Hiking through the Rhodopi mountains in the South of Bulgaria

(September 2015)

Old Bulgarian lady

The first day of our hiking- and marking trip in the Bulgarian Rhodopi Mountains is a somewhat surreal experience. Many of us, a group of nine Dutch hikers, had to get up at four in the morning in order to make it in time to the Dutch airport of Eindhoven. After more than two hours of flying, more than four hours by bus and half an hour by car we are at a village festival in the small Bulgarian town of Yagodina. Everyone is dancing with one another, and women dressed in traditional costumes and singing with high-pitched voices give the final blow to our eardrums that had already been tested by the flight trip.
This long day of travelling is the reason we do not stay very long at this very cozy festival where everyone is lighting his own fire, eating, drinking and dancing. Despite this long day of travelling we manage to maintain our morning discipline and gather for a copious breakfast at 7.30 a.m. A long hiking-day, about 25 kilometres, awaits us. Part of our route leads us over a brand new path between the towns of Borino and Yagodina. The path cuts through a narrow gorge and in the narrowest passages, wooden walkways are connected to the barren rock surface.

Not only did she lead us to a new mountain hut (Shadeetsa) but she also surprised us with a spontaneous concert in the middle of a forest. She sang, while her friend Rozen played the flute. The sounds of this concert mesmerized a horseman who got off his horse and also joined the group of listeners. With this fairy-tale-like image I end this story but by that moment we still had five beautiful hiking days ahead of us.

During our second day of hiking our Bulgarian guide, Hristo Ivanov from Yagodina (Hristo I) showed us the road to Mugla. This is one of the poorest villages along the stretch. In theory, the majority of the population should be Islamic, but heavy alcohol consumption tells a different story. We adapt ourselves to the local customs and drink along but when our host suggests starting dancing in the street, we decide it is a good time to start looking for our hotel.
The next day a couple of unpleasant surprises await us. First of all, it is raining lightly and the low clouds limited visibility. Moreover, one of my hikers has become ill. Nothing dramatic, but it is obvious that she is not fit enough to hike along to our highest mountain hut Perelik (altitude almost 2000 meters). I will take the sick hiker by car to Perelik and meanwhile Hristo I will take the rest of the group up by foot.
Our fourth hiking-day led us down to the provincial capital Smolyan. Two extra Bulgarian guides had joined us Hristo Tumbev (Hristo II) and Rubino Aliev (nicknamed Robo). They showed us a beautiful new route that helped us to avoid a stretch of 4 kilometres asphalt and still led through the Waterfall Canyon Natural Reserve. In Smolyan, we said goodbye to Hristo I and Robo. Hristo II guided the six of us, three of us stayed in Smolyan for a few days of rest, to the towns of Polkovnik Serafimovo and Srednogortsi. In the latter, Hristo II returned to his hometown Smolyan and we were joined by Mihaela Kircheva from Kardzhali.

Arjan Schuiling Bulgaria coordinator SultansTrail