Western Rhodope's ethnographic oasis

The village of Leshten is one of the most attractive destinations for rural and ecotourism in Bulgaria

Photo: Adelina Lozanova Huddled in the folds of the Western Rhodope Mountains, the village of Leshten has preserved the atmosphere of a long-gone era.

The village of Leshten is among Bulgaria's most attractive destinations for rural and ecotourism. It lies on a southwestern slope of the Rhodope Mountains, offering an unforgettable vista to Mount Pirin. The village attracts tourists with its authentic look and the old houses from the National Revival period (18th-19th century), which are perched like birds on the steep mountain slopes.

Today, almost 15 houses have been restored, their original architectural style preserved. Having been turned into guesthouses, they offer tourists a combination of typical old-time atmosphere and modern-day conveniences. In the process of restoration, special attention has been paid to detail.

Thus, instead of newly made household items, authentic old ones, either preserved or restored after many years of faithful service, have been used. The interior design is archaic, but created with refined taste. Stone plates serve as rooftops; gates have been carved out of wood. All houses have large second-floor terraces, and picturesque yards and taverns in the basement. Tourists will find the stroll along the narrow cobbled streets particularly charming.

One of the village's architectural landmarks is the St Paraskeva church built in 1836. It has been declared a cultural heritage site of local significance, while the iconostasis and its icons are of great artistic value. Another building of long history is the monastic school built in 1833.

Only several dozen people live in the village nowadays, whereas in the past it used to be a lively place of merchants, builders, blacksmiths, and was rich in gold-bearing gravel deposits. Today, the beautiful scenery and the authentic National Revival period architecture have turned Leshten into a desired shooting location for films and music videos. The village also offers a number of attractions such as hiking, angling and one-day excursions to nearby landmarks.

Two more popular destinations for rural tourism lie near Leshten - the architectural reserves of Kovachevitsa and Dolen. Other places of interest in the area are the Tamnata gora (Dark Forest) natural reserve, which has centuries' old beech trees and pines, the Thracian sanctuaries Koziyat kamak (The Goat's Stone) and Chernata skala (The Black Rock), the canyon of the River Kanina and the picturesque locality Siniyat vir (The Blue Pool).

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