The best walking and MTB routes near Plovdiv, accessible for a day
The city of Plovdiv is the second biggest city of Bulgaria with population of about 350 000 inhabitants. It is located in the central parts of the country, between Balkan, Sredna Gora and Rhodope mountains, east from Sofia and west from the Black Sea coast, in the middle of the so called Valley of Tracians.
Plovdiv has its own charm and many tourists find it even more attractive than the capital Sofia. It is a city with rich history – it was an important cite since the Ancient times due to its location on the trading routes between the Mediterranean and the north. Many evidences from its past are still present within the city as parts of the ancient Roman City – the Ancient Theater, the Ancient Stadium and the Roman Forum, the latter Old Town with many churches, also mosques and temples. Many artefacts are kept in the museums of Plovdiv – the archaeological, historical and ethnographic museum.
Nowadays Plovdiv is also known as the cultural capital of Bulgaria and in 2014 it was honoured as 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe which drove even more efforts in developing this aspect of the city life in Plovdiv during last years.
The city was built on the banks of Maritsa River near 7 syenite hills that are rising 200-250 m above the flat plane. Those hills form the symbol of the city nowadays – Plovdiv is also known as “The city under the Hills”.
Plovdiv has a small airport used by some international low-cost carriers and good bus and train connections with the capital Soifa. More about some convenient flights to Plovdiv.
Plovdiv is surrounded by amazing natural sights – severe mountains, gorges, forests, waterfalls, hot springs and so on, and every visit to the city will become much more satisfying if combined with a day trip outdoors. Actually all the main mountain ranges of the country could be seen in a day trip. If the sightseeing that offers the city itself is not enough for you, a day trip may combing hiking and visit of some of the important cultural sights not far from Plovdiv – Bachkovo Monastery, Assen`s Fortress, the Thracian Tombs. The valley around Plovdiv is an important wine making region and this yet is another aspect of the local life to be explored.
The mountains north from Plovdiv
Undoubtedly the most dramatic mountain range, which is in a close proximity to Plovdiv, is the Balkan Mountains region. Central Balkan National Park is one of the three national parks of the country and it is accessible after an hour drive from Plovdiv. Not only that, the highest peak of the Balkan (Mount Botev, 2376 m) is located straight north from Plovdiv and even visible from the city sometimes when the cleanliness of the air allows the view – usually during the winter season.
The 3-day trip – ascent of Mount Botev, starts from the town of Kalofer, situated an hour away from Plovdiv (65km). An asphalt road leads to the nearby area of Panitsite, where the trailhead is. The route passes by beautiful broad leaf forests and offers magnificent views towards the deep valley of Juzen Dzendem Reserve (Резерват Южен Джендем). Finally we reach Raj Hut, located near the biggest waterfall in the Balkan Mountains (and biggest permanent in Bulgaria) – Rajskoto Pruskalo Waterfall (водопад Райското пръскало).
After a night in the hut we would continue via the Tarzan`s Trail – as suggested by its name, its a steeper and rocky section with breathtaking views of the mountain. A final ascent of the grassy slopes will bring us to the top of the dome of Mount Botev (2376 m).
The descent follows west-southwest direction towards Botev Shelter and further to Vasil Levski Hut for a second night up the mountains. The last day is devoted to a descent via the Old River Reserve (Резерват Стара Река), one of the areas with most beautiful forests in the Balkans, especially remarkable during the Autumn season. A 3-hour descent will take us to the town of Karlovo – another historical settlement in the foot of the mountains, located about an hour away from Plovdiv.
The trip will usually also include a couple of nights in mountain huts which are quite basic – dormitories and limited food menu, common WC, shower desirable. This together with the variable weather conditions and the strenuous route that includes around 1000 m of ascent for the first two days, makes it a suitable aim for experienced hikers only. A day trip to the top of Botev is possible only for the super fit ones, with 1600 m of ascent/descent for the day.
Another alternative for this trip, in case you want to avoid the busy main trail towards the top of Botev, is to ascent the prominent peak of Kupena, located west from Mount Botev, along the so called Dobrila-Botev Traverse – the sharpest and most airy section of the main ridge of the Balkan Mountains. A 3-day trip will include walknig via Stara Reka Reserve, ascent of Kupena, which is considered as the most difficult peak in Balkan Mountains, and descent to Dobrila Hut and the town of Sopot. The trip doesn`t have any technical difficulty, it is still a hiking route, but suitable only for the ones who does not have fear of empty spaces and walking on tinier trails.
