Archive for the ‘6. Villages in Bulgaria’ Category

A Bagpipe Fest You Will Never Forget

November 29, 2009

A Bagpipe Playing Contest in Bulgaria’s Greenest Mountain

A view of the village of Gela

The Ilinden Fest takes place in the first weekend of August in a beautiful area, next to the small village of Gela in the Rhodope Mountains. There, by the tiny St Iliya chapel, pipe players from Bulgaria and all over the world come to sound their pipes over the green mountain slopes.

This will give you only a slight idea of the event.

People hold hands and dance the Bulgarian folk dance “Horo” or just chill in the shade with a  cold beer and enjoy the mastership of the pipe players. Nature and music blend in an intoxicating mixture and you don’t want this to end.  It makes you wander how can such beautiful music  come from a kidskin bag!?

The contest takes place during the day, but  it is when the sun goes down that the  real party starts – a different kind of party.  People make fires, play music and sing songs until they can. Some of them sleep in tents, some in their cars, others under the sky…

Later on

Later-er on

Useful info about the Pipe Fest

When: first weekend of August

Where: in Bulgaria, by the small village of Gela in the Rhodope Mountains. Gela is a very, very old settlement. The legend says that Orpheus, the famous Thracian singer and musician was born in this area.

How to get there: see driving directions from Sofia to the village of Gela. The journey takes about 3 hrs.

Who goes there: everyone who wants to listen to some beautiful pipe music in the heart of the most beautiful mountain in Bulgaria – the Rhodope Mountains. I’ve seen all kinds of people there – young, old, musicians, software engineers, Americans, Dutch, Chinese. I even met my English teacher from high school there.  She came to Bulgaria to teach English and she fell in love with our country.  She is an American and she played the “Horo” dance better than most Bulgarians:) Way to go Kate!

What is there to eat and drink: a lot. You can buy beer and soft drinks, rotisserie-roasted meat, BBQ, sandwiches, nuts and sweets.

Where to stay:

– you can camp in the area but remember: it is not a camping ground and there are no showers or lavatories. There is a fountain with natural, cold spring water, which is good for drinking.

The area of the Pipe Fest from afar

– there is a Tourist Information Centre in Shiroka Laka village, about 8 km. from the village of Gela.  See directions from Shiroka Laka to Gela village. Here are the contacts of the Tourist Information Centre: tel. +359 03030 / 233, eor@rhodope.org. They can help you find an accommodation that is suitable for your needs – a hotel  or a room in a local family house. The local families are known to be very hospitable and clean.

Here are some links to accommodation in the area:

Filter Guest House, spelled “Филтер” in Bulgarian (no English version of the website) – we’ve stayed there. It is situated in the very village of Shiroka Laka. It is nice and clean with a large kitchen space with a fireplace. There are 4 rooms in the house – 2 rooms  for 2/3 people and 2 rooms for 4 people. Each room has a separate bathroom. See the gallery for pictures of the house and the rooms.

Kalina Hotel – we’ve stayed there as well; It is in the centre of the centre:) of Shiroka Laka and it gets quite crowded during the Pipe fest. Its restaurant is always crowded – not because its so good, but because it became a popular place. People like to chill there for 2 reasons: to watch the street and to listen to bagpipe maestros who often play there. Contacts – see the website of Kalina Hotel.

The following we have not stayed at but they look decent:

Tishina Villa in the village of Gela

Gela Hotel in the village of Gela – a quite expensive hotel

Beevski Villa in the village of Gela

If you have questions about Gela Pipe Fest or about accommodation in the area you can use the contact form or write to me at truebulgaria@gmail.com.

The road to Shiroka Laka


Village of Trigrad – Amazing Travel

November 2, 2009

Trigrad Gorge – amazing beauty! Words cannot describe. Pictures cannot capture. You need to feel it.

Geographical area: Trigrad is a small village in the Western Rhodope Mountains, very close to the Bulgarian-Greek border. The journey from Sofia takes about 3 hours – driving directions Sofia-Trigrad. It is a beautiful drive! You should make this journey as soon as possible because in 1-2 years there will be a new a dam – Tsankov Kamak – on the road and a big part of it will be submerged under deep water.

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Just a small fraction of the gorge

Trigrad is set in the most beautiful region of the Rhodope Mountains. Travelers who come to Trigrad enjoy the amazing scenery of the mighty gorge, beautiful nature, great caves, crystal clear mountain air, hospitable people… unforgettable experience!

