Official Name

Смолян (Smolyan). The name probably derives from a small, local Slavic tribe called Smolyani. During the Ottoman occupation, the place was also named Paschmakli. Don't confuse Smolyan with the small town of Smilyan, which is just a few kilometers further to the south.


Location of Smolyan

Smolyan nestles amidst the massive Rodopi mountain range, the Western Rodopi to be exactly, which straddles the Greek-Bulgarian border. The highest summit of the Rodopi, the Perelik, is only a few kilometres away and 2,191 m high. To the north, it's around 100 km to the closest big city, which is →Plovdiv. The Greek border is in the south and only some 20 km away, but this is of no use, since there's no border crossing in the vicinity.


With around 32,000 people, Smolyan is by far the biggest city in the area.


Actually, Smolyan consists of three small towns, which have been unified in 1934. In 1960, the place was granted municipal rights. The town stretches between an altitude from 885 m up to 1300 m, which makes it the highest town of Bulgaria. All the three parts stretch along the river Cherna - Smolyan is many kilometres long. The town was supposed to be a socialist model town and this involves a lot of concrete in the centre. Therefore, the centre looks a bit different. However, people do not come to admire the town but the surrounding mountains.


The first settlement was founded around the year 1200. Due to it's isolated location and the fact that there was nothing like a real town but only three villages, the place never gained more than local importance. The attempt to create a socialist model town was interrupted by the political changes after 1989. Eversince, the mountainous border area around Smolyan, with the serious drawback of having no border crossing, suffers structural problems. During the 1990ies, the unemployment rate went up to 60 %. Officially, it dropped to around 20 % by now. Around Smolyan, tobacco is cultivated. Smolyan's future partially lies in winter sports, since the mountains attract many skiers and snowboarders in winter.

Getting there / transportation

You can get to Smolyan by bus, microbus or other motorized vehicles - there's no train at all. The easiest way to get there is via → Plovdiv - just go south all the way along the river Vacha direction Smilyan. The road is quite scenic, so just going there is already a highlight. The trip takes around 2½ hours. From Smolyan, microbusses frequent the surrounding winter sports resorts such as Pamporovo and Shiroka Laka. A small, minor but landscape-wise incredibly beautiful road leads to the west to the Pirin mountain range and further on to →Melnik and Sandanski.



Except for the chance to see the partially realized project of forming a social model town, there aren't any real highlights in Smolyan. Again, people visit the place for the mountains around Smolyan. Nevertheless, the highly 'concrete' city centre has its certain flair and offers an interesting contrast to the landscape.

In the Rodopi mountains near Smolyan
In the Rodopi mountains near Smolyan



The Rodopi mountains around Smolyan are a famous winter sports resort and therefore offer all the appropriate facilities and infrastructure, such as large hotels, ski lifts and so on. The area is not very big so everything is easy to reach. Famous winter sports resorts include Pamporovo a few kilometers north of Smolyan and Shiroka Laka north-west of the city.

View of the Rodopi mountains from Snezhanka
View of the Rodopi mountains from Snezhanka

Just a few kilometres north of Smolyan, there's the 1,948 m high Sneshanka with a TV tower on its top. There's a chairlift right to the top of the mountain. The vista is just great, since there are only a few mountains higher than Snezhanka. It also provides a good overview of surrounding winter sports facilities.


No detailed information accommodation, since I returned to Plovdiv the same day. Since it's a ski resort, there are many small and large hotels, but many of them will close in summer.


Do you have or do you know a good website about Smolyan? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.





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