Veliko Turnovo is a must see place for any traveller who wants to get to know Bulgaria for real. However, our old capital has much more to offer than what is usually shown to the visitors …
The end of the previous week of this trip took me to the region of Ruse. This wonderful city was also the starting point for the 4th week of this exciting journey, a stage that begins with our old capital.
Fully justified, Veliko Tarnovo enjoys great tourist attention, welcoming year-round visitors from all over the world looking to experience the grandeur of this beautiful city. Situated on several hills, it is no coincidence that this place was proclaimed the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom by the brothers Assen and Peter in 1185. Apart from the exceptionally picturesque landscape that it offers, each of the hills gave a strategic view of the surroundings, with the fortresses built on them (Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Momina Krepost) playing a key role in the security of the Kingdom.
However, in this trip, which focused primarily on the more hidden and less familiar places, I did not intend to extend my stay in the capital, so I also paid attention to some interesting less popular sites in the region. This is what brought me to Elena (a small town about 1 hour south from Veliko Tarnovo), a place that captivated me with its authenticity and its charming and hospitable people. More about that a little bit later.
As mentioned above, my visit here was brief but intense. Below I share the places I have visited, as well as the interesting experiences that are available to each visitor throughout the year.
Tsarevets: Thousands of visitors come to see the fortress every day. The core of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom and the most visited historical site in Bulgaria is not disappointing, and the view from above is impressive.
Samovodska Charshia: in the 19th century, during the Renaissance, the city rose up as one of the most prominent trade and craft centers in the country. A testimony to this is the commercial street preserved to this day, the Samovodska Charshia, where artisans make demonstrations in front of anyone who wants to learn about their ancient crafts. I had the pleasure of visiting several of them.
Dimitar and Nina Nesheva’s Ceramic Workshop: one of the few places in the country where royal, graphite ceramics are made, with a technique for decorating vessels, typical of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.
Kiril Dimitrov Knifemaker: a true master in making traditional knives.
Furriery atelier Nikov EOOD: the place where lamb skins are carefully processed, from which both accessories and souvenirs are made, and if desired, the visitor can make something small, by himself.
Vino Veritas: here is the place, next to Samovodska Charshia, where you can taste local and national wine varieties in a wonderful atmosphere.
The surroundings of Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is much more than Tsarevets and Samovodska Charshia, but pressed by the lack of time, I decided to visit some interesting places outside the city.
Nicopolis ad Istrum: an impressive Roman city dating from the 1st century, 20km north of Veliko Tarnovo, a must stop for every history lover.
Hotnitsa Waterfall: an enchanting natural phenomenon where a walk along the eco-trail following the source of the waterfall is totally worth it; the view – captivating; the atmosphere – liberating.
Lyaskovets: a small village few minutes away from Veliko Tarnovo
Monastery “St. St. Peter and Paul”: It is worth taking a walk to this sacred place, where in 1969 Vasil Levski founded the Lyaskovsky Revolutionary Committee.
Epochs since 1871 Guest House (in Lyaskovets): as the name indicates, spending a night here, one goes back in time; many of the authentic details of the house are preserved, contributing to a truly authentic atmosphere.
Arbanassi: I admit, I was slightly disappointed with this ancient settlement near Veliko Tarnovo, which, due to the mass restoration and the strong tourist flow, has lost its authenticity.
Kapinovo Monastery area: a hidden paradise for relaxation and enjoying the nature landscape.
The Monastery “St. Nicholas the Wonderworker”: one of the places that played a key role in organizing the April Uprising (one of the key events in Bulgarian history)
The waterfall: offering scenic views, next to the backdrop of the rocks, this is a great place to cool off on hot summer days.
Kapinovo Monastery Camping: It is worth pointing out this fabulous campsite, offering a different experience in the Balkans south of Veliko Tarnovo.
I must confess I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived here. The Elena Balkan was a completely unfamiliar place for me, so I started my visit from the Tourist Information Center, where I was not disappointed. The people here were extremely prepared and immediately guided me to places where you can immerse yourself in the local culture, taste local products, get acquainted with local crafts.
Maryan Winery: a wonderful family winery, where Svetla, Iliya and their sons continue the deep traditions in wine making in the Elena Balkans and receive year-round enthusiasts seeking for wine experiences.
Elena Delights “Velev” (Еленски деликатеси “Велев”): right next to the Tourist Information Center, here one can taste the typical for this area specialties, such as the famous Elena ham, which, I dare to say, is totally worth its glory.
Woodcarving Workshop: Milcho Benev, who you would be addressed to if interested by the Tourist Center, is the person who will introduce you to the intricacies of the woodcarving craft; and why not also make your own souvenir yourself.
Sgrafito Ceramics: Valentin Dimitrov’s Ceramic Workshop is the best place in the region where one can learn about pottery, roll the sleeves and make pottery with his/her own hands.
What about accommodation in the Elena Balkan area?
This is the moment to highlight the exceptional hospitality I came across in this beautiful area. The people here welcome you with open arms, sit down with you at the table and share their most candid stories, about the Balkans, about folklore, about traditions, about life. Among other things, what makes a real impression is the cohesiveness – everyone knows and recommends each other so that guests can get as many impressions as possible and maximize their stay.
The people who best exemplify this statement are the hosts of these houses in the village of Marafeltsi:
Morning Dew Guest House: Emilia and Adi are fabulous hosts who will not only welcome you at their home in the beautiful cottages built high in the Balkans and which offer magnificent views, but will also welcome you with the most delicious meals. Among other things, you can also taste the unique pastries that Emilia cooks with great love.
Marafeltsi Forest Guest House: a fabulous place where the wonderful host, Stella, a pioneer of guest houses in the region, laid the groundwork for rural tourism development in the area. Devoted to the Elena Balkan, she organizes numerous events that diversify her guests’ stay, making it an unforgettable experience.
Tourism opportunities in the region extend far beyond Veliko Tarnovo. Due to its rich history, the region offers many hidden spots, a true gem for lovers of cultural and historical tourism. At the same time, the Balkans welcome adventure travellers with a variety of activities.
Elena region, in itself, is a destination that deserves quite a lot of time. A weekend is definitely not enough to let one get acquainted with the treasures that the Elena Balkan has to offer, much less when we are looking to break away from the stress of the big city, but it is a good start. Once you get here, you probably won’t hesitate to repeat it.
Rich in history, culture and nature, Tarnovo and Elena regions will leave you with lasting impressions and will seduce you to come back soon to get to know them in depth.
This was just the beginning of an extremely intense and eventful week that continued to the Gabrovo region, which I will talk about very soon…