How to get to the monastery
Whereas south of Asenovgrad you drive into the Rhodope Mountains, if you head east, there's wide fields all around. At six kilometres east of town is Arapovo Monastery. It's on the road to Parvomay and eventually Haskovo/Dimitrovgrad. A perfect destination for a day trip from Plovdiv, easily combined with Asenovgrad, Asen's Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery. And, while you're at it, why not spend the night in Haskovo?
Should you make a trip around the country, this monastery is on a main route you could take. You'lll probably want to visit Plovdiv, Asenovgrad and surroundings, then the seaside. No reason to skip this place, so little known among foreign visitors. Parking is on the grass right outside the monastery. No payment required, but I was there in sprig. In high season, it could be different. There's a lovely field right outside, where many people sit and have a picnic. I suggest to do the same on a sunny day. The monastery is open daily from 7:00 to 19:00.
Learn about its history
Construction started in 1856 and, as with many monasteries, the location was chosen due to a holy spring nearby. This spring is now covered by a chapel on the northern side of the courtyard. Arapovo Monastery grew to be an important educational center for this part of the country. The complex held a writing and printing workshop.
The main painter of the church was Georgi Danchov, one of Vasil Levski's close friends. If you look close at the murals, they show the lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius. These Saints invented the Glagolitic alphabet. This became the basis of the language Old Church Slavonic. During the era of the First Bulgarian Empire, the Glagolitic alphabet was simplified by followers of Cyril and Methodius. Their work at the Preslav Literary School in Pliska resulted in the creation of the first Cyrillic alphabet. Cyril and Methodius, together with their followers, influenced cultural development of all Slavs. The murals inside depict several other examples of the spirituality of the Bulgarian people, and the long history of state and church. As the monastery was built during the Ottoman era, this explains the 'patriotic touch' the murals have.
It's known that one of the most legendary hajduks (freedom fighters), Angel Voyvoda, provided funds for the monastery's construction. Two remarkable facts; it is said that this is the only Bulgarian monastery built in an open field, and not in a secluded, mountainous location. Additionally, it's the only monastery built during the Ottoman era.
The monastery is intriguing; note that it remained almost exactly in its original state. The spaces for birds and other animals you see are as it was a hundred years ago. The place has not been 'polished', you can see it's a place for living, not touched up for 'tourism purposes'. However, there is a small store where you can buy drinks and souvenirs. Be sure to check the gifts on display outside, as well.
It's best to come by car
This area is ideal for a roadtrip. The possibilities are endless. Apart from the monastery being hard to reach by public transport, it would be a pity not to be able to include the many other sights in your itinerary. That said, it could be that buses from Asenovgrad to Parvomay pass here. I can't confirm; there's no information online and otherwise, you'd still need to walk a bit from the main road. From that point on, you'd have to try your luck hitchhiking. If you don't have your own transport and don't feel like hitchhiking, it's better to stick with the beaten path instead and visit Asen's Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery.
Arapovo Monastery offers accommodation, yet this page says there's no food available for guests. Phone number can be found on the website as well.
First-hand advice? Discuss your trip?