The Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria are the most mysterious and wild mountain range in the Balkans, full of hidden gems and secrets. Here you can walk for days, even weeks, diving into another world, where the time stands still for centuries, far from tourist crowds, far from the “modern civilization”. You can meet the local culture in the small villages scattered somewhere among the summits and the gorges. One of these villages is Ravnogor- an off-the-beaten place in a paradise-like landscape.
Where is Ravnogor
Let’s open the map of Bulgaria and the Rhodope Mountains. The Rhodopes are divided into three main parts. Of them, the part that lies west of Vacha River consists of several high ranges, and the extreme northeastern one is Ravnogor Range- an extension of Batak Mountain between Vacha, Stara, Novomahalenska, and Fotinska Rivers.
But this is only the physical geography, to give you an idea about the natural position of this place. If you open the road map, you have to find Pazardzhik City and follow the road to the south. On the foot of the mountain, you can see two small cities- Peshtera on the west, and Bratsigovo on the east. Focus into Bratsigovo and notice the curving road to the south. At its end, you can see the village of Ravnogor.
And if you look at the satellite image of Ravnogor, you can notice that the village is located in a large grassland, surrounded by dark green forests. Here the mountain is flatter, and that’s where the name of the village comes- it literally means “Plain Мountain”. This is Ravnogor, located at around 1330 m altitude.
More about Ravnogor
What you see in the photo above is how Ravnogor looks like. This is its image- a green grassy plain, the houses with red roofs and the high sharp peak above them, followed by two lower peaks, all covered by dark pine forest. There is another cluster of peaks at the other side of the Ravnogor plain, covered by lush coniferous forests. And in the middle of the plain is the main river (that is only a curving mountain stream in hundreds of meanders) flowing to the north- Ravnogorska River.
This area is a great place for human activities. So, humans have started to do something and build something here thousands of years ago.
The local people and their history
In ancient times, this place has been entirely covered by forests with occasional meadows around the Ravnogorska River. The place has been noticed by the ancient Thracian people who have raised funeral tombs for their nobles. Some of these tombs can be seen today on the southern side of the plain.
During the Ottoman era, the local people gradually cleaned the forests on the plain and established the village, officially registered in 1777. They all remained Orthodox Christians, after unsuccessful attempts by the Ottoman rulers to convert them to Islam.
Until today, they live here following their traditions, preserving them from Islam unlike the neighboring Fotinovo and Nova Mahala villages, and remaining not much influenced by Communism unlike the nearest town of Bratsigovo.
At the same time, they keep their folklore memories and their local festivals. They even created a new festival in recent years, related to their main local industry- the Potato Festival.
Unfortunately, they gradually destroyed their old traditional architecture houses and built new “modern” houses, partially losing the unique local charm of the village. But the whole landscape and the atmosphere of the place still remained incredibly beautiful.
Let’s get into geography. The village of Ravnogor is geographically located in the middle of the Ravnogor Range. Its highest peak is Sandzhak (1876 m). On the north, the range gradually descends to the valley of Stara River, and its northern slopes are stairway-shaped. Many smaller rivers and side ridges extend and descend into steps to the north.
On the west, its border geographically is Novomahalenska River, on the south- Fotinska River, and on the east- Vacha River. The range is connected to the main Batak Mountain Range by Kurtludzha Pass (1550 m), between the valleys of the Fotinska and Novomahalenska rivers.
The lower parts of the range are covered by broad leave forests- mainly on the north, east, and southeast. The higher areas east of Ravnogor Village are covered by pine forests and meadows. And the whole western part of the range, west of the village is covered by alpine coniferous taiga-type forests.
Ravnogor village is in the middle of all of this, thus becoming an excellent starting point for hiking (and mountain biking) routes in all directions to the boundaries of the whole Ravnogor Range.
What to see and do in Ravnogor
Ravnogor is an epic place, and you can enjoy a lot of it- by hiking, biking, visiting the points of interest nearby, or just relaxing. But first, you have to reach it, and it is not so easy.
