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Bulgarian hospitality are known worldwide. In each village people will welcome you with bread and salt
Gorna Arda, Bulgaria: the Pearl Beyond the Border Wire Enclosure


The Rhodope Mountains are the most mystic mountains in Bulgaria. It has spread in the southern part of the country preserving its gorgeous nature and cultural heritage. With its beautiful sceneries and fresh air, century-old beech trees and diverse fauna the mountain gives harmony in the soul of local people and every visitor.

The rhodope villages sparse alongside the upper stream of the river of Arda are famous not only with their hospitality but also with their cultural and historical inheritance.

There you can still see authentic crafts, fleecy rugs with rainbow colors, milk container made of Greek juniper, stripe costumes and anything else that man can make with his own hands. Here you can find remains of roman trade roads, fallen into oblivion, many damp caves filled with freshness and fortresses covered with moss and ivy crawling upon it

In order to see all this we headed for Gorna Arda, the last village before the Greek border. We passed through the villages of Koshnitsa and Mogilitsa until the road became so narrow that two cars were impossible to pass each other. The village itself is beyond the border wire enclosure and in the past it was an unapproachable place so near to the border.

Siting Gorna Arda

After one kilometer Gorna Arda came into sight. Our guide was awaiting us at the square in front of the village hall who led us through known and unknown routes to the place where the river of Arda takes its source from. We shall pass the very border area, we shall cast a glance on Greece and we will be back in our home country again.

In Gorna Arda you can still see how the locals churn their butter on hand
The village consists of three neighborhoods with total 150 inhabitants. Bilyantsi is the highest situated of the three ones and it is located at 1100 m altitude at the foot of Ardin Mount that is 1650 m high. The name of the neighborhood comes from the Christian name Bilyan and Bilyantsi means Bilyan’s heirs. The hamlet has just 20 inhabitants who are extremely nice people occupied mainly with work in Greece and agriculture.

The source of the river is one hour walk from here. Our guide led us on the short way climbing steep slope to the forest path that would take us to our final goal. The meadow where we came to was shining in colorful embroidery of flowers such as yellow buttercups, veil of Canterbury bells and light-purple violets. In front of us there were lush meadows covered with polygala and campanula, and behind the houses of the village were nestling among trees and small forests.

The peaks were rising high one after another as far as you can see vanishing into the golden haze of open space. The slopes were covered with pine trees, snow was still glittering somewhere in the lowlands and the rough and high sea of peaks continued far in Greece.

The Source of the River

Shortly after, the path was lost in woods. We felt the cool and fresh air from the coniferous trees before we get into the light again and a sign “Source of the river of Arda” to encourage us. 

“Only 200 m to the Grandfather’s river” can make you hurry up because after a quarter of a kilometer you stop at one of the barbecues equipped with all the necessary stuffs, namely wooden buildings, chairs, tables, furnace and so on. The housekeepers can also prepare barbecue on your request. What you have to do is just one call one day in advance and tell when exactly you will arrive.

The path was meandering in front of us and did not leave us to rest even for a while. Though along way there were plenty of alcoves, bridges without rails that seemed like those in the jungle and on the right an old abandoned cherry picker, which was getting closer and closer after each turn. Suddenly, instead in front of it, we found ourselves at the source of the river of Arda.

First we heard the rustling of the fast river. We passed through a meadow grown with crocuses and we found ourselves at the ice waters of the river that comes out from beneath the roots of a centuries-old beech tree at the foot of Ardin Mount. There was also a camp here with fireplace and a grill with chairs and tablets made of stumps and the water was clear and you can fill your bottle with limpid elixir.


The mummers dance to scare the evil spirits and to ensure the fertility of the land and for good harvest
Bulgarian folklore, Greek Border

On the hill opposite there was “the grave” of Nastradin Hodja’s donkey that died of laughter making fun with Hitar Petar (famous characters in Bulgarian folk tales, “hitar” in Bulgarian means “tricky” or “cunning”)  and Nastradin is Hitar Petar’s Muslim equivalent sharing The path to the source of Arda river.

A Lovers Playground

However, before this happens there is a very nice surprise – the second barbecue that has started working in the area and you can rest for a while with a glass of cranberry juice in hand and potatoes baked on a stone plate grown up in the ecological region of Rhodope Mountains, lounging in a hammock after the hard walking lasting almost three hours. If you like healthy food you can have hominy or grilled fish, but “Geranitsa” offers also lamb meat, as well as sheep yoghurt with honey for a dessert.

 

 

The path to the source of Arda river
A stairway climbing up to the crown of a 600-year beech tree will take you to the Lovers` Playground, which is a simple wood platform where you can seclude from civilization and other visitors of the complex. The place is half a kilometer far from the village if you passed it on a cart-way, in the nice company of the river, which always tells some stories. And what are you going to tell about your visit at Gorna Arda? It is up to you!

The bed of the river of Arda area or the upper stream of it, recently successfully turns into a walking, caving, horse-riding, hunting and fishing tourism site. The tourist center in the village of Mogilitsa will give you information about all advantages that the region offers, which starts to attract more and more visitors now.

Further information: The tourist center is in Mogilitsa village, 15 km from the village of Gorna Arda. The center will give you information about all activities that the region offers - the accommodation in categorized guest-houses, visits in craftsmen workshops and demonstration of local crafts, etc. Tel. +359/03036/315, GSM - +359/889 878202, +359/885 285 083, email: ardam@abv.bg; mogilitza@abv.bg

Top sites near Gorna Arda

Uhlovitsa Cave, a cave, going down deep into the earth, but adapted for visits, famous in Bulgaria for their stalactite and stalagmite formations of striking beauty; Agushevi konatsi in Mogilitsa village - a summer residence of a rich Turkish feudal from 19th century; the Museum of Beans and the "Milk House" in Smilyan village, Waterfall`s Canyon near Kiselchovo village, etc.

Where to Stay

The Jolly House - $15 per person per night. They also will offer support if you need help with the transport to the house. Website: http://www.veselatakashta.com; Tel: +359 888 579 489; email: vaskovass@gmail.com

Guest-complex Geranitsa /20 rooms for $10 each/. Website: http://geranica.hit.bg; Tel: +359/889 44 53 31, +359/878 74 53 31.

Guest-house Reseleshki. Website: ; Tel: +359/887 307026; email: info@reseleshki.com. Prices - $10-15 per room. In the yard of the house there is a barbecue for cheverme.


Where to Eat

 

Young girl squashing grapes with bare feet
In the villages of the Rhodope Mountains you can try traditional Bulgarian/Rhodope cuisine prepared by eco-products, as elsewhere in the region there is no pollution - as hominy - made of corn flour, butter and walnuts or ham; the famous patatnik - made from potatoes and cheese and then added various ingredients; fried nettle with eggs, and, of course, the pride of the Rhodopes - a whole roasted lamb. Here there are no restaurants, as we know them, most often the hosts of the guest-houses where you stay, will cook for you, which allows a direct contact with the locals.

Meals usually cost from $5 to $25, cheverme - $150.



Radoslav Raikov has written for many Bulgarian travel magazines as well as for the Penthouse/Bulgaria , Bootsnall and Travel Bulgaria websites and is the author of three novels. He lives in Sofia, Bulgaria.


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