Rupite Hot Springs
The first spot for me was Rupite Hot Springs, while Dennis stayed behind to explore a few more days in Greece. Rupite had great reviews on Park4Night and when I arrived I could see why. With a huge open space to park, free thermal hotsprings steps away from the van and a backdrop of beautiful mountains, I could see myself spending a lot of time there. And I did! I spent a week in Rupite, and maybe half of that time submerged in the healing waters, which were the perfect way to relax on a cold day. When the weather started to heat up, I eased back and only spend a couple of my last evenings there.
It was coming up to Orthodox Easter and the crowd came rolling in as the long weekend began. Dennis. Gimli and I, took a long hike across the hills overlooking the hotsprings and when we returned we decided to move on. The people were so friendly here and the atmosphere was really warm and welcoming but we wanted a more chilled weekend and I had run out of gas so we chose another spot
Rozhen Monastary, Rozhen Pyramids and Melnik town
We took the mountain roads towards the towns of Melnik and Rozhen and onwards up to Rozhen Monastery where we parked with an incredible view of the Rozhen sand pyramids, a unique mountain range in this region. Melnik Itself is one of the most famous wine regions in all of Bulgaria so we were excited to try some of the wines while we were in the area.
With the temperatures soaring, we thought it would be a great day to hike to Melnik, which was fantastic but proved to be a struggle back up the mountain later on. Was it the heat or the beer I had at lunch? Who knows! The views through the Pyramids were absolutely fantastic and so unique to anything I had seen before. We walked 4km to the town, took a stroll around the cobbled street and had our first ever local meal and beer in a restaurant which seemed surreal. We both had Kavarma (Bulgarian stew) and a local beer which was so incredible to enjoy in the sun, while Gimli reaped the benefits of the shade and relaxation under the table.
It was hard to believe there was a pandemic at all, considering life was so normal here as everyone enjoyed their long Easter weekend. We were excited to explore the wineries over the next few days.
Villa Melnik- This was our first stop in the wine region, and the road leading to here from Melnik town was so incredibly beautiful, with rolling green hills, snowcapped mountains and vineyards everywhere. We parked at the winery and got a tour of the winery, the winemaking process and the history of the region. One of the most remarkable things we learned was that this region had 300 days of sun per year, and was absolutely perfect for wine making, being surrounded by mountains. We were taken to the cave cellar, dug out of the mountain and then finally to the tasting table where we tried a variety of local wines including the rare Melnik grapes Sandanski Misket and Broad Leaf Menik. The wines were so delicious we were finding it hard to chose a favourite, and it was paired with a platter of cheeses and meats.
Orbelus- Next was Orbelus, an organic winery in the region or perhaps in Bulgaria, which meant they produced less wine, which was a little ore expensive but still very affordable. We were the only guest here and so, we had the opportunity to sit with out host for about three hours and chat about wine, Bulgarian life and most importantly Bulgarian history. We had learned that during the Communist times, everything was owned by the state, so they produced wine in these regions for trade, and Melnik was a famous trading town, given its location. It wasn't until Bulgaria became part of the EU, that they received some funding to be able to re establish this wine region and that is why you will find all of the wineries are relatively young. When you see the road leading to this winery and many of the other wineries, you cant help but agree that they definitely deserve more funding, like many other countries get to keep their industry thriving. It seemed like these wineries were hidden in the corner of Europe, considering we didn't even know about them until we arrived, which was a shame because the world was well and truly missing out- especially the wine enthusiasts!
Our last winery was Zlaten Rozhen which was big and fancy and the only on where we sat at a bar. I couldn't remember the last time i sat at a bar! We chatted to our host, a young Bulgarian winemaker from the northern city of Vratsa about wine but mostly about Bulgarian life. We must have sat there for hours and hours before realising we didn't even know what we were drinking at that point. This was a winery which we had heard a lot about because it is well promoted around the area and many of the wine shops in Melnik sell their wines. It was amazing to see the contrast between the three we had visited, and even though we learned so much about wine, we learned even more about what its like to live in Bulgaria. I had been wine tasting in Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Slovenia and I was very impressed by the wines being produced here. Having learned that there were a few other regions to try out, we knew this wouldn't be our last winery experience in Bulgaria.
We paid between €5 and €7.50 for 4-5 wine tastings, some with food platters and some without, s check this beforehand.