Last update12:12:22 PM

Back You are here: Home Travel Out and About Village Tour, South West Bulgaria

Village Tour, South West Bulgaria

Numerous pretty villages are scattered around south east Bulgaria in the areas around Sandanski and Melnik. Quest Bulgaria takes a tour out and about in this fascinating region.

Gotse Delchev - Situated along the banks in the pretty valley of the Mesta River, this town bears the name of the legendary ideologist and leader of the Bulgarians from Macedonia in their struggle against Ottoman domination.

Make a visit to the Town Museum of History which is in an old house dating back to 1879 (Hristo Botev Street). Also the Revival Architectural Complex of Rifat Bey in the old central part of the town; along Hristo Votev, Targovska and Ivan Vazov streets; the artisans’ workshops along Zvancharska Street contribute to the town’s atmosphere.

One of the things you won’t miss is the 500 year old plane tree being 24m high and 7.6 diameter trunk!

Above the town, perching high, is the small village of Delchevo. This is worth visiting for the amazing views from the steep slopes. Spectacular architecture of the houses gives the feeling of stepping back in the past. The village is amidst an old forest and truly gives a bird’s eye view of the Gotse Delchev ravine.

Not far from Sandanski lies the town of Petrich, which is actually only 13 kms from the Greek checkpoint. It is set right at the foot of the Belasitsa Mountain along the banks of the Petrich River. The land here is particularly fertile and with the Mediterranean influence coming through the valley of the Struma River a lot of citrus fruits are grown here - lemons, kiwi, figs, etc.

On our list of things to see and do:

  • Town Museum of History which is right in the centre
  • Holy Virgin Church which was built in 1857 and is now a protected monument
  • Assumption Church - One of the most magnificent sights near Petrich is the Samouil Fortress (National Museum). It’s just 18 kms west of Petrich on the right bank of the Strumeshnitsa River.

In the 11th Century Tsar Samouil built a defence system against the Byzantine invasion in the Klyuch Saddle (between Belasitsa and Ograzhden mountains). In 1014 the Byzantine Emperor Vasilius II and numerous army entered the ‘saddle’. After a series of futile attacks on the Bulgarian defence he sent part of his army to march round the Belasitsa Mountain and attack from the rear. The defence was taken by surprise and 15,000 soldiers were taken prisoners. The Byzantine Emperor left one in every hundred soldiers blinded in one eye. Tsar Samouil was broken and on 6th October 1014 he died. Since those times the Byzantine Emperor has been called Vasilius the Murderer of Bulgarians.

There is a most imposing life size bronze statue of Tsar Samouil which shows clearly his anguish. On each side of this statue there are stones with figures of the blinded soldiers. The largest dwelling in the whole settlement is preserved under a glass dome. You can see the entire Klyuch Saddle from a 25m high panoramic platform.

For those who enjoy walking, the mountain of Belasitsa rises steeply south above the town and in fact is its biggest natural park. On the northern slopes you will find the largest area of edible chestnut trees.

The mountain spreads across the territories of three countries ... Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia.

The crossing point of these borders is Mount Toumba which is a 6 to 7 hour climb starting at the village of Gabrene - but you will probably have to ask the border authorities about this!


Located on a volcano crater, about 10 kms from Petrich, Rupite is near the Struma River. Thermal curative springs attract many visitors, along with the two protected areas - the natural landmark Kojuh, a volcanic hill, and Rupite itself which is the only forest of silver poplar on the Struma River.

Rupite’s biggest claim to fame is being the home village and burial place of the famous Bulgarian prophet Vanga, who said that the whole region of Rupite is filled with special cosmic energy. Legend says that when she was six year’s old she saw an angel who offered her the choice between sight and clairvoyance - she chose the latter. Her prophecies and healing abilities gained her a wide following. Indeed, her vision of Varna engulfed by water was vindicated when it was discovered that the city stood upon an underground lake. Even in old age she had VIP visitors and her predictions were always heeded.

The location of Rupite being in the crater of an extinct volcano makes the place a powerful attraction for Bulgarian New Agers who also believe it has powerful energy.

The Church of St Petka was built at a site chosen by the legendary Vanga and is a place of worship for many as well as a renown tourist attraction. Vanga’s house can be seen nearby as well.

Popina Luka
This is an area of vast meadows and high waterfalls. Just 15kms from Sandanski, here you can take time out and really relax in stunning calm countryside. The Popina Luka Waterfall is a natural phenomenon which is impressive. The crystal waterfall comes down from a height of 11 m to the bed of the Sandanska Bistritza River. When you visit this place, all you will hear is the sound of the water cascading - serene and tranquil.

