Magnificent Rila monastery shows that holidays to Bulgaria are more than just an endless (albeit great fun) round of sun, sand or skiing. A UNESCO world heritage site, Rila monastery is the largest Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Bulgaria, and a must-see for anyone taking holidays to Bulgaria. While the site of the monastery has been an important spiritual and educational site since the Middle Ages, the building visitors see today dates from the time of the Bulgarian Renaissance and is an important symbol of Slavic cultural identity.
Key sightsThe first thing that strikes any visitor to Rila Monastery is the architecture. Dating from 1834, the buildings are uniquely Slavic, with black and white columns, arches topped by golden domes and intricate candy-striped brickwork. Also on site is Hrelios tower, which gives visitors an insight into the appearance of the complex when its main function was as a fortress. The tower dates from 1334 and is an imposing example of medieval architecture. Art lovers will be entranced by vivid frescoes created by muralist Zahari Zograf and his brother Dimitar Zograf, a noted icon artist. Dating from the 19th century, these enchanting pieces combine a stylistic rendering of religious imagery with the revival of interest in Bulgarian folk art. The frescoes are a must-see for any visitor and are in the main church ”The Assumption of the Virgin Mary', where it's also possible to see the grave of the last Bulgarian king, Tsar Boris III. It's also worth seeking out the intricately carved Rafail's Cross in the monastic museum. Outdoor lovers can combine culture and nature by taking one of the many walks that start from the monastery. The area has been a national park since 1992, and is home to endangered species included in the Red Book of Bulgaria. The routes are well marked and designed to suit a range of abilities.
PracticalitiesSet in the breathtaking beauty of Rila National Park, Rila monastery can be visited as part of a holiday to Bulgarian resorts such as Banksos or Borovits. Banksos is a year-round holiday spot, popular with nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts in the summer and a haven for skiers in the crisp Bulgarian winter. Borovits is a purpose-built ski resort, so it's quieter in summer, but an ideal base for winter sport fun. With Rila so close by, there's something for culture lovers too. It's possible to visit Rila monastery from the Black Sea resorts of Sunny Beach, Duna or Golden Sands. However, it's quite a trek, so taking two days, perhaps combining it with a trip to Sofia or Rila Lakes, will make for a more enjoyable trip. The Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila is still an active monastery and pilgrimage site, so visitors are asked to dress respectfully. Monks will offer a green cloak for visitors who are not appropriately attired, but it's always worth taking something to cover up, both for your convenience and to demonstrate an understanding of the significance of the place you're visiting. However you choose to enjoy this special part of Bulgaria, we've got plenty of resorts and holiday ideas in Bulgaria that provide the perfect base for your visit to Rila Monastery.