What to know about Ardino

The town of Ardino was the next stop on trip through the quiet backroads of Bulgaria’s countryside. Much like the rest of Bulgaria, it turned out to a very worthwhile destination…

I can’t emphasize enough how a road trip through southern Bulgaria is an excellent idea. You can’t drive anywhere without discovering somewhere new you want to go…. one place I’ve put a pin in to visit is Shiroka Laka – a beautiful village with traditional architecture and, according to Wikipedia, a “Folklore reserve”. However, just driving and enjoying the views is also a pleasure. A section of the road leading to Ardino follows the gorge of it’s namesake, the stunning Arda river. From Yagodina, the drive took around 2.5 hours – enough to discover plenty more places you wish you had scheduled time for…

About Ardino

Whilst the town itself may not have the same architectural merit as some Rhodope villages, it is a friendly and pleasant place, surrounded by verdant hillsides. A very rural area, a lot of properties have large vegetable gardens in front of their houses, as well as chickens or even a cow. On the outskirts of the town, there are examples of houses roofed with natural stone in the traditional style. It must be very heavy and, although it looks aesthetically pleasing, it’s perhaps not the easiest to maintain. Our accommodation for the few days was a rather luxurious Airbnb – very modern, very comfortable and, in true Balkan style, with innumerate cupboards.

Things to do in and around Ardino

Ardino has two main attractions drawing people to the area; a so-called ‘Thracian cult complex’ named Eagle Rocks (in Bulgarian, Orlavi Skali “Орлови скали”) and the impressive Devil’s Bridge (“Дяволският мост”).

Eagle Rocks – the “Thracian Cult Complex”

Eagle Rocks, the “Thracian cult complex“, is accessible by road or, for a more fulfilling visit, via a circular walk starting in town. The site itself is an impressive, sheer cliff face carved with a multitude of door-shaped recesses, the dating of which is subject to a certain amount of uncertainty and exaggeration. The sign post claims 4-5 millenium BC (although this could be a translation issue)…  Online sources state a more realistic 1000-400 BC.

There is no consensus on the purpose of the rocky niches. However, I personally like the theory that it was a site honouring the goddess Kybele (Cybele): a deity with very ancient roots, associated with nature, mountains and motherhood. Kybele was also believed to control the passage into the afterlife and was worshipped at sites in Anatolia where huge doorways have been carved into the stone. The site in Ardino certainly looks a little eerie, particularly on the day we visited where it was veiled with mist.

The trail we followed is roughly this one. Although we got a bit lost at one point and the trail is somewhat disused, there are sign posts pointing to Ardino and Orlavi Skali.

The Devil’s Bridge

The other significant landmark nearby is the magnificent Devil’s Bridge. We’ve seen many beautiful examples of bridges driving through the Bulgarian countryside but this one is very special. There is a small entrance fee (5 Lev per person, 2,5 EUR). This gets you through the gate where you can immediately see the bridge. The surrounding area is stunning and we were the only visitors there, apart from a small snake hiking under a rock. Watch out for them!

You can simply visit the bridge or there are a number of footpaths leading off in various directions. We started the steep walk up through the woods and then figured we didn’t have enough time so went straight back down. However, there is a circular route that takes you back around along the river which would make a nice afternoon.

Eating and Drinking in Ardino

We didn’t explore the eateries too widely in Ardino as we were rather enjoying having a kitchen. Grocery shopping was a bit limited but we did find small stores to buy eggs, yoghurt, ayran and bread, and a good greengrocers for fresh fruit and veg.

The one restaurant we did visit, we went to twice. I think it’s a local favourite as our AirBnB host recommended it to us: “Gostilnica Plaza“. They have a range of traditional Bulgarian fare – grilled meats, vegetables and salads. On a lunchtime, they offer a special menu which is exceptionally cheap. For 10 euro, we received mushroom soup, 3 kofta with rice and salad, rice with chicken liver, an ayran and a water each. The food was all freshly cooked and delicious, and the service was super quick. A great little place!

A Road Trip through Southern Bulgaria

Check my other Bulgaria Posts for other off-the-beaten track destinations on Southern Bulgaria

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