6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains

6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains

The Rhodopes, a vast chain of forested mountains, scenic towns and mystical villages, dominate Bulgaria’s south near the border with Greece. With its mix of pristine coniferous forests, high-quality ski resorts and unique local culture, this secluded region attracts Bulgarians and foreigners alike.

From working online out of a geodesic dome igloo to trying out the Rhodopes’ unusual local cuisine, kashkaval tourist presents 6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains.

1. Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo

Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo

Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo

Surrounded on all sides by endless hills covered by coniferous forests, the vast Pamporovo ski area is one of Bulgaria’s top winter resorts. Pamporovo’s location not far from Greece makes it one of Europe’s southernmost ski resorts, and as a result it boasts reliable snowfall as well as an unusually large number of sunny days in winter.

Almost all ski runs in Pamporovo descend from the unmistakeable Snezhanka TV Tower, which stands at an elevation of over 1900 metres. So as you can probably imagine, the tower’s panoramic café is the perfect place for a lunch with a view before another action-packed afternoon of skiing or snowboarding!

2. Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare

Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare

Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare

Chepelare is a charming mountain town just 15 minutes away from the ski runs at Pamporovo. And believe it or not, the local factory, which manufactures ski equipment for Atomic and Salomon, is the world’s largest ski producer! Chepelare’s scenic location and ties to business are probably why it hosts Bulgaria’s first Office in the Woods, a community for co-working and co-living.

Office in the Woods is a great way to escape from your urban office environment to a space where you can work comfortably as well as enjoy the natural environment of the central Rhodopes. A stunning view from your office window is guaranteed, and the list of outdoor activities in all seasons is practically endless. You can also pick out different accommodation and office options, from camping to luxury and from a traditional office space to a wood-and-glass geodesic dome igloo!

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8 unforgettable places in Georgia, the pearl of the Caucasus

Nested south of the magnificent Caucasus – Europe’s highest mountain chain – and on the opposite shore of the Black Sea from Bulgaria, Georgia is by all means one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Whether it’s fertile valleys, antique towns, secluded monasteries, coastal jungles, arid semi-desert plains or mind-boggling glaciated mountain peaks, Georgia has it all!

Sure, Georgia may not be a Balkan country, but I instantly felt at home in this Caucasian heaven during my two-week vacation. The warmth of the people, the dynamic landscapes, the secluded monasteries and the wonderful cuisine are but a few features Georgia and Bulgaria have in common. And there was no lack of excellent wine and rakia (or chacha, as they call it beyond the Black Sea) to keep me happy during my holiday!

From the region’s most romantic capital to the highest villages in Europe, kashkaval tourist presents 8 unforgettable places in Georgia, the pearl of the Caucasus!

1. Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Tbilisi, the romantic Georgian capital, is an excellent introduction to the culture, history, cuisine and nature of this incredible country and indeed, to the entire region. Tbilisi mixes East with West, tradition with modernity and old-town serenity with the hustle and bustle of a capital metropolis… and it does it all remarkably well!

Tbilisi’s Old Town with is quaint alleys and antique architecture will be your best bet for a leisurely walk or a casual Georgian wine dinner. Further away, the Dry Bridge flea market is a great place to buy antique souvenirs, especially if you’re curious about communist memorabilia.

Above the Old Town, the ancient Narikala Fortress on top of a steep hill will reveal vistas of the winding Mtkvari River and the ultramodern Peace Bridge crossing it – as well as the huge Holy Trinity Cathedral in traditional Caucasian style. If you’d rather spare the short but vertical walk to the fortress, you can always take the chairlift from the other side of the Peace Bridge. You’ll be rewarded with a short but exhilarating ride above the entire city!

2. Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Drive just a few hours north of Tbilisi along the legendary Georgian Military Road and you’ll end up in the heartland of the Central Caucasus, surrounded by peaks more than 4,000 metres high. Above the quaint medieval church of Tsminda Sameba and even further above the mountain town of Stepantsminda you’ll find the 5,047-metre-high Mount Kazbek, the mythical stratovolcano that Prometheus was allegedly chained on.

With its grassy slopes, dramatic glaciers and unmistakable volcanic shape, Mount Kazbek is one of Georgia’s prime hiking destinations. A steep two-hour walk will take you to the Tsminda Sameba Church above the village, which is perhaps the country’s most photographed location.

