Join this unique, week-long trail in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains of Bugaria and discover the amazingly rich cultural and natural heritage of these remote mountains. You'll ride through a variety of landscapes including ancient coniferous forests and the serene Chairi lakes. You'll also visit impressive preserved villages, and rugged limstone gorges. Rides start with a tour of the ancient city of Plovdiv, actually one of the world's oldest continually-inhabited cities before you meet the horses and head to the mountains.
Highlights of this trail are undoubtedly the visits to two of the Rhodope Mountain's preserved villages, Shiroka Laka and Gela, which are both masterpieces of Renaissance artistry and considered the most iconic destinations in the Rhodopes. The villages illustrate ancient rural life with beautiful architecture, cuisine and the spirit of the locals. The village of Gela is centrally located in the mountain range at an altitude of 1500m and with more than 3300 years of history is considered to be a cradle of European civilisation.
Bulgaria is a fantastic and underrated horse-riding destination, this trail showcases the best of the country with fit and sure-footed horses, knowledgable guides and a completely unique one-way itinerary taking you right up close to the Greek border. The Rhodope Mountains are one of the most biodiverse areas in Europe and are home to a range of fascinating flora and fauna - bears, wolves, wild cats, birds of prey and an incredible number of bat species inhabit the region so this is the ideal trip for nature and wildlife lovers able to ride at an intermediate level.
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Arrival and transfer from Sofia airport (aprox 90 minutes) to Plovdiv, considered to be the cultural capital of Bulgaria. This place has historical remains of civilization much older than the Romans. A city for more than 8000 years and a contemporary of ancient Troy. You will visit the old town of Plovdiv, including the Ethnographic Museum and the Antique Theatre which is one of the best preserved in the world. Dinner and overnight accommodation at a 4**** hotel in Plovdiv.
After your first traditional Rhodope breakfast, you will be transfered to the starting point of the trail, the Sredni Livadi Protected Area (approx. 40 mins transfer time). There you'll meet the horses and start the trail reaching the small village of Orehovo. You'll come across stunning views of the protected area of Sredni Livadi. The ride will also take you through an old Roman road and ancient chapels. You'll start following the longest eco-route in Bulgaria, ending near the Greek border. This route is also known as the trail of the Legions. Lunch in an old village along the way with traditional food from the region. Overnight accommodation in a family-operated guest house.
Riding hours - 4h30 min.
After another traditional Rhodope breakfast you'll head for the village of Zabyrdo. This is a small mountain village standing 1400 m. above sea level. It is famous for making the traditional Rhodope cheese. You will also visit the rock phenomenon known as the Wonderful Bridges. Overnight in a family-operated guest house.
Riding hours - 5h.
Today you'll be heading for one of the so called "Rhodope pearls",an Architectural and Folklore reserve. The village of Shiroka laka is a place where the cobblestones streets and peculiar bazaars take you back in time. Arriving on horseback is reminiscent of a cultural adventure back in the 19th century! You'll be able to visit places of interest in the village such as the Ethnographic Museum which is arranged as a typical house of a wealthy Rhodope family from the end of the 19th century and the Church of the Assumption which was built in 1834 in just 38 days by all the people of Shiroka laka. Accommodation for the night is in a family guest house.
Riding time - 6 hours
The journey continues to the heart of the Mursalitsa National Park. You'll also ride along the valley of bells and songs which will take you to the famous village of Trigrad. You will also pass through one of the most beautiful natural lakes in the Rhodopes. The Chairi Lakes were formed by the sliding of glaciers during the ice age. Finally you'll also cross the Drunken Forest, where the trees don't grow vertically but rather, in all directions and angles. Accommodation for the night is in an authentic revival age family operated hotel.
Riding time - 6 hours
After breakfast you'll visit one of the biggest and most beautiful caves in Bulgaria called the Devil's Throat. You will also see the stuning beauty of Trigrad's Gorge on the way to the cave. Afterwards you'll head back through the valley of the bells and songs towards the village of Gela, repeating the most beautiful riding day of this trail. Accommodation for the night is in a family guest house.
