I finally visited
After over two and a half years in Bulgaria, it was my first time visiting Sliven. It had been on my list for a long time. I had seen pictures from the city, at the foot of the intriguing 'Blue Stones', the mountains right northeast of the city. I had also met a friend whom told me about Sliven. He said it's a cool city, just that it can get very cold in winter. It's also a very windy city, which makes the cold even harder to bear. The strong wind is called 'bora'. Another friend often spends free time near Sliven, in some villages west of town. He told me about the wide valley and how he feels at home in the area. My curiosity was triggered, I even passed near Sliven a few times. I had traveled through Gurkovo and visited the abandoned church that's under water now and then (see album below), and I'd been to Kotel and Zheravna. Never did I visit Sliven, most often because other places nearby triggered my interest. Then, in March 2017, I rented a car on Friday evening and, without a plan, headed into the country. I do this often and it's what I love most. It's a true sense of freedom to leave town on Friday evening without any plan at all. Granted, this might not be possible in high season, but outside the peaks, it's easy to find free rooms. It got dark and the headlights partly showed me the dark road ahead. I had taken the old road to Burgas, past Momin Prohod and Kostenets. After a quick break, I then arrived in Asenovgrad and decided to find a place to sleep. This was quite easy; as I don't have internet on my phone, I mostly tap into Wifi somewhere along the road. Often at a random gas station. To my surprise, it was already midnight. I looked for a hotel. There happen to be several good and atmospheric guesthouses in Asenovgrad. I called it a day and slept very well.
Next morning, I explored Asenovgrad on foot and visited the Asenova krepost as well. A beautiful sight in the morning sunlight. I continued south, to Bachkovo monastery, the Chudnite Mostove (Wondrous bridges) and then it started raining heavily. It poured buckets. I decided to buy a nice handmade pinecone vase and then changed my itinerary. I didn't feel like staying in the Rhodope mountains with heavy rain, as it might cause rockfall and there are many roads right beneath steep descends. I went back north, stopped in Parvomay, Dimitrovgrad and then spent the night in Yambol. Next morning, I got to Sliven. Yes, I explored all places mentioned, albeit shortly. I'm rather inexhaustible when traveling. I felt great, I finally had time to visit Sliven. It was Sunday already and I had to return at some point in the afternoon. It's a long drive to Sofia. Nonetheless, I parked near the center and decided to take my time to stroll around. When I got back to Sofia, I had driven 890 kilometres. A big tour, but I've finally managed to visit Sliven!
As I got out of the car, I directly arrived at the central square of the city. As in many cities, the city hall is right on the square. It's a beautiful building. I directly noticed how well the buildings around the square are maintained. The streets themselves seem to have been nicely repaved as well. Truly a pleasant atmosphere, directly. Coming from the big city, I always love seeing the different pace of life in provincial cities such as Sliven. People seem to take their time to chat to one another and leisurely sip their coffees. There seems to be all the time of the world. Sliven is not a small city in relative terms; it's the eighth of Bulgaria with about 90.000 inhabitants. It has wide boulevards and pavements, as well as parks to relax in. Along the tree-lined pedestrian street in the center, there are many large cafes to spend the afternoon. They look fancy and so do the people enjoying their drinks.
History and future
Sliven has quite an important history for the country; Sliven is famous for its 'Hajduks' (freedom fighters/highwaymen) such as Hadzhi Dimitar, after whom a neighbourhood of Sofia was named. He was born in Sliven. Yet, Sliven's history dates back many thousands of years, to when there was a Thracian settlement on these grounds. Three Thracian tribes, the Asti, Kabileti and Seleti, lived here when the town was still called Selymnos. Then, Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great conquered them. The area has also been part of the Thracian province of the Roman Empire. The name Sliven, as the city got named later on, stems from the Slavic word sliv (pour, confluence) plus the additional suffix -en. Up until the today, Sliven has been an industrial and cultural center. The economy has long focused on various traits, such as textile, machine-building and the production of food. Recent years have seen more investments in Sliven, resulting in the economy developing. Its location must certainly help; Sliven is easily reached from any part of the country and from abroad as well. Likewise, for tourism, this is an attractive destination. History and nature lovers, as well as simply tourists coming to relax, will find their place here. West of Sliven is the so-called Peach Valley, with many trees blossoming in spring. There's several springs with mineral water. There's interesting towns such as Tvarditsa, right below the steep mountains. Monasteries tucked away in the dense forests and, of course, the Sinite Kamani (Blue Stones) National Park. A varied and interesting area to visit.
What to see and where to stay
Sliven has, as do all Bulgarian cities, a large variety in hotels. You can stay in affordable places or decide to spend a bit more. A business hotel or a traditional guesthouse, anything is available. You'll find that Sliven has many attractive places for drinks along the main street in the center (Tsar Osvoboditel blvd.). Likewise, the city has plenty of options to have an excellent lunch or dinner. Park Central Restaurant, Pri Hadyijata (name refers to Sliven's Hajduks) and Pri Fabrikadzhiyata are just a few places to name. Visit Sliven, take a few days to explore it yourself. Sliven and its surroundings have plenty to offer to the curious traveler!
If you'd like to visit the Sinite Kamani (Blue Stones) by cable car, enter Lift station Sliven or Лифтена Станция Сливен in Google Maps. This will guide you to the starting point.