The longest (10km) and highest town in Bulgaria (1010m), Smolyan is actually an amalgamation of four villages, and is the southern Rodopi Mountains’ administrative centre. The steep and forested mountains rise abruptly on its southern flank, lending a lovely backdrop to a town that’s otherwise slightly timeworn and gritty. As in most of the Rodopi region, there’s a notable Pomak Muslim population here.
First settled by Thracians around 700 BC, the town is an alternative place to stay for skiing Pamporovo and Chepelare, though certainly not the most beautiful one. It’s the transport hub for villages such as Shiroka Lûka and Devin. Smolyan is also a base for exploring the seven Smolyan Lakes, the caves of Golubovitsa, partly underwater, and Uhlovitsa, with its bizarre rock formations.
Although Smolyan is 10km long, the centre is essentially the partly pedestrianised bul Bulgaria, which has ATMs, a post office, and cafes and restaurants on its western end.