Sep 09


May and June are great for city breaks and road-trips throughout the fascinating rural areas of Europe: the weather is just perfect, everything is green, the fields are full of flowers fruits and ripe in a dazzling abundance: cherries, peaches, apricots and all the blessings of nature. Bulgaria has more than that, for years, it is a world leader in the production of essential oil of rose and recently it has surpassed France at the production of lavender oil. So you do not need to fly halfway across Europe to see fields of purple lavender, where you do that in Bulgaria, especially that it is not yet a mass touristic area, therefore all the beautiful places are not annoyingly crowded and very importantly, the prices are lower when it comes to accommodation and food.

But before lavender blossoms, it is time for the roses to bloom; this particular type of roses are used for marmalade and fragrance of essential oil with a strong smell.

Geographically speaking, the Rose Valley is stretching from Klisura Kazanlak, between the rivers Stryama (in the west) and Tundzha (towards the east), at an altitude of 700 meters.

From mid-May to early June, the Rose Valley is adorned in clebebrations robes and receives tourists from all over the world to see the miracle. The fields are in bloom and delightful scents flood the surroundings; the show that it provided by the billions of roses in bloom is unique and charming.

At the festival you will enjoy traditional and modern singing, dancing, street parades, and a popularity / beauty contest, where the Rose Queen is chosen among the most beautiful girls; however, beyond all these festivities, the main attraction is very ritual of picking the roses. Rosa Damascena – Damask rose in free translation – it’s the variety that is grown here at the foot of the Balkans and is considered, rightly, the greatest treasure of the region. Aligned rows of roses unfold in front of your eyes just like the beautiful vineyards in Tuscany.

Each piece of this blessed land is cultivated with pink roses and when it is time for harvest, hundreds of day laborers are brought from all over the country to fill hundreds of bags with delicate petals every day.

Obligatory stop: the Damascena Private Distillery in Skobelevo

Damascena is an ethnographic complex, which includes the distillery where you can see how they make the essential oil during the rose harvest season, a rosarium with hundreds of varieties of roses – which come in all shades of pink and all intensities of fragrance, a park, an ethnographic museum, a gift shop (with cosmetics based on rose and lavender) and a restaurant with a lovely garden where the tables are placed under a canopy of climbing roses.

This beautiful place seems to be taken out of the pages of ancient fairy tales, or that you have reached a parallel dymension that resembles Heaven. You will certainly love this place and will definitely want to return.

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Sep 27

Rose Valley

Whenever we think about a specific country or region in the world, we tend to search for the most well-known characteristic it possess and we most of the times define that area by this single distinguished trait. This does not necessarily bring justice to the region, but it is a common practice nonethesless.

For instance, every tourist knows that Bulgaria is renowned, among other things, for its tradition of producing essencial oils. And anyone who denies having bought a souvenir consisting of a small bottle of rose oil is a liar. This is basically one of the most widespread ‘tokens’ one takes back home after a visit to Bulgaria because it captures the essence, so to speak, of the country. Whenever we think about giving our loved ones a souvenir we consider an item which is basically a symbol of that state’s  tradition.

And this specific tradition dates back from the 1800s and it is a custom that brings great pride to the nation. History has it that the first roses were introduced to the country by soldiers of Alexander the Great and that they had brought them for Persia. The flowers found the soil and the climate to be perfect for their growth and thus massive cultivation began. The Bulgarians have even developed a specific method of cultivation which eased the labor required originally in the process of planting, which favoured massive proliferation, but which preserved the quality of the flowers.

Today, Bulgaria prides itself with a unique region called the Rose Valley and a product, the rose oil, which is recognizable at an international level for its unique properties. In fact, the oil produced here is considered the best in the world and it manages to maintain this distinguished quality due to the strict protocols imposed by the government in terms of both testing and production.

The term ‘Rose Valley,’ or ‘Valley of the Roses,’ is used to refer to the area where the renowned roses are planted, an area situated in the center of the country, but which is not geographically demarcated. While many might not consider fields of roses to be acuratelly labeled as a tourist attraction, one cannot deny the beauty of the immense meadow of roses once confrunted with such a view. It is definitly a way of pleasing the senses.

But if you are interested in more than just admiring the fields, that you should definitely visit Bulgaria in the first week of June. Why is this specific period worth your attention? Because it is the time of the year when the Festival of Roses is being held. The festival includes numerous traditions and even though you cannot actively participate in them, these are definitely great to follow, even if from the spectators’ booth. During this week, the pickers wake up early in the morning and go on about their job in the field in traditional costumes. But the fieldwork is sprinkled with episodes of dancing and singing.

Another event of great interest is the beauty peagent organized each year. All the girls who graduate highschool that particular year are signed up in the contest and the most beautiful of them all is chosen Queen Rose. In her turn, after she is crowned queen, the girl has to reward the most skillful rose picker in another ceremony which takes place later in the afternoon.

The city of Kazanlak, with this festival, manages to involve tourists in the traditions of the country and also to pinpoint the cultural traits and customs it so proudly perpetuate over generations.