TRIP DURATION: 9 days
PRICE: € 1179 based upon minimum of 8 paying participants. Small group surcharge of € 100. Single room supplement: €60; Single rooms are subject to availability.
GROUP SIZE: 5–8 max
The focus on this photography trip will be on the littleknown spots in Bulgaria that aren’t shown in tourist guidebooks, and some not even on maps. This is the unfamiliar and forgotten Bulgaria where time stands still, bearing the remains of glorious but forever lost ages gone by.
This is not a tour of lifeless historical sites turned into museums, but rather a visit to the authentic places – little villages and quarters – that have been forgotten in this remote corner of the European Union. This unique photo trip will begin in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. The first day of our journey will be dedicated to the city’s main attractions, with an accent on the old, monumental Stalinist architecture in the center. We will also visit the women’s market, a colorful cult area in Sofia, as well as the industrial region around the train station. We will head south and make a visit to the traditional village of Pirin, some 57 km from Sandanski, located in the open country of the Pirin Mountains. We will visit Melnik and its rock pyramids, the Rozhenski Monastery and surrounding villages.
Then we will continue to the east under the gaze of the Pirin Mountains and delve into the region around Gotse Delchev. Here we will visit the cult villages of Leshten and Kovachevitsa, the abandoned village of Debren and the particularly photogenic villages of Ribnovo, Gospodintsi and Gorno Dryanovo. We will go still further east to Smolyan and the villages of Mugla and Chamla, and afterwards to Ardino and the village of Dyadovtsi together with the Devil’s Bridge. We will visit the Eastern Rhodopes and the beautiful meanders of the Byala River along with the villages of Odrintsi, Gorno Lukovo and Dolno Lukovo and the town of Ivailovgrad. On the final day of our journey into the past we will visit Madzharovo and the lovely meanders of the Arda River.
WHAT THE PRICE INCLUDES
Group transportation in tour van/microbus; Accommodations based on two people sharing a room; Eight (8) nights including breakfast; Photographic leader in English; Day tours and excursions as shown in the itinerary; Extensive pre-arrival information and services.
WHAT THE PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE
International air fare; airport transfers; additional transfers or accommodations that may be required by those arriving or leaving out of the tour dates: meals not included in itinerary; personal medical or travel insurance; any expenses of a personal nature, such as room service, laundry, beverages not included with meals, medical expenses, film or processing, any activities not specified in tour itinerary or listed as optional, or any items not listed in what is included; upon the completion of your trip, modest gratuities to the local guides and the drivers are customary; tips of any kind.
DAY 1 / Sofia
This unique journey will begin in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, at 9 in the morning at a designated hotel (participants should arrive in Sofia on the previous day). A local guide will take us to the main sites in the city, with a focus on the old, Stalinist monumental architecture in the center, one of the best-preserved collections of such buildings in the former communist bloc. However much the architectural qualities of these buildings may be criticized, they still form part of the country’s cultural past and in this sense represent part of its wealth.
We will visit the women’s market, one of the liveliest places in Sofia, where we will be able to take pictures of the locals in their element. We will visit the area around the train station (not far from the women’s market), where Sofia’s industrial districts are located, made up of a strange blend of old buildings left over from the city’s communist period in the context of a modern industrial landscape. We will have an evening photo session and spend the night in Sofia.
DAY 2 The village of Pirin – southwestern Bulgaria (about 220 km)
Early in the morning we will head south toward Kulata. The village of Pirin is located about 57 km from Sandanski. The last 20 km of road on this route are along crumbling asphalt, which only adds to the sense of this place’s remoteness. The village of Pirin is a very authentic place, frozen in time in the open country of the Pirin Mountains. The people’s way of life here has been preserved together with the traditions, houses and narrow streets just as they were a hundred years ago.
The village is like a movie backdrop, but with no films to its credit (even though a movie was in fact filmed here in the recent past, “Letter to America”. We will enjoy the uncommon sights this place has to offer while practicing landscape and ethnographic photography. We will sit down to hear someone’s grandmother recount stories and spend a quiet day in a unique place. In the late afternoon we will continue on to Melnik, where we will spend the night.