Ravnogor is connected to “the rest of the world” by one paved road only. First, you have to reach Bratsigovo. It is not a problem, since there are regular buses from Plovdiv and Pazardzhik, and a train from Plovdiv. Or, if you travel by car, you can drive to Bratsigovo again from Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, or Peshtera.
From Bratsigovo, you have to travel on this only road to Ravnogor, 16 km in length. Two buses travel on this road, but only from Monday to Friday, from 9:00 am and 4:50 pm, and from Ravnogor to Bratsigovo- from 8:00 am and 4:00 pm- a bit inconvenient for tourists, but well-arranged from the local people who go to work in Bratsigovo.
When the road reaches Ravnogor- it ends. Or actually, it proceeds further, but as a dirt road, proper only for jeeps and other 4×4 vehicles (too risky for small cars!). There is another paved road from the village, but only to the nearby villa resort Atoluka.
So, the best way to reach Ravnogor is by car, or by hiking (biking), if you are more adventurous. Once you arrive there, you can enjoy a great time in the village and the surrounding stunning nature.
The village of Ravnogor is not too big- there are only about 800 people currently living there. It becomes more alive during the holidays when the people from the cities come to visit their villas, but in general, it always remains a fresh and quiet place.
There are three small food shops and one “mall” with some daily used products- all near the center. Also, there are several cafes nearby.
You can walk on the quiet streets of the village, you can relax in one of the cafes, or in the garden at the center, beside the Orthodox church.
You can visit the local museum (follow the road signs written in Bulgarian- “музей”). It exhibits artifacts from the local daily life, culture, and nature. The museum doesn’t have a fixed working time, but you just have to tell the owner who lives there, and if convenient, he will open it for you.
But while you watch the surrounding landscape, you would definitely want to dive into it. And there are a lot of places that you can visit by hiking and biking (some of the places- only by hiking and even climbing!).
Saint Nedelya Peak
This is one of the Ravnogor symbols- the sharp peak that rises steeply over the village like a pyramid. It is 1578 m high (actually, its highest point is a bit higher- more than 1580 m, but this point is covered by thick forest and you can’t see anything from there), and you can see the whole village like on Google Earth from above.
You can reach the peak from a narrow trail path from the northern part of the village, for about 30 min. But have in mind that the highest section of the trail is quite difficult, with some rock climbing!
There is an extension of Saint Nedelya to the south- in fact, it is a long narrow summit, covered by pine forest. And it is worth hiking on the whole summit to its southern end- to Saint Helena and Saint Iliya chapels
Saint Helena and Saint Iliya chapels
These are two chapels- one located on the southern peak of Saint Nedelya summit, and the other- at its end. But there is something more- the whole trail from Ravnogor to Saint Iliya is worth hiking. It is easy and short- you can finish it in 40-50 min.
The trail is richly decorated with Orthodox symbols- crosses and icons. And there are benches all along the trail.
But the most attractive part is on the peak (Saint Helena chapel)- the whole area is turned into a playground for children, tables, and benches for barbeque and many other attractions. And when you proceed down to the end of the summit and Saint Iliya chapel, you can enjoy stunning views of the valley of Vacha River below.
Bekovi Skali (Bekovi Rocks) and Chervenata Skala (The Red Rock)
These are panoramic terraces, arranged on high rocky cliffs, providing some of the most fantastic views of the Rhodope Mountains. Down below is Vacha River and its Vacha Dam Lake. Behind and around it you can see the endless ridges of the mountains to the far horizon.
Bekovi Skali is easily reachable by the wide dirt road that goes southeast of the Ravnogor village and proceeds to the northeast on the edge of Ravnogor Range, at 1-hour walking (or 15-20 min biking).
Chervenata Skala is a bit closer. It is again reachable by a smaller dirt road directly south of the village, at about 30 min walk. The road crosses the main summit and descends a bit into the forest behind it.
There are signs on the road in Bulgarian that you can follow- “Бекови скали” and „Червената скала”.
Ancient history- the Thracian tombs
As I mentioned above, there are remains of the ancient inhabitants in the area- the Thracian people. And if you go to Chervenata Skala (The Red Rock), you can notice at least two small mounds, covered by trees.