An easier alternative for a day walk to the Balkan Mountains from Plovdiv is the White River Eco-Trail (Ekoputeka Byala Reka, Екопътека Бяла Река). The trail is around 2 km long and follows the curves of a small river coming from the mountains (actually the same one that feeds Rajskoto Pruskalo Waterfall and flows through the deep gorge of South Dzendem). There are numerous small bridges, barbecue and rest points along the route. It is particularly nice during the hot summer, as most of the time you stay near the shady forest and near the cold waters of the river.
In order to reach Byala Reka Eco-Trail you need to drive to the town of Kalofer and than further take the junction towards Kaloferski Monastery, than another one towards the trailhead, another 6km away, following an old bumpy road.
We should also mention the Sredna Gora mountain range – a lower mountain chain that lies parallel to the Balkan, south from it, between the Trachian Plane and the Balkan. It is an area, suitable for hiking and mountain biking and there are some amazing sights that could be visited during a day trip from Plovdiv as well. Those include the historical village of Koprivshtitsa (Копривщица), Starosel (Старосел) with its Trachian Temple Complex, the historical town of Panagurishte. All these are located northwest from Plovdiv, in less than 2h drive.
The mountains south from Plovdiv
It takes only 30-40 minutes to drive from Plovdiv to the town of Assenovgrad, known as the Gate of the Rhodopes, as it lies on the main road through this interesting mountain range. The road used to connect the city of Plovdiv with the coastal settlements on the other side of Rhodopes, near the Medditeranean. For centuries it was pretty much the only road through this vast range, actually the largest mountain range in the country.
There are a few interesting sights near Assenovgrad that deserve a visit and this could be combined with some hiking. The Assen`s Fortress in located on the south edge of the town. Bachkovo Monastery is situated another 10 km away, in the foot of Red Wall reserve. The highest waterfall in the Rhodopes – Slivovdolsko Padalo Waterfall – is in the same area, accessible after a 1h hike.
The mountain above the monastery is called Dobrostan – a karst area, covered by tick forests and with some interesting rock formations. A good day hike may take you from the monastery to the area of Belintash (Белинташ). Thats a small rock plateau that used to be a holly place for the ancient Trachian tribes that inhabited the mountains. The area of Belintash is quite interesting for hiking, as you can walk the different sights in a day – Belintash itself, Krustova Gora Monastery, the rock of Karadzov Kamuk, the villages of Mostovo and Ryakata, the rocks of Haidushki Kamuk. Please find a more detailed description and photos of the route here: Hiking around Belintash.
Rhodopes are pretty vast and if you are willing to drive further south you may visit some other interesting sights for a day only and also do some hiking. One of those, accessible from Plovdiv in a day, is the Miraculous Bridges rock formation (Чудните мостове). It is good start point for 2-4h long hikes – up to the main ridge in order to see remnants of an old Roman road or to the nearby village of Zaburdo and back. If you like driving on curvy roads, the areas of Trigrad, Yagodina, Gela and Shiroka Luka are also possible for you.
Finally, we would like to offer you another interesting day trip to the Rhodopes from Plovdiv, which is also suitable for mountain biking. It will allow you not only to see the Rhodopes, but also the higher mountain ranges of Rila and Pirin, located southwest from the Rhodopes.
Start point of the trip is the town of Velingrad, located 80 km away from Plovdiv (1,5h drive). It is famous with its thermal springs and opportunities for a quiet holiday in the mountains, in the heart of the Rhodopes. From Velingrad we would take the unique Narrow Gauge Train, that runs between the Rhodopes and Rila ranges and ascents up to the highest train station on the Balkans, located at nearly 1400 m above the sea – Avramovo. The train ride takes an hour and you can take your bikes in it.
The area southwest from Avramovo, the so called Velijski Rhodopi, offers magnificent panoramas towards Rila and Pirin. It is quite impressive to see those in Spring when still covered by snow. A day trip would involve a circular walk or a bike ride in the area and a final descent back to Velingrad and return to Plovdiv. Please check a more detailed itinerary of a 2-day variation of a similar route here: Bike Explore of Velijski Rhodopi.
Author: Lyuben Grancharov
“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” (Augustine of Hippo). I enjoy filling up the page, called “Bulgaria”, both working as a guide and writing about the mountains of Bulgaria on this blog.