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Known as the "emerald eyes" of the Rhodope Mountains, the Smolyan Lakes are a series of scenic lakes set in southern Bulgaria close to the border with Greece. Located about six miles (10 kilometers) north of the community of Smolyan (also spelled Smolian) and spreading south of Pamporovo ski resort, visitors come to the area for sightseeing, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, fishing, hunting, bird watching, caving, rock climbing and winter sports.
Named for the Slavic tribe of Smoleni, what may have been as many as 20 Smolyan Lakes (or Smolianski Ezera) now number seven. These natural lakes lie in tiers on an ancient landslide typical of lakes in the central part of the Rhodopes where the rockslide processes continue. The seven lakes are described as small in area and shallow. Some lakes have no water during dry months. The highest and deepest of these lakes is Lake Matno (Muddy Lake) at an elevation of 5,249 feet (1600 meters) and depth of 15 feet (4.5 meters). The largest lake is said to be Lake Bristroto (Clear or Crystal Lake) with about 20 acres sitting at 4,921 feet (1500 meters) along with Lake Blatistoto. The last of the identified lakes are Lake Lagot at 4,757 feet (1450 meters) and, described as a peat bog or swamp, Ezerov Gyol at 4,265 feet (1300 meters).
The beautiful pine forests, lakes and meadows of the Rhodope Mountains are said to have been the home of Orpheus, a name pulled from the pages of Greek mythology. Running approximately 149 miles (240 kilometers) east to west, over 83 percent of the range sits in southern Bulgaria with the remainder continuing into Greece. Claiming an average of 240 sunny days a year, the mild climate of the central Rhodopes is home to the internationally-known ski resort of Pamporovo.
Located seven miles (12 kilometers) north of Smolyan, Pamporovo is Europe's southernmost ski resort resting on the slopes of 6,319-foot (1926 meter) Snejanka peak. A growing number of resorts, hotels, self-catering chalets, self-catering homes and real estate developments provide a selection of distinctive vacation rentals for leisurely trips to Smolyan Lakes or year around mountain adventures. During summer months the Rhodopes opens its slopes to rock climbing, mountain biking, caving, horse riding, or hiking 217 miles (350 kilometers) of marked trails winding through centuries-old forests. Bird watchers will find more than 200 species inhabiting the lakes, rivers and forests including the wall-creeper, black stork and golden eagle. When ski season begins visitors will find no end to the outdoor activities including skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice skating and ice fishing.
The Smolyanski Lakes are not particularly noted for their fishing but within the surrounding mountains there are numerous lakes, rivers and fish farms where mountain trout, whitefish, carp and perch can be found. Flowing near the town of Smolyan, the Arda River is the longest river in the Rhodopes and is home to barbell and grey mullet.
The region's beautiful sunny days and clear skies enjoyed by Smolianski Ezera visitors support indoor activities as well as outdoor sports. The area's starlit nights prompted the construction of Bulgaria's largest public observatory and planetarium in the Rozhen area near the community of Smolyan. Since opening in 1975 the Smolyan Planetarium has developed lecture series, children's programs, and a variety of shows (some with translations) attracting a growing number of visitors.
Near Smolyan Lakes and set within Bulgaria's Smolyan Province, the community of Smolyan is the administrative and cultural capital of the central and western Rhodopes. The population of 33,000 combines the residents of three adjacent villages (Smolyan, Raikovo and Ustovo) that merged under the name of Smolyan in 1960. This historic community dates back to 1572 and has retained its cultural heritage through the invasion of Muslim Turks in the 17th century and continued Turkish rule until 1912. Noted for its mix of historic and modern architecture, a walk through Smolyan is a stroll through an intriguing and often violent history. The older section of Smolyan provides some of the country's best examples of Bulgarian folkhouses dating from the 1870s. In contrast, a new modern town center was completed in 1983 providing a cultural center with a museum telling the story of the Rhodopes, art galleries displaying the work of local artisans, restaurants serving traditional fare, and intriguing shops to tempt a souvenir shopper.
Found 162 miles (260 kilometers) south of Sofia, the seven small Smolyan Lakes provide a major attraction for the town of Smolyan and the Rhodope Mountains. Lakes of simplicity and beauty, Smolianski Ezera offers a combination of peaceful scenery and recreation within easy driving distance of charming villages and mountain resorts. Whether you come for summer fun or stay to watch the Rhodopes sparkle with snow the hospitality and charm of rural Bulgaria will provide a vacation to remember.
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