Exploring Kazanlak and Stara Zagora region
One of the things I wanted to tick in my Bucket list was to visit the Rose Valley (in Kazanlak, Bulgaria) and to participate in all the festivities around the Rose Festival. This year the time has come to take the road….I was targeting the Rose Valley, but the more I was digging what to do and where to go in the region, the more places I was adding to my list…At the end, and to my surprise, I saw much more than I expected and realized that it’s a very ambitious task to explore the region in only one long weekend! Make yourself comfortable and continue reading ):
First day: Stara Zagora
”The heart of Thracia” or ”The city of the Tilias” the city of Stara Zagora is proud to have both surnames and for a reason.
If you visit Staza Zagora end of May – beginning of June you will immerse your all senses in the Tilias’ aroma which are blossoming in this period of the year. This beautiful perfume can be smelled everywhere you go..A fest for all your senses!
Stara Zagora is built up on top of the ruins of the ancient Augusta Trayana – important trade and administrative center back at the days. If you visit the Regional Museum of History (you absolutely should) you will walk on a completely restored and kept intact ancient street with all the original pavement and columns. It’s a travel back in the past! The Regional Museum of History keeps a rich collection of artifacts of the existence of Augusta Trayana and a preserved and complete collection of gold jewelry and crafts. Don’t just pass by, enter inside and visit the Regional Museum of History of Stara Zagora! When you walk in the open-air space of the Museum you will see the Amphitheatre of Augusta Trayana – the visit card of the city.
Even though the Regional Museum of History is a must-see, my favorite place in Stara Zagora remains the Museum of Religions where you can see ruins of 3 different temples: Thracian pagan temple, 10th-century Medieval Orthodox church, and a Mosque founded during the Ottoman invasion. It’s a miracle that the building is still existing after the wars during the Ottoman empire and the fact that the city of Stara Zagora has been burnt to ashes many times and survived as a Fenix. This museum is a mind-blowing travel in time. All the walls are so beautifully painted in different colors reflecting Islamic art and quotes from the Coral. Just brilliant!
After a refreshing homemade lemonade in one of the local terraces, we headed to Starozagorski Mineralni Bani – the Spa region of Bulgaria where we booked a room in a two-stars hotel/ guest house. Starozagorski Mineralni bani is a small village famous for its mineral waters and spa hotels. It’s a hidden gem where you can literally disconnect from the rest of the world and charge your batteries. The hotel where we stayed wasn’t anything special, but their homemade breakfast was mouth-melting. Never say no to a breakfast in a guest house in Bulgaria, you will definitely regret it! We did not have time to go for a Spa but definitely immersed ourselves in the local serenity and endless greenery.
Day two: On the road to Kazanlak.
If you plan to visit Bulgaria and especially Kazanlak for the Rose festival, make sure you book your trip, hotel and do all the necessary arrangements in advance because this is not only one of the most visited events in Bulgaria, but in the whole world! All the hotels are booked at least 6 months in advance, so why we had to stay in Starozagorski Mineralni Bani (20 km by car from Kazanlak).
So, continue reading to check on what adventures did we undertake on day 2 ):
Our first stop was the Ethnographic complex Kulata. The Museum itself is a typical 19th-century Bulgarian house showing the architecture, the interior and the traditions of Bulgarian people at this time. The best thing about this place is that you can see how rose oil is extracted from the flowers as they have all the traditional machinery and instruments exposed to the public. The Rose extraction process is shown during the festivities around the Rose Festival and in the Rose Museum as well, but in case you decide not to participate in these activities, you can see the whole process in the Ethnographic complex Kulata. The second highlight of our visit was a Rose-liquor tasting with a Rose-jam. I bought a bottle of the liquor as a souvenir not only because I wanted to bring the beverage in Holland and serve it on a special occasion, but also because all the main attractions of the city are engraved on the bottle itself and you can keep the bottle as a souvenir.
Kazanlak region is also called ”Valley of the Thracian kings’‘ because of the concentration of Thracian tombs founded there. The most famous one is the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak. The Tomb itself is not open for public, but a copy of it is made to welcome visitors. Another famous tomb is the Tomb of Sevt III, and it’s located outside of the city. There are at least 10 Thracian tombs concentrated in the region and you can visit any.
On the road to the Tomb of Sevt III we decided to make a detour and go wild ):
Make a detour means visit the town of Shipka and its Memorial church ”Nativity of Christ”. It’s a big orthodox church with beautiful Golden cupolas that you can see while from far away while driving. The church is impressive and quite big.
As a souvenir we bought a bowl of buffalo yogurt which we mixed with Rose jam and ate as a desert ):
Next stop: Shipka monument. Shipka monument is the symbol of the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottomans. This is an emblematic place in Bulgarian history and for Bulgarian people. It’s majestic and the panorama that opens in front of you from the hill is breathtaking.
That was the second day, we came back to Starozagorski Mineralni Bani exhausted and enjoyed a quiet dinner in the hotel.
Day three: Rose festival and Rose picking ritual
The Rose festival takes place in different locations as one of the main activity (ritual) you can participate in the Rose-picking ritual. You can go for Rose-picking in one of the villages of your choice. For more information, please check on the website of the Municipality of Kazanlak. We took part in the Rose-picking ritual in the village of Kran (с. Крън) which is located at the exit of Kazanlak. There were traditional dances and songs, rose oil extraction ritual, rose-picking ritual, a lot of people were dressed in traditional Bulgarian Nosia (traditional Bulgarian clothes) and immersed themselves in the celebration. We picked roses, made a lot of pictures, I was interviewed by a Chinese guy about the Festival and the atmosphere out there. Just a little bit further we found a lavender field where we stopped for another photo session.
During the Rose festival, a special ceremony of choosing Princess Rose is organized in the city center of Kazanlak. We had tickets for the event, but it was so crowded and we decided to skip it and took the road back to Varna.
Before finishing this article I would like to give you some tips on how to organize your trip to Kazanlak and what to expect there. I would advise visiting the Rose Valley at the end of May, not beginning of June as almost all the roses are already picked up at the beginning of June and you could be disappointed. Second important thing: as a tourist and first-time visitor, you would prefer buying all the tickets and reserve a spot for the Rose festival official ceremony in advance, but this is not really worth it. I bought the most expensive package including visits for free to all the Tombs and Museums, but it’s near impossible to do them all. Also, we couldn’t participate in the final ceremony of choosing Princess rose even though we had reserved seats because of the crowd in the city center.
Considering to go to the Rose Valley next year? Start planning your trip now!
Thanks for reading!