Riding time - 6h
The last riding day of the trail will reveal some unforgettable scenery from the ancient Rhodopes. You will ride upon the famous panoramic road to Mount Snezhanka. For 21 km you will enjoy the beauty of this road which takes you to almost 2000 m. above sea level at the foot of the Snezhanka Tower. The view from the top of the tower is a 360 degrees vista, revealing the beauty of all the Rhodope mountains and even parts of the Aegean sea. You will then be transferred to Plovidv by car (2 hours drive). Accommodation is at a 4*** hotel in Plovidv (same as Day 1).
Riding time - 4h
After breakfast, it's time to say goodbye and depart for Sofia airport (approx. 90 minutes).On the way back you will have some time to visit the Bachkovo Monastery, the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria.
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
Your hosts for this trail pride themselves on their horses, all of whom are good-natured, brave and very much loved. Riding here is with English saddles, primarily Wintec, and the quality of tack is excellent. Although this is not a large stables they ensure that spare horses are always available. There is a selection of breeds including Trakehner, Shagya Arabian and Eastern Bulgarian horses. Their heights vary between 1.50 and 1.65 metres. As your hosts at this destination are qualified veterinarians you can be completely confident that the welfare of the horses is considered a priority. English tack is used, all saddles and aditional equipent is made by Wintec.
The horses are responsive and willing with great fitness, allowing for plenty of trots and canters along the way as well as safe passage over rough mountain terrain. The Rhodope Mountains ('Rodopis') offer incredible views and miles of peaceful riding routes and have been known since ancient times, mentioned by the legendary poets Homer, Virgil and Ovid. With their clean and unspoiled nature and magical villages, the Rhodopes have kept the value of the Bulgarian spirit throughout the centuries.
A secure seat at a walk, trot and canter and some riding fitness is required for this ride. Riders need to be fit and capable of being comfortable with trots and canters in open countryside. There is a minimum age of 12 for children on this trail. Maximum weight limt is 90 kilos. We recommend bringing your own riding hat as although there are some available to borrow, there are limited sizes. Hats are not mandatory in Bulgaria. You are welcome to groom your horse if you like but saddling is not required as this will be done by your guide.
The weight limit for this ride is 198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Accommodation: In authentic rural Rhodopean hotels and gueshouses. Single rooms are available. Most nights the rooms are en-suite but please note that it's common in Bulgaria for the washing facilities to be 'wet room' in style, meaning that the room includes a toilet, sink and shower but the shower does not have a separate cubicle or curtain (there is a drain in the middle of the floor). All of the accommodations have WiFi.
Meals: the hotels and houses provide the breakfasts and dinners and they offer traditional local dishes. The food is mostly a mix of international and traditional Rhodopean cuisine. Bulgarian food almost always exceeds people expectations - hearty, filling and tasty without being too spiced. Breakfasts are typical Rhodope fare: coffee and tea with bulgarian white cheese, yogurt, jam, pancakes and bread. The midday meals are sometimes in local restaurants in small villages and other days are a picnic carried in your saddle bag (expect sandwiches, fruit and water). Canned and alcoholic drinks are not included. Beer and wine are commonly available and delicious, but red wine is sometimes served chilled. Meat and cheese are prevalent and bread is served with every meal, but vegetarians and other dietary requirements can be catered for with prior notice.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visas are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
Since Janury 2007 Bulgaria is a member of the EU, so no visas are required for EU citizens. Children need to have their own passports.
The British Embassy in Sofia can be found at: British Embassy, 9 Moskovska Street, Sofia, Telephone: (+359) (2) 933 9222 Web site: http://www.british-embassy.bg
The Bulgarian Embassy in the UK can be found at: 186–188 Queen's Gate, London SW7 5HL, Telephone: 020 7584 9400/9433 or 020 7589 3763 Consular SectionWeb site: http://www.bulgarianembassy.org.uk
Bulgaria's climate is a distinct case of Mediterranean-meets-eastern-Europe. Summers have a few more wet days than the start of the year and are pleasantly hot and sunny, mostly in the low 30°Cs (high 80°Fs) and slightly fresher at higher altitudes. Winters are your typical European affair, little sunshine and days averaging between -4°C and 6°C (25-42°F). The Black Sea moderates temperatures in the east of the country. Rainfall is highest in the mountains, and winter life throughout Bulgaria is sometimes disrupted by heavy snowfalls. The weather in the mountains is very changeable and even on the hottest day you should still come prepared with your rain gear! The difference in day and night temperatures is quite vast and you should bring a fleece even in the summer months.