Where to stay: Many local people would be glad to welcome you in their house. They are known for being very hospitable and hardworking folks. We have stayed in different houses, but we felt most at home at the Kaldarama house. The hosts names are Vessela and Yakim.

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The view from our balcony

The house is in the very beginning of the village. Once you enter the village you take the first left, over a small wooden bridge. Then you drive about 200 metres and you will see the yellow house on your left. The house offers 4 double rooms, each with a private bathroom with a WC. There is a nice yard, where guests usually prefer to sit when the weather is fine.

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Room with one queen and one twin bed

The rooms provide the basic comfort – they are clean, and warm. Each room has a small TV. Our room had a small balcony with a nice view to the village. Each room has a private bathroom with WC.

The WC: the basic comfort – private WC, sink and shower

The food: that’s the best part:) You choose what you want to eat and the host will cook it for you. The food is simple, but everything is home made from scratch. The milk comes directly from their cow and is buttery and delicious. They make their own yogurt. You should try it! The jams are all fruit and they are wonderful. For breakfast I recommend you try mekitsi with their home-made jams or pine honey or their special banitsa. For dinner try the patatnik or pan-fried trout. You should also try their famous herbal tea, they call it mursalski tea, which grows only in the Rhodope region. It has a refreshing and regenerative effect and they  playfully call it the local Viagra:) They do not serve spirits, but you can bring your own.

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One third of my breakfast - mekitsa and real cow's milk

The service: the hosts, Vessela and Yakim were great and made us feel at home!

Price: 20 leva per person per night; you pay separately for the food.

Pros: delicious food, great hosts, clean and warm rooms, nice view from balcony, pleasant yard

Cons: our room and bathroom were quite tiny, the ventilation in the bathroom is not  very good and once you take a shower it takes a long time for the bathroom to dry out

Contact: the phone numbers for the house: (+359) 03040 225 and mobile (+359) 0886  104 201. If you have additional questions use the contact form or simply write me an e-mail to: truebulgaria@gmail.com .

Things to do / see

Caves: There numerous known and unknown caves in the region – paradise for cave lovers and climbers. If you decide to visit the caves, please, do not make pictures, step carefully and do not touch anything! The light not only disturbs the bats, but also increases the natural temperature and spoils the cave formations, which take veeeery loooong to form. If we want our kids to be able to see this beauty we really need to be careful. That is a major problem of the local people, who want to promote and preserve at the same time – an extremely hard task.

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View from Haramiiska cave

Yagodinska Cave is the longest cave in the Rhodope Mountains. The cave is very pretty with its numerous cave  formations. No wander a lot of young couples have chosen to get married in the very cave – in something like a ritual hall.  Here are some quick facts about the cave:

– 10500 metres long (1100 are available for the visitors)

– 275 000 years old

–  6ºС annual temperature

– open all year-long – first entry 9 am.; last entry 4:15 pm

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You can boat in the very gorge

Dyavolsko Garlo (Devil’s Throat) cave is an amazing cave right in the Trigrad Gorge.  The natural entrance of the cave resembles the shape of a devil’s head – hence the name. The main part of the cave represents a huge hall where you will see the highest underwater waterfall on the Balkan Peninsula. By the waterfall there are 301 steps, which will take you back on Earth:) According to the ancient Thracian legends  it is from here that Orpheus descends into the underground kingdom of Hades to save his beloved wife Eurydice. Here are some quick facts about the cave:

Dyavolsko Garlo (Devil's Throat) Cave

– 110 metres long

– 40 metres wide

– 35 metres high

– 8ºС annual temperature

– open during the Summer season 8am-6pm; during the Winter season you need to call in advance

Listen to a pipe player at the entrance of Dyavolsko Garlo cave.

Haramiiska cave does not have open public access. You need to have a guide if you want to visit it. It is a little bit on the extreme side and I strongly recommend the experience. During the Summer season it won’t be hard to find a guide. The guides usually gather in front of Dyavolsko Garlo cave each morning around 9am.

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Climbing to Haramiiska cave

Horse riding: at the south end of the village there is a horse riding center. They will offer you different routes depending on your preferences. The Rhodope Mountains are the perfect place for horse riding!

There are also walking trails, climbing, offroad motor-biking etc.

