Bulgaria proves that a country need not be large to be diverse and interesting. Its interesting geographic location has made it home to various ancient civilizations and varying natural and climatic conditions.
Tracing its history back almost thirteen centuries Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe, and probably the world, whose tourism is based more in its villages than its cities. Discovering rural Bulgaria is an incredible experience for any tourist. So unique are the villages here that they seem to exist in some strange timelessness, as if nothing has changed in the last several centuries. People in the lowlands still concentrate on agriculture, and those on the mountains earn their livelihood from raising animals and gathering herbs and fruits.
The hospitality that the locals extend to all tourists is what has made discovering rural Bulgaria so beautiful. Several people open their homes up to serve as guesthouses and bed and breakfast places. While history, culture and warmth are common everywhere in Bulgaria, the villages in every region are different. Even the rural homes look different in different regions. The list of beautiful villages is endless and so here we will concentrate on mostly the mountaintop villages that will take every tourist’s breath away.
Villages in the Balkan Range
Some of the more popular regions in the Balkan range are Bozhentsi, Tryavna, Zheravna, Elena and Koprivshitsa. Bozhentsi is not just a village but also an architectural reserve in the central part of the Balkan Mountains. It is famous for its pre- National Revival Bulgarian architecture that has been very well preserved. UNESCO lists this Bulgarian village as one of its world cultural monuments. To preserve the look of the village, no building that does not fit with the general style of architecture of the village is allowed to be built here. Stone plate roofs, corner fireplaces, wood carved ceilings and verandas are all features of typical Bozhentsi architecture. All streets in this village are lined with cobblestone.
Across a Roman bridge at the east end of the village is a forest path that leads to our next destination—Tryavna. Tryavna is well known for its textile industry. It is home to a hundred and forty museums and cultural monuments. The town square of the village dates back to 1814. The clock tower and the Kivgireniyat bridge are popular tourist attractions. It is in Tryavna that one of the first secular schools of the country was established. The Daskalov house is the more popular of many museums of icon painting and art and wood carving in the region. It houses the famous wood carved suns. Its ceiling is a work of art in its own right made as a result of a bet between two famous wood carvers Ivan Bochukovetsa and Dimitar Oshanetsa. With modern hotels and restaurants Tryavna is the preferred destination for many tourists.
Just twenty kilometers away is Voneshta Voda, a resort known for its mineral springs. Tryavna homes have their own architectural peculiarities. While irregular forms make up the ground floors, wooden bow windows are the marked features of the upper floors. Well cut and neatly arranged rocks cover the roofs. The Central Balkan National Parks has the most vibrant ecosystems in Bulgaria and is accessible from all the villages around. Just north of the Balkans are several monasteries like the Ivanovo Rock Monastery which is under UNESCO protection. Close to Gaborvo is the Etara Architectural-Ethnographic complex which is an open air museum dedicated to Bulgarian customs and craftsmanship.
Villages in the Pirin Mountains
Villages like Melnik and Dobarsko have been declared architectural reserves. Melnik has architecture from the National Revival and the Ottoman periods. One of the more famous wine growing areas of the country, Melnik is home to the famous Melnik wine. At the foot of Pirin Mountain is Bulgaria’s best ski resort, Bansko. But Bansko is not just a ski resort. It is a small town with buildings that date back to 100 BC. Here you can enjoy the annual Bansko Jazz Festival, Just about five kilometers away is the small village of Banya that is famous for its twenty seven thermal mineral springs.
Villages in the Rhodopes Mountains
The birthplace of Orpheus, Rhodopes is also known as the ‘Green Heart of Europe,’ so vast are the old pinewood forests here. Shiroka Laka is a quaint little village with architecturally authentic Rhodopean houses located on both banks of the local river. The houses are all two storey with a small yard that is closed in by thick white walls. All the yards are covered with slab and have a fountain in the middle. Every March, performers perform the Thracian ritual koukeri dance in a festival here. National Revival style architecture dominates the skyline of Dolen. Chepelare is a famous ski resort town on the Rhodopes Mountains. Other scenic villages include Zlatograd, Kovachevitsa and Boukata.
Villages in the Strandzha Mountains
Strandzha mountains has some of the most rare vegetation in the world. Just small treks from the lovely little villages on the mountain can take you to any of these botanically exciting trails. The pagan tradition of fire dancing is performed every June in the southern part of the mountain range. In Brashlyan mountain hiking and nature observation are included in the rural tourism package. Malko Tarnovo which literally means ‘Little Tarnovo’ is a small town just five kilometers from the Turkish border.
Go mountain hopping and discover rural Bulgaria for yourself. It promises to be unforgettable.
Top 3 Rural Holiday Accommodation in Bulgaria:
- Bio-Hotel Moravsko Village – Predela (Bansko)
- Holiday Villa Stresov – Borovets mountain resort (73 km from Sofia)
- Skaviva B&B – Madara (Shumen)
Photo of , Bulgaria, by Boby Dimitrov