DAY 3 Melnik, Rozhenski Monastery (about 60 km)
During the day we will visit Melnik, a wondrous little town in the fields of the Pirin Mountains, famous for its rock pyramids, traditional houses and pleasant atmosphere. This region, aside from the pyramids themselves, encompasses an even larger collection of other rock formations shaped like mushrooms, needles, cones, etc. The most popular among these is the group of pyramids located not far from the village of Kurlanovo, which we will also visit. Melnik’s pyramids reach 100 m in height. These rocks are made of sandstone and in places are nearly sheer.
In the afternoon we will visit the Rozhenski Monastery, the largest monastery in the Pirin region and one of several medieval Bulgarian monasteries with have survived relatively untouched to the present day. It offers an exceptional view of the peaks of the Pirin and Belasitsa Mountains as well as the pyramids scattered on the hills around the town. Here we will be able to take pictures of fantastic landscapes.
On the way we will stop in the villages and quarters that will provide us with good opportunities to photograph the daily lives of the locals. We will spend part of the day straying from the main theme of this photography trip as we visit popular tourist sites such as Melnik and the Rozhenski Monastery. It is well worth doing so in order to take advantage of the fantastic picture-taking opportunities these places have to offer.
DAY 4 The villages of Krushevo, Debren, Gospodintsi and Ribnovo (about 100 km)
Early in the morning we will head east with Pirin to the north and the Greek border to the south as we gradually cross Pirin’s eastern slopes and make our way into the Rhodopes. We will make stops for short photo sessions in the region’s Pomak villages, which have preserved their authenticity.
We will stop briefly in Gotse Delchev. From Gotse Delchev we will take a detour to the village of Krushevo, famous for its panoramic views of four mountains. The locals say that here one can see the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the Rhodopes. We will leave the bus and walk to the abandoned village of Debren (a 50 minute descent). Some 44 years ago the village’s inhabitants decided to leave this settlement behind and move four km further into the valley to build anew. This is perhaps the only voluntarily abandoned village in Bulgaria.
After taking pictures of the village we will continue our walk to the new village of Debren, where we will meet up with our bus. Around noon we will continue to the village of Gospodintsi, a strange village in the center of the mountain that looks like the setting for a movie, located just a few kilometers from Gotse Delchev. This village can be divided into two parts: on one side of the Mesta River is the church and a predominantly Christian population, while on the other is the mosque and a mostly Muslim population. The oriental and regional Rhodope blend of styles define this area’s typical sights: high stone walls and houses, white women’s shawls and shalwars, groups of women chatting together at the gates, children playing in the dirt, the smell of overripe blackberries and smoke … yes, a truly authentic place in a corner of the European Union.
Late in the afternoon we will take pictures in the village of Ribnovo, some 30 km from Gotse Delchev. This village looks as if it were taken out of an old photo album, with narrow walls and winding streets, elderly women wearing kerchiefs and little girls sitting in front of houses fit for fairy tales. Women’s traditional and colorful shalwars, donkeys with panniers and mothers who dress their children in bright shawls are common sights here, lending an exotic, oriental character to this place. Typical wooden fences and tile-covered roofs reinforce the sense that this is an authentic Rhodope village.
The best part about visiting here is that there are no tourists to be found. We will have the opportunity to practice ethnographic photography, taking pictures of people’s daily lives, and if we are lucky, a wedding in the village of Ribnovo, a bright, loud and very photogenic celebration indeed. The village’s setting and surroundings are quite striking. Houses sit on high spots like fortresses. The landscape is quite diverse, including steep cliffs, chilly caves used as animal pens and sheer river banks. In the evening we will arrive in the old and picturesque village of Leshten, where we will spend the night.
DAY 5 The villages of Leshten, Gorno Dryanovo and Kovachevitsa (about 30 km)
In the morning we will take pictures in Leshten. Again we are making a small exception; although it is authentic, this village is a popular tourist attraction.
