Traditional villages, Thracian rock shrines and natural phenomena are the most common off-the-beaten-rack experiences in Bulgaria, but when you take the small road from the OMV petrol station at the 68th kilometre on the Hemus motorway near Osikovitsa village, you are heading for a surprise.
Three major rivers flow through southern Bulgaria: the Maritsa, the Arda, and the Tundzha. Springing from the most prominent Bulgarian mountain ranges, they carve, wind and splash their way though ravines and canyons and across plains, passing by cities ancient and new, before they finally join together just after the border with Turkey and flow south until they reach the Aegean.
The road leading to the village of Bardarski Geran is about 10km long. It starts in Byala Slatina and seems no different to any other road through the Bulgarian countryside. It meanders between fields and from time to time cows wander across it. Byala Slatina itself is not much more exciting. It is one of a series of dull towns north of the Stara Planina whose chief claim to fame is the extreme climate: sweltering hot in summer and freezing in winter. Year-round, you will likely perish of hunger, since only the locals seem to be able to find the restaurants.
Mediaeval faces gaze from the walls of churches hewn into steep rocks: a Transfiguration here, a Last Supper there. No, this encounter of past and present is not taking place in faraway Cappadocia of worldwide renown for its odd rock chapels, but here in Bulgaria. About 20 kms from Ruse, the bends of the Rusenski Lom River embrace about a dozen churches and monastic cells hewn into the rock. In the 12th-14th centuries they composed one monastic complex. Today, they are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Only exceptional buildings are worthy of becoming legend. One such building is in the village of Mogilitsa in the Rhodope. Between 1825 and 1842, the local Muslim lord Aguş Aga built a sumptuous konak, or residence, for himself and his three sons. High whitewashed walls protected the aga's greatest treasures: his peace, his money and his family.