20 reasons to visit Zlatograd, Bulgaria

Zlatograd is a picturesque and very lively Rhodope town, close to the border between Bulgaria and Greece. In recent times, it has become popular with its authentic Renaissance houses and the Ethnographic Area Complex. Quite a curious fact about Zlatograd is that it is the birthplace of the voivode Delyu Haydutin. He was a prominent Bulgarian fighter against the Ottoman slavery. The famous Bulgarian folk song that flew into space “Izlel e Delyu haidutin” originates from the Zlatograd’s region. It was sung by Valya Balkanska.

Zlatograd: Ethnographic complex
Zlatograd: Ethnographic complex

We have been to Zlatograd several times and we have always liked it. The town is not only very pleasant for a walk, but has its own look and cozy atmosphere. This article is devoted to the top sights in Zlatograd and nearby.

Contents

Brief information about Zlatograd
Where is Zlatograd and how to get there
Top sights in Zlatograd
What to visit around Zlatograd
Where to eat
Where to stay
Final thoughts

Brief information about Zlatograd

Zlatograd is the birthplace of the famous Delyu voivode. He was born in the first half of the 18th century. The old name of the settlement was Belovidovo (it is roughly translated as a place with white views) because of its dazzling white houses with whitewashed facades. During the Ottoman slavery the town was called Daru-Dere. After the Liberation, the city got its current name.

Two rivers flow through Zlatograd – Varbitsa and Golyama reka (Big river). The town evolved along them.

Zlatograd Old town
Zlatograd Old town

Where is Zlatograd and how to get there

Zlatograd is the southernmost city in Bulgaria. It is located 336 km southeast of Sofia and 56 km from its regional center Smolyan. You can get to Zlatograd eighter by car or by bus. There are regular bus lines to Zlatograd from Sofia, Plovdiv, and Kardzhali. Check the timetable here. It is in Bulgarian, but you can use online translation service.

You can drive to Zlatograd both through Smolyan and through Kardzhali. Keep in mind that the road between Smolyan and Zlatograd has a lot of turns.

The Zlatograd – Xanthi border crossing is very close to the town.

Top sights in Zlatograd

Some of the main attractions in Zlatograd are located in the Architectural Reserve in the northern part of the town. A lot of houses there were registered as cultural monuments by the Bulgarian National Institute for Cultural Monuments.

Ethnographic complex

The complex is part of the Architectural Reserve and consists of several houses in the old local architectural style. There you can walk along old cobblestones and admire the neat white revival houses. One of them is set up as an ethnographic museum, a few more are craft workshops, and others house a cafe and taverns.

Zlatograd: Ethnographic complex
Zlatograd: Ethnographic complex

As many times as we have been to Zlatograd, we have always saved a special time to walk in the complex and we have always enjoyed it. On our first visit to Zlatograd years ago, we drank coffee on the sand, and on the second – we had a delicious meal in one of the restaurants. The third walk happened at the end of winter, out of the tourist season, and it was still interesting to go around the familiar places, although some of the workshops and taverns were not open.

Museum of (old manner) Communications

Consider this as Posts museum. The exposition is housed in one of the houses of the Ethnographic Complex. According to the information board, this is the only museum of its kind in Bulgaria.

Church “Saint George the Victorious”

Built in 1871, part of the current Architectural Reserve.

Church of St. George the Victorious in Zlatograd
Church of St. George the Victorious in Zlatograd

Mutual School

The building of the former mutual school in Zlatograd has today been turned into a museum dedicated to educational activities in the Middle Rhodopes. The museum is located right next to the Church of St. George. In the museum you can see an interesting classroom, an old geographical map, long index cards, books, textbooks, diaries, authentic rules for students and teachers, the room of the teacher, who, as can be seen from the written rules, in addition to teaching the children had the obligation to clean and heat the classroom.

The Mutual school, Zlatograd
The Mutual school, Zlatograd

Deleu voivode Museum

Another museum in the old part of the town is dedicated to the famous fighter and defender Deleu voivode. The museum presents the haidouk movement and moments from the life of Delyu haidutin, who “neither a bullet caught him nor a sword cut him”, his exploits and his doomed love with the beautiful woman Gulsyume.

