The next beautiful place I want to tell you about is the region of the Rhodope Mountains near the town of Smolyan.
We start on a route prepared in advance which includes the Kaleto fortress near the village of Koshnitsa, “Dyadova Ryaka” guest house and the spring of Arda River – and all these in just one day.
We started early in the morning to give us enough time for all the stops on the route. If your starting point is Smolyan, you need to set out on the road to Smilyan via the village of Chokmanovo. About 10-12 km after Smilyan on the road to the village of Koshnitsa, you will see the road to the Kaleto fortress indicated on the notified by information board and an improvised parking place. We arrived at the parking place, picked up our rucksacks and cameras, and headed up along the path. The road passes over a beautiful bridge over the Arda River. Then the path winds on the hill slope constructed of steps supported by wooden logs. It was September and the temperatures were high, but the heat wasn’t noticeable because of the thick and solid shadows cast by the majestic thick crowns of the trees. After walking up the hill for about 30 minutes, we were quite warm, but we reached the imposing Prohodna Cave, on which the Kaleto fortress itself is situated.
All along the track, there were workers working hard maintaining the guard rails and making the path safe, levelling the terrain and so on. As I have mentioned the fortress is situated above the Prohodna Cave – a natural sight which was once also used to be an entrance to the fortress.
In the cave itself there are several wooden benches with tables which serve the tourists as a place to rest and quench their thirst or satisfy their hunger. Sitting there one can enjoy the splendid view and the incredible panorama of the village of Koshnitsa and the surrounding high peaks. After a rest and a breath of air we started off again and after about 50 metres above the cave we reached the fortress or what is left of it. While we were exploring the site the people working there told us a little bit about the place. The late classical and medieval fortress is situated at 1006 metres and it had serious strategic positions in the classical era. It had military functions connected with the security of the Smolyan fortress, situated not far from here. It also controlled the main roads to the Aegean Sea through the Rhodopes. The name of the fortress was not registered in any written sources and in 1955 it was declared an archaeological fixed cultural site of national importance.
The walls are constructed in the so-called “two faced construction”, these are Cyclopean blocks bound with mortar. An external battlement was discovered, proving the military defence tasks of Kaleto. From the stories we heard and the information boards we discovered that the repairs and reconstruction was implemented via a project implemented by the Smolyan Municipality in partnership with Samotraki Municipality – Greece. The project was financed under the „European Territorial Cooperation Greece – Bulgaria 2007–2013” program. You can learn more about the project HERE. After wandering around and taking pictures we climbed up to the panoramic grounds. Then recharged with positive energy by the beautiful views we set off for the road back downwards.
Then we set for the village of Koshnitsa – a village of fabulous beauty, situated in a hollow. Its name originates from the fact that the houses are perched on the bottom of a hollow giving it the form of a big basket. We stopped in the centre of the village, bought some things to eat in the mixed shop and café in the village centre and we set off down the road again. We continued through the villages Mogiltsi, Smilyan and Chokmanovo, following the Arda River. The village of Mogiltsi is famous for its Agushevi konatsi, situated near the road, right in the centre of the village. They definitely deserve to be seen from outside, but because they are private property access inside is forbidden.
I found the history of the Agushevi konatsi, the biggest late medieval feudal castle on the Balkan peninsula, very interesting. This local castle was built at the orders of the rich Turkish feudal Salih aga and his three sons by three builders over 20 years – from 1820 to 1840. The castle has 221 windows, 86 doors and 24 chimneys. In fact the konaks consist of three successively connected dwelling and service houses with a yard, each isolated from the others by internal walls. In each yard there was a well, the home of the master, the servants, premises for the temporary farm workers, a cattle shed, barn, hayloft and other farm premises.
We continued towards the village of Arda, which is famous as the birthplace of Valya Balkanska. Our plans were to drop in and dine at the “Dyadova Ryaka” ecohouse and to continue towards the springs of the Arda River.
In the Dyadova Ryaka ecohouse we were met by Niki – the man who created this magnificent place using only stone and wood materials. The house is supplied with electricity from solar panels and with water from a spring. It is situated near a pine wood where a babbling brooks flows nearby. In addition to the cosy rooms for about ten guests, there is also an external fire for cooking cheverme, a barn, hammocks, benches, fishery and other. The use of natural materials makes the place enchanting and all the buildings merge with the spirit of surrounding natural environment.
We ate the most delicious fish, meat, potatoes and other delicious food. We swung in the swing and then feeling relaxed and cheerful, we set off for the springs along a well-marked path, leading to a summer house, fountain and toilet. After walking for about one hour, we reached the spring of the Arda River. It is a beautiful place which makes you want to sit down and eat something. There was a big wooden table with benches on either side, a place to make a fire and, of course, the spring of the Arda River. We looked around, took pictures, drank cold spring water and we set off for the road back. On the way back we stopped in the village of Smilyanto to buy the famous smilyanski beans and visit another local site – “Rodopa Milk” Diary. We tasted amazing Bulgarian, Swiss and Dutch cheese and bought some to take home. The shop offers a wonderful range of cow toys in different sizes, as well as herbs, spices and sweets.
On the way back to Smolyan, I was thinking about the people I had met and all the things I managed to see and learn in a one single wonderful and unforgettable day. The Rhodope Mountains are an extremely beautiful and energising place where one should return again and again to enjoy all the surrounding beauty. I recommend this place also to you, because the people, the air, the water and the delicious food are real and very, very nice.