They are ancient tombs- round holes with a “gate”. After so many centuries, they are not-so-well preserved, but the largest one is in the best condition- its gate is almost as it has been in ancient times.
Again, there is a sign on the way to Chervenata Skala in Bulgarian- “Тракийски гробници”.
This one is a bit further, and a bit adventurous. There are two ways to reach the cave. The first way is to walk on the paved road some 3 km north of the village, where you can see a sign in Bulgarian “Дупката” to the right and walk to the Pavlica River. And the second way is from the south, from Saint Iliya chapel, straight on the grassland, following the forming Pavlica River valley.
The cave is not arranged for visitors, it is small, so entering inside can be dangerous. But at least the whole view of the area with the cave is worth the adventure.
Now, let’s turn to the east, to the mountain and forests at the other side of the Ravnogor Plain.
When you look westward from the Ravnogor Plain, you can see a lot of hills covered by deep forest. In this area, you can’t find too many “points of interest”, but just a vast wild place for hiking, biking, and other adventures.
One of the best starting points for exploring this place is Atoluka- a small mountain villa-resort, located in the forest. There is a restaurant with rooms to sleep, a mini-market, and another café (however, the last two usually open only during holidays), and a small Orthodox chapel.
A 4 km paved road connects the village of Ravnogor with Atoluka. There are no buses on this road, but you can travel on it only by car, by motorcycle, by bicycle or on your own feet. And once you reach Atoluka or even the trails that start before the villa resort, you can hike in various directions.
One of these trails that start about 1 km before the villa-resort leads you to Garvanova Skala (Гарванова скала- Raven’s Rock)- a panoramic terrace with an Orthodox chapel. This trail begins from the paved road on the right, then on another dirt road that branches again to the right (follow the sign in Bulgarian). You can reach the point for about 40 min hike.
Saint John the Baptist Chapel
This is another Orthodox chapel, and it is located a bit further, and reaching it is more difficult and adventurous. You start the trail from the same point (1 km before Atoluka) but proceeds on the left branch for more than 1 km, then on another dirt road turn right until you reach a meadow.
From there, you have to find a thin path to the left, following the markings on the trees. It crosses a plain deep forest, passes by a small swamp, and finally reaches a small but steep peak. You have to climb the peak and you will see the chapel. But don’t expect a building- this chapel is like a piece of furniture, like a chest with Orthodox icons and crosses, in the middle of nowhere. You can also enjoy stunning views of the city of Peshtera down below. Again- better watch the map to find it!
Popova kappa and Tashkisen summit
This is a very easy and nice hike on a dirt road from Atoluka to the south, deep in the wild forests, beside the peaks of Popova kappa and Tashkisen. It starts from the center of the villa-resort and ascends behind the highest-situated villas, then becomes almost plain.
After 2 hours walking you can reach a T-junction. The left road gradually descends to the Ravnogor Plain and you can back to the village. And the right road leads you to nice meadows with partially covered views of Batak Dam Lake. Finally, it joins the stoned road to Kurtludzha.
There is a short version of this route- you start walking on the same road, but 10 min after Atoluka you see a sign to the right. Follow the road, again stick to the right and you will reach another panoramic place at the top.
The highest peak of the Ravnogor Range is another adventurous place to hike, although the peak itself doesn’t offer too many views, since it is covered by deep and wild “taiga” forest.
It is reachable from the main stone road from Ravnogor to Kurtludzha. At the 9th km of the road, where it reaches its highest point, you have to turn left on a smaller dirt road, and after 30 min walk- turn right on a small path. The path ascends to the peak and almost disappears, so you just have to follow the slope.
Farther places from Ravnogor
In general, these are the most important nearby points of interest around Ravnogor. But since the village is in the center of the Ravnogor Ridge, it is a good starting point for farther places and longer treks. Here I mention some of the places and directions:
- Krichim– a small city at the mouth of Vacha Gorge, at the boundary between the mountain and Thracian plain. You can reach it just by following the summit of Ravnogor Range to the northeast.
- Zhrebichko– a beautiful village with some nice old stone-roofed houses, located not far from Krichim. You can visit it on the way to Krichim.
