The Valley of Roses and Stara Zagora – 6th week of 66 days Bulgaria (part 2)

The Revival spirit of Karlovo and Sopot, the fragrant of the Rose Valley and the history of the Shipka and Buzludzha monuments, to the ancient Stara Zagora

With its natural resources and central location, this region has played a significant role in the course of Bulgarian history, leaving its inhabitants behind a truly rich heritage.

Having visited the western part of the Central Balkan Mountains at the beginning of this 6th week, I now had to continue exploring to the east.

The Rose Valley (Damascena complex)

Sopot

The hometown of the Patriarch of Bulgarian Literature, Ivan Vazov, is one of those places that has managed to preserve the Bulgarian spirit and traditional customs throughout the centuries. This is evidenced by the many sites and strong-minded historical figures that remind us of its majestic past.

Ethnographic and handicraft center “Sopotski Esnaf”: The Association of Sopot craftsmen and connoisseurs of art crafts has its own special place, one of the highlights of the city. Here one can get acquainted with the work of distinguished local craftsmen in weaving, forging, pyrography, wool processing or pipe making. Its chairman, recognized as one of the greatest masters of engravers in the world, Evgeni Dimov, and his engraving studio, was the focus of this visit. I had the opportunity to get a closer look to his work, in which he has managed to combine the traditional with the modern. Thanks to a tiny camera, which he installed on his tool, he often broadcasts the process of engraving, explaining to his audience the specifics of this beautiful craft.

Ivan Vazov House Museum: A visit to Sopot is not complete unless you make a stop in the house of its most prominent citizen. Here, at the birthplace of this great writer, we come across some of the most valuable manuscripts from his extensive literary work.

Sopot Monastery “Ascension of Christ”: at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, coming out of Sopot we come across this “Royal” monastery – created with the donation of King Smilets at the end of the 13th century. Here take place some of the events of Vazov’s famous novel “Pod igoto”.

Sopot Waterfall: From the monastery begins a path that leads us to a series of beautiful waterfalls, the last of which is 15 meters high. Although it was almost completely dry in the heat of summer when I visited it, it was well worth it, even if only for the scenic walk.

Humsafar Place: There are accommodations that strive to be different, run away from standards, aiming to surprise their guests. This is exactly what the glamping complex of Humsafar Place really is. Situated in the hill above Sopot, here we find stylishly furnished wooden houses/huts and an eco-bar, whose chill out atmosphere makes us feel more like in a Caribbean resort than at the foot of the Balkan Mountains. With its remarkably creative approach, the hostess Daniela has been able to build a place that offers not just a sleep, but an extraordinary experience.

 

Karlovo

Located at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, Karlovo is the hometown of the famous hero of Bulgarian history, Vasil Levski. During the trip, overwhelmed by time and schedule, I was unable to give him the time I needed, but a few weeks later I fulfilled my promise and returned.

Vasil Levski National Museum: Here we can visit the Apostle’s birth house, as well as a remarkable exhibition of works of art depicting Vasil Levski’s glorious endeavours, moments of his life and his revolutionary work, until his hanging in 1873. Here stands also a memorial chapel, which houses another valuable relic: Vasil Levski’s blond tufts.

 

Kazanlak

Positioned in the heart of Bulgaria and the Rose Valley, Kazanlak is the starting point towards some important tourist sites, located in close proximity.

Rosa Damascena – symbol of the Rose Valley

However, if there is anything that makes Kazanlak area world-famous, it is the oil-bearing Rosa Damascena. Its colors are known for their subtle aroma, and it produces the famous rose oil with many applications in modern cosmetics. The Rose Valley region is home to nearly 80% of the world’s production of this elixir. The Rose-picking season usually begins in early May, with the city also hosting the popular Rose Festival from the end of May to beginning of June, a magical fest that attracts every year guests from all over the world.

In case you go out of season, where could you learn more about the magic of the rose oil?

Rose Museum Kazanlak: The only oil-bearing rose museum in the world introduces us to the history of rose production, displaying tools for processing rose gardens, storage vessels and other elements related to this long-standing tradition.

