Rhodope mountain in Bulgaria has been always my favorite mountain. It’s not so high, its highest peaks reach only a little more than 2000 m altitude. Located “in the shadow” of the Balkan’s Rila and Pirin, Rhodope mountain is often ignored by the mountain lovers. But one of the things that really impresses me there, is its wild endless forests, covered the maze of ridges and valleys, and the local culture, scattered around this landscape. And there is a place, hidden deep in the heart of the mountain, which combines all these features with some awesome limestone formations, such as gorges, caves and underground rivers. This is Trigrad Gorge area, one of the most beautiful hidden pearls of the Balkans.
The western part of Rhodope mountain is divided into two large parts, separated by Vacha river. Its deep gorge is filled with few dams in its lower flow. And its upper flow is formed by few deep canyons. One of the canyons is Trigrad river gorge, in the southern part of the mountain, near the border between Bulgaria and Greece.
The most popular route to reach Trigrad comes from north, following the roads along Vacha and Chepelarska rivers. Another road comes from west– from the small Dospat town. All these roads join at Teshel dam, then proceed southward about 15 km to Trigrad.
Proceeding southward, the road becomes narrower and the valley slopes- steeper, like canyon walls. While ascending, the wood gradually changes into fur forest. Finally the gorge becomes like a deep corridor, the narrow road enters a tunnel, and beyond it the river disappears. Here is the Trigrad’s main attraction- Devil’s Throat cave.
There is an artificial tunnel, leading from the road to the cave. When you pass it, you enter a large hall, where the furious Trigrad river flows underground, cutting the dark fearful walls of the hall. The air is filled with mist, coming from the raging waters of the river. From this hall, the river enters a hole and disappears somewhere…
There are only about 200 m in a straight line from the underground hall of the cave to the lower exit, where the river goes out again. Seems very close, but if you put something in the river to float, it never goes out from the exit below. There have been made many tests and research to detect where the river goes- all unsuccessful. A couple of divers entered from the lower exit, trying to reach the cave hall. They disappeared and later the rescue team found their bodies.
Then the scientists put red paint in the waters, from the hall, calculating when the paint will go out from the exit. It appeared again 90 mins later, which means that the paint has traveled around 40 km (!) somewhere between the hall and the exit… and nobody knows where! Some suggest that the river runs underground to some very distant places from Trigrad, before backs again to the exit of the cave. It again confirmed its name- “The Devil’s Throat”.
The big hall is significant also with the highest underground waterfall in Bulgaria. The raging waters of Trigrad river enter the hall from a hole high above, then falls down to the dark abyss of the hall.
The visitors go out by a steep high stair, passing by the “Tears of Orpheus” spring source. It is related to a legend. The ancient Thracian artist Orpheus lost his wife Eurydice- she died and went down to Hades. Orpheus visited Hades, trying to save his wife, but a condition has been told him- Eurydice is allowed to back to life only if they go out of the Devil’s Throat without turning their heads behind. However, due to the furious water noise, Orpheus couldn’t hear Eurydice’s steps, so he turned his head. Thus he lost her forever. And his tears remain here by this small source.
The stairs go out to the road again. Further south the Trigrad Gorge finish and the road enters Trigrad village- a beautiful mountain village, populated by Christian and Muslim Bulgarians (called Pomaks). It is a typical Rhodopean village, full of local culture. Here you can see some old houses, preserved the famous traditional architecture- some stone houses, made entirely by hand from irregular stones, and roofs made by flat stone slates.
Now due to Trigrad’s nature wonders it is a tourist destination. Here you can see the local people’s life, you can eat the local Rhodope’s food, enjoy some local folk festivals, as well as a lot of attractions, such as horse riding, hiking, jeep trekking, floating on Trigrad river and many others.
But if you have more time, the area around Trigrad has much more to offer. You can go hiking to the nearby villages Yagodina (and its famous Yagodina cave), Eagle eye peak, revealing a breathtaking panorama over large part of Rhodope mountain, Gyovren village, Chairi lakes, as well as further south to the border with Greece and its few mini villages Buinovo, Kozhari, Kesten and Vodni pad, scattered in the deep taiga fur forest of the high Rhodope.
Here I will share about a walk to Vodni pad. When we were there, we made a 6 km trekking there. The road from Trigrad proceeds south and 2 km after the village it reaches Avitohol-Oblaka horse base. From here a dirt road starts on the right. We walked on foot- the route is an easy and nice walk, following a beautiful forest valley. But you can hire a horse from Avitohol-Oblaka horse base and ride to Vodni pad. There are a lot of natural water sources where you can directly drink the clean and cold mountain water.
We arrived in Vodni pad after 90 min walk. This mini village has only a few houses, scattered on the slope of the valley, only minutes away from the Greek border. It is also called “The Quiet Place” by the locals because of its serenity. It is populated by professionals, many of whom live in the big cities, but come here to write and think in the village. Surprisingly for such a quiet place, there is internet access, and an English speaker called Michelle, who is happy to offer tourists a cup of coffee and a chat. We were her guests too and it was very nice to become friends with her. The village population also includes at least 4 cats, 5 dogs, 2 horses, and many birds.
There are roads and path proceeding further south from Vodni pad, reaching the border with Greece, passing on the mountain summit. Since Bulgaria is a part of EU, although currently still not a part of Schengen, the border is easy to visit without a problem, however, if you are not from a Schengen country, you may have problems with the Greece border police, if you penetrate deep into Greek territory.
