Posted by: Alex MacGregor | April 17, 2010

Into the Mountains

We were having such a good time in Bulgaria that we wanted an excuse to stay longer, so we checked the internet to see if there were any interesting day trips to be had in the area. Within a few minutes, we learned that a monastery called Bachkovo was located in the mountains 35km south of Plovdiv. It seemed that tour groups made the trip to this place regularly, so it must be worth seeing.

Information in English on how to travel to the monastery independently was non-existent, so we scribbled a few relevant words in the Cyrillic alaphabet onto a slip of paper. We knew that Асеновград meant Asenovgrad, a city that was halfway to the monastery, and that Бачковски манастир meant Bachkovo Monastery. Armed with our slip of paper, we decided to set off the old fashioned way: asking around and hoping to find transport in the right direction.

The first step was to go to Plovdiv’s combined bus/train station to find a way to Asenovgrad.

Eventually we learned that trains were the best way to make the journey, and that they set off on the 20km route every hour. Of course, the first train left during the time it took us to figure this out, but we resolved to make it onto the second one. In the meantime, we were able to watch artifacts of a command economy hard at work, even in this era of capitalism.

From the look of some of the longer-distance  trains, we were prepared for the worst for our commuter train to small Asenovgrad. But Bulgaria surprised us once again when this flashy, modern train pulled up right on time and filled up with people.

Exactly half an hour later we were in Asenovgrad, negotiating a cab rate to Bachkovo with the help of our limited Bulgarian vocabulary and the little slip of paper. For about $15, we would be dropped of at Bachkovo and picked up a few hours later.

After a few minutes of wild driving, we were dropped off in the mountains.

The path up to the monastery is lined with cafes and people selling jam, honey, and an array of less-easy-to-identify goodies.

Further up the lane, we finally made it to the monastery.

The inside of the monastery features a beautiful church surrounded by living quarters. Unlike in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, we decided to respect the no photography signs in the entryway.

The monastery’s setting is incredible.

We noticed a gate with a pathway leading deeper into the orchards and, after seeing this sign next to it, figured we could head in and see what there was to be seen.

After a few minutes, and much to Caroline’s delight, we stumbled upon a great waterfall.

We also spotted this Bulgaria-style playground.

As we kept on going further and further, the scenery just got better and better. Before long, we were happily wandering around in scenic meadows, without another soul in sight.

Caroline was especially happy!

To prevent you from forgetting you’re in Eastern Europe, you stumble upon something stark and mysterious such as this every so often.

After a while longer walking through the mountains, we eventually discovered a tiny church.

We started stumbling upon more and more of these, all small and uninhabited. The fact that we had no idea this was in store for us made it all the more mysterious and enjoyable.

This church, little more than a shrine, was built into the side of a cliff.

When we set off in the morning, we had no idea we were headed to such a tranquil, beautiful place!

It was getting late in the day, so we made our way down from the mountain and back into town. We just missed the four o’clock train back to Plovdiv, so we spent some time in Asenovgrad.

The town turned out to be pretty nice, so we headed to a riverside cafe to kill some time before the train.

What had started out as an excuse to stay in Plovdiv for an extra night turned out to be one of the most unexpected delights of our entire trip!


  1. I love the cartwheel! Yall look like you’re having such a good time! I check for the posts everyday! Didn’t know you were both such great writers! Miss you both!

  2. […] for a gem in the mountains just outside of the capital where we could spend a day, like the Bachkovo Monastery near Plovdiv or the Princes’ Islands near Istanbul, but we couldn’t find anything quite […]

  3. The Bulgarian children must be so happy with such great playground equipment as a tiny ladder.

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