The town and its surroundings
A long way north from Sofia is, we find one of the most beautiful sights of Bulgaria. Together with the Magura Cave, Belogradchik was proposed to be added to the protected cultural heritage list of UNESCO. Few know that Bulgaria already has 9 places on the UNESCO heritage list.
The town Belogradchik, literally meaning 'little white town' is in Northwestern Bulgaria, in the region of Vidin. I first visited in 2014 and since then went back two times. Truly a unique place in Bulgaria, the views are pretty and reach all the way to Serbia in the west and Vidin in the northeast. The Serbian border is only 15 kilometres away as the crow flies. Vidin is 53 kilometres by car. This means the Danube river is also closeby - Vidin is right on the river.
Belogradchik has about five thousand inhabitants. Obviously, what visitors come for is the fortress and the rocks around. The fortress is called 'Kaleto' in Bulgaria, which stems from the Turkish word 'kale' for 'castle'. The surface of the ancient complex is over ten thousand square metres. The fortress itself has walls of over two metres thick and at most twelve metres tall. Then there are three fortified areas that were once filled with houses. The houses were destroyed a long time ago but the walls remain - after all it's never a bad idea for a town to have a fortress left over in case of any unforeseen attack. It is of course a strategic location to build a fortress - it was constructed during Roman times and the tall rocks were used as a part of the fortification.
The fortress - 'Kaleto'
Even though the fortress was initially built for overlooking the area only, mostly to control the road to a village that has been near current Archar. The fortress was later renovated to serve for defensive purposes. This renovation happened in 1396, during the Ottoman reign over Bulgaria. The Ottomans had to be able to hide and defend themselves from the hajduks ('freedom fighters') that were rising up. Then, during the early 19th Century, the fortress was even expanded by the Ottomans. It played an important role to suppress the Bulgarian people and the Resistance that slowly made its way to overthrow them.
During the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885 the fortress was last used as a military stronghold.
There's a water tap on the right of the entrance, just around the corner. I saw people drink it, asked whether it was OK and drank it myself. Besides, you find several souvenir shops and places to buy drinks and ice cream. On the left of the entrance of the fortress is a small store selling 'Magura' wine. This wine is stored in the Magura cave initially and is unique for his reason. It can be bought, according to the sales lady, at the fortress and the cave only. There are plenty of types of wine, as you can see in the pictures at the bottom of this page, below the gallery. I haven't tried the wine myself but I can tell I never had a Bulgarian wine I didn't like. And - it makes for a good souvenir!
It is said that, tragically, the leaders of the Belogradchik Uprising were beheaded. Behind the fortress, right of the entrance and behind the water tap, there's a monument on your left side. I haven't been able to decipher what the text on it said but I believe this is for the slaughtering. It is certainly a must-see and it takes away your breath just thinking about the horrific history such a beautiful place has endured.
Hiking and biking trails
Around the monument and the water tap, there are several hiking routes as well as trails for mountain bikers. These must be fantastic to follow - they go past the rock formations and through the lovely smelling pine forests. There is a cross-border network of bike routes to Serbia. The region certainly has a lot of potential for tourism and I was very satisfied to see the two countries working to establish good tourist infrastructure. I even got a map of bike routes from the hotel Madonna Inn. Bulgaria, as well as Serbia, could be major destinations for hiking and biking tourism. The potential is yet to be discovered and, admittedly, the biking infrastructure still has to improve a lot before it gets to that point. Yet, for the adventurous biker, this is the trip of a lifetime. And, hiking infrastructure is quite decent already!
The Rocks of Belogradchik
Sandstone rocks surround the fortress and reach all the way to the Magura Cave, about 23 kilometres by car. As with many rocks and mountains in Bulgaria, interesting legends have been linked to them by local people. Most rocks, at least around the fortress, are said to resemble people or objects and a local guide will certainly be able to get you to recognize a few. Some of the famous rock formations are called after Adam and Eve, The Shepherd Boy and The Madonna. The sandstone has eroded for millions of years to create the formations we see today. They are very steep and some reach upto 200 metres. During the Jurassic period, about 201.3 million years ago, the climate was very hot, which caused iron oxide and this led to the red colours of the rocks.
How to get there
Belogradchik is a long way; do bring something to eat and drink. For those traveling by bus, it is the same story. In case you fancy a visit to the Belogradchik Rocks by train, hop off at Gara Oreshets and take a cab from there. Gara Oreshets has one family that drives cabs. All people you come across in Gara Oreshets know the family so feel free to ask anyone. Count about twenty minutes to Belogradchik once you arrange a cab ride. A hint; ask for the driver's phone number so he picks you up later, to transfer you back to the train station.
Where to stay
Belogradchik has few places to spend the night - best is to book beforehand. There's Hotel Skalite, where you can also stop by for lunch or dinner, provided there's no private party. Should you want a good night of sleep, best is to call and check if there will be a wedding in the restaurant so you can choose a place to get some good shuteye. I spent the night in the Castle Cottage, which was excellent. Apart from that, there's several small guesthouses and guest rooms. Outside of the high season, you should be able to find a place quite easily. Then, there's Madonna Inn at about 17 kilometres from Belogradchik. A lovely hotel built in southern Rhodope style and with a large garden to relax.
Let me know in case of any questions - I am more than happy to help!