly drove south to see villages along the lake. I stopped in Suhovo and tried to get all the way to Latinka village. However, the road turned unpaved and I had to stop my adventure. Nonetheless saw some beautiful places. As I got back to the main road south, from Kardzhali to Greece, I decided to visit the abandoned village Zherka. It's right near Kirkovo, let me know should you want to go and I'll give you more details. As it's not on any map, some research and preparation is needed. The last 1,8 kilometres are steeply uphill. The village itself was fascinating. Many abandoned houses of natural stone, nearly all in a reasonably good state. Yet some of them collapsed. These buildings are not safe to enter as they have wooden constructions and very heavy, stone roofs. The chance of them collapsing is high. There was an overgrown cemetery, which was a very sad sight. Check out the video below to see more about my visit to this abandoned village.
Driving a bit farther back north, I stopped at Podkova to check out the Yedi Kizlar Mosque. It's made entirely out of wood and it's said that not a single nail was used. To find out more about the mosque, better use the term 'The mosque of the seven maidens'. As the name said, the mosque was made by seven girls. They built it in one night, after their beloved men never returned from a war. If you enter the complex, there's the toilets on your left, right outside the fence. Then as you walk onwards, to the right of the minaret, there's another fence and right behind it, on your left, a path towards the cemetery. As you follow it, there are three important places used by local people and worshippers from far beyond. The one is some sort of stone arch, where the worshipper crawls through and does one half circle to the left. Then again, in total three times. Then there's another spot where one puts their knees on ancient stones, one other where the head is put and then one where one sits on. These are marked with signs in Turkish. Although I do not know much more about the places, it was fascinating watching people practice these ancient traditions. There's a tree with all kinds of fabric tied to it, which is said to leave behind an illness and get home healthy again. Most likely, the spots where one makes circles, kneels and sits, are also meant to foster health and prosperity but I cannot confirm.
CHIRPAN, VINAROVO, MOGILOVO, BRATYA DASKALOVI, MARBLE LAKE
After my visit to the mosque, I drove straight on to Chirpan. I visited the Chateau Hotel Trendafiloff and tasted some of their fine wines. I spent the night and then drove on to the village Vinarovo, which is known for its long winemaking traditions. There, I visited the Belarussian owner of the Pavlovich Winery, Mr. Denicevich. I got a wine tasting and bought some of these excellent wines, which I still enjoy today. Some bottles will be kept to age. Mr. Denicevich can ship wines upon request and people are welcome to come taste some wines. He likes to prepare lunch as well, provided there are several more people visiting and you let him know beforehand. I highly recommend visiting! Apart from this winery, there's nothing much to do in the village and it's clearly a place in need of some restoration. Or better said, people inhabiting the houses and having the funds to do some repairs. Along the bad road to the next village, I got to Mogilovo. Clearly, there's some more going on there as it's the location of the Midalidare Estate. Wine tours must be reserved, so I couldn't just come in and have a look. Nonetheless, they also have a spa hotel and it all looked very well maintained and luxurious from the outside. After this village, I drove on to Chirpan (you can make a circle tour like this, no need to turn back to Vinarovo). As I visited Chirpan earlier, I drove on to Partizanin and Bratya Daskalovi. Read more about Chirpan itself here, there's plenty to do! Check out the part where I write what to see in Partizanin, don't miss out on it.
In Bratya Daskalovi, I visited the cosmetics and perfume factory Evterpa. They let me test some perfumes and I got some rose oil, rose cream and more. An interesting visit and they do ship to other countries! I love the products I got and would certainly order more. Typically, I dislike many perfumes but two of theirs I liked instantly. All depends on the person of course. Then right east of Bratya Daskalovi is the Thracian tomb - Momina Mogila, which means the Maiden Hill. There's no signs or paths whatsoever to guide you there and the grass is very tall. Hard to reach but the view is good! The tomb was discovered only in 2008, it had collapsed. It's from the Third/Fourth Century B.C., in the Early Hellenic Era. As the stone at the top of the dome missed, it was replaced by frosted glass. Excavations proved this was a settlement in early times, where remains of five houses were found as well human and animal bones, gold-plated garments and parts of a gold-plated necklace.
It was time to continue home, with a stop at the Marble lake (Мраморно езеро). Marble was excavated from this place for years and now the marble mill lies abandoned. Then nature took back over and throughout the time it turned into a lake. Reaching up to 20 metres in depth, it’s now used for diving practice and swimming. On the highway back to Sofia, I stopped for dinner at Villa Ekaterina in Vakarel, which was surprisingly good as well.