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Scenic Smolyan

The journey through the scenic Rhodope Mountains takes its twists and turns passing tall jagged mountain peaks, incredible rock formations and tiny mountains springs. At times it feels like the road to nowhere, but when you make one final curve the town of Smolyan reveals itself amidst a spectacular backdrop of pine-covered peaks and towering rock formations. Sitting serenely in one of the most perfect Rhodopean settings, Smolyan is situated on a narrow gorge carved out by the River Cherna, which runs through the town centre effectively creating two perfect halves, with the hustle and bustle of this charming but rural centre on one side and the residential quarters on the other.  It is one of the highest towns in Bulgaria, at around 950 m above sea level, making the summers warm, sunny but thanks to gentle breezes, tolerable than summer in some of the towns at a lower altitude.

 

The Administrative Centre

Smoyan was originally inhabited around the first or second century BC, but it takes its name from the Smolyani people who lived there in the seventh century. Up until 1960 it was no more than a cluster of three villages, Smolyan, Raikovo and Ustovo but today’s Smolyan stretches 15 km along the River Cherna and is an important administrative and cultural capital of the central and western Rhodope district.

Recreation and Entertainment

There are plenty of places to stay and dine, as our area focus outlines, the town offers many bars and good eateries and they are all very cheap compared with most other places in Bulgaria. The main street is pedestrianised and there are many pleasant terraces where you can savour pizza, pastries, or of course, more traditional fares. At first sight the main pedestrianised walkway through the centre seems to house no more than local shops, however, take the time to look inside, because Smolyan is the bargain shopper’s paradise and the thing that captures many about Smolyan is its shopping. Every street has some sort of retail offering and you can find pretty much whatever you need or want in Smolyan. It’s a pleasure to explore the variety of boutiques: the clothes shops, bookshops, a choice in electronic equipment stores, some fine greengrocers, and of course plenty of knick-knack and tourist shops. If you’re a film buff, the local cinema shows all of the latest films in their original language with Bulgarian subtitles. Smolyan has a good football team, PFC Rhodopa Smolyan, which play in the Bulgarian professional league.

Must See

The town has maintained an atmosphere of greenery and nature about it with lime trees scenting the air in summer and the rich colours of autumn as the leaves fall. In winter its snowy mountain peaks and glittering, icy branches add a magical touch. Amidst this natural setting, Smolyan has a unique combination of architecture from old Ottoman influenced style to National Revival and that of 1960’s Communism with some of the best examples of 19th century Revival folk houses to be found in this town in particular, Pangalova’s house constructed in 1860, the National Revival Period houses of the Meramov and Sariev families in the Smolyan quarter, the Mednikarska Charshia or Coppersmith’s Street, Hadzhiivanovata Kashta and Hadzhichonovata Kashta in Oustovo  and the old houses in the Cheshitev neighbourhood are well worth seeing. Other notable buildings include the palace of Ali Bey in the Raikovo quarter, whose oldest part was constructed in 1780. The town centre was completed in 1983 and includes some modern public buildings like the Planetarium, Post Office, Municipality, and the Rhodopean Dramatic Theatre.

Culture vultures will enjoy the Rhodope Drama Theatre where the Rhodope International Theatre Laboratory is held each summer and the Art Gallery, which houses a fine collection of masterpieces by Bulgarian artists and sculptors. The Museum of History of Smolyan, which was established in 1935 and has more than 150,000 exhibits from the different ages including historical, architectural and ethnographic items such as photographs, folklore articles, traditional implements and much more and if this isn’t enough to quench a thirst for culture, the lead-domed planetarium holds shows in English. Smolyan is also home to the Cathedral of Saint Vissarion of Smolyan, which is the biggest church in all of southern Bulgaria. It is a new building, very tastefully constructed in pure white and was inaugurated in July 2006.

Skiing


Ski conditions are fantastic from mid-December all the way through to mid-April, and snow cover averages at 145 cm. The slopes are perfect for absolute beginners to learn on, but there is also a range of slopes wide enough to offer something for everyone: novices and experts alike should not be disappointed. There are 30 km of cross-country and 20 km of downhill tracks, 14 chair and drag lifts with a capacity to carry 8,600 passengers per hour. Most of the many qualified instructors are fluent in English and you can book group or individual lessons. A ski kindergarten is available throughout the day for 5 to 8 year-olds. And of course, there is a 24-hour ski rescue service in operation.

Pictures 1 - 3 courtesy of Sali Gyovren