Traditions are not dead, especially if you know to look around the village of Gela in the Rhodopes, three hours away from Sofia. In the breath-taking mountain scenery experiences are waiting for you with the trademark "Unique Rhodopes," created by the regional Foundation "Development of the Industrial, Cultural and Natural Heritage." A collection of beautiful mountain spots, manmade landmarks, cosy traditional accommodations and exciting activities gives you food for many tales and opens your eyes to a different side of Bulgaria.
Let the experienced local guides take you on an easy climb to the top of Mount Perelik on marked trails. At 2100 m above sea level is the Bears' House, which takes you to millennia past. The eco lodge is made of stone and wood; it recreates in full authenticity the way our ancestors lived right down to the uniquely prepared local dishes and the precious rain drops collected for water. Fully steeped in the ancient atmosphere, take a ride down the old Roman roads that are still in use in the mountains.
Get the feel of a more traditional transportation and mount the horse. Horse bases "Sarko" by the Smolyan lakes and "Arkan" in Trigrad (www.arkantours. com) provide docile and sturdy animals for you. Even if you've never ridden, you will quickly grasp the basics and enjoy the slow exploration of the magnificent mountain meadows. Visit a traditional dairy farm on horseback or by car and taste natural Bulgarian produce – yoghurt and white cheese, the local banitsa and typical Rhodopean cheeses.
The delicious cuisine of the Rhodopes will give you the taste of Bulgaria with its famous regional dishes. You get a bonus if you prepare them yourself – make Rhodopean patatnik, kachamak and klin under the watchful eye of local master cooks. In the end you will receive the recipes, a certificate and a skill to take away with you. Find out the secrets of how dairy products are made and what gives them the rich taste at Milkana's farm (www.mlechendom.dir.bg).
Do you know how wool is woven? Or how to work wood? See it from the source – craftsman and carpenter Mincho Minchev has spent 60 years in his trade, and weaver Maria Trifonova teaches her children and pupils how to create the traditional Rhodopean tufted and fleecy rugs, decorative tapestries, blankets and cloth. Both of them can explain the magic of taking something natural and turning it into beautiful art, and at both places you will find things you'd want to take home with you.
Rhodopean hospitality is legendary for its warmth and cosiness. This is exactly what you would get at the Gela hotel (www. hotelgela.com), the only small luxury hotel at this altitude in Bulgaria. Contemporary comfort tangles together with objects and decoration of old times in a soothing, relaxing combination. Feel the rejuvenating power of the authentic wooden sauna made of assina wood imported from Russia. The air moisturises the skin and saturates it with oxygen, and take a turn in the SPA centre with its body and face therapies. If you are keen on organic food, mehana Gela is a very good choice. Every dish here is prepared with carefully selected local products and flavoured with mountain herbs.
Discover this small piece of Bulgaria, full of beauty and life. The old customs of the Ilinden celebration mix together with the Rhodopean chimes and the lively tunes of the jazz festival at Mount Perelik. The new preserves the old – and here you can touch it as surely as the old icons in the mountain churches. For more information on the tourist products "Unique Rhodopes" contact office@ uniquerhodopes.com or project leader P. Nikolov at +359 886 88 11 88. The project "Unique Rhodopes – Where nature revives traditions" is carried out with the financial support of the Government of Norway via the Norwegian Cooperation Programmes for Economic Growth and Sustainable Development in Bulgaria and in partnership with the Norwegian foundation "Happy End".