The most attractive destination around Plovdiv is Bachkovo Monastery (daily 7am–8pm; free), around 30km away and an easy day-trip from the city (hourly buses from Rodopi station to Smolyan). Founded in 1038 by two Georgians in the service of the Byzantine Empire, this is Bulgaria’s second-largest monastery. A great iron-studded door admits visitors to the cobbled courtyard, surrounded by wooden galleries and adorned with colourful frescoes. Beneath the vaulted porch of Bachkovo’s principal church, Sveta Bogoroditsa, are frescoes depicting the horrors in store for sinners; the entrance itself is more cheery, overseen by the Holy Trinity.
It’s possible to stay in refurbished rooms in the monastery (t 03327/2277; 30Lv/person with shared bathroom and cold water, 40Lv/person with hot water and en suite), and there are three restaurants just outside; Vodopada, with its mini-waterfall, is the best.