- Bratsigovo– the main starting point for reaching Ravnogor is a beautiful small city with a lot of history. Here you can visit several museums, including old Revival houses presenting life in the 18-19th century. Besides, there are hot mineral springs here.
- Peshtera– the largest city at the boundary of the Ravnogor Range. This is the best nearby place for shopping. Besides, it is a starting point for penetrating much further into the other ranges of the Rhodopes. You can reach it by car through Bratsigovo, or on the dirt road that starts 1 km before Atoluka (the same road that I mentioned above with branches leading to Garvanova Skala and Saint John the Baptist Chapel).
- Rozovo and Rozovski vriz– Rozovo is another village that can be reached by a branch road of the main Bratsigovo-Ravnogor road. From there you can ascend to the villa-resort Rozovski vriz with its small dam lake and deep broad-leaves forests. Rozovski vriz is also easily reachable from Ravnogor, for just about 1-hour walking.
- Pizditsa Falls and Kievo kale. This is a bit adventurous and can be reached from the dirt road Atoluka-Peshtera. Kievo kale is a steep peak with remains of an ancient fortress, and Pizditsa Falls is actually a deep cauldron with two small waterfalls of Pizditsa River (that is actually just a small stream). It is a bit dangerous and difficult place!
- Nova Mahala– a village at the western boundaries of the Ravnogor Range, with a mostly Muslim population. It is a good starting point for hiking Mt. Batashki Snezhnik (2082 m)- one of the highest peaks in the Rhodope Mountains.
- Fotinovo and Fotinovo Falls– Fotinovo is another mostly Muslim village, located south of Ravnogor. It is reachable by an 8 km dirt road that branches south of the stone road to Kurtludzha. And if you proceed on the Fotinska River downward, you can reach one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Bulgaria- Fotinovo Falls.
- Fortsovo and Vacha Dam– if you go to Bekovi Skali or Chervenata Skala, you will see the Vacha Dam Lake, and probably you would want to reach it. It is not so easy, but it is possible on the dirt road to Fortsovo (Форцово), and then to the dam lake. It looks close, but a whole hike would take about 5-6 hours.
- Kurtludzha– this is the endpoint of the Ravnogor Range. From here, you can proceed deeper into the Batak Mountain of the Rhodopes, to wilder and farther frontiers.
Ravnogor is not a big village, but here you can find places to spend the night if you want to stay for more than one day.
Currently, there are two working hotels in the village- Ravnogor hotel in the center, and Boryka hotel east of it. Besides that, there are three guesthouses, called Chisto selo (Clean village), located in the southern parts of Ravnogor, Paunova House, near the northern entrance, and Ravnogorski han, located closer to the center.
Outside, but near to the village, you can find Gorski kashti (Forest Houses), located at the stone road to Kurtludzha, and the guesthouses in Atoluka. And finally- you can go camping in some places. The best camping place is called Uzunovoto, located at the end of the grassland, southeast of the village, with a fountain and barbeque.
Ravnogor is always beautiful, in every season. But its beauty is different during the different times of the year.
Spring begins in May when the last remains of snow disappear. Everything is fresh green and full of flowers. It can be rainy sometimes, and even thunderstorms can appear. In general, it is cool in the day, and cold at the night.
Summer begins in June and lasts until September. It is nicely warm, with cool nights. Again, sometimes there are thunderstorms and heavy rains, but most of the time weather is perfect. In this season, you can find a lot of wild strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries in the forest.
Autumn is colder, and the grass turns yellow. In this season, the most beautiful places are the mixed and broad leaves forests. Sometimes it can be rainy but without thunderstorms.
Winter can be cold, sometimes very cold. Usually, it starts at the end of November and lasts until April. It can be snowy, and sometimes the snow cover can reach more than 1,5 m depth.
But no matter which season you would choose to visit Ravnogor, if you get as much as you can from this amazing place, you would have a lot to enjoy. You can enjoy relaxing, you can enjoy beautiful sceneries, you can enjoy hiking and other wild adventures, or you can enjoy the local culture. And you can dive into a unique experience from this off-the-beaten place in Bulgaria, Europe that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
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