There are many special places in the world and many of them are amazing with their picturesque nature and spirit. One such place is Chepelare – a colorful Bulgarian town, nestled between the hills of the majestic Rhodope Mountains, which have formed a beautiful precious green stone – Chepelare. Today, the green heart of this Bulgarian jewel beats with the pulse of nature and the city, whose first settlers are nearly 300 years ago. The first traces of human presence here date back to 4-5 century BC. Today, the picturesque mountain town enchants with the beauty of the surrounding nature, with its long history and traditions, intertwined with modern elements that attract visitors from all over the world. The place impresses with the preserved warm hospitality, which survived in difficult times of transitions, thanks to the strong spirit of the local citizens.
Green, green, green… The green heart of Bulgaria! The moment you see Chepelare from above, it stops sounding pretentious – you realize that it is a reality. But even without a view from above, the green color is felt even in the air – the pine-covered hills are literally a stone’s throw away from the central square of the town, and eagles are hovering above it. Really.
The main thing that the place offers is tranquility. It may be an incredible cliché, but it is a fact. Chepelare has changed a lot since it was a small Rhodopean village – but it has retained a characteristic, mountainous disregard for the things that make life in the big city stressful. You can’t help but feel it – it’s a special “going back”; a timelessness immersed in silence and coziness, in which you really forget to hurry. There is no place to hurry here – everything is a step away, and there is always a parking space.
Like a walk in the 20th century – but with fast and free Internet in the central part of the city!
The “pearl” in the cityscape, at least in the center, is the Olympic Square. In the warm season you can drink your coffee on the square, in the shade of a huge – really huge – willow, while looking around at the clock tower, the “Chepelare” hotel, the facade of the community center or the green hills of the Rhodopes, which you can almost touch from where you are sitting.
The Olympic Square, as you will inevitably find out, owes its name to Ekaterina Dafovska – the first Bulgarian woman to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. It took place at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, back in 1998 – and since then every year in Chepelare a Winter Olympic Day is held in honor of her championship title. In fact, in addition to the Green Heart of Bulgaria, Chepelare is also called the “City of Champions” and the “House of Winter Stars in Sports”. Not only Ekaterina Dafovska and Radoslav Yankov started from here, but also dozens of other athletes who competed in the winter sports. In general – a city with character and history. The modern settlement has existed since the 18th century, and in the 19th century it was already a cultural and educational center of the Middle Rhodopes. Chepelare has been a town since 1964.
However, the history of this place should not be read – it should be seen and felt. Historical data cannot convey the feeling of living in the past without missing something. It may be a subjective association, but the unreal blue sky without a single cloud instantly evokes memories of postcards – rather the time when sending a postcard to relatives and friends was a sacred, integral part of going “to a resort” – even if you are 30 km away from home. The Internet (fast and free in the city center, did I mention it?), the restaurants, the offices of the mobile operators, the rating of the hotels – all this convinces you that there is no lagging behind, but the feeling that you are not in the 21st century is a fact. The urge to relax with doing nothing instead of a stunning choice of activities…
Which does not mean that there is nothing to do in Chepelare. The city offers a unique Museum of Skis and Skiing and – again the only one of its kind – Museum of the Rhodope Karst. Even the fact that museums are “the only one of its kind on the Balkans” refers directly to the spirit of the 20th century – but it does so in a charming and natural way, without being irritating.
Its location is also blessed – it is located on the Republican road ll-86, 214 km. from Sofia, 70 km from Plovdiv and only 10 km from Pamporovo. We mean – if you are a winter sports fan, most probably your place is well known. In fact, you may hate the snow and still know and love the place – Pamporovo also offers excellent mountain biking trails with different levels of extremeness, as well as an adventure park.
The Mechi Chal ski area, which is – guess what! – the longest alpine ski slope in Bulgaria, of course – is ten minutes away from the city. There is also free and fast Internet on all tracks – the complex is definitely in the 21st century! In the city itself you should visit the churches, the two museums and try the dishes. If you are a fan of event tourism – here’s something worthwhile: National holidays “Captain Petko Voivoda”, which are held in early October! There will be something to tell – then “going back” is in a completely different era!
Whatever program you choose, however, do not miss the Wonderful Bridges! If Mechi Chal and Pamporovo are the jewel of Chepelare in winter tourism, its tourist brand, then the Wonderful Bridges are their equivalent in the other seasons! The amazing natural phenomenon attracts thousands of tourists every year – and if you try the fragrant forest tea, staring at the endless blue sky and the endless green peaks of the Rhodopes at 1450 meters above sea level at the foot of Golyam Persenk, you will understand why!
What else? – The alpine trolley (zip line) and the eco-trails. The hiking trails provide the opportunity for the “green feeling” we mentioned at the beginning, and with the alpine trolley (zip line) you can feel like the eagles from the first paragraph for a moment. There they are, really – mostly the small bald eagle, without being specialists or claiming to be comprehensive. There are also huge, shiny black crows – like those from a Scandinavian saga. They inhabit the rocks (at least) from Hvoina to Progled. The area is also famous for its black storks, which stay here from April to the end of September. That is – if you are interested in ornithology or just love animals – this is another reason to visit the place. No, really – you don’t have to be an avid zoologist to become intrigued. Just imagine – you are driving, and deer are grazing on the slopes along the road … Of course, they will not always be there – you are not on a safari in Africa.
But nature is definitely present, no – nature dominates the landscape in Chepelare. Deer in the city center? It happens, as long as you get up earlier! Hawks hunting under your windows? Yes, if you stay in a guest house in one of the villages in the municipality… Exploring the villages in the area is actually mandatory – it will be a net loss if you do not. In Hvoyna you will be provided with a horse ride in the mountains, and you can even spend the night outdoors, in Bogutevo you can see how purebred goats are raised in the largest goat farm in the country, Progled and Zornitsa offer a view that does not need other attractions, and if you want to see views literally not from this planet – only 14 and a half kilometers by car from Chepelare is the National Astronomical Observatory of Rozhen, which offers day and night observations of the stars to the tourists. From Progled you can reach it on foot, walking along an eco-trail through the mountains.
There is a place to accommodate and feed you everywhere. The cuisine in the region offers everything – from dishes that you can find everywhere, to piturki and patatnik, which are hardly known outside the Rhodopes. Food is a matter of preference, so – choose for yourself. However, the trout deserves the recommendation – the area is full of fishponds, where you can take it straight from the water. Not for free, of course, and you don’t have to catch it by yourself – although it would probably be fun!
And the best: Chepelare has something to give you in every season! The snow-covered ski runs, the green slopes, the unique smell of herbs over the meadows in summer, the amazing colors of the mountains in the crystal clear air of autumn – probably everyone would find something to say “It was worth it!” And peace and comfort … they are always there. May be the eternal spirit of the Rhodopes?