HOW TO GET TO TRIGRAD
The main road to Trigrad is the road coming from the north through the Trigrad gorge. And you can use public transport or your own transport.
Public transport– it is not so convenient actually. If you come from Sofia or Plovdiv, you have to arrive in Devin first. Then take the bus to Trigrad. Now there are two buses going from Devin to Trigrad- one at noon and one at afternoon.
Your own transport– the best option. You can rent a car (and it is very convenient of course not only for Trigrad, but also for a round trip in Bulgaria) and drive to Trigrad, stopping on the road wherever you want.
There are also some alternative ways to go to Trigrad, as a part of a round trip in Rhodope mountain: by mountain bike or just hiking on foot. In this case, you can reach Trigrad from many directions, visiting the neighboring attractions on the way.
WEATHER IN TRIGRAD
Trigrad is located at around 1200 m altitude. This is not too high, and because it is near Greece and its Aegean Sea geographical climate zone, the weather is generally mild. Summer is cool, nice and comfortable- a great relax for those coming from the hot Thracian lowlands.
Winter is longer, usually snowy (snowfalls can make more than a meter deep snow until February-March), but not very cold- the temperature seldom drops below -10 C. And the snow remains can stay until May, on the shadowy and higher places even until June. Anyway, June is the most beautiful month there, since everything is deep and fresh green, full of flowers. However, it is sometimes rainy in summer- not just a long plain rain, but short and heavy thunderstorms. If you face a heavy rain thunderstorm- avoid hiking as much as possible. Or find a shelter. Don’t stay under isolated trees!
WHERE TO SLEEP IN TRIGRAD
Since Trigrad village is a tourist destination, there are a lot of small hotels and guesthouses, which are not expensive and quite cozy and clean. Here are some of them:
When you go from Trigrad Gorge and Devil’s Throat cave up to the village, Horlog Castle is the first building that you can see, welcoming the travelers.
Famous for its best cleanliness rate. Good locations, very near the center of the village.
Another excellent guesthouse near the village center, very cozy, with great personnel.
Trigrad Hotel Retreat and Wellness
It is a great hotel for those who like SPA- with its own spa center, sauna, and steam bath.
A great guesthouse with a very “local” atmosphere and friendly host.
Check out your accommodation in Trigrad:
WHAT TO EAT IN TRIGRAD
Trigrad’s cuisine is a part of the traditional Rhodopean food. There are some famous meals from this region, which are very delicious and really worth to try. Among them are:
– Patatnik– a meal, made with potatoes and some spices.
– Rodopski klin (Rhodopean klin)– a kind of pastry, usually with rice.
– Kachamak– made by corn flour with some cheese and pepper, one of the famous Rhodopean meals
– Lamb cheverme– a typical Rhodopean style of lamb barbeque.
– Smilyan beans salad– Smilyan beans are a very popular Rhodopean food. The beans are large and delicious, and the salad is really worth to try.
There are few restaurants (some of them as a part of a hotel) which offer such food: Horlog, Gnezdoto na orlite (Eagle’s nest), Triibria and Kaminata.
THINGS TO DO IN TRIGRAD
Trigrad Gorge and the area around is full of opportunities for activities. Due to its nature, geographical locations, specific relief features and cultural wealth, the place offers a lot of things to do, for all kind of visitors:
- Visiting Devil’s Throat cave (and the nearby Haramiyska cave): There is a parking lot in front of the cave and the visit is only in groups, once per hour. Price ticket- 10 BGN. While waiting, you can enjoy the speed trolley near the parking lot. Haramiyska cave is on the other slope of the gorge, although not such famous, it is worth to visit too, however it is difficult to access and more adventurous.
- Horse riding: There are few horse bases. Among them I would recommend Avitohol-Oblaka horse base, located 2 km south of Trigrad. You can hire a horse for 20 BGN- for 30 mins, 30 BGN for 1 hour, and make a nice horse trip around the area.
- Boat floating: There are floating trips on Trigrad river, to its exit from the Devil’s Throat cave, where the waters become silent after their unknown journey between the cave and the exit. The trips are usually around 20 mins.
- Jeep trekking to Orlovo oko (Eagle’s eye) peak: During your trip on the road to Trigrad, you can be offered in few places for a jeep trekking to Eagle’s eye peak. It is more than 1500 m altitude high. Actually, you can go there on foot, but the jeep trip can give a different experience to those who like such kind of activities.
- Visit the Bear Museum: There is a small museum near Horlog Castle, especially made for the local brown bear, its habitat and its life.
- Mountain hiking: The area offers a lot of hiking routes in every direction. You can go to many places, such as Yagodina village and its Yagodina cave, Eagle’s eye peak, southward- to the four mini-villages Vodni Pad, Kesten, Zhrebovo and Kozhari. Eastward- to Chairi lakes, Mugla, Chamla and Valchi kamak (Wolf stone) peak.
- Local Rhodopean food tasting: really worth to try.
Trigrad Gorge is considered a touristy destination. But only the Devil’s Throat and the Canyon. If you are looking for something less known, more off the beaten, there are a lot of hidden gems and mysteries, not only in the Rhodope Mountains, but around the whole of a country. Caves, epic waterfalls, local villages, deep forests, canyons… you can spend months in exploring the deep secrets of Bulgaria.
No matter what kind of trip do you like and what things do you enjoy to do, Trigrad Gorge area can give you an unforgettable impression in one of the most beautiful and unique place of the Balkans.
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