Facilities in most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned compared to those in the UK. Standards of medical care are acceptable, although specialised equipment/treatment may not be available, and hospital staff may not speak English.
You are required to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance to cover the full period you will be in the country at the time of booking, we recommend including medivac to the UK if necessary. You should be aware, however, that most insurance companies will not authorise medivac to the UK as a matter of routine, or because local hospitals are not up to UK standards. You should check any exclusions and that your policy covers you for horseriding.
The Form E111 is no longer valid. You should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but entitles you to any medical treatment that becomes necessary on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. You will not be covered for medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. For more information about how to obtain the EHIC please see Europe and the EHIC.
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at: www.dh.gov.uk
You are advised to seek medical advice before you travel about inoculations for tick borne encephalitis
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz as in the UK so electrical appliances can be plugged in with appropriate adaptors. These are widely available for purchase, including at departure airports throughout the UK.
There will be electricity available on all nights to recharge cameras and batteries. If you need film or specialist batteries we suggest you take them with you. There is mobile phone reception on most days and all evening accommodation has Wifi.
Come prepared for heat as well as cold. Mountain climates can be very changeable, layers are essential. All riding gear including riding hat, gloves (also warm), riding trousers, jacket, boots that are also suitable to walk in.
Warm and rain/windproof gear,
Mosquito repellant (this is not a problem, but to help provide protection against flies),
This is an 8 day/7 night programme with 6 days riding available on set dates.
2021: 5 Jun; 3, 31 Jul; 14, 28 Aug; 11 Sep
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Fishing, hiking, mountaineering, observation, photography.
The Rhodope Mountains are located at one of Europe’s ecological crossroads, between Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean. The wildlife here varies from forest dwellers such as brown bear to the souslik (ground squirrel), which is a steppe animal. This is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with about 300 species recorded. The real highlight is birds of prey, with more than 30 species, including vultures. In our area vultures are part of a natural system that includes wild herbivores, predators and scavengers. This type of complete food chain – with fallow deer, wolf and three vulture species feeding on wolf kills – is unique in Europe. The Rhodopes are rich with more than 2,000 flora species growing here, more than 90 of them endemic Balkan plants. The green masses of coniferous species - spruce, pine spruce, black spruce and others, grow mostly in the Western Rhodopes.
Your hosts for this trail are owners of a family-run riding center, founded in 2008, and one of the most popular riding stables in Bulgaria, accredited to both the Bulgarian Federation of Equestrian Sports and the Bulgarian Equestrian Tourism Association. Now run by the founder's son, Bogdan Syarov (a qualified vet), the stables offers adventurous mountain trails on fit, forward-going horses. The equestrian centre was started so that the Syarovs, a keen show-jumping family, could share their love of horses and their passion for this beautiful region.
Bulgaria has changed swiftly over the last decade, though in the villages you can still find folk who ride the donkey to work, eat homegrown potatoes and make their own cheese. The difference now is that they wash it all down in front of a satellite TV.
When Bulgaria ran away with the topsy-turvy capitalist circus, no-one told its people they were swinging without a safety net. But what the visitor encounters now is a country struggling valiantly to adapt and people who remain remarkably hospitable in the face of social and economic chaos. Urban Bulgaria, especially Sofia, is much changed, so visit now.
Time Zone is GMT/UTC +2. Daylight saving is in place and starts last Sunday in March, ending on the last Sunday in October. Weights and measures are metric so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and stone. One mile is about 1.6km and one stone about 6.8kg