Add another four hours and you’ll end up at the foot of the massive Gergeti Glacier. And if you’re into some relatively light ice hiking, then you can overnight at the former weather station on the other side of the glacier, a further two hours away. Conditions at the hut are basic to say the least, but at 3,670 metres above sea level, you’ll take anything!

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7 things to do in the verdant Strandzha Mountains by the Black Sea

7 things to do in the verdant Strandzha Mountains by the Black Sea

Situated in Bulgaria’s southeast corner, adjacent to the seaside and extending beyond the border into Turkey, the lush Strandzha Mountains have preserved a unique local culture and timber architecture. What’s more, Strandzha’s endless humid old-growth forests resemble those of the Caucasus more than anywhere in Europe!

Sparsely populated and away from the big cities, Strandzha is the perfect getaway for those seeking tranquillity and enriching cultural and natural experiences. From mind-boggling sand spit beaches to quaint villages with antique wooden houses, kashkaval tourist presents 7 things to do in the verdant Strandzha Mountains by the Black Sea!

1. Tour an authentic Strandzha village: Brashlyan

Tour an authentic Strandzha village: Brashlyan

Tour an authentic Strandzha village: Brashlyan

A historic Bulgarian village in the western part of the region, Brashlyan boasts possibly the best-preserved collection of traditional Strandzha houses. Constructed out of timber with stone foundations and unmistakable thick chimneys, Brashlyan’s houses are an absolute wonder of vernacular architecture!

Rent one of the traditional houses for a weekend to fully immerse yourself in the authentic surroundings and use Brashlyan (Бръшлян) as a base to explore the rest of Strandzha. Or visit the village on a day tour and take a look inside the 17th-century wooden church with a bell tower to learn more about Brashlyan’s turbulent history as a rebel hub.

2. Explore the lush old-growth forests: the Rhododendron eco-trail

Explore the lush old-growth forests: the Rhododendron eco-trail

Explore the lush old-growth forests: the Rhododendron eco-trail

In the eastern part of Strandzha near the Black Sea, the mild and humid local climate has preserved a belt of vegetation more typical of northern Turkey and the coast of Georgia than of Europe. Strandzha’s thick forests of oriental beech trees hide an understory of Caucasian evergreen shrubs, including Pontic rhododendrons.

And with all this natural beauty, it’s no coincidence that Strandzha Nature Park is by far the largest in Bulgaria! Walk the “In the Realm of the Rhododendron” eco-trail starting in the village of Kondolovo (Кондолово) in May and June, when the rhododendrons bloom in violet-purple, and you’ll feel like you’ve uncovered a humid Asian tropical forest hidden inside the Balkans!

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It’s Saint Theodore’s Day: Happy Horse Easter!

It's Saint Theodore's Day: Happy Horse Easter! Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr.

It’s Saint Theodore’s Day: Happy Horse Easter! Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr.

Huh, Horse Easter!? That’s right, believe it or not, we have that holiday in Bulgaria! Saint Theodore’s Day or Todorovden (Тодоровден) falls on the first Saturday of the Orthodox Great Lent, the traditional period of forty days of fasting before Easter.

Because Todor, Teodor and Teodora are popular names among Bulgarians, Todorovden is a widely celebrated name day around the country. But it’s not just people that celebrate on this day: in fact, horses are the well-deserved highlight of this somewhat unusual Bulgarian holiday.

Todorovden is also known as Horse Easter (Конски Великден, Konski Velikden) because many Bulgarian villages organize a recreational horse race known as kushia (кушия). In some rural regions, these equestrian events turn into major celebrations, complete with traditional music, food and drinks.

So whether you like horses or you’re just into wild Bulgarian festivities, Happy Horse Easter and Saint Theodore’s Day to you!

7 exciting things to do in Dobruja

7 exciting things to do in Dobrudzha

A fertile agricultural region of hilly plains shared between Bulgaria and Romania, Dobrudzha has usually been overlooked as a tourist destination. And though it may lie somewhat off the beaten path in the northeastern corner of the Balkans, between the Lower Danube and the Black Sea, Dobrudzha (also spelled Dobruja, Dobrudja or Dobrogea) definitely has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and tourism opportunities.

