In 2007 we decided that we wanted to buy a house in Bulgaria although at the time we didn't know very much about the country. We had spent hours looking at properties on different websites and we couldn't believe some of the prices.You could buy a 3 bedroomed house for £5,000. Yes it was true, in 2007 but I doubt very much if it is now.To cut a long story short we had chosen lots of properties in the area around Karlovo.
How did we get there?. We went into the travel agents and asked about flights. The young girl behind the desk said, 'Where's that?, I've never heard of it.' I thought, 'My God, it isn't that obscure, is it?'. Obviously not many people from Carlisle travel to Bulgaria but then in the small hamlet where I lived they had never been out of the county, let alone the country. To get to Karlovo we had to book a flight to Plovdiv and then travel on by bus which is exactly what we did. Now, here are some facts about this very picturesque Balkan town, known as the Rose Garden of Bulgaria.
The town of Karlovo is spread over two banks of the river, Stara Reka, and it is 520 metres above sea level. Surounded by the high Balkan range, Stara Planina, and lower mountains of the Sredna Gora. The highest peak of the range - Stara Plana, is 2367 metres above sea level and can be seen from the town. Infrastructure is reasonably developed and regular buses and trains travel to places such as Sofia which is 141 kms away, Plovdiv - 58km, and Troyan 66 km away.To reach our destination we took the bus from Plovdiv Yug Bus station. The journey was about 2 hours. The scenery most of the way was quite dull but then it was a drizzly sort of February day. The bus was a bit of a wreck but they aren't all like that as there are some brand new air conditioned coaches.
A Bit of History
Originally the town was called Sushitsa until captured by the Ottomans and re-named Karlovo, after the local Turkish feudal lord. In 19th century Karlovo had a cultural uplift and the town boomed economically due to skilful craftsmen such as coppersmiths and goldsmiths selling their wares to rich merchants of that time. Workers traded with Albania, Romania and Egypt. However, in 1877 this abruptly came to an end as the Russian Turkish War of Liberation set the town on fire. Over 800 people were killed and all the other survivors fled to the Balkan Mountains. Consequently the town went into an economic decline but eventually these difficulties were overcome and a period of material and spiritual advancement followed.
Attractions and things to See
The national museum "Vasil Levski" and the museum of history are among the most visited places in the town.
The national museum "Vasil Levski" is situated in the western part of Karlovo.It is actually the house where the famous revolutionist was born. The house was restored in its original form and was opened as a museum in 1937.
The museum of history is situated in the building which used to be a school for boys. It represents one of the most important architectural monuments from the time of the Bulgarian revival. The museum has existed for 100 years and inside monumets depict a diversity of crafts that flourished in the town. Here you can go back in time and pretend you are living the history of Karlovo.
The Town Itself
The focal point of the town is the central pedestrian zone featuring a trade centre and beautiful admiistrative buildings. In this area you will find the town hall, community centre, art gallery, a large hospital and a medical center, hotel, many shops, bank offices and many nice and bustling cafes, restaurants and of course a McDonalds and other fast food chains.
We didn't stay in the hotel as it looked a bit institutionalised although there are other guest houses and hotels just outside the main town. As we arrived in the morning and without any accommodation booked we had to find a bed for the night. I came up with the bright idea of just asking someone and off I went into the local chemist to ask. A young girl came from behind the counter and actually took us to the edge of the town to a building that looked like a hostel. It was in fact a building seperated into apartments and as there was one free we took it. Okay, it wasn't the best apartment I have ever stayed in but it was good enough for one night. Clean, comfortable with TV and en suite bathroom. Cheap too! What more do you need? The best thing about this whole deal was that adjacent to the apartment was a restaurant. It was owned and run by an Egyptian guy who was very friendly and helpful. The food was also excellent and ridiculously cheap so that was a bonus too.
We visited a couple of coffee houses in the main square. They were very busy and smokey. Bulgarians are heavy smokers in general and we even went to one cafe where they asked if we wanted a non-smoking area and of course we, said, yes but then the girl took us upstairs and gave us an ash tray. Obviously our Bulgarian isn't as good as we thought or perhaps they don't really understand the concept of no smoking. We will see what happens now they have joined the EU if they tow the line with the no smoking rule but I doubt if they will.
From the main square, a nice and quiet alley leads to a beautiful park with a children's playground and there is a beautiful waterfall Suchurum (Spraying water) on the Stara River. Very peaceful and picturesque.
The old town has 115 houses and monuments of culture. These are historically important to the town as they still preserve the charm of days gone by. In the cente of the old town, standing between the two beautiful churches of St Nikola and The Virgin Mary, looms the overpowering statue of Vasil Levski which was built in 1907.
Vasil Laski was born in Karlovo and due to his major significance for the liberation of Bulgaria, he is hailed as a national hero and often referred to as "The Apostle of Freedom" by the Bulgarian people.
This statue is a good piece of work and quite overpowering. The view of the old town with the mountain covered in mist and the blue and white of the churches is a lovely view. It reminded me of a turkish/greek town. I might add that we didn't at first see the mountains as it was so misty but we knew they were there. However, the next morning when we walked into the square it was a different scene. The sun was shining and the Balkans were on full view. It was really picturesque.
The Famous Rose Festival
Day of the rose has been celebrated in Karlovo for nearly a century. The festival takes place on the day of the Holy Spirit, in June,when roses are in full bloom. The day is celebrated with cultural events and music. Rose wreaths decorate the town and the wonderful fragrance can be smelt everywhere. The town is very busy at this time and to find accommodation can be a problem. Outside of the town are rose fields and this is where the rose picking takes place while young boys and girls dressed in national costumes dance to Bulgarian folk music The procession then goes to the central square where the Queen of the Roses is chosen and crowned.
For mountain lovers Karlovo is situated in the Central Balkan National Park which is one of three national Parks in Bulgaria. The area is good for hiking, climbing and paragliding. There is a network of chalets and marked mountain routes. Interesting species of plants and wildlife can be found is this beautiful landscape.
When most people think of Bulgaria they think of the Black Sea Resorts. Karlovo and this part of the country is another experience. Travelling independently, I was a little daunted at first but I have to honestly say I think it is a great place to experience. The landscapes are really picturesque and the towns in this area including Karlovo are full of history and very pretty. There are some scruffy, beaten up areas but there are anywhere. People are exremely jolly and helpful. I can't complain about the food. Plenty of salads, feta cheese, stuffed peppers and terrific pizzas. Bulgarian wine isn't that bad either. I would recommend Karlovo as a town and Bulgaria as a country to visit. You will be surprised how interesting and beautiful it is.
Summary: A terrific experience!