Rozhen Monastery

Pirin Mountains

Standing serenely in the hills 7km north of Melnik, this working monastery has admirable 16th-century frescoes and a holy icon of the Virgin Mary. Its most significant building, the Nativity of the Virgin Church (1600), contains stained-glass windows, 200-year-old murals, woodcarvings and iconostases, with the icon of the Virgin its main focus for pilgrims. Rozhen Monastery attracts fewer tourists than other monsteries in Bulgaria, so dress modestly, don't take photographs, and keep chatter at low volume.

First built in 1217, Rozhen Monastery was largely reconstructed in the late 16th century after a fire. Today’s monastery was mostly built between 1732 and the late 18th century. Believers say the icon housed here was painted by St Luke, and that it miraculously survived being hurled into the sea, floating upright.

Buses from Sandanski to Melnik continue to Rozhen, but a bracing way to arrive is by hiking from Melnik (7km; simply follow the signs). The trail is shadeless so avoid midday walking, wear a hat and take water.