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Krastova gora – an energy center in the Rhodopes

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The church at the top of the hill. Photo credit: plovdiskamitropolia.com

Krastova gora – Кръстова гора, is a famous Christian center in Bulgaria. Interesting legends surround the place and a large number of pilgrims visit it every year. It is situated in the Rhodope mountain at about 60km from Plovdiv.

Many legends surround Krastova gora, including one that a piece of the holy cross was buried in the region causing many small pebbles there to have a little cross naturally carved in them. Another one is how Bulgarian tsar (king) Boris III was advised to send his daughter there to be cured of her epilepsy, which she was. The king ordered a 66-kg bronze cross to be made and installed at Krastova gora as a thank you for having his child cured. The cross was stolen shortly thereafter, but was later returned with a chilling note attached to it from the thieves stating that they had been 3 men, but 2 of them had died mysteriously and the third one was now returning the cross fearing divine revenge.

The cross is again where it belongs, the places where the thieves cut it are clearly visible.

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The bronze crucifix. Photo credit: gradlucky.com

Adding to the mystical vibe of the place, some people say they sense a special energy in the air out there. Superstitious Bulgarians go there to absorb some of this energy and believe it would cure diseases, infertility etc.

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Photo credit: gradlucky.com

Getting to Krastova gora can be a bit tricky, as the road is narrow and curvy. I wouldn’t dare it in snow conditions, but when the weather is dry, there won’t be a problem. The road goes through a small typical Rhodope village and can offer some nice views. All in all, I would recommend adding Krastova gora to One day: Sofia – Asen’s Fortress – Bachkovo monastery – Plovdiv – Sofia and combining it with a visit to the Wonderful Bridges making it into a two-day trip.

 

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The Wonderful Bridges in the Rhodopes

 

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With some friends at the Bridges. That was a fun trip 🙂

The Wonderful Bridges, sometimes the Marvelous Bridges, – Чудните мостове (Chudnite mostove) is a rock formation in the proximity in the karst valley of the river Erkyupriya in the Rhodopes on 1450 above the sea level, at the foot of Golyam Persenk peak (2091). The natural landmark is at a distance of 80 km south from Plovdiv and 35 km north-west from Chepelare. The rock formations d0 resemble bridges above the small river floating underneath them. They are an amazing sight and it’s difficult to grip their beauty in photographs. Here a couple of tries, though:

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There are two bridges across from each other. In the summer there sometimes is a zipline between them

The Bridges are easily accessible by car. From the main road, there’s an exit for a village called Zabardo. Take it and prepare for a curvy narrow mountain road which keeps ascending for about 35 minutes. The road meanders next to a small river and is quite picturesque.

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You can stand on top of the bridge – see the rail at the top right corner?

You can combine visiting the Bridges with this one-day trip I posted earlier, and combined with Krastova gora, you would have a lovely two-day trip (I recommend an overnight stay at Plovdiv). They are stunning both in the summer and in colder months, however, I imagine that the narrow mountainous road leading up to them is not accessible and/or dangerous in snowy winters.

Next to the Wonderful bridges there is a hut (sorry, link only in Bulgarian, however, you can find some contacts and a map) at which you can stay for a very cheap price, but you would need to book beds for the summer days as it is quite full. There is a cheap restaurant at the hut as well as several friendly Rhodope grandmas selling their home-made produce.

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At the Bridges in April
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One day itinerary: Sofia – Asen’s Fortress – Bachkovo monastery – Plovdiv – Sofia

Duration: One day

Distance: Ca. 350km

Car accessibility: very good

Leaving from Sofia: Relatively early. We left at about 9.30 and were able to get back at about 19.30 without having to hurry.

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The church of the Holy Mother of God in the fortress

1. Stop: Asen’s fortess (arrival at about 11.30)

 

Working Hours:

November – March: Wednesday to Sunday 10 til 17
April – October: Wednesday to Sunday 10 til 18

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This is the best preserved fortress in Bulgaria, named after tsar (king) Asen, easily accessible by car and well worth visiting. It’s at the top of a cliff, from which a wonderful view is visible to vast forests on the one side and the town of Asenovgrad on the other. There is a good parking opportunity, costs 1.50lv to leave your car there.

Wikipedia on Asen’s Fortress

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2. Stop: Bachkovo Monastery (arrival at ca. 13.00)

Distance from Asen’s fortress: ca 12km

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The monastery is really pretty and well-kept. There’s a lot of home-made things to buy on the short track from the parking lot to the monastery itself – both food and drink and hand-made souvenirs. You could stop for a quick lunch as well.

Wikipedia on Bachkovo monastery

 

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The inner yard of the monastery is full of trees exotic to Bulgarian flora. The fruits of one is used to flavour the monastery made liquor – dzhindzhifir – джинджифир. Hence the name of the liquor – dzhindzhifirka – джинджифирка.
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Typical Bulgarian hand-made cutlery on the road leading to the monastery

3. Stop: Plovdiv (arrival at about 15.00)

Distance from the Bachkovo monastery: ca 28km

After the Bachkovo monastery you’ll be heading back to Sofia, on the way is Plovdiv. Plovdiv is one of the most ancient cities in the world – some scientists estimate it to be approx. 8000 years old! – and one of the prettiest in Bulgaria.

Wikipedia on Plovdiv

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Plovdiv center. Under this street used to be an entire Roman stadium!

You can see an ancient amphitheatre from Roman times, as well as other remains from Roman times (under the central street used to be a stadium, you can descend to the below level of the city and take a walk around).

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A model of the stadium found under the main street

There is also the Old town full of Bulgarian Renaissance houses.

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Bulgarian Renaissance houses in the Old town

All in all, in one short day you will be able to see three highlights not too far away from Sofia. You will be tired once you’re back in Sofia, but it will have been worth it 🙂

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Plovdiv kind of has a Mediterranean feel to it

Bonus tips: If you like, you could spend the night in Plovdiv and make it a two-day trip. On the second day you will be able to visit Krastova Gora (The forest of crosses) and Chudnite mostove (The Wonderful bridges). A friend visiting me from Germany said the Bridges were the absolute highlight of the trip. However, a bit more on them and Krastova gora, here and here 🙂

Beautiful Bulgaria

Starting this blog, I’m an almost 30-year-old Bulgarian who loves to travel and who is currently trying to make up for some years spent living abroad during which I missed out on getting to know my own amazingly beautiful country better. Doing my best to make up for it! While I know that the world is full of wonderful places (I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some of them), I can solemnly say that Bulgaria is one of the most fantastic countries you would ever visit.

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Pirin mountain
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Lavender fields near Karlovo. Photo credit: peika.bg
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Belogradchik rocks and fortress

With the information and pictures that will be posted in this humble blog, I will try to prove my words and hopefully inspire some travel enthusiasts to come and see for themselves🙂