In my 'Bulgaria section' you can find many more places to travel to!
There's plenty more roadtrips to make in this country as well!
Travel to Panagyurishte, a surprising town in Central Bulgaria. At about 90 kilometres east of Sofia, this laid-back town is surrounded by hills. Well, there are many such towns close to Sofia. However, Panagyurishte deserves a story of its own, especially because of its historical relevance for the country. The city's name derives from the Greek word 'Panegyri', which stands for festival or fair. The town gained national recognition as it was the main center of the April Uprising (1876) against the Ottomans who occupied Bulgaria. As the epicenter of rebellion, Panagyurishte gained the Ottomans' attention, resulting in a violent crush of the Uprising. The town was then almost completely razed to the ground. Few houses in Bulgaria's specific Revival style have remained. Koprivshtitsa, nested in the Sredna Gora mountain range as well, has a center that has been very well preserved. This town is also widely known for its resistance against the Ottomans. Even though Panagyurishte carries the same historical relevance, it receives far fewer visitors in comparison. It absolutely deserves to get its recognition though, not only for its national importance but just because it is a really nice town.
Panagyurishte has one obvious sight no one could possibly miss - a place to remember the many lives lost in the battle against the Ottomans and to honour the Uprising's heroes. Not only that, it marks how the whole city was rebuilt from scratch. Nowadays, the monument fiercely stands above the central square. It certainly adds grandeur to this city and its size will leave you impressed as you walk up the stairs. The memorial complex was constructed a 100 years after the April Uprising, in 1976. The hill on which the monument was built, was the exact spot most revolutionists were located. From here, they had a good overview of the whole city. Directly behind the tall monument is a path that leads to Oborishte. In about 9 kilometres, through a pleasant landscape, you arrive. Oborishte is another such interesting place related to the Uprising. As this whole region is packed with national history, it is absolutely worth exploring. Besides, as it is so close to Sofia and even possible to visit in just a day, Panagyurishte should be in any list of excursions from the capital. Should you stay in town for a while, do visit the Historical Museum to gain a better understanding of this region. One more thing, try the famous Panagyurishte Eggs!
How to get there? Where to sleep?
Getting to Panagyurishte is best done by private transport, as it is a bit off the Trakiya highway between Sofia and Plovdiv. Besides, having your own wheels makes it easier to visit nearby towns such as Strelcha, Koprivshtitsa, Mirkovo, Belovo or even Batak. Nonetheless, plenty of buses leave from 'Avtogaga Yug', the southern bus station of Sofia. Beneath a large bridge close to metro station Joliot Curie, regular minibuses depart and take you there in two hours. Trains are available, however this requires a switch and takes an enormous amount of time. Furthermore, in Panagyurishte, the bus station is far closer to the center than the train station is. From the bus station, take the main street directly to the central square. Should you like to spend the night, Hotel Kamengrad is your best option. This large hotel is very comfortable and offers excellent possibilities for a spa retreat. A true delight. Obviously, this hotel offers a good restaurant as well. As it is a popular getaway for city folks, make a reservation well in advance through all seasons. Hotel Victoria is another hotel on the central square, that offers comfortable and spacious rooms including a restaurant. Guesthouse Djudeva Kushta outside the center is built in the architectural style of the Bulgarian National Revival, a cosy white house with many wooden details and a nice garden. In case you're heading back to Sofia by bus - the last one leaves around 18:00 as of November 2015. Check in advance in order not to miss your last bus!
