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An increasing number of tourists are choosing Bulgaria as an alternative to the Alps during the winter and summer seasons for its skiing, scenery and natural wonders. Once they’ve arrived in this beautiful Southern European nation of contrasts, they discover the culturally rich cities of Sofia and Plovdiv, and a wealth of ancient monuments and monasteries, in one of the oldest countries in the world.

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Rhodope Mountains

Two of the best property offerings in the Rhodope Mountains offer first class ski chalet accommodation. Villa Gella in Gela, Rhodope Mountains enjoys all the warmth and comfort of a log fire combined with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. A converted farmhouse, it retains laid back historic charm – think wood panelling, sun terrace and trestle table – combined with utterly modern glass baths, Jacuzzis and under-floor heating.

The luxury complex at Chalets Village Pamporovo is perfect for both families and larger groups seeking proximity to other members of their party across several villas. Both the ski chalets and the whole Pamporovo resort have a fairytale feel. The snow cover has been excellent over the last few seasons, and it’s a particularly good resort for beginner and intermediate skiers, or those seeking a good value place to learn to ski.

Rhodope Mountains

Rhodope Mountains

There are many other sights and activities in this richly historic, ancient region in addition to the ski resorts. Bachkovo Monastery and Rila Monastery are both must-sees in any season: two of the biggest and oldest European Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The pristine wilderness is one of the last corners of Europe to have brown bears and wolves as well as otters, bats and birds of prey.
During the summer, the Rhodope Mountains come into their own as a walking destination, with Roman ruins and historic villages to admire. Natural attractions include Trigrad Gorge, pine forests, and cave complexes including the Yagodina Cave and the evocatively-named Devil’s Throat Cave.

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Bachkovo Monastery

Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city and cultural heart, is the nearest large city to the Rhodope Mountains. The Old Town offers an immediate immersion into the town’s fascinating history, with great shopping and dining opportunities its picturesque ancient streets. Dating still further back, its Roman amphitheatre is still in use today. Plovdiv’s Ethnographic Museum offers a helpful introduction to the complex history and folklore of the region in the sensational setting of a traditional Plovdiv Baroque stately home. Nearby archaeological sites like Nebet Tepe and Assenova Krepost offer beautiful, evocative ruins set in a landscape full of natural wonders.

Further afield but unmissable, charming, cosmopolitan capital Sofia is also home to some exceptional places of worship, including the Church of Saint Nicholas, with its 700 year old frescoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a baroque masterpiece in the city’s centre. The perfect conclusion to a Sofia city tour is a meal at Chef’s, a much-loved restaurant overlooking Pasarel lake.

Russian Church Sofia

Russian Church Sofia

Back in the Rhodope Mountains, the distinctive cuisine includes homemade yoghurt, baked river trout and Cheverme – tender lamb roasted on an open spit. Local red wine Mavrud provides a superb accompaniment. The facilities at Pamporovo and Gella provide the perfect setting to experiment with the wonderful cuisine of the region, as well as an ideal skiing and hiking holiday home.

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Chalet Villa Gella

Blog post by Phileas French