The Rhodope Mountain Trail
Three mountain ranges, the Rhodope, Slavayanka and Pirin once divided the ancient kingdom of Thrace from Greece. Greece and the mountains remain, but Thrace has morphed into modern-day Bulgaria, where this ride takes place. The mountains conceal a wealth of folklore and hidden histories: take Orpheus and Spartacus, both real people and born in the heart of the Rhodope range. Orpheus could enchant the birds from the trees and creatures of the woods with his magical music; Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator, inspired a generation of slaves to revolt against their Roman masters. He undoubtedly grew up and learnt his hunting skills in the Rhodope forests and along the remote mountain trails which we will follow. These paths are now little-visited, except by deer, wild boar and those in search of exciting riding.
Rhodope Mountain Trail
Day 1. London to Plovdiv
We’ll meet you upon arrival at the airport in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Driving east we approach the mountains and ascend into the Rhodope Mountain Range to Belashtitsa, close to Plovdiv, European City of Culture 2019. The towns and villages here pre-date Rome by several thousand years; in fact Plovdiv was contemporary with ancient Troy. There’s time for a guided walking tour of Plovdiv. Overnight in the adjacent hotel.
Overnight: family run 3*** with pool
Day 2. Ride to Hadzhiyska House
Drive to Sredni Nevadi which is a nature reserve where the horses will be waiting. Saddle up and head off along forest trails towards the village of Kosovo, which is an architectural museum, protecting over 60 original houses. Picnic lunch followed by a short ride to Hadzhiyska house, a listed building of architectural merit where we spend the night.
Saddle Time: 5 1/2 hours
Overnight: Hadzhiyska House
Day 3. Hadzhiyska House to Bachkovo
Ride further up into the mountains reaching an altitude of 750m. The trail leads passed a number of hilltops, each crowned with a chapel that has panoramic views. Ride across one of the most beautiful valleys of the Central Rhodopes, namely “Hvoynenska”. We carry a picnic lunch in the saddlebag which we’ll eat near one of the chapels. The Eastern Orthodox Church is thriving in Bulgaria and we’ll visit the second largest Ortodoxal Monastery in Bulgaria called “Bachkovo Monastery”.
Overnight in a family owned and operated hotel.
Saddle Time: 6-7 hours
Overnight: Hotel 2**
Day 4. Beyond the Sredni Livadi Nature Reserve
Today’s trail leads via the village of Orehovo, which is around 500 years old, just a youngster! This is the starting point of the longest eco-trail in Bulgaria which ends on the Aegean coast in Greece making Orehovo one of the best gateways to the Rhodopes. There are some stunning views over Sredni Livadi nature reserve. We follow an old Roman road passing the 18th C chapel of Saint Atanas (an obscure 4th C Egyptian bishop) where we stop for a picnic. In the afternoon pass the Skakaloto waterfall and the Kosten Kamyk cave. Stay tonight in a family run hotel.
Saddle Time: 6 hours
Overnight: hotel 2**
Day 5. Zabyrdo village
Ride on to the village of Zabyrdo which is really more of a mountain hamlet at 1,400m above sea level. It’s famous for making the traditional Rhodope cheese and is one of the most ancient villages in the area. This area also contains some of the classic high-arch bridges, which have no parapet, so can be quite spooky to ride across! Tonight we overnight in a family run guesthouse.
Saddle Time: 6 hours
Overnight: mountain guesthouse
Day 6: The highest point of the ride
Follow a new route back to the village of Orehovo and ascend Mount Grand Persek 2,100m, the second highest summit of the Rhodopes; panoramic view of almost the entire chain of the Rhodopes and the trail of the last week. The frame of our picnic pulled saddlebags this afternoon is an old shelter on the best preserved Roman road in Bulgaria. We spend about 5-6 hours on our horses.
Saddle Time: 6 hours
Day 7. The land of the Best!
The last riding day: complete the giant 150 Km loop trail and return to the starting point. This morning we pass one of the oldest Thracian fortress called “Shtut grad” which dates back to 5th century BC. The two forested hills, the Sun Hill and the Moon Hill, held great power for the Thracian tribe called, ironically, “Best”. They were known throughout the Roman Empire as the most fearless of Thracian warriors. Lunch is a picnic. Complete the circuit by mid-afternoon. Transfer to hotel.
Saddle Time: 5 hours
Overnight: hotel 3*** with pool
Day 8. Return to Sofia
After breakfast, we drive to Sofia and the flight home.
Included in the price
• Professional guide and first aid kit
• Airport transfer to the starting point and return from Melnik
• 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
3 nights in twin rooms in two-star family-run hotels
1 night in a hunting lodge
1 night in a monastery
1 night in Renaissance house
18th century churches
A walk in the architectural reserve
Historical house visit
Lunch on Day 1 and Day 8
Entry tickets for museums
Tips for guides
All paces are used and for long days. Riders must be confident and have good control in rough terrain (rivers, small gullies, fallen trees etc). No jumping but this is quite a quick ride.
Riders are expected to groom and tack up their horse each day; untack during breaks and at the end of the day. Guides will supervise and assist.
Horses and Tack
Horses are good-tempered and suited for the mountain landscape, they are brave and easily get over natural obstacles (rivers, small gullies etc). They are not afraid of cars and ride with ease on roads. They are friendly and well trained. Their height is between 1.5-1.6 metres. The saddles are large and comfortable for long rides; the weight limit for horse riders is 100kg.
On average we walk (50% of the ride); trot (30% of the ride); canter (20% of the ride).
Rough mountain terrain with some steep ascents and descents. As the ride progresses and we enter the valleys there are more frequent grassy and level sections with smooth trails for a faster pace.
Temperate climate with cool nights at higher regions and warm summer days. There is the possibility of rain in the spring and summer periods.
Distance from urban areas
During the ride the furthest point from “civilization” is 15 km. There are scattered small mountain villages and hamlets and occasionally market towns.
The regions that we pass through have mixed population of Orthodox Christian and Islamic people living peacefully side by side.
Private parties of 2 riders or more can be accommodated on any day; please enquire for itinerary and price. We also have set dates which have a min of 4 riders and a max of 10. Individual riders are welcome to join in.