Bulgaria is full of amazing places and destinations, from pink lakes to the Black Sea, UFOs and flower fields, there are plenty of things to do in Bulgaria. So if you are in or near Plovdiv, plan a day trip to Assenowgrad (Асеновград), including Asen’s Fortress and Bachkovo.
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Why You Should Visit Assenowgrad
History of Assenowgrad
Assenowgrad (also spelled as Asenovgrad) is a cultural gem at the foot of the Rhodope mountains. It dates all the way back to 300–400 BC when the Thracians established a settlement.
The Romans later claimed it as did the Goths, who demolished the entire town and rebuilt it to their liking. The Slavs wreaked some more havoc and flooded the area.
It became a military standpoint in the wars between the Bulgarian Empire as well as both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The latter won. Assenowgrad really had it rough!
Maybe that’s why there are so many religious buildings to be found in this Bulgarian town.
Faith has always been important in hard times (and Bulgaria is quite religious). In total, there are 5 monasteries, 15 churches and 58 chapels. As a result, Assenowgrad is also known as “Little Jerusalem”. You can learn more about Asenovgrad’s history and culture at its local museums.
Fun fact: Assenowgrad used to have one of the first Bulgarian discos. Those, however, have permanently shut down.
Top 10 Things to See in Assenowgrad
- Asen’s Fortress (Асеновата крепост)
- Bachkovo Monastery
- St. Petka Monastery (Света Петка)
- Arapov’s Monastery (Араповски манастир)
- St. Kirik Monastery (Свети Кирик)
- 40 Springs hunting and fishing resort (40-те извора)
- The Museum of History in Asenovgrad
- Palaeontological Museum Dimitar Kovachev
- Parakolovo District (Параколово)
- Restaurant “Салаша”
Why You Should Visit Asen’s Fort
Not far from Asenovgrad, in fact not even a two hour hike away (3km), lies Asen’s Fort. It is a major tourist attraction in the area and can be seen from afar.
It’s well worth a visit even though not much of it remains. All you can see are cut down walls on top of a mountain and in their midst stands the nearly untouched St. Bogoroditsa Petrichka Church.
What makes Asen’s Fort so special is the beautiful landscape, with the river below and the gentel mountains all around. It’s best to be admired on the hiking trail from the southern tip of Asenovgrad towards Smolyan.
First you walk through the town’s parks and then slowly make your way up the mountains, passing mountain churches on the way. It’s not a difficult hike.
Since Assenowgrad had been under constant fire throughout history, Asen’s Fortress played an integral part and seemed almost impregnable.
It can’t be reached from three sides at it stands on a near vertical cliff. It has been part of the town from the beginnings of its first settlement, which is why it has so much historical and cultural value even today.
You can learn more about its history of occupation by the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Bulgarians, and Ottomans in the historical museum in Asenovgrad.
Even though it was constantly added to and used both as a means of defense as well as administrative hub, the Fortress was demolished in 1402 to prevent exactly this from happening (it was part of two brother’s fight for power).
The still standing Medieval Christian church is one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox churches.
How to Get from Plovdiv to Asen’s Fortress
To get from Plovdiv to Asenovgrad, you can take a car or taxi for a 22 minute ride (around $12), get on the train for a little over $2 or take the bus for around $2 and 40 minutes. In this scenario, trains are the best option. Check railway times online and then pay at the station.
Drive By Car
Driving to Asenovgrad from Plovdiv, you take boulevard alled “Asenovgradsko shoes” past Bus Station South and out of town along road № 86. Once you have driven through Asenovgrad town, you will see the fortress up on the cliff to your right and can take the road up. (Watch for the sign saying Асенова крепост.)
There are parking spots.
Drive By Bus
It’s easy to travel Bulgaria by bus.
Plovdiv has multiple bus stations, for Asen’s Fortress you have to head to Bus Station South on bul.“Hristo Botev “ № 47. You can buy the ticket at the station or from the driver.
According to Free Plovdiv Tours, the schedule on workdays to Assenovgrad bus and train station is 20 and 50 past every hour starting from 6:50Am to 8:20PM.
On weekends, there is no bus at 14:50, 16:20, 18.50 and the last two buses leave at 7:40PM and 8:10PM.
Take the Train
The train from Plovdiv to Asenovgrad costs 1.30 BGN for second class and 1.70 BGN for first class. It departs30 past every hour between 6AM and 8PM. The first train leaves at 04:52 and the last at 22:20. There is no train at 10:30AM.
I have more train travel tips for you too.
Walk to Asen’s Fortress
From the train/bus station in Assenowgrad the walk is approximately 3km, which takes under an hour.
Why You Should Visit Bachkovo
Not far from Asen’s Fortress lies Bachkovo Monastery. Getting there on foot is much harder than getting to Asen’s Fortress from Asenovgrad.