Deleu voivode Museum
Deleu voivode Museum

Covered bridge

Near the Ethnographic Complex, you can walk along an interesting covered bridge, where you will see information boards illustrating the history of Zlatograd and the region.

The Covered bridge, Zlatograd
The Covered bridge, Zlatograd

Monument to Delyu voivode

It is located in the central town square.

Deathplace of Delyu Haidutin

At the place where the famous hero was killed, a small monument was built in his memory. The monument is located on the riverside street, which connects the Ethnographic Complex with the main square.

Deathplace of Delyu Haidutin

Assumption Church

It is located in the new part of the city, not far from the central square. The church dates back to 1834 and according to a legend was built in 40 days. According to the information board, this is the oldest church in the Middle Rhodopes.

What to visit around Zlatograd

Meander of the river Varbitsa

If you are coming from Kardzhali and Momchilgrad, you will pass by a large bend in the river Varbitsa. It is one of the largest tributaries of Arda river. The meander is located about 17 kilometers south of Momchilgrad by the road to the Makaza border crossing.

Meander of the river Varbitsa
Meander of the river Varbitsa

Please, note that this road is always busy and there are no convenient places to stop in this particular section, so be very careful! It is more convenient to see the meander, if you are traveling in the direction of Momchilgrad. To have a look at the meander, we stopped at an extension to the right of the road in the direction of Momchilgrad.

Coordinates: 41.4397534, 25.3517853.

Rock phenomena near Zlatograd

Along the river Varbitsa near Zlatograd you can see several curious rock phenomena. The most distant of them from the town is The Turtle rock-cult complex. Many of the rock sanctuaries are located by the road in the area of the villages of Dedets and Benkovski. Another rock formation is located near the village of Kayaloba.

The rock formations are part of a large prehistoric cult complex known as the Stone City. In recent years, this complex has been named “The Valley of the Rock People”. Who are the rock people? This is a civilization whose beginning is considered to be the 5th millennium BC, and the greatest boom in the 2nd-1st millennium BC, the era of the Thracians. The center of this culture is believed to be the ancient Thracian city Perperikon. Its characteristic feature is the veneration of the majestic stones, perceived as sanctuaries.

In the lines below, I introduce you to several rock phenomena, listing them from east to west. Thus, if you are traveling from Kardzhali to Zlatograd, you can visit them in this order.

Rock-cult complex The Turtle

It consists of several rocks, different in shape, size and dimensions. There are strange grooves and gouges in some of them. The most interesting among them is the one that is located near the road. The cuts that can be seen on its surface resemble the shell of turtles.

From the place there is a view of the river Varbitsa.

The rock cult complex is located next to the village of Fotinovo. It is marked on the Google map and can be reached by car.

Coordinates: 41.3680887003844, 25.33723558755459.

Rock-cult complex The Turtle
Rock-cult complex The Turtle

Cave The Womb, the Walrus, and the Frog

At the east entrance to the village of Benkovski, several rock massifs can be seen to the right of the road. A womb-shaped cave has been carved into one of them. It is a Thracian womb-temple dedicated to the Great Mother Goddess. The entrance of the cave has an east-southeast orientation and thus, when the sun rises, its rays penetrate the cave and symbolically fertilize the earth’s bowels. Various pits and troughs can be seen on the rock.

The Womb cave near Zlatograd
The Womb cave near Zlatograd

Several more rocks are located nearby. One of them resembles a frog, and another – a walrus. Trapezoidal niches are cut into the walrus rock. Such are observed in many rock sanctuaries in Bulgaria. There are various hypotheses about their function. Some associate them with the funeral traditions of the Thracians, others believe that the Thracians used the niches to leave gifts to the gods.

On the road, right next to The Womb cave and Walrus, there is a large parking space.

