Rhododendron ponticum realm eco-trail
Updated: Feb 13
Over the millennia it has been called Tratonzos, Salmidesos, Mons Asticus (Mount of Asti), Hemimont (Red Mountain), Paroria.
It is located in the southeastern part of our Bulgaria and borders the Black Sea to the east and Turkey to the south.
And like everything in our Bulgaria, Strandzha is amazingly beautiful, wonderful and simply magnificent!
Our Bulgaria is small in territory, but what miracles are just gathered here - I am amazed and speechless every time!
My dear friends, today I will take you on an adventure 65 million years in the making.
Rhododendron ponticum realm eco-trail starts from the picturesque village of Kondolovo.
The village of Kondolovo is located in the very green heart of Strandzha mountain and can be reached in several ways. I chose the road Tsarevo - Malko Tarnovo. Kondolovo is located about 23 kilometers from Tsarevo in the direction of Malko Tarnovo, and the distance is covered in about 30 minutes, during which time I include the possible verification of personal documents at the junction for the village of Kosti.
Where is the beginning of the Rhododendron ponticum realm eco-trail?
Entering the village of Kondolovo, look out for a small parking lot on the right. The parking lot is located in front of a nice pub with the resounding name "The Last Cartridge".
For safety, set this point on the navigation and you will arrive exactly at the place. Just before it - on the left, is the beginning of our incredible and amazing journey back in time, just after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Remember well the markings on the trail - white, blue, white. The trail is perfectly marked from the very beginning to the very end and all you have to do is just follow the correct markings - white, blue, white.
Rhododendron ponticum realm eco-trail is a circular trail. What does this mean?
This means that the route back to the starting position is not the same - you will go a different way and enjoy even more wonderful wonders of nature.
The trail is easy and very pleasant for walking for everyone - child and adults.
The whole thing takes about three hours, which includes a good amount of rest and time for photos.
But let's follow the events consistently. This way, the probability of making a mistake somewhere will be minimal.
It will be best to park your car in the small parking lot in the village of Kondolovo.
Take with you water, backpack, wear long and comfortable pants and comfortable hiking boots. You will no need a hat against the sun - almost all the time the trail will take you through centuries-old and unique as plant species forests.
In addition to the excellent markings along the entire route, the organizers of this wonderful adventure have prepared a ton of surprises for unsuspecting visitors, ie. for us.
The trail itself is wide and perfectly shaped - you will certainly not have to tread on grass or have another unpleasant or even dangerous experience. Believe me - everything is thought out and the great mood is simply guaranteed!
C'mon! Let's go to an adventure!
Almost immediately I fall into the shadow of the tall centuries-old trees.
The birds sing with songs every step and so it goes easier - with a song!
Along the way you will get acquainted with rare, unique and relict plant species. The forests are of South Euxinian type, formed by eastern gorun, eastern beech and blagun with undergrowth of laurel-like shrubs (Rhododendron ponticum and others), sublingual zalist, Colchis gel and subeuxin forests of blagun, cer and eastern gorun. The flora of the mountain is an amazing combination of 1665 species, with dozens of relict and endemic plants.
What is a relict plant species?
A relic or relict organism is a living being whose species genesis is older than the predominant part of a plant (or animal) community. The origin of the species is in a geological period, whose conditions were quite different from the current ones, but despite the changes to which the species is exposed, it has survived to this day. Most relict species are wall biobionts, which makes them endangered, and most of them are included in various systems for the conservation of biodiversity and the genetic fund of the planet. In Bulgaria relics are found mainly in the mountains Strandzha, Rhodopes, Rila and Slavyanka: horse chestnut, silivryak, Rhododendron ponticum, laurel, ginkgo biloba, relict eastern beech, which forms (mostly in Strandzha) relict communities with evergreen undergrowth of Pontian mad tree and others.
And let's conclude - the relics have survived the changes of time, and some are old - from the time before the longest glacial periods on Earth and date their initial existence immediately after the extinction of dinosaurs after the so-called KT boundary (geological Cretaceous periods - Tertiary).
The fauna of Strandzha, on the other hand, is also unique and is a combination of 99 endemic species of invertebrates, and its vertebrate fauna is the richest in the Bulgarian protected area - 263 species.
And here is the place to mention that we are in a protected area!
The Strandja Nature Park is located on the territory of Strandzha Mountain. It was declared a park in 1995 and with its 116,136.2 hectares it is the largest protected area in Bulgaria. The reserves of Vitanovo, Silkosia, Sredoka, Tisovitsa and Uzunbudjak also fall within the territory of the park.
The walk along the eco-trail is wonderfully weird, especially during the last two weeks of May until the first week of June, because then the amazingly beautiful Rhododendron ponticum blooms.
What is Rhododendron ponticum?
This is the plant whose flowering I am here for. The trail itself is named after this plant.
Rhododendron ponticum is a plant with natural distribution only in Southeast Europe and Northwest Asia. It belongs to the genus Rhododendron (in Bulgaria there is only one other species of this genus - the alpine rose), family Pyrenees (Ericaceae).
Its "relatives" from this family are the heather, the kaluna, the Strandzha blueberry, as well as the strawberry tree (kumarka), recently discovered in Strandzha.
Strandzha periwinkle is listed in the "Red Book of Bulgaria" and is protected by the "Law on Biological Diversity", as well as a number of international conventions and agreements.
Rhododendron ponticum is a tall evergreen shrub with a strongly branched stem. The leaves are shiny green, large, oblong-lanceolate and glabrous. The stem has a smooth gray bark.
Attention! It is poisonous! It is not touched, it is only observed!
The flowers are large, purple-pink, gathered on the tops of the branches in umbrella inflorescences.
Rhododendron ponticum is a relict plant species from the Tertiary era, preserved in Europe only in Strandzha and the Caucasus.
Rhododendron ponticum participates as an undergrowth in forests of eastern beech, eastern gorun and blagun. It is a moisture-loving species, very demanding of soil and air humidity.
And this is its Realm!
I was here on May 20th and I can tell you, as you will see from the photos and videos in this unique travel blog journey, that the amazingly beautiful flowers of Rhododendron ponticum are just everywhere!
Everywhere you look - purple and pink, pink and purple and green!
Absolutely everywhere! Amazing!
All these interesting data about all these relict species are described in detail on dozens of signs, carefully placed by the organizers throughout the route along Rhododendron ponticum realm eco-trail.
You will successively cross a number of small wooden bridges, following the markings - white, blue, white.
You will see an arrow indicating "easy route", followed by an arrow indicating "difficult route".
I took the easy one.
You will cross the river on stones placed in the water and you will take a different trail - return route to the village. And on this path you will walk through blooming Rhododendron ponticum as well, and the trail back is no less magical and enchanting at all.
Observation corners have been set up in various places along the trail. You stand on the wooden platform and just marvel at this magnificent beautiful view all around!
Just before the very end, the trail goes out on the road (on the asphalt road) - this should not surprise you, and very soon, following the signs "to the village", you will return to the forest.
I wish you an exceptional and impressive walk!