The city of Plovdiv has many attractions within the city, but there are also attractive sights on the outskirts.
The second largest monastery in Bulgaria, Bachkovo Monastery and the Asen Fortress. We went there on a day trip from Plovdiv.
Getting to Bachkovo Monastery
Bachkovo Monastery is located approximately 30 km south of Plovdiv.
Minibuses run from Plovdiv to Bachkovo Monastery. They leave from the South Bus Station (Bus station Rodopi, Plovdiv), located south of Plovdiv town centre, close to the railway station. Take a bus to Smolyan (Смо̀лян) and get off at Bachkovo.
The first service in the morning is at 9am, so we took this. The bus leaves from platform 1. Bus tickets are purchased directly on board the bus by paying cash to the driver. The fare to Bachkovo Monastery was 7 levs per person.
I thought 7 levs per person for a distance of 30 km was a bit expensive, but the ticket was an official-looking ticket with a QR code printed on it. I don’t think it’s a rip-off, but my suspicions remain…
Visiting the Bachkovo Monastery
Anyway, the minibus left at 9am as scheduled. It took about 30 minutes to reach Bachkovo Monastery and we were able to get off right in front of the approach to the monastery. The approach to the monastery was lively, with souvenir shops and cafés lining the street. It was just Sunday morning, so these would be even busier. Many worshippers were already walking towards the monastery.
After walking up a gentle slope, a large parking lot and the gate of the monastery came into view. It appeared that Sunday Mass was being held and Mass in the main hall was being broadcast outside through loudspeakers.
About Bachkovo Monastery “Uspenie Bogorodichno”
It was built in 1083 as a predominantly Georgian Orthodox monastery, it is characterised by its unique blend of Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian cultures. It was destroyed during the Turkish invasion, but was restored at the end of the 15th century.
One of the oldest parts of the monastery is the ossuary, which is located 300 m from the main monastery building.
The fresco paintings on the outer walls of the refectory, known as the ‘panoramic’ murals, vividly depict the history of the abbey.
Hitchhiking to Asen Fortress
After visiting the Bachkovo Monastery, the next stop was the Asen Fortress. Asen Fortress is located on the way from Bachkovo to Plovdiv, and it is approximately 10 km from Bachkovo Monastery to Asen Fortress.
It is a bit of a walk, but buses are not that frequent. The quickest way to get there is to hitchhike, so we hitchhiked near the bus stop in front of Bachkovo Monastery.
After a while, a Toyota stopped for us. A kind Bulgarian driver gave us a lift to the junction to Asen Fortress.
Visiting of Asen’s Fortress (Асенова крепост)
A large sign saying ‘2km to Asen’s Fortress’ marks the entrance to the access road to Asen’s Fortress. The distance is 2 km from here, but it is uphill, so it will take some time. The road is nicely paved and the gradient was not very steep. However, it gets hot during the day in summer, so it is better to go up in the morning if possible. You can also drive up to the top.
On the way up the winding slope, the fortress gradually became more and more clearly visible.
There is a ticket office next to the entrance to Asen Fortress at the top. The entrance fee to Asen Fortress is 4 Lev per person.
However, according to previous reviews, we did not enter, as there was nothing much to see inside and the view of the fortress from the outside is more spectacular.
There was a path opposite the Asen Fortress, which was marked ‘Chapel’, so we decided to visit that side of the fortress.
The path to the chapel is downhill and only accessible to pedestrians. You have to go down more stairs to reach the chapel, but the chapel is also dreary… It’s nothing special, but it’s free, so I won’t complain. We went back the way we came.
About Asen’s Fortress (Асенова крепост)
Asen’s Fortress is situated 279 m above sea level and the area was already settled in Roman and early Byzantine times. The importance of Asen Fortress increased in the Middle Ages and it was extensively renovated in the 13th century. The surviving outer walls are 3 m high, but it is known that they were originally 9-12 m high.
How to return from Asen to Plovdiv
After visiting Asen Fortress we returned to the city of Plovdiv which is about 20 km. Ideally we would have liked to hitchhike from the entrance to Asen Fortress to Plovdiv, but this time there were no cars willing to stop for us. We wanted to buy drinking water, so we decided to walk to the nearby town anyway.
The nearest town is Asenovgrad, which is about 2 km away, so it was not too painful. After buying drinking water in the town, we decided to walk to the railway station, as there should be a train to Plovdiv. However, there was a bus station in front of the railway station and a minibus had just stopped there. The minibus left within five minutes. The bus fare to Plovdiv was 2 levs per person and after about 20 minutes we arrived at Plovdiv’s Yug bus station (diagonally opposite Plovdiv train station).