You've seen Panagyurisgte, now where else to go? Why not to Starosel! It’s is a unique place yet not visited often by foreigners. It’s in the Thracian valley – meaning that Thracians long ago lived here and cultivated the land. Visit, for example, the Wine & Spa Complex Starosel. Make a reservation and spend the night – the pool, the spa and obviously the local wines are quite fantastic! The complex was designed in a classic Bulgarian style – white walls and wooden window frames as well as staircases. Just very pretty – it matches the area. As you enjoyed your lunch or dinner, why not have an excellent massage and then a walk around the block? The Thracians have left some ancient sites dating back to the 5th and 6th Millenium B.C., such as the temple complex, at 4 kilometres from the village. It was discovered in 2000. It is, until today, the oldest ever royal Thracian complex with a mausoleum. There are in fact six underhill temples, of which only two are accessible for tourists now. In addition, there’s a sort of stage that was once used for ritual dances, as well as a storage room for wine.
There’s more to see- halfway between Starosel and the underground temples, there’s the Horizont tumulus (tumulus = burial ground). It’s the only Thracian temple ever found that has a colonnade (a row of evenly spaced columns supporting a roof). This colonnade is built in a Doric style – which is one out of three canonical orders (the other ones are Ionic and Corinthian). It is the easiest and simplest out of the three orders but typically has complex details in the structure horizontally lying on top of the columns. As should be clear by now – history is found all over Bulgaria. Thracian treasures are still found all over the country – yet the historically richest region is most likely the Thracian valley. Not surprisingly, the Thracians were quite fond of wine. The valley lends itself perfectly for a good harvest – the soil is excellent and the sun seems to shine forever. Still, the Thracian valley produces some of Bulgaria’s finest wines.
Decorated walls in Staro Zhelezare village
Stop in Staro Zhelezare, a village you would otherwise just pass by. Park in the village center and just take a walk through some streets. What you’ll see is art on the walls – artists from all over the world have come here to lift up spirits of the village people as well as visitors. Like many villages, Staro Zhelezare deals with depopulation – people leave for the big cities to find work. To keep the streets look lively and interesting, the artists made some fine works of art on the walls. Nowadays, the local people are happy with the flow of people coming in to take pictures of the wall paintings.
What else to see around?
Should you have more time, head northeast to Hisarya, Banya, Karlovo and even Kalofer. There are more spa centers in Banya than you could wish for – and there’s more Thracian history to be admired in Hisarya. Then in Karlovo and Kalofer, find the traces of Bulgarian national heroes Hristo Botev and Vasil Levski. If time is short – head west to Strelcha. Again a spa resort that even has its own micro climate, it can be visited year-round. In summer you can even swim outside, in the Municipal Mineral Water swimming pool. Just search for it in Google Maps! Strelcha is well known for the April Uprising against the Ottomans, in 1876. The names of those who didn’t survive the Uprising have their names listed on both sides of the St. Archangel Michael Church. In this town – as well as in the whole region – roses and lavender are produced. Many products are made from these natural gifts, such as lavendar and rose oil and various other cosmetic products. In the Historical Museum of Strelcha, you’ll find various kinds of local artefacts, which are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Think of pottery as well as traditional costumes, bagpipes and spinning wheels. Quite impressive!
The region of the National Uprising
Another 21 kilometres northwest is the town of Koprivshtitsa. Again – a historical town. In fact one of the most famous ones, even internationally. The name of this town stems from the word Koprina, which means “nettle” in Bulgarian. It was, just as Strelcha and the whole surrounding area, a center for the April Uprising of 1876. In fact, the first shot of the Uprising was fired here. Koprivshtitsa is a prime example for national Bulgarian architecture, from the Revival period. There are 383 architectural examples, most of which have been renovated and are well maintained. Every five years, the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore takes place in town. It’s quite an event with people from all over the country and from abroad visiting.
You’re now just some 108 kilometres east of Sofia. On your way back, you’ll pass the village Chavdar, which is by many named to be Bulgaria’s most beautiful. Not specifically in terms of architecture, but its central square is indeed very pretty. If you’d like to spend one more night on your way back, you could stop by in Mirkovo and stay at St. Ivan Rilski Hotel. Mirkovo has, right next to the hotel, the only golden domed church in the country – besides Nevski Cathedral in Sofia.