The traditional atmosphere of the Rhodopes has been wellpreserved here. The picturesque houses stacked on the sides of hills are so photogenic that we won’t want to take our eyes away. Movies and music videos are often filmed here. Next is Gorno Dryanovo, an attractive village with a Muslim population located just a few kilometers from Leshten.
Although this village doesn’t have any old houses, it is particularly interesting owing to the bustling activity carrying on along almost the entire length of the main street. Unlike villages with predominantly Christian populations, villages with Muslim populations are full of life because people rarely leave them to live in big cities. We will continue to the goal of the day’s trip, the village of Kovachevitsa, one of the most photogenic places not only in the Western Rhodopes, but in all Bulgaria.
The village has preserved its authentic appearance from the 18th and 19th centuries and is one of the most famous and beautiful villages in Bulgaria. Kovachevitsa is an architectural reserve with very well-preserved Revival architecture. The houses are almost completely built of stone, including the roofs, only the highest floors being made of wood. We will have our photo discussion on this night, examining the pictures we have taken so far on our trip. We will spend the night in the village of Kovachevitsa.
DAY 6 Mugla/Chamla – Ardino – the village of Dyadovtsi – the Devil’s Bridge (about 200 km)
Early in the morning we will head further east into the heart of the Rhodopes, arriving well before noon in Smolyan, from which we will set off for the abandoned village of Chamla, located above the village of Mugla, not far from Smolyan. Situated around the fields of Mursalitsa, at 1850 m this is one of the highest-altitude villages in Bulgaria. The building that served as the municipality headquarters is fairly well-preserved.
Five or six years ago a Frenchman lived in there for an entire year, even during winter. In 2002 the village was ironically called the Kingdom of Chamla by the Destination Bulgaria Foundation. The Municipality of Smolyan granted the village school to the foundation for a period of ten years. We will have an evening photography session and spend the night in Smolyan. In the afternoon we will go east to the village of Ardino, then from there to the Devil’s Bridge and the village of Dyadovtsi (about 10 km).
The village of Dyadovtsi is the epitome of an abandoned village, made up of old houses with stone roofs covered in ivy, some of which are slanted while others have already nearly collapsed into rubble. The village is very picturesque and the photo sessions we have here will be some of the best of the trip.
The so-called Devil’s Bridge was built in the 15th century along the route to the Aegean Sea; this bridge is 56 m long, 3.5 m wide and 11.5 m tall at the top of its arch. Its stone construction includes a second arch with openings to allow water from the turbulent Arda River to pass.
Although it is not directly related to the theme of this trip, the surrounding natural environment together with the bridge are interesting from a photographic perspective, which is why we have chosen to include it in the itinerary. We will finish the day in the village of Ardino.
DAY 7 The Eastern Rhodopes – the meanders of the Byala River – Ivailovgrad (about 130 km)
In the morning we will set off for the eastern portion of the Rhodopes, one of the most exotic and remote areas in Bulgaria. We will visit the exceptionally beautiful meanders of the Byala River. The most picturesque of these are located between Chernichevo and Ivailovgrad.
We will take pictures of the villages of Odrintsi and Mandritsa as well as the cult villages of Dolno Lukovo and Gorno Lukovo and others in the region. Late in the afternoon we will arrive in Ivailovgrad, where we will spend the night.
DAY 8 The Eastern Rhodopes – Madzharovo – Sofia (about 340 km)
Early in the morning we will go to Madzharovo. The natural beauty of the Eastern Rhodopes is magical; the enchanting meanders of the Arda River and vultures hanging overhead in the sky create an inimitable atmosphere. We will spend the entire day taking pictures of exceptionally photogenic landscapes, sandy river beaches and rocky massifs with memorable names like Kulata, Momina Skala, Sivridikme, Hisarya, Kovankaya, Patronkaya, Okopa and Meneka. Late in the afternoon we will set off for Sofia, where we will arrive in the evening and draw our trip to a close.
DAY 9 Departure from Sofia
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