From spotting huge aquatic birds in the Danube Delta to visiting the glorious Black Sea beaches and extravagant summer palaces of “Bulgaria’s Granary”, kashkaval tourist presents 7 exciting things to do in Dobrudzha!

1. Pelican paradise: bird watching in the Danube Delta or Lake Srebarna

Pelican paradise: bird watching in the Danube Delta or Lake Srebarna

Pelican paradise: bird watching in the Danube Delta or Lake Srebarna. Photo credit: Luke1ace, Wikipedia.

With its wetlands bustling with life, the Lower Danube is one of Europe’s top birding locations. And it can’t get better than the Danube Delta in Romania, the continent’s second largest delta inhabited by over 320 species of birds. Take a memorable boat tour towards the Black Sea on one of the delta’s branches and become one with nature!

A UNESCO World Heritage Site just like the Danube Delta, Lake Srebarna in the Bulgarian part of Dobrudzha hosts 180 bird species in a very compact area. At Srebarna, arm yourself with binoculars and observe the colony of giant white Dalmatian pelicans from the observation point!

2. Rock it like a Roman: Trajan’s massive ancient monument in Adamclisi

Rock it like a Roman: Trajan’s massive ancient monument in Adamclisi

Rock it like a Roman: Trajan’s massive ancient monument in Adamclisi

1900 years ago, Roman Emperor Trajan and his legions marched in Dobrudzha to defeat the sturdy Dacians and conquer this fertile region for the empire. To commemorate this major victory, Trajan built a glorious monument at modern Adamclisi, Romania: the Tropaeum Traiani.

Trajan dedicated the memorial to the god Mars the Avenger and decorated it richly with 54 magnificent depictions of legions fighting Rome’s enemies. Reconstructed in 1977, the Tropaeum Traiani today rises 40 metres above the plains of Dobrudzha, reminding of the Roman conquest.

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8 picturesque villages in Bulgaria perfect for a spring holiday!

8 picturesque villages in Bulgaria perfect for a spring holiday!

Spring is upon us, the days are getting longer and sunnier and you want to use any opportunity to explore Bulgaria off the beaten path. Perhaps you’re looking for a weekend getaway? It’s still cold and partially snowy high up in the mountains and a beach holiday on the Black Sea is not an option yet.

So why not visit a typical Bulgarian village, enjoy some local hospitality and immerse yourself in the historic atmosphere? Here are 8 of the best villages in Bulgaria for a spring holiday!

1. Timber aesthetics: Zheravna

Zheravna (Жеравна) lies scenically in the lower eastern part of the Balkan Mountains, at a place where they’re gradually descending as they approach the Black Sea. Zheravna rose to affluence and importance in the 17th century due to its key position on a trading route. The residents built imposing houses of wood decorated with elaborate woodcarvings and traditional local carpets.

Today, there are around 200 historic houses in Zheravna, some up to 300 years old. Each August, Zheravna is the site of the International Festival of Folk Costume, which gathers tens of thousands of people. Participants are required to wear an authentic folk costume and refrain from using modern technology for the duration of the event.

  • How to get there: The biggest city in the vicinity is Sliven, which has regular bus and rail connections to the rest of the country. There are 2-3 regional buses a day from Sliven to Zheravna and back.

2. Antique melting pot: Arbanasi

Antique melting pot: Arbanasi

Antique melting pot: Arbanasi

Reportedly established in the Middle Ages by settlers from what is today Albania, Arbanasi (Арбанаси) is located just 5 kilometres from the charming former Bulgarian capital Veliko Tarnovo. In the early Ottoman times, it was a Greek-speaking island populated by rich merchants and craftsmen trading throughout Europe. Its wealthy residents built as many as 5 Orthodox churches, famous for their detailed interior murals. Some of the most eminent families of Wallachia (Romania) also had houses in Arbanasi.

Most of Arbanasi’s cultural heritage from the 16th-18th century is well preserved. The cobblestone streets of the ancient village are a great place for a spring walk and a memorable trip into the past. Make sure you visit the enormous Kostantsaliev House and the oldest church, that of the Nativity of Christ with unique frescoes from 1597.

  • How to get there: Arbanasi is very close to Veliko Tarnovo — the distance is almost walkable. There are regular share taxis (marshrutka) between the centre of Veliko Tarnovo (opposite the Court building) and Arbanasi every day.

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