Rozhen Monastery
This historic monastery is the biggest sanctuary in the Pirin region and one of the few Bulgarian monasteries of the Middle Ages, which has survived relatively intact up to present days. It is well maintained and open to visitors all year round situated next to Rozhen village only 6 kms north east of Melnik.

According to annals kept in Atone, Greece, the monastery dates back at least to 890 AD. As a comparison, the biggest monastery in Bulgaria, Rila monastery, is believed to have started functioning in 917 AD.

During the rule of Despot Aleksii Slav, governor of the region at the time of Tzar Kaloyan (1197-1207) and Kaloyan’s nephew, the monastery’s complex was enriched with a number of buildings. Unfortunately it was repeatedly destroyed by fire and plundered but was rebuilt in the 18th Century with support of wealthy Bulgarians from all over the country. Today’s church dates back to the year 1600 and was renovated in 1732, and has some lovely murals from that period and earlier which are considered to be exceptional representations. You’ll love the woodcarving of the altar and the lectern.

Rozhen monastery is made up of an irregular 6 sided form with residential buildings surrounding a beautiful courtyard, at the centre of which is the church. Besides well preserved murals you’ll also see some stunning stained glass, the oldest of its type. As with nearly all monasteries there is one special icon-protector, Virgin Mary, which is kept in an ark in one of the chapels. Legend has it that the icon is one of the few copies of a sacred Icon which was owned by a widow of Nikea from Greece. During the time of emperor Theophilus who was famed for his persuction of icon worship, the widow threw the icon in the waters to avoid it being destroyed. The icon didn’t sink but floated for years until in 999 it reached the gates of the Iviron monastery in Greece.

This village will overwhelm you as you become immersed in the enchantment of ancient times. It is simply gorgeous! Totally removed from today’s world it’s a little piece of heaven.

Kovatchevitsa is surounded by a whole string of high ridges and has a labyrinth of cobbled streets, tall white houses, stone rooves... offering the visitor marvellous examples of the real Bulgarian architecture.

As an aside to get to the village of Kovatchevitsa you can pass through Leshten, another wonderfully quaint village with traditional architecture.

As this really is such a special place, it is worth looking in more detail at its origins and history.

The origin of the village is connected to the efforts in 1623 to 1625 and later in 1656 to enforce Islam on the population of Bulgaria. Those who didn’t want to accept these left their homes and fled to find shelter in the highest, inaccessible parts of the mountains. They felt safer there with natural springs for drinking water, pastures and away from the Turkish raids. Small hamlets formed mostly based around individual families and each ‘neighbourhood’ had its own name - the refugees coming from Tarnovo settled in the ‘Tarnovo neighbourhood’ and so on..

No one can be sure how the name of Kovatchevitsa came about but tales say that a farrier named Marko settled in one of the neighbourhoods. After his death relatives and customers from nearby hamlets visited, and when asked where they were going people would say ‘we’re going to the kovatchevitsa’ meaning the wife of the farrier. So, it is said, this is how the name of the village gained recognition and over time the small hamlets grouped around it to defend themselves against any attacks.

As there was no Turkish administration during the Ottoman reign, this allowed the village to become a centre of the Macedonian movement for national liberation and the locals patriotically assisted with arms supply to neighbouring counties. The village saw off many rebel attacks. To be safe they dug a tunnel connecting the upper and lower parts of the village enabling people to move about without endangering the village.

At the time of the Bulgarian Revival the village was a centre of educational and ecclesiastical movements. The church of St Nikola built in 1847 is an architectural monument and as it had to meet the rules of the Turkish administration at that time it had to be dug in the ground at the bottom end of the village.

In 1900, twelve years before the village was liberated, the locals built a four storey bell tower next to the church.

In the 1950’s Kovatchevitsa suffered from the inhabitants migrating to Velingrad and other towns. Naturally this led to the deterioration of many of the wonderful houses as they started to decline.

Suddenly, the village found favour with Bulgarian film makers and so the village was revived. No other village in Bulgaria has had so many films shooting on location. Over twenty films have been made here!

In 1977 Kovatchevitsa was declared a protected historical and architectural reserve. With this and the film makers, the popularity of the village increased and people came in to buy the houses and restore them. Kovatchevitsa was saved.

Although the nearby villages of Leshten and Kovachevitsa are well known, do visit the village of Dolen. Still relatively unknown to tourists it is less commercialised and you’ll find a serenity here which is sometimes hard to find in the other two villages.

This is not at all to say the village is less beautiful, it’s just that the other two caught the eye of rural tourism first. Dolen is now catching the eye of those with entrepreneurial ideas and the old houses are now being renovated. Most of the houses here are more than 150 years old and as so typical of this region, they are generally of two or three storeys, with the ground floor originally used for livestock.