Your guide to the Rhodope Mountains

The Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria are one of Europe’s most important wildlife hotspots. Situated on the crossroads of Asia and Europe it has developed in the last years a strong network of sustainable initiatives supporting nature based tourism.

Photography credits: Staffan Widstrand

Why should you go?

This natural hotspot has to thank its situation, at the crossroads between the European and Asian continent, for its wildlife diversity. The impact of the Mediterranean, its pristine landscapes and the variety of habitats here in combination with the relatively small human disturbance, have a great impact the on the huge variety in species and habitats, of the Rhodope Mountains.

Since 2015 Rewilding Europe has been working on bringing back the wild nature of this mountainous area. Reintroducing and protecting species has had a great impact in the recovery of the threatened European vulture populations.

Together with partners, Rewilding Europe is creating space for natural processes like forest regeneration or free flowing rivers, to impact ecosystems.

Natural grazing is also a tool to increase the populations of the endangered souslik (or European ground squirrel). This keystone species benefits globally threatened species like the Eastern Imperial eagle, Saker falcon and the Marbled polecat, which all prey on the squirrel.

Thanks to the conservation and rewilding efforts in the area, the Rhodope Mountains are the place to be in Europe to enjoy wild nature at its best.

What to do in the Rhodopes

Hiking: Clearly on of the main things to do in this area is hike around the territory climbing the mountains and exploring the terrain.

These are a couple of our favorite hikes in the Rhodope’s.

  • Momina Skala hike: This hike will take you to one of the most impressive wildlife territories in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. It has a beautiful landscape with various elements like rock complexes, precipices, forests, and pastures. It is rich in rare species including Orchids, and Land tortoises. The density of birds is very high. Thracian rock monuments together with massive rock fragments can be seen your way. 
  • Yumruk Skala hike:  You will be walking in mixed broadleaved forest with Mediterranean grass including hairy rockrose, open meadows, and single cliffs together with bird watching of flying Griffon vulture, Black Stork, and Peregrine Falcon. This hike cannot be done in vulture breeding season as not to disturb the birds’ nests.

Kayaking: Paddling your way around the Rhodope’s brings the chances to admire nature from a completely different perspective. At Studen Kladenets Lake you can discover hidden coasts and otherwise unreachable islands this way.

Nature photography: The Rhodope’s are full of opportunities to snap amazing shots of elusive wildlife. Several wildlife and vulture hides in the area provide a sustainable approach to wildlife watching without being intrusive and with plenty of opportunities to photograph the amazing birdlife

Where to go

Madzharovo Vulture center: In this quiet Romanian village at the banks of the meandering river Arda you will find the Vulture information center.

Walking around the surroundings you will immediately see Griffon and Egyptian vultures soaring the skies. If you are lucky perhaps even elusive Black Vultures.

Admire the mountains views from the village’s view points and check out the wild Tarpan Horses that roam free in the surroundings.

Studen Kladenets reserve: This lake reservoir is full of adventurous possibilities. Explore it by kayak or by foot to see the variety of wildlife and birdlife that it holds. Climb the peaks on the north and south banks for amazing views of rock formations. Kayak from bank to bank discovering little islands full of deer and ground squirrels.

Wildlife not to miss

Mammals

The whole region is also a stronghold within Bulgaria for wolf and golden jackal. A healthy wolf population manages the densities and distribution of herbivores in the area.

One of those herbivores is the Souslik or European ground squirrel which at the same time has benefited endangered raptor species.

Follow deer are the host in a small island in Studen Kladenets Lake - dozens of them live freely on the island and give birth to their babies here. Otters can also be spotted on the banks of Studen Kladenets Lake.

The brown bear has begun to recolonize the Rhodopes in recent years and bear watching is already becoming a bookable tourism offer in the area.

Birdlife

The area is a birders paradise, full of Griffon and Eyptian Vultures. The last remaining breeding colony of black vulture in South-eastern Europe is situated in the Dadia forest on the Greek side of the border and these huge birds regularly come over to the Bulgarian side of the mountain in search for food.

Among the dozens of other raptor species Eastern imperial eagle, Saker falcon, Levant sparrowhawk, Peregrine falcon and several other eagles can be mentioned.

Where to stay

Mihaelas Lake Retreat

Mihaela's Lake Retreat is an environmentally friendly accommodation in the heart of Eastern Rhodope Mountains. This traditional but modern cottage is perched on top of the village with magnificent views of Lake Studen Kladenets.

They actively support green holidays by preserving nature areas, taking care of not disturbing wild animals, as well as informing local communities on the significance of biodiversity. A green holiday at Mihaela's also means support for the local farming economy because most of the product for their organic meals comes from local farms.

Wild Farm

In the small village of Gorno Pole and surrounded by beautiful nature and surprising wildlife you will find this sustainable oasis. Wild Farm provides accommodation in a guesthouse that also works as a functioning organic certified farm. The small lake near the house is the hiding place of the "domestic" otter.

The accommodation also operates as a farm where they have cows and bulls. They also have bees, rabbits, Karakachan sheep, and dogs. Their beef meat, honey and pasture have been awarded sustainability certificates.


As you can see the Rhodope’s are a biodiversity hotspot waiting to be discovered by you.

Check out our experiences in the Rhodope Mountains below to start planning your next sustainable getaway.