Rock phenomenon The Elephant

Rock formation The Elephant is the next rock phenomenon that I want to pay attention to, because the resemblance to an elephant is quite accurate. It is located next to the village of Kayaloba on the other bank of the Varbitsa river. To get to it, after leaving the village of Benkovki, you need to turn left on the road. It soon crosses the river on a bridge. Then you pass through two villages and at the end of the second village, The Elephant can be found on the right side of the road.

Coordinates of the parking lot and the start of the short route to The Elephant: 41.362683, 25.195636.

Just stop the car next to the road, there is a brown sign, and start up the cliff. In a few minutes you will be at the phenomenon.

The Elephant
The Elephant

The Mushroom rock phenomenon

To see the other two rock phenomena – the Mushroom and the Crocodile – you need to return to the main road to Zlatograd. Both are located near the roadway to the right of it. First you will see the Mushroom, and half a kilometer after it, the Crocodile. There is a convenient place to park near both sights.

Coordinates of the Mushroom: 41.3829321, 25.229031.

The Mushroom
The Mushroom

Rock phenomenon The Crocodile

Crocodile coordinates: 41.380417, 25.223480.

The Crocodile
The Crocodile

If you have more time and are interested in the culture of the ancient Thracians, I advise you to also visit the Tatul sanctuary, dedicated to Orpheus. It’s close to Momchilgrad and takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to drive there from Zlatograd. You can find out more about Tatul by clicking here.

Ustra Fortress

The Ustra fortress is perched on a high rocky peak, from which incredibly beautiful panoramic views can be seen in all directions. The remains of the fort are solid and clearly show that it was a typical fortification. The fortress is located next to the village of Ustren, 21.7 km northeast of Zlatograd.

The fortress can be reached on foot along a path for about 1 hour. The trail starts from the outskirts of the village of Ustren.

Coordinates of:

  • the beginning of the trail: 41.462696, 25.233988;
  • fortress Ustra: 41.471533085541274, 25.22318335213683.
Ustra fortress
Ustra fortress

Finally, I will pay attention to 2 waterfalls that you can walk to if you are staying in Zlatograd. What they have in common is that they are located in the vicinity of the village of Zheladovo. The village is located 21 kilometers northeast of Zlatograd. Another characteristic they have in common is that they are active during periods of high water.

The villages of Ustren and Zheladovo are located only 3 kilometers from each other. Therefore, the walk to the waterfalls can be well combined with a visit to the Ustra fortress.

Marf waterfall

Marf Waterfall is located in the southeastern vicinity of the village of Zheladovo. It is about 5 meters high. It can be reached on foot in about an hour.

Coordinates of:

  • the beginning of the trail: 41.440341593697667, 25.230777617543936 ;
  • Marf waterfall: 41.437161331996322, 25.247036162763834 .
Marf waterfall
Marf waterfall

The Hole waterfall

The Hole waterfall is located in the southwestern vicinity of the village of Zheladovo, not far from Shipok hamlet. The interesting thing about it is that the water pours through a hole in a rock. Bear in mind that descending to its foot is a challenge.

Coordinates of:

  • the beginning of the trail: 41.4399194, 25.2166009;
  • the Hole waterfall: 41.4381416, 25.2132850.
The Hole waterfall
The Hole waterfall
Photo credit: Alexander Ivanov

Where to eat in Zlatograd

Based on personal impressions, I’d recommend Chevermeto Tavern. It is located next to the mosque, west of the central part of the city, in the direction of the border crossing. The food there was absolutely delicious. Although the place was very full, our orders were prepared quite quickly. We had dinner at the restaurant on a Saturday in February. There was live music. We listened to an amazing performance of “Izlel e Delyu Haidutin” and several other Rhodope songs. After all, I can say that the restaurant experience made our evening.

Where to stay

Accommodation options in Zlatograd are varied. Most hotels and guest houses are located in or near the Old town. Select your location from the list of current offers below.

Booking.com

Final thoughts

There are places that no matter how many times you go, you will always be interested. Zlatograd and the surrounding area is undoubtedly one of them. Although I have been there several times, one day I will go again.

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