Posts Tagged ‘alternative tourism’

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

Shiroka Polyana Dam

October 26, 2009

Geographical area: Romantika Villas (no English translation of the website is available)  are situated in the central Rhodope Mountains by Shiroka Polyana Dam in the area of Kaval Tepe, Batak Municipality. Here is a map with directions Sofia-Shiroka Polyana. There are 2 wooden signs for Romantika Villas on the main road. Look for them. The second sign will tell you to go off the main road. There is about 11 km drive on a dirt road but it is worth the rough journey.

Romantika Villas
Romantika Villas

View from our villa
View from our villa

The Villas: There are 15 wooden, two-story villas. 4 of them have 3 bedrooms and the rest have 2 bedrooms. The bathroom+WC is only one per villa. Each villa has a fireplace, wood for the fireplace, sofa, cable tv, tel.,fridge, dining table with chairs and some cutlery and plates. There is a porch with a view to Shiroka Polyana Dam, which is great for outdoor meals. There is a BBQ close to each villa so, from the BBQ, directly to the porch!

The 1st floor
The 1st floor

One of the bedrooms
One of the bedrooms

The bedrooms are on the second floor. Bear in mind that the stairs to the second floor are quite steep – it is not safe for small children or drunk people:) to climb them by themselves. The bedrooms themselves are, nice and clean, but very small.

The bathroom
The bathroom

The  bathroom is just one for the whole villa. It is large and has a shower cabin and a hair dryer. The sink is rather small and there is no place for people to leave their stuff.

BBQ next to out villa
BBQ next to out villa

The food is your responsibility – the BBQ is all yours. You should plan your grocery shopping carefully, because there is no shopping place anywhere close to the area. But do not worry because one of the villas (right in the middle) is made into something like a restaurant. They have the basics: coffee, tea, spirits, sandwiches, soups, pancakes, BBQ. They can also cook something with your products. But you should know that it is not the place you want to spend too much time at.

The service: you should rely on your own services in Romantika Villas. When it comes to the service in the cafeteria – well, it is just an old couple asking what you want:) However, if you need to fix something in the villas there are a few guys around to do that for you.

Pros: beautiful secluded area right by Shiroka Polyana Dam, the villas are made exclusively out of wood, warm fireplace, convenient porch

Cons: 11 km on a dirt road to get there, small bedrooms, very steep stairs to the second floor, only one bathroom for the whole villa, not enough cooking tools at a place, which relies entirely on self service

Contacts: If you have questions or would like to get in touch with Romantika Villas, use the contact form or simply write an e-mail to: truebulgaria@gmail.com

Things to do/see

Fishing: Most visitors come to Romantika Villas just for that. Other than Shiroka Polyana Dam, there are other Dams in the area where you can try your luck: Dzhenevra Dam, Big/Small Beglik.

Shiroka Polyana Dam, right in front of the villas

Shiroka Polyana Dam, right in front of the villas

In Dzhenevra area there are remains of a Roman village and a Roman bridge. (We were too busy fishing and did not have time to visit them:(

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Further away but not to be overlooked are:

Yagodina (Yagodinska) Cave: 30 km from Shiroka Polyana area (more info about the caves in the region in my post Amazing Travel – Trigrad)

Trigrad gorge (more info in my post Amazing Travel – Trigrad)

Devil’s Throat (Dyavolsko Garlo) Cave (more info in my post Amazing Travel – Trigrad)