An important bastion of Bulgarian heritage, Asen’s Fortress was built by the Byzantines some 900 years ago. Over the centuries it has been controlled by the Romans, Crusaders and Ottomans, each occupier adding to and expanding the site, leaving behind a much treasured archaeological record.
Typically, the fortress was designed to be impenetrable. Located strategically on the peak of a mountain, natural defences include steep drops on three sides. This, coupled with clear views over the surrounding area, ensured it remained a secure military stronghold until the Ottomans left it to decay after their 14th-century conquest.
Today, the lofty Medieval landmark lies mostly in ruins and there’s nothing stopping visitors from entering its once impregnable walls other than a small fee of four Bulgarian leva (£1.75), so come prepared with cash.
To get to its summit you need to take a two-kilometre (one-mile) uphill walk through stunning woodland. It’s a manageable ramble for all ages and abilities, but comfortable shoes are essential.
At the top, you’ll find the largest remaining structure of the former fort – a striking rectangular tower that housed a chapel on its upper level and still functions as a Bulgarian Orthodox church today. Inside, haunting fragments of Medieval frescos remain, nodding to the fort’s former glory.
After taking in the chapel, continue climbing up into the ruined fort and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding karst mountains and spectacular elevated views of the chapel building. The town of Asenovgrad is visible in the distance too, so if ruins and relics aren’t your thing, come simply for the scenery.
The Rhodope Mountains themselves are a big draw for many visitors to the area. Steeped in mythology and dotted with beautiful villages, bridges, monasteries and waterfalls, this Bulgarian mountain range (which also stretches into Greece) makes an ideal picnic and hiking spot.