5. From Plovdiv: Bachkovo Monastery & Asen’s Fortress Tour
Drive to the dramatic Rhodope Mountains for this half-day tour from Plovdiv, passing the pretty town of Asenovgrad to see the remarkable fortress remains of King Ivan Asen, a wise ruler of the 2nd Bulgarian Kingdom.
Visit the 13th-century Church of the Holy Mother of God to admire the historic iconography and stone inscriptions. Enjoy panoramic views of the mountain scenery, and learn why the fortress gained importance in the Middle Ages, and how it was conquered by the armies of the Third Crusade.
Next, head to picturesque Bachkovo Monastery deeper in the mountains. Founded in 1083, and one of the most sacred places in Bulgarian history, the monastery’s main church contains a valuable icon of the Virgin Mary from 1310 that, according to legend, can work miracles. Admire the 12th-century Church of the Archangels and its 19th-century paintings.
The refectory, with beautifully preserved murals from 1643, is another jewel. Together with the Doomsday fresco, marvel at images of sainted monks and ancient philosophers, such as Socrates, Aristotle, and Diogenes. Admire the stunning mural on the outside wall of the refectory, representing a bird’s eye view of the surrounding buildings.
The monastery tour ends at the Church of Saint Nikola, built between 1834 and 1837, but nature lovers can continue with a short walk in the “Red Wall” nature reserve, hiking to a beautiful waterfall, located some 15 min. away from the cloister.