Several centuries BC Jason and the Argonauts set off in the good ship ‘Argo’ in search of the Golden Fleece. Orpheus was one of the crew and his special skill was the ability to play the lyre so beautifully that he charmed the birds and beasts, and more importantly for Jason, prevented the dreaded Sirens from luring the Argo onto the rocks. This ride takes place in what used to be Thrace and is now the Rhodope Mountain, the home of Orpheus.
The area blends remote villages, ancient Eastern Orthodox churches and mosques into the outstanding natural scenery to create something that is uniquely Bulgarian. You will become part of this pluralist world because we will be on horseback which is exactly the way the “Ancients” used to travel.
Itinerary description day-by-day:
This is a circular ride that begins and ends in the mountain village of Trigrad, high in Smolyan Province of the Rhodope Mountains.
Day 1: Trigrad
We will meet you at the airport in Sofia and drive you east towards Plovdiv, European city of culture 2019, before turning south into the mountains. The village of Trigrad is about 4 hrs from Sofia.
Meet your guides and the horses and take a short trial ride around the farm, depending on your flight arrival time.
Overnight in Arkan Han, a family-run hotel next to the stable.
Day 2 Trigrad to Bujnovo
The first full day riding: head out to the village of Bujnovo which is a small, rural hamlet in the forest. Picnic lunch is carried in the saddlebags. And a short afternoon ride brings us to the overnight hotel. Today is just 4 hrs riding so there’s plenty of time to adjust tack and get used to your horse before some longer days to come.
Overnight in a cozy hotel with dinner on the terrace. There should be time to visit Yagodinska caves, known locally as “The cave of pearls”
Riding time: 4 hours
Overnight: Hotel Moni 2**
Day 3 Bujnovo to Dospat
This morning’s trail leads through pristine forests; we’ll stop for a picnic lunch at a secluded wooden forest shelter near an old Roman bridge. In the afternoon we ride across the dam to reach the village of Dospat. There is good access to the lake, and if weather allows you can swim with your horse. In the evening we’ll take a boat trip at sunset.
Overnight at Tihiyat Kat hotel and top of the dinner menu is locally caught trout.
Riding time: 7 hours
Day 4: Dospat and into the Dikchan Natural Reserve
Ride along the lakeshore and re-enter the forest to reach a wooden summer-house “Барбекю край огъня” which I’m told is its name! In the afternoon we enter Dikchan Natural Reserve where you can expect to meet some wild animals, if we’re lucky. Red deer, boar and even wolf are now resident, but very rare to see, in Dikchan.
Ride on to the twin villages of Dolen and Satovcha; an unusual speciality of this area is the polyphonic singing, and the villagers will put on a show for us. Overnight around the fireplace in Dikchan hunting lodge.
Riding time: 5 hours.
Day 5 : Dikchan to Sarnitsa
This morning we ride to within sight of the picturesque lake and market town of Sarnitsa which is predominately Muslim. To be more accurate, this is a Pomark community, who are an ethnic group with routes (religious and linguistic) stretching back into both Greece and Turkey. The architecture is different from what we’ve seen so far and the national dress in this enclave is distinct.
Accommodation this evening is in a small family hotel on the shore, 3km out of town. Lunch in the hotel restaurant and in the afternoon swimming with the horses in the lake. We’ll take a walking-tour of the town and small ethno-centre; listen to some Rhodope live music from an all-male ensemble.
Riding time: 4 hours
Day 6: Sarnitsa to the Orpheus mountain hut
This morning we follow a logging track deep into the forest, high in the mountains. We’ll pass the Shiroka Polyana Dam and stop for a picnic lunch. Not far beyond is a mountain chalet and our overnight stop; rustic but cozy. Mountain hut dinner beneath the arbour, accompanied by local singers.
Riding time: 8 hours.
Day 7: Return to Trigrad
The trail today goes across meadows and pasture allowing perhaps the quickest pace of the ride. These are the boundless Yagodinsky meadows above the Trigrad Gorge, famous for top quality hay production and excellent grazing. Lunch at the ‘’Mill over the Trigrad River’’ tavern-restaurant, which offers a beautiful view to the gorge. A short afternoon rides brings us back to Trigrad.
Accommodation in Arkan Han (same as first night). Farewell dinner in the hotel restaurant
Riding time: 5 hours.
Day 8: Depart for Sofia
After breakfast – say goodbye to the guides and the horses; departure for Sofia.
Included in the price
• Professional guide and first aid kit
• Airport transfer to the starting point and return to Sofia
• Support vehicle for baggage transport, with radio connection at all times
• Full board from day 1 dinner to day 8 breakfast
• Twin saddlebags for each rider
5 nights in twin rooms in two-star family-run hotels
1 night in a hunting lodge
1 night mountain refuge
• Contact with local people
• Culinary delight (fresh products only)
• Visiting the iconic Bachkovo Monastery
• Visiting the following caves:
o The Devil’s Throat (the highest underground waterfall on the Balkan Peninsula)
o Yagodinska Cave (the cave of pearls)
• Archaic folk music phenomena from Bulgaria: the unique polyphonic singing “Aloud” in Dolen and Satovcha villages
• Rhodope live music – Men’s folklore group
Becoming familiar with Bulgarian tradition and spirit
Lunch on Day 1 and Day 8
Entry tickets for museums
Tips for guides
Unique polyphonic singing in Dolen and Satovcha
Among the most archaic and rare happenings associated with polyphonic folk singing in Bulgaria is the distinctive local style from Dolen village and Satovcha village. This form of singing is enjoying a revival and gaining in popularity.
Rider experience: riders must be comfortable at all paces and in open country.
Terrain: some rough mountain terrain with climbs and descents. There are frequent level sections through grassland, without fences, allowing some longer canters. Riders should be able to get over natural obstacles such as shallow rivers, gullies, dips and fallen trees. No jumping.
Paces: all paces. Approx walk (50% of the ride); trot (35% of the ride); canter/gallop (15% of the ride).
Accommodation: 5 nights in twin rooms in two-star family hotels; 1 night in a hunting lodge; 1 night in rustic but cozy mountain hut.
The horses are good-tempered and suited to the mountainous terrain; they are brave and easily get over natural obstacles on the way (rivers, small gullies, fallen trees). They are not afraid of cars and ride with ease on busy roads and through more urban areas. They are friendly and well trained. Height between 1,50 and 1,60 metres.
The saddles are large and comfortable for long days in the saddle; the weight limit for riders is 95kg.