Traveling around the Sub-Balkan valley is something very special for any Bulgarian. In every village, every house or museum, we dive into the stories of great Bulgarians who fought for the freedom of our country.
It is inevitable to associate these lands with the Revival period, which gave birth to some of the most prominent Bulgarian national figures, poets, thinkers, doers.
Nevertheless, history takes us far back in time, since on these lands we encounter a heritage dating back to the Neolithic period, as well as from the time of the Thracians.
After travelling through Northwest Bulgaria and the Western Balkan Mountains, ending up with the region of Vratsa, after the end of the 5th week of the 66 days journey, I had to continue east, to the southern foothills of the Balkan Mountain and from there to the Sub-Balkan valley.
According to many, this is considered to be the most European village in Bulgaria. Not only is it well organized , sparkling clean and well-maintained, which turns walking through its streets into a real pleasure, but Chavdar is also an example of a forward-driven and creative destination management. In recent years, the village has managed to keep attracting more and more tourists with its investments in reviving the history and culture of the region.
Chavdar Folklore Center: at least in my opinion, this is the most interesting space where one can get acquainted with Bulgarian folklore, customs and traditions. This wonderful center, created just a year ago, represents a perfect symbiosis between the modern and the traditional. The interactive exhibits and screens introduce to us in an interesting and fun way the Bulgarian way of life and culture.
Archaeological Park “Topolnitsa”: the park is built on the hill next to the present day Chavdar, since here were found remains of an early Neolithic settlement dating from more than 7000 years ago. This place is truly unique in itself and besides its exposition hall, typical Neolithic houses have been built, as well as workshops for processing ceramic vessels, skins and stone tools. The most interesting thing, however, is the opportunity to spend a night in one of the Neolithic huts, a sort of time-travel experience worth living.
Pekarna Provence (Bakery): Good initiatives are not only a result of the actions of the local administration, but also of private initiatives, such as this bakery. In addition to fresh hand-made bread and pastries, they owners also offer numerous workshops that teach us one of the most essential and vital crafts for Bulgarians – kneading and bread making.
Known as the place where the April Uprising broke out, on April 20, 1876, this settlement has managed to keep its authentic Revival spirit to this day. It is really magical walking through the streets of Koprivshtitsa, but in order to truly feel the essence of this place, it is important to absorb its history. Unfortunately, pressed by time, I was not able to dedicate it the time it deserves, but I definitely intend to return again soon.
Continuing with the story of the April Uprising, Panagyurishte is another place that has played a key role in its realization. The town became the center of the 4th Revolutionary District and the capital of the April Uprising. When the rebellion was suppressed, the town was burned, which is why only few of the old Revival houses are still preserved today.
Panagyurishte is proud of its rich Thracian heritage, with several Thracian graves in its surroundings. In one of them, in 1949, was found the world-famous Panagyurishte golden treasure, dating from the IV-III century BC. This exceptional finding, consisting of nine vessels made of pure gold and weighing a total of 6.146 kg, once belonged to Thracian rulers who used the vessels for religious ceremonies.
Panagyurishte History Museum: Apart from a copy of the Panagyurishte Treasure (the original is stored in the Regional Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv), the museum has valuable artifacts and preserved documents that allow us to get to know in depth the history of the region.
Rayna Knyaginya House museum: The home of one of the most significant revolutionary figures of the April Uprising, the person who sewed the main flag of the revolt, is worth a visit. Here we will learn more about the life of Rayna Futekova – distinguished in history by the title “Knyaginya” (Princess) – an exceptional Bulgarian woman who, only 20 years old, played a key role in the uprising, leaving a lasting trace with her unwavering spirit.
Rumelia Wine Cellar: Awarded multiple times at various international competitions, here we have the opportunity to get acquainted in depth with the winemaking and taste of wines from the Upper Thracian Plain region.
This ancient Thracian settlement is a must stop for any history lover traveling around the region. Inhabited since about seven millennia ago, Starosel has managed to preserve much of its cultural heritage, such as the Thracian cult complex, where we learn more about the rituals and customs of the ancient Thracians.
Traveling from Starosel to Hissar, one cannot avoid being impressed by an old village turned into a kind of open-air museum for modern art. Few years ago, Staro Zhelezare’s artist Ventsislav Piriankov, a professor at the Academy of Arts in Poznan (Poland), began inviting his students to his village to take part in a project aimed at combining modern street art and rural traditions. The result is an extraordinary collection of drawings on the walls of the entire village on a variety of subjects, including images of world-renowned figures in art, politics or science, as well as local characters and ordinary people. It’s definitely one of those places that leaves no one indifferent.
House of Traditions: If the remarkable outdoor art gallery gives a nice modern look to the village, then the Ethnographic Museum “House of Traditions” reminds us of its authentic spirit. With its themed spaces, such as those dedicated to Bread and Wedding, a rich collection of costumes, ornaments and symbols, built and maintained thanks to the great devotion by the local community, this house is a real treasure, where every visitor feels truly welcome from the moment of stepping inside.
Known nowadays mainly as a spa resort, thanks to the healing properties of its mineral waters, Hissar is a town with a rich past. Its favorable climatic conditions and mineral waters attracted people to these lands many thousands of years ago. After the conquest of the area by the Romans, 46 BC, here was risen a large Roman city, which at the end of the III century was the third largest city in the province of Thrace (after Philippopolis and Augusta Trayana – nowadays Plovdiv and Stara Zagora). Walking through the city, one quickly comes across the rich heritage of this glorious period – a fortress wall, an amphitheater, a spa… a legacy whose strongest imprint by date is certainly related to the extended use of the healing properties of the mineral water.
Where to stay in this part of the Sub-Balkan valley?
Apart from the Neolithic huts of Archaeological Park “Topolnitsa”, which I mentioned above, there are plenty of wonderful places to stay in the region.
Nomadic UnityHub (Zellin, Botevgrad): I’m going to start with a really special place where I had the chance to stay, combining the modern lifestyle with the traditional look of the village, a place different from everyone else, provided it is not a guest house. Zellin house is a restored rural house, transformed into a social center for the exchange of experience, ideas, creative processes and international practices. This house is the “pilot episode” of the project started by Tsvetina Petkova, aiming to revive the Bulgarian villages.
NoName Guesthouse (Koprivshtitsa): It may have “NoName”, but it does possess a very distinguished character. This two-hundred-year-old house and its owners welcome us into their natural and genuine world, where, to put it mildly, every guest feels at home. Here, all guests sit together at the table and participate (as long as they wish) in the preparation of delicious meals with the hostess Snezhana, who is also an artist, who has turned part of the yard into an art gallery. For those who are looking for some adventure, the other host, Yasen, will be pleased to offer a kayak or a bike tour.
Hotel complex Djudjeva house (Panagyurishte): another house with a rich history dating back to the 1860s, a true example of traditional Bulgarian Revival architecture and one of the few preserved houses from the fire during the April Uprising. The house has been transformed into a kind of private ethnographic museum where you can learn old Bulgarian crafts, such as embroidery or take part in workshops, such as the preparation of Panagyurishte salt. What really sets this place apart, though, is its inn where traditional local dishes can be tasted, such as Panagyurishte-style eggs (the best I’ve ever tasted) or the tutmanik from Panagyurishte.
Historically enriched and spiritually satisfied, the visit to this region leaves a lasting mark on all its visitors, reminding them of the great history of these lands and their people.
In the middle of the week I was about to reach the Karlovo region, from where I continued to Kazanlak and from there through the Rose valley, reaching Stara Zagora. I will have to leave this, however, for the next time…