You can walk to the old Bulgarian-Greek border through the deserted village of Vodni Pad (Водни Пад). The trail starts from the horse riding centre. It takes about 2 hours in both directions. The only permanent resident of the village of Vodni Pad is a 90 year-old lady. You can visit her and she will make hot tea for you. This is how the journey looks in the first snow in October:

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The walk to Vodni Pad during the first snow - Ocotber 31, 2009

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A sign pointing the direction to Vodni Pad village

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the first snow - October 31, 2009

Sredni Kolibi Village – Elenski Balkan

October 22, 2009

This is a journey to the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) – to the most beautiful part of it – the region of Elena town.

Geographical area: Sredni Kolibi village in the Central Balkan Range – the region of Elena town. Here are the directions and a map from Sofia to Sredni Kolibi village.  The drive from Sofia takes about 3:30 hrs. There are signs to the hotel so it is not hard to find.

The village of Sredni Kolibi is tiny, very quiet and awfully charming. It is very sad how few people live there now. One thing you should know about this part of  the mountain  is that it is incredibly beautiful! We call it “Elenski balkan” and we are loving it:)

Where to stay

Elenski Riton Hotel: There is a main building and there are 2 smaller separate buildings. We stayed at one of the smaller buildings. Everything is nice, clean and new since the hotel welcomed its first guests only in 2008. The architecture deserves compliments – it has a character, authenticity and it fits perfectly with the surroundings. There are bikes for rent – the region is perfect for biking tours. I almost forgot to mention the outdoor pool – pardon me, I’m not a pool lover.

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Elenski Riton – the 2 smaller separate buildings

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Elenski Riton – main building

The rooms are also very clean; almost everything is made of wood and that gives them a pleasant hm… woody smell. However, they are a bit small and dark for my taste.

The bathroom is large and clean. It was quite cool in there when we visited since they did not have the heating on. We had a boiler in our bathroom and it was quite noisy during the night. We had to turn it off  in the end but we were wandering for quite a while where did that strange squeaking noise come from.

The restaurant is not to my taste – dark, smoky and noisy. We had lunch and breakfast outside and if it were not cold, we would’ve had our dinner outside as well.

Outside the hotel

Outside the hotel

The food: The menu is not impressive as a whole but they had some home-cooked meals which were excellent.

The service: As I have mentioned many times before, Bulgaria is not famous for its good service.  Well, here is one exception to the rule – the staff at this hotel was friendly and helpful. The lady manager is very kind, she knows quite a lot about the area and she will gladly provide you with any info you need.

Pros: great location, very quiet – no roads or noise of any kind; new, clean and tidy hotel, good service.

Cons: the rooms are a bit small and dark for my taste; the restaurant is not a cozy place; the menu is composed mainly of fast-cooked stuff – there are only a few real cooked meals.

Contacts: If you have questions about the area or about  Elenski Riton hotel use the contact form or simply write an e-mail to: truebulgaria@gmail.com

Things to do / see:

Yovkovtsi Dam is the first thing that you should go and see – approximately 10 minutes walk from the hotel. If you enjoy fishing you can spend the rest of your vacation there:)

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A view from Sredni Kolibi village to Yovkovtsi dam

Biking tour – a great idea! We rented bikes from the hotel and we had a really cool (and quite tiring:) biking tour. We got to a deserted village ab. 8 km from the hotel. (Head in the direction of the dam and just follow the main road. You will pass one village before that – try to go upwards all the time (that will be on your left). At some point we left our bikes by a tree and continued by foot.  It was much easier going down with the bikes:)

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Biking tour towards the deserted village

Kapinovski Monastery – most monasteries have unique air  to them, which is impossible to describe. Once you enter their yard, you enter a different world – slow, green, quiet, humble and beautiful. Just stay there a moment – feels good. This monastery is actually a working male monastery.

In the yard of the Monastery

In the yard of the Monastery

The town of Elena – a unique mountain town with a lot of museums, galleries & churches. The whole town is a historical site. Just go up and down the steep streets made of stones and you will feel the atmosphere.

Hristovski waterfall on Miikovska river.

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Hristovski waterfall

Animal life: It was really cool to see  so many animals in their natural environment – storks, foxes, rabbits, deers. It does not sound so exciting written down here, but if you see them there, while you are walking – it really is cool:)