Ethnographic Complex Damascena: a small family distillery created in 1991 has been transformed into a massive complex today. Here we can get acquainted with the process of producing rose oil in a modern distillery, surrounded by a gorgeous pink atmosphere.

Enio Bonchev Rose oil distillery: in the village of Tarnicheni, not far from Kazanlak, is also the oldest operating rose oil distillery, built back in the distant 1909. Here, with a preliminary request, we can get acquainted with the traditional methods of distillation and how they have changed in time up to today’s modern practices.

Historic sites in Kazanlak region:

Shipka and Buzludzha Monuments, Shipka Memorial Church and the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak

Shipka Freedom Monument: If there is a place that best symbolizes Bulgaria’s liberation, it is the monument built on Shipka Peak, a place where decisive battles were fought in the Russo-Turkish War and where many of our grandparents gave their lives for freedom.

Shipka Memorial Church: The Russian church, built to commemorate those fallen in the Battle of Shipka, is a remarkable work of architectural art. Apart from its golden domes – which can be seen from afar when traveling along the sub-Balkan Road – and richly decorated painted walls, the church is also of a remarkably big size.

Buzludzha Monument: The largest ideological monument of the Communist regime in Bulgaria has been the subject of much controversy and debate. Its exceptional shape, resembling a flying saucer, as well as its mysterious history are of great interest to foreign visitors, attracted by its secrecy. What will happen to this unusual place in the future remains by this date a mystery.

Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak: Included in the UNESCO list of cultural heritage, this is one of the most significant monuments of Thracian culture in our lands. Dating from the IV-III centuries BC, the tomb owes its worldwide popularity to the exceptional murals in the corridor and the dome, depicting scenes from the military, terrestrial and afterlife of the Thracian leader laid therein.

What else shouldn’t we miss in Kazanlak?

Thracian Spirits – Kazanlak Horse Riding: The Kazanlak region is located in an enviably beautiful part of Bulgaria, right at the foot of Central Balkan Mountains, the starting point for many walks and mountain adventures. One really special way to get to know the area, get positive energy and lots of adrenaline is to embark on one of the hikes organized by this fabulous ranch, just 10km from Kazanlak.

Ostrich Farm “Four Seasons”: a very enjoyable ostrich farm where, in addition to learning about the life of the largest birds on earth, we are also invited to taste the most delicious creme caramel one can imagine, prepared, of course, with ostrich eggs.

Guest House “Roan”: a friendly family guest house, whose owners make you feel like at home and eat delicious home-made french toasts.

 

Stara Zagora

Bulgaria’s sixth largest city is also one of the most ancient and with the richest history, dating back to almost eight millennia ago. The earliest findings here date from the Neolithic era, but the true economic and cultural boom came with the arrival of the Roman Empire. Some of the testimonies of the grandeur of Augusta Traiana – as Romans called the city – are the ancient forum complex, the Roman street and the amphitheater.

Regional Museum of History: with its over 1700 artifacts, organized in various exhibitions from the 4th millennium BC. to this day, this space displays the rich history of Stara Zagora. Among the most interesting exhibits are Thracian ornaments, coins from different eras, and the famous “Samara” flag. In the basement, the museum hides perhaps its most precious “exhibition” – an authentic Roman street from 2000 years ago, on which we can walk dressed (why not) with ancient Roman costume.

Interesting experiences in Stara Zagora:

Napravi si bira: Bulgaria’s one of kind space, which welcomes us into the world of craft beer. The owners, Lubka and Robert Henry, create this place with the idea to teach beer lovers the art of brewing, by organizing various workshops and tastings in their sleek craft brewery, transformed into a classroom.

BagaTur: Located at Park “Ayazmo”, high above the city, we come across a truly spectacular place created with the clear aim of promoting old Bulgarian values and traditions. Authentic performances, archery, historical talks, bread tasting according to the old Bulgarian recipe are just some of the experiences that bring us closer to old Bulgarian life and culture.

 

South of the Balkan Mountains, we find a land full of contrasts with vivid nature, culturally and historically rich, a region definitely worth exploring in depth.

At the end of this 6th week, I was about to reach Yambol, where, after a short break, I had to travel south through Sakar mountain and from there to the Eastern Rhodopes. The story of this exciting journey is yet to come…


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