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If you’ve set aside a few days to visit Plovdiv but don’t want to spend them all within the limits of the second largest Bulgarian city, there is much to discover in the area. Take a bus or train or rent a car and venture out to explore wineries, rock phenomena, ancient Thracian tombs, the Rose Valley, mountains – and much more. Here are some of the best places to visit around Plovdiv.
The Rhodope Mountains are one of the favorite destinations for Bulgarians because of the seductive combination of wild, mostly evergreen woods, traditional villages, and the famous warmth and hospitality of the local people. Shiroka Laka is one of the most visited villages in the Rhodopes, and the moment you set foot in it, you will understand why. Here, you can walk among black-and-white traditional houses with flat stones instead of roof tiles on top, see colorful woolen textiles, hear songs and music from the National Folklore Arts School if you are lucky, and try local Rhodope delicacies that are alone worth the trip.
Yakata, or Rodopska Yaka (literally translated as the Rhodopes Collar), is a wine region at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains where you can visit three wineries – Villa Yustina, Kamenki, and Starata Izba Parvenetz – amble among the vineyards, taste local wines, and enjoy the scenery of the region with ever-changing hills and meadows. If you are a wine lover, you can spend a few days in the area delving into the joys of slow living, good food, and great wine.
Situated less than 20 miles (30 km) from Plovdiv, Bachkovo Monastery is the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria, with intricate murals and several small chapels in the forest above the monastery. The monastery’s busiest day is August 15 when a special Mass dedicated to its patron, the Holy Mother of God, is held.
Although you will have already seen traditional Revival houses in the Old Town of Plovdiv, a trip to the historical town of Koprivshtitsa will add to your perspective, especially if you are a history or architecture buff and enjoy delving deeper in these aspects of the country you’re visiting. Many of the historical houses in Koprivshtitsa have been turned into museums, and the town itself is one of the most important.
If you are visiting Plovdiv at the end of May or during the month of June, a day trip to the Valley of Roses is a must. This is the season when Kazanlak, the capital of the Rose Valley, smells like roses, and a festive atmosphere is everywhere. You can join the colorful Rose Festival, get your hands dirty at the rose-picking ritual every weekend, or visit the Rose Museum in the town. Kazanlak is also the heart of the so-called Valley of the Thracian Kings – an area around the town where dozens of ancient Thracian tombs have been discovered. Start at the History Museum Iskra in Kazanlak to get some background, and then rent a car to visit the tombs.
Take the bus to Haskovo for a day trip to a medium-sized Bulgarian city with very few tourists… and see the tallest statue of the Holy Mother of God with the infant Jesus in the world that towers over the town. The record has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. It is located within walking distance of the city center, and although you can’t climb the statue itself, you can take the stairs to the nearby belfry and see the statue and the city from above.
The Stone Wedding is one of the most impressive rock formations you can see in Bulgaria. It is located near the village of Zimzelen, around 60 mi (100 km) from Plovdiv. According to the legend, the group of rocks took its peculiar shape when a lad and a maiden decided to get married against the will of their parents. At the very moment they were about to say “I do” at the wedding, the mother of the groom put a curse on everyone present, turning them into stones. You will instantly recognize the figures of the groom and the bride standing among the other stone guests. While you are in the area, you can visit other nearby attractions such as the Kardzhali Reservoir, the Perperikon Archaeological Site, or the Stone Mushrooms near the village of Beli Plast.