An adventurous trail into the Rhodope Mountains, complete with incredible views, fascinating history and plenty of hours in untouched nature. The ride gives you a true taste of Bulgarian culture whilst still allowing you to escape daily life by riding on peaceful mountain tracks, enjoying untouched scenery and exploring hidden places. An interesting, active trail on safe but fit horses. The pace is in walk and trot with some canters.
The highlights of this trail are undoubtedly the visits to two of the Rhodope Mountain's preserved villages, Shiroka Laka and Gela, which are both masterpieces of Renaissance artistry and considered the most iconic destinations in the Rhodopes. Shiroka Laka is both an architectural and folklore reserve, featuring unique houses which were often home to a master of the bagpipes - the Rhodope bagpipes are key to the folk music of the region. The village illustrates ancient rural life with its beautiful architecture, cuisine and the spirit of the locals.
The village of Gela is also called "the valley of the bells and songs" and is centrally located in the mountain range at an altitude of 1500m. It lies at the foot of the most majestic peaks - Golyam Persenk Peak (2191m) and Orpheus Peak (2188m). The village has more than 3300 years of history and is considered to be a cradle of European civilisation. The village is home to the National Bagpipe Festival each summer in the first weekend of August, during which is welcomes up to 15,000 visitors.
Preliminary day-by-day program
Day 1: Arrival and transfer from Sofia airport (approximately 2 hours) to the village of Belashtitsa. The village is only around 6km from Plovdiv which is considered to be the cultural capital of Bulgaria and is more than 8000 years old. It features the remains of a civilisation older than Rome itself and is a contemporary of ancient Troy. You will take a tour of the old town of Plovdiv, including a visit to the Ethnographic Museum and the antique theatre, one of the best-preserved in the world.
Accommodation tonight is at a 4* spa hotel with swimming pool.
Day 2: After your first Rhodope breakfast you will be transferred to the stables, the starting point of the trail, in the 'Sredne Livadi' protected area. The drive is approximately 40 minutes. You will be paired with a suitable horse and can help to tack them up or leave this to Bogdan. Today's ride will take you to the village of Lilkovo, experiencing stunning views of this protected region and following an old Roman road. Your picnic lunch today will be eaten outside a tiny 18th century chapel, called 'Saint Atanas', hidden in the woods.
Overnight in a 3* family hotel.
Approximate 3½ hours riding, 18 km.
Day 3: After another hearty breakfast you will saddle up and make for the village of Zabyrdo, a small mountain village standing at 1400m above sea level which is famous for its production of traditional Rhodope cheese. After riding and arrival at your next accommodation, the horses will be settled and then you will head by car to see the nearby rock formations known as the 'Wonderful Bridges'. These are one of the top 100 tourist destinations in Bulgaria and are a magnificent site - be sure to ask Bogdan for the tale of their origins!
Overnight tonight in a family-run guesthouse.
Approximate 5½ hours riding, 28 km.
Day 4: Today you will ride towards one of the so-called "Rhodope Pearls", an architectural and folklore reserve! The village of Shiroka Laka is truly symbolic of Bulgarian culture with cobblestone streets and intriguing bazaars, making for an unforgettable tourist experience. Reaching the village on horseback is like an adventure from the 19th century. Some of the most interesting places in the village are the ethnographic museum which is laid out like the house of a wealthy Rhodope family from the end of the 19th century. The Church of the Assumption was built in 1834 and took just 38 days to construct, thanks to the help of all the village's inhabitants.
Overnight tonight in a family guesthouse.
Approximate 4½ hours riding, 22 km.
Day 5: You visit the DEVIL THORAT CAVE in the morning. The journey continues on into the heart of "Mursalitsa" national park, an experience not to be forgotten. You will ride towards the village of Trigrad, famous for the biggest bagpipe festival in Bulgaria which takes place upon its "llinden" meadows (which you will ride upon). Today you will pass between some of the most beautiful natural lakes in the Rhodopes - the Chairi Lakes were formed by the sliding of glaciers during the Ice Age. You will also pass by the "Drunken Forest" where the trees grow as strange angles and in all directions. Lunch today is in a small bikers' bar within an old village, a great experience.
Overnight tonight in an authentic revival-age guesthouse.
Approximate 6 hours riding, 28 km.
Day 6: After today's breakfast you will ride back towards the village of Gela, covering the same stunning route as yesterday but in reverse. There is some time to explore the Chairi Lakes on foot, perhaps daring to step out across the old walkways for a peek into the clear waters. You will stop for lunch at the same bar as yesterday.
Overnight in a family-run guesthouse.
Approximate 6 hours riding, 28 km.
Day 7: This is the last riding day but the adventure is not over! You will explore some more unforgettable scenery of the ancient Rhodopes. You will ride upon the famous "panoramic road" to Mount Snezhanka, around 21km distance (roughly 3 and a half hours). This path will take you to almost 2000m above sea level, to the foot of the Snezhanka Tower which overlooks winter ski slopes. You will take lunch in the tower restaurant and can enjoy the views from the tower top - 360 degrees revealing the beauty of all the Rhodopes and even parts of the Aegean Sea. After lunch you can either go straight in the car to your accommodation or you can help Bogdan to take the horses to a nearby stables, a short ride down the slopes.
Accommodation tonight in a 4* spa hotel.
Approximate 4 hours riding, 22 km.
Day 8: After breakfast it is time to say farewell and to head to Sofia airport for your departure (approximately 3 hours in the car). On the way back there may be some time to visit the Bachkovo Monastery, actually the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria.