For the past few years our friends and partners from Nature Madzharovo Ltd., an outdoor tours company in the town of Madzharovo, are organizing a spring cleaning of the Arda River in the East Rhodope Mountains.
We, from Excedo Travel could not miss the opportunity to join them. This is a triple pleasure after all. 1) We got to visit one of our favorite spots in rural Bulgaria. 2) We uncovered some new unexplored sites in the area. 3) Most importantly though, we did something good for the environment. Who could ask for more?!
This year’s event took place in the beginning of April, just as everything began to blossom.
This part of Bulgaria is full of historic sites from the times of the Thracians.
If you are not familiar with ancient Thrace, do not be surprised. As compared to other ancient civilizations, very little is known of these people. The territory of nowadays Bulgaria was the heartland of their culture. They were renowned in ancient times as exceptional goldsmiths and as the mercenaries of Antiquity.
There are however some names that have lived through the ages. You will most certainly recognize the name Spartacus for instance – the gladiator, who almost brought Rome to its knees. Another example is the legendary musician from Greek mythology – Orpheus.
The Rhodope Mountains are full with Thracian sanctuaries, tombs and the remains of this civilization’s strongholds. Their culture has always fascinated me and never ceases to amaze.
After a full day of exploring ancient sites, it was time to actually do some good and get to work. We and some other 140 volunteers cleaned a 5-6 km stretch along the shores of the Arda River. The weather was perfect. Everyone was having a great time and we got to see some Egyptian vultures circling above our party up close.
The Eastern Rhodopes and the town of Madzharovo are famous for their wild and peculiar nature. They are home to the largest vulture colony in Bulgaria. Here you will find the highest numbers of Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures in SEE.
Madzharovo is also home to the Nature Conservation Center “Eastern Rhodopes”, which is dedicated to restoring the natural population of vultures in Bulgaria. Both the center and our friends from Nature Madzharovo Ltd. organize photo safaris, observations of vultures while feeding and bird-watching tours in the area. This place is heaven on Earth for ornithologists.
Photo: Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe
Whoever said that no good deed goes unpunished does not know what they are talking about.
Madzharovo is a mining town, as it is laying at the bottom of a long extinguished volcano crater. It is therefor especially rich on minerals, crystals and gold. Here you will find the only polymineral vein on the Balkan Peninsula.
After a day of hard work, removing all kinds of garbage from thorny bushes and digging out plastic from the ground, we got our reward. That is to say, we encountered an amethyst vein. As a result, the late afternoon turned into a gold rush.
The spoils were great – both big and small. We were exhausted at the end, but also exhilarated.
Our friends and host at the Wild Farm in the village of Gorno Pole, just a few kilometers away from Madzharovo, took great care of us after that. They treated us to tasty homemade traditional meals from the area, with some and wine and rakia. Everything there is from their own organic produce! In this particular case we got to try the famous Beef Stuffed Pumpkin. It was delicious!
If you ever travel in the area, do visit the Wild Farm. You will be greeted like family and feel right at home. In addition, if you are up for it, you might as well take up the shovel and help out a bit in the farm.
The scenery in Gorno Pole is certainly pristine. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and forget all your worries, this is most definitely a place to go.
Since we were in the area anyway, we could not miss the opportunity for some kayaking on the sweet water reservoir Studen Kladenets. This is a beautiful place, surrounded by wild nature.
One can easily spend a couple of days of kayaking and camping on the shores of Studen Kladenets. There are several historic landmarks and ancient ruins in the area. However, be wary of the weather. This reservoir can be a quite dangerous place during a summer thunderstorm. It is positioned in a deep narrow steep-sided valley that works as a magnet for lightning.
At the foot of the dam you will also find the most peculiar rock formations, the so called Abrasive Wells. This place is also full with minerals and gems.
On our way back to Sofia, we decided to make a quick stop at the Thracian tomb of Alexandrovo. It is located close to the town of Haskovo, some 220 km away from Sofia.
The tomb was discovered in the year 2000, but was unfortunately already plundered. Nevertheless, it is a very significant and impressive find with well-preserved frescoes. The original tomb is sealed for conservation purposes, but visitors can enter a full sized replica in the Museum Center above the village of Alexandrovo.
Perhaps not as famous as the Thracian tombs of Kazanlak and Sveshtari, which are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, this final resting place of a Thracian chieftain is most certainly worth the extra miles.