But it’s worth a visit. It is similar in style but somewhat smaller than Rila Monastery near Sofia.
The original parts of the formerly Georgian monastery was founded in 1083 and added to in the 12th/13th and 16th century, including The Holy Archangels Church and The Assumption of the Virgin Cathedral.
Albeit not entirely certain, it is supposed that Bulgaria’s last patriarch was exiled to the Bachkovo Monastery in the late 14th century.
What is also magnificent about Bachkovo are its wonderful murals and icons, such as The Holy Mother of God Icon said to hold miraculous powers. To see some of the oldest artifacts, you can get a ticket for the onsite museum. Otherwise, it is free to walk around.
- Monastery Complex –1 BGN
- The original refectory – 6 BGN
- The museum – 3 BGN
Can You Stay at Bachkovo Monastery?
It is totally possible to stay overnight at Bachkovo. The monks offer a few rooms to rent for the night. If toilets and bathrooms are shared, beds cost 10 BGN per night.
Ensuite rooms are 20 BGN and are provided to married couples only. (You can have a look here.)
Note that you have to arrive before 6:30PM, which is also when dinner is served in case you booked that in advance. Alcohol is strictly forbidden.
How to Get Around
How to Get From Asen’s Fortress to Bachkovo
To get from Asen’s Fortress to Bachkovo, it takes less than 10 minutes by car/taxi. There usually aren’t taxis waiting at the fortress, so you would need to call or schedule one in advance.
If the driver has trouble understanding English, don’t be too shy to ask a local tourist to help you out. Bulgarians are very friendly.
Alternatively, you can try to hitch a ride. Bulgaria is quite safe. I got offered a free ride when I asked for directions.
How to Get From Bachkovo to Plovdiv
From bus station “Rodopi” in Plovdiv to Bachkovo and back, you can take a local bus that goes to Smolyan (Смолян).
The bus will stop at Asenovgrad bus station as well. Buses leave Plovdiv hourly between 6Am and 7PM every day (note that the bus for 3PM leaves at 3:30PM instead). One ride takes roughly 40 minutes.
What Is the Weather Like in Assenowgrad?
Bulgaria enjoys a mild climate with pleasant temperatures throughout the year. Winters aren’t particularly cold and summers aren’t too warm. This also applies to Asenovgrad.
Since the city is close to the mountains, there isn’t a dramatic change in temperature and you can expect cooler summers than in the city of Plovdiv, for instance.
July and August are the hottest and sunniest months with temperatures of up to 30°C (86 F) and as low as 16°C (60.8 F). January is coldest, ranging between 5°C and -4°C (41 to 24.8 F). June is the wettest and August the driest month.
What to Pack for Asenovgrad
Depending on the season you visit, you might want to wear a different wardrobe. However, one thing that applies at any time is the fact that you should wear layers.
During your hikes, you might get quite sweaty and temperatures increase halfway through, so you would need to take off your jacket, for instance.
Hiking shoes are a definite must as the path is small and uneven. I always wear my trusty Lowa boots*, almost every day. If you aren’t hiking at all but drive to Asen’s Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery, then you can wear a regular city outfit.
There aren’t any restaurants or shops along the way. Only at Bachkovo can you get food and souvenirs.
Don’t forget to check bus schedules and have a taxi number on you, just in case.
In Bulgaria, you also need to travel with cash; don’t expect credit cards to be accepted everywhere. Also, if you are catching the bus or taxi, you can only pay in cash.
Have it exact for local buses. Intercity buses, you can pay for online and then print the ticket. (Screenshots aren’t usually accepted.)
Where to Stay
Your best bet is to stay in Plovdiv as it is a much larger city and has so much to offer in terms of sightseeing food and sunset spots.
If you can, stay in Old Town. Even if you are not a major fan of hostels, I can recommend Guest House Old Plovdiv* with its super cute and vintage decor.
Breakfast is included and the staff are super nice. It’s only a few minutes walk to the nearby ruin with amazing views over the city, the traditional restaurant Rahat Tepe and historic museums.
Hotel prices in Bulgaria aren’t overly expensive, so for only $70 per night, you can stay in the lap of luxury at Hotel Evmolpia* or Landmark Creek Hotel & SPA*. For mid range hotels for less than half the price, try Villa Antica* or Alliance Hotel*.
Right in the city centre and along the river front, is Central Guest Rooms*. It offers the best value for money, according to Booking.
An alternative with a great panoramic view from the rooftop over the mountains is Alexander Hotel*.
Is Visiting Assenowgrad and Bachkovo Worth It?
I really enjoyed my day trip from Plovdiv to both Assenowgrad and Bachkovo. Combining the two can be hard if you rely solely on public transport.
But taxis in Bulgaria aren’t expensive as is renting a car. If you are staying in a hostel, you might want to ask fellow travellers to join you and split the costs.