Crafts and Culture in Kostenets Area, Bulgaria
It is always the places close by that you tend to overlook. I often get reminded how many beautiful places there are close to the city I live in that I have yet to explore. There are not that many warm weekends left and now is the time to take advantage of the countryside in Bulgaria and escape the busy city. Only an hour away from Sofia – Kostenets and the surrounding area are another great option for a weekend getaway and a destination that you should put in your “Day Trips from Sofia” list.
With its mineral springs, the area is perfect for a short trip where you can get to learn about the local traditions, enjoy the beautiful nature around, breath in the fresh mountain air surrounding you and then retreat to one of the hotels with e mineral water swimming pool or a nice spa. Winter is coming and the locals have a secret – the warm mineral pools work perfectly with a bottle of wine even when you are surrounded by snow. Now that sounds like a great weekend plan for the winter as well!
Fortress Trayanovi Vrata (Trayan’s Gate)
The fortress is one of the biggest landmarks in the area and is located close to the Trakiya highway which makes it easily accessible even if you are just passing by and want to visit it on your way. You can spend about an hour (hour and a half) exploring on your own, getting a tour guide and visiting the small museum next to the fortress where you can see a short movie about the Bulgarian Tsar Samuil.
What makes the fortress such an important sight? It is a place where one of the biggest battles in Bulgarian history was held in 986 resulting in a huge victory for the Bulgarians over the Byzantines. The fortress is named after the Roman emperor Trayan, though the date of the original construction of the fortress is unknown. The first written records of it date back to the 3rd century. Recently the fortress was restored and preserved, with a new museum and info center created close by giving the visitors a much better experience.
There are a few churches and small chapels in the area and we managed to visit two of them on our way. First, we visited “Sv.Arhangel Mihail” (Saint Michael the Archangel) Church where the priest told us a few stories about the history of the church and the area and was nice enough to show us the great acoustic of the church by singing a song especially for us. The church has a beautiful quiet garden and we’ve learned that there is an archive of very old religious books kept in here as well as unique well-preserved murals.
Later that day, we visited “Uspenie Bogorodichno“ Chapel – a small and picturesque church with a gorgeous panoramic view just behind the main building. You can see the whole area from above and it is especially beautiful on a sunny day! The church was destroyed during the Ottoman rule and was later rebuilt. Ask the ladies inside for a story or two and they will be happy to tell you the legends and how the new church was built.
My favourite part of this day trip was the Kostenets waterfall. Who doesn’t like waterfalls? Usually you would expect to go in the mountain, hike for a few hours and only then enjoy a beautiful waterfall with water cascading gracefully around the rocks. Here you can have this amazing view with only 5 minutes walking from your car. There’s a parking, restaurant and a hotel with mineral water pool just before you the path that leads to the waterfall so even if you are not big on hiking this would be a great option.
The water falls from about 10m and the best time to visit is in the Spring when the water is at its highest due to the melting of the ice in the mountain. It might not be the highest waterfall you can see around, but it is still gorgeous and the setting is very fairytale like. You can sit right in front of it and enjoy the music that the water makes! There are hot and cold water springs at the beginning of the path so you can get some fresh water before or after.
The best activities when travelling are always the ones that give you a glimpse into something unique that you can rarely see somewhere else. This is exactly the case with the knife workshop we visited. A very small atelier full of curious machines and even more interesting stories behind the work of Master Nikolay Gavelski – artisan knife maker. He was happy to tell us how the knives are made, the different types and even show us a thing or two about the machines and the whole process. People are buying the knives for their collections, as gifts, for cooking at their homes etc. The handles of the knives are made out of deer antlers. Don’t worry, though, no animals were harmed for this. It is part of a natural process in which deers shed their antlers once a year.
Boutique Winery Rasin
Here’s a pretty good idea how to spend part of your afternoon with a wine in hand in an interesting atmosphere! We visited Boutique Winery Rasin to get some inside knowledge on how they produce their wine. We tasted several wines and enjoyed a relaxed time at the lovely balcony they have with raspberry wine in hand, some cheese and nice talks. You can choose from several red and white wines, rose and a special raspberry one to take home. They are just now starting to do the inside tours of the winery open for public and we were more than happy to be the first visitors. Our host was really friendly, so give them a call if you are interested in visiting, I am sure they will be happy show you around the winery. I can imagine how interesting it could be if you are visiting when they are in the season working full time on processing the grapes and producing the wine!
Craft Workshops located in Momin Prohod
Our last stop was a very interesting workshop dedicated to the local culture, traditions, and lifestyle. If you’re just now visiting Bulgaria I have to explain a bit more about this type of places. Narodno Chitalishte (Народно Читалище) literally translates as a place for reading. These public institutions were very popular in Bulgaria before. They have educational and entertaining functions with different clubs and meetings based on sports, music, and literature as well as a library, concerts, and conferences being held there often. Nowadays most of these institutions are not very popular and a bit abandoned. This is why I was so impressed by how well developed and actively working this workshop is!
You can attend demonstrations of the local crafts, learn interesting facts about the regional folklore and traditions, and even come back with new skills at knitting or weaving. It was interesting to get my hands on a weaving loom where they showed us how a carpet was made back in the days. You can also buy hand-crafted local souvenirs like wool socks, belts, and bags. It is a great present to get back home from a trip especially if you are visiting Bulgaria for the first time. Everything here is made with so much love, passion and attention to the details. We were welcomed with a warm and friendly chat about the culture and traditions of the region. Our host enthusiastically and energetically told us story after story that literally transported us back in time learning about how people used to live, cook, dress, and work. We’ve heard that the kids from the area are impressed just as much as we were and many of them are visiting the workshops on a regular basis!