by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Land of caves, gorges and plenty adrenaline rush

gorge bulgaria mystic

Bulgaria's most stunning caves and gorges, along with thick forests and sites to discover and explore: the Western Rhodope is one of the best places in Bulgaria for a summer escape for both dedicated hikers and chance travellers.

In the Western Rhodope, the picturesque is often just a step away from the sublime and you will often have the feeling that you have ventured into the realm of some powerful and not always benevolent spirits. The landscape was created in the aeons when some of the Earth's oldest rocks were being formed, long before the emergence of complex organisms, between 2.5 billion and 540 million years ago. With time, these morphed and shifted shape under the immense pressure of tectonic movements, volcanic explosions, the advance and regress of prehistoric seas, and, finally, the subtle but never ending power of rain, sun, wind and rivers carving the ancient marbles into the geological phenomena that we see today.

Yagodina Gorge

Yagodina Gorge

Trigrad and Yagodina, two villages by the border with Greece, are where the most impressive Western Rhodope geological formations are located. The winding roads in the area take you to white water gushing between steep rocks and gigantic ferns and burdock. Twisted trees and lush geraniums hang from crevices. The gorges are so narrow that direct sunlight is a rarity. It looks like another world, the real-life version of a very grim Grimm tale.

mountain gorge

The menacing beauty of the area has probably impressed humans since they settled there, supposedly around the 4th millennium BC. Making up legends and myths to explain the wild nature comes naturally and continues to this day, to attract more tourists. The best known is the tale that Orpheus descended into hell through the aptly named Devil's Throat cave.

Devil's Throat opening

The entrance of Devil’s Throat Cave...

The name of the Devil's Throat is also recent, inspired by the supposed resemblance of the cave's opening to Satan's mouth. Its original name, Klokotnitsa, was onomatopoetic, reflecting the rumble of the Trigradska river that flows into the cave and then falls into its abyss.

Devil’s Throat Cave waterfall

... and its underground waterfall

The Devil's Throat is not a cave that you visit if you are after stalactites and stalagmites. You go there to experience the feeling of being deep under the earth's surface, where the 42-metre underground waterfall booms in a huge cavern and fills it with thunder and thrill. When it hits hard ground, Trigradska river disappears into another hole, to resurface miles away. According to another local myth, everything that has fallen in its waters is doomed to disappear forever in its mysterious, infernal labyrinth – from animals and humans to whole timber logs. A humble plaque by the cave entrance, dedicated to two spelunkers who drowned there, shows that this myth is not without justification.

Devil’s Throat Cave

The Devil's Throat Cave

Visiting the Devil's Throat is not for the faint hearted. You enter the cave through an artificial opening, but your only way out is via a narrow metal staircase that climbs besides the waterfall.

If the Devil's Throat is thrilling, Haramiyska Cave is in a league of its own. Located on the opposite bank of the gorge, it is accessible only with caving and climbing equipment and with special guides. To reach the entrance, you have to climb a 20-metre rock wall, and once inside, you need to sneak through some narrow cave tunnels. Then you descend into the dark abyss of a 43-metre high cave hall illuminated solely by an opening far, far above. Prehistoric people were aware of the cave, and used to camp by its entrance.

Yagodinska Cave

The Yagodinska Cave

Located in the gorge of Buinovska River, the Yagodinska Cave is much tamer. It is all you need if you crave stalagmites and stalactites, and is advertised as Bulgaria's most beautiful cave. It is 10 kms long and spreads over three levels, but visitors are taken on a guided tour that covers only 1,100 metres on the lowest level. The path leads you by stalagmites big and small, rock curtains and cave pearls. Here and there the rock is covered in spots that spelunkers have dubbed leopard skin. The most spectacular rocks have their own, rather imaginative, names like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, Father Christmas and so on and so forth. The cave is also a place for some eccentric traditions, like celebrating New Year inside (the spelunkers leave the festive tree for the whole year in the cave) and getting married.

With its caves and narrow gorges, this part of the Western Rhodope is all about staying underground and far from the direct sunlight. But there are places where you can get a higher vantage point.

The Eagle's Eye viewing platform, near Yagodina, requires litle effort and some money – to visit it, you have to rent a 4WD and a guide from the village. They will take you to the cliff edge from whence you can watch the vista of the Rhodope plus parts of the Pirin and the Rila. 


    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Squirrels and small children frequent unkempt alleys under towering oak and beech trees; а romantic wooden gazebo is often decorated with balloons forgotten after some openair birthday party; melancholic weeping willows hang over an empty artif

In 1965, Dimitar Kovachev, a biology teacher from the town of Asenovgrad, was on a field trip to Ezerovo village.

How often do you hum, while driving or doing chores, Uriah Heep's song July Morning? Is it on your Spotify?

Bulgaria has its fair share of intriguing caves, from the Devil's Throat underground waterfall to Prohodna's eyes-like openings and the Magura's prehistoric rock art.

Owing to its geological history, the Rhodope mountain range – in contrast to the nearby Rila and Pirin – lacks any impressive Alpine-style lakes. However, where nature erred, man stepped in.

"We are fascists, we burn Arabs": the youngsters start chanting as soon as they emerge from the metro station and leave the perimeter of its security cameras.

The names of foreigners, mainly Russians, are common across the map of Sofia – from Alexandr Dondukov and Count Ignatieff to Alexey Tolstoy (a Communist-era Soviet writer not to be confused with Leo Tolstoy) who has a whole housing estate named after him.

Picturesque old houses lining a narrow river and tiny shops selling hand-made sweets, knives and fabrics: The Etara open air museum recreates a charming, idealised version of mid-19th century Bulgaria.

Christ was an alien. Or if He was not, then four centuries ago there were UFOs hovering over what is now southwestern Bulgaria.

Unlike other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which removed, stashed away or demolished most remnants of their Communist past as early as the 1990s, Bulgaria is a curiosity.

Agroup of friends meet each summer at the seaside, a small community who know one another so well that boredom becomes inevitable, and so do internal conflicts. And death.

Descendants of millennia-old rites, the scary kukeri, or mummers, are the best known face of Bulgarian carnival tradition. Gabrovo's carnival is its modern face: fun, critical, and colourful.