Check out this itinerary through the Eastern Rhodope mountains!
In the eastern Rhodope mountains is the city of Kardzhali, 260 kilometres from Sofia. It has an interesting position in the country, directly at the Kardzhali Reservoir and Studen Kladenets Reservoir. Besides, it is surrounded by the Rhodope mountains and many other sights such as Perperikon and the Devil's Bridge, the former residence of a Thracian king. Its central location makes it a historically significant city. The area has been inhabited since the Neolothic. However, Kardzhali is quite remote as opposed to other towns in the central valley, such as Stara Zagora. Kardzhali is directly in the mountains, which were used to build castles and fortresses that still have remains. During the Ottoman rule, the town got named after leader Kırca Ali, from which Kardzhali derives.
After the Ottoman era, the city was home to mostly Turks. Many Turks left the area in several emigration waves. Not only that; after the fall of Communism, the area was hit hard economically. Even more Turks left for Turkey and many Bulgarians went to other cities or abroad. Nowadays, there are still Turks and Bulgarians living together harmoniously.
The town has some interesting sights, such as the two reservoirs. You can visit from the center, there are some floating restaurants as well. Best is to have a car, go see the dam and drive along the shores. There are many good views along the way. Arguably, some of the best are between the villages Star Chitak and Ribarstsi and at Madzharevo. Unfortunately, I have not been to any of these. I did go to Monyak, a viewpoint high above the village Shiroko Pole. To get there, it is best to have a car. Still, it is three kilometres of hiking from the beginning point, which is already at three kilometres from the village Shiroko Pole. There are remains of a fortress on top and there is a great view of both reservoirs. Large birds are circling around and small boats can be seen on the lake. Definitely worth the climb. Do bring enough water and stay away from ridges. There are no fences.
The first picture below, is the Kardzhali Museum of History. Just the garden alone is worth a visit; it has 30 plant species unique to the country. The building has an oriental style and was originally intended to become an Islamic school. It was never used as such. It became a military facility and later on a campus linked to Plovdiv University. It was transformed into a museum between 1980 and 1983. The museum now has one of the richest collections in Southern Bulgaria, that includes many cultural and natural artefacts specific to this region.
Kardzhali has some interesting religiously and historically relevant places. Monastery Yoan Predtecha is on the southern bank of Arda river, that divides the city into two parts. Ruins of the church were found in the 1930s. Much later it was reconstructed, before the year 2000. The artefacts found during excavations on the site, are displayed in the Kardzhali Museum of History. Another monastery is The Assumption of the Virgin Monastery, also in the southern party of the city. It has a nice courtyard with a well-maintained garden, full of flowers. Its design is simplistic and beautiful. A color pattern of blue and yellow is used, typical for Middle Eastern Christianity.
Kardzhali has various nice hotels in all categories and sizes. Some nice ones are near the lake but it would be better to have a car. I liked this hotel in the center as well, I stayed there during my second visit. It would be useful to have one as well if you plan to visit Perperikon and the Devil's Bridge. The Rhodope mountains are ideal for long roadtrips. The area is packed with natural beauty, nice villages and historical sights. It has a sense of adventure as well and is easy to reach from Sofia. The more time, the better, of course. For Kardzhali and direct surroundings, a weekend is sufficient. But for a good impression of the Rhodope mountains, much more time is needed. You could include Ivailovgrad and surroundings, Asenovgrad, Zlatogad or Smolyan. Kardzhali can easily be reached by bus from Sofia or Plovdiv. By car, the highway reaches all the way to Haskovo. Driving via Asenovgrad is also possible, an even more scenic route. Feel free to ask me for any suggestions.