Located at the edge of the old Varosha Quarter in Blagoevgrad, the Regional Historical Museum is also a part of the architectural heritage of the town as it represents the grand socialist period in urban construction from the second half of the 20th century. The Museum hosts extensive and rich exhibitions and more than 160,000 individual items of history, arts and nature. It often welcomes temporary exhibitions too. The Children’s Corner is a favourite place for the younger population of Blagoevgrad and the Expanded Reality Room makes excellent use of modern technologies. The Museum organizes a lot of events such as days of open doors, bats’ nights, summer schools for pupils and traditional celebrations of Christmas, Easter and other holidays.
The Rila Monastery is often taken as the symbol of Bulgaria. It is the site every foreigner is taken to if s/he has but a spare minute in Sofia and it is the image which appears among the first in any promotional publication about the country. Every Bulgarian has been there at least once. Still, this jewel of religious architecture never seizes to amaze. People are fascinated not only by the harmonious beauty of the white-and-brown-reddish buildings but by the glorious setting in the hills of ever-wondrous Rila Mountains and the serene atmosphere. Visit the monastery church, the defense tower of the local ruler Hrelyo, the two museums and the monastery shop. Drink some of the ice-cold water from the monastery fountains. By any means try the homemade bread and traditional bites of Mekitsa pastry offered by the small bakery behind the monastery. Then come back.
Offering a very beautiful scenery, alleys and pavilions for picnic, the Palyurtsi Dam is quite easily accessible from the road connecting Bogdanci with Dojran and Valandovo. It bears the name of a former village whose place it has taken. The village was destroyed in WWI since a battle front passed nearby, and was abandoned by its population. What is most interesting here are the legends connecting that location with the travels of Apostle Paul during his first missionary visits to these lands. According to those legends, here passed the old road connecting north to south, so Apostle Paul four times stopped here during his missions. Worth a stop today too, if not for matters of faith then at least for an exquisite photo-session.
The monastery is located in a picturesque part of the mountain of Plavush. It stands on the spot of a medieval church from the 14th century built by the Serbian king Stefan Dushan and donated to Athos religious community together with its adjacent real estates. Sometime later a monastery appeared centered around the church and fenced by thick stone walls as the times of Ottoman Rule on the Balkans had come. An earthquake in 1931 demolished the buildings and today one can see just a small church which local people consider insufficiently worthy of the history of this place. They still visit it though as the spot is green and calm and pleasant, and a very good location for relaxation and picnic.
The stone fountain yielding fresh cold water through several spouts was erected in the hills above Dojran Lake in 1916 in memory of the so-called Dojran Epopee in WWI when a major front line passed right through these hills. The commemorative plate explains that the spring of Tsar Ferdinand was captured into this fountain in the memory of the fallen heroes from the 34th Troyan regiment in the wars of 1913-1918. The fountain was renovated in 2010 by a joint effort of Macedonians and Bulgarians. It is a pleasant walk to reach the fountain now, starting from the small village of Tsrnichani.
Dominating the hills by the Dojran Lake is the partially recovered church from the mid-19th century bearing the name of Sveti Ilija. The church was erected with voluntary donations from local population and was unfortunately destroyed together with most of the town during WWI when Dojran was a major battle front. Only parts of the walls remained standing until recently. There are still people in Dojran who remember stories from their grandparents about those turbulent historic events and who have run in the surrounding hills as children and found pieces of ammunitions and metal. There are books published about these events but the living stories are much more thrilling.
People love water. Especially big accumulations of water. Any destination possessing such is unfairly but naturally considered more attractive than others. Is it strange then that Dojran has such a romantic ambiance about it? The lake is a favourite place for everyone who has ever been to these parts of Macedonia (to be honest, even to those who haven’t been there but have read about it and seen photos on FB). It is a nice place to walk by, along the stone alley with cozy little coffee shops and restaurants. Beaches are crowded in the summer and local people claim that the mud from the lake bottom has some curative qualities. To try fresh fish from the lake is a must but what is truly unforgettable is the tour by boat.
The initial church of Sveti Atanasij in Bogdantsi, built in the first half of the 19th century, has been destroyed by an accidental fire in December 2014. Fortunately, local people succeeded to save most of the icons which are now kept in the side building at the churchyard. A new church has already been erected at the same spot and is currently being painted in the traditions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The priest can tell all about the history of the church and the saved icons and if you are lucky enough to meet the painters inside, they can also tell a lot about Orthodox painting, canons of the saints’ images and the use of special dyes for the frescoes.
At 24 km northwest of the town of Gevgelija in the mountain of Kozuf, one can find the resort area of Smrdliva Voda. Its name comes from the highly mineralized and smelling of sulfur springs which have very good effect on a number of aches and diseases (Smrdliva Voda means Stinky Water). The locality is extensively visited by local people during the summer as it is relatively easily accessible while at the same time cool and pleasant; there are places for picnic and some small restaurants. The locality is also a starting point for some nice trails in the mountain. The road to the site passes by a habitat of the very rare tree called Naked Man (Gol Chovek, Arbutus andrachne) and the village of Konsko with samples of 19th century architecture and an interesting old church.
The museum of Gevgelija manages three sites – the central museum with permanent archaeological and historical exhibitions; the Hamam (renovated old Turkish Bath) which hosts temporary exhibitions; and the archaeological site of Vardarski Rid east of the town. The building of the Historical Museum is in itself a cultural monument, a fine sample of old urban architecture. Most impressive is the fact that the museum has its own souvenir workshop producing accurate replicas of authentic archaeological finds from the area. They are offered for sale in the central museum building and at two other souvenir shops – at the border checkpoint to Greece and in Star Dojran. An excellent choice for a gift!
The church is also known as Vazkresenie Hristovo (Holy Ascetion). It is a bit aside from the town center of Gevgelija though the walk to the site passes by several other churches also worth seeing. Sveti Spas Church is the oldest in the town, built, according to some records, in 1842. Since then, there were several stages of additional building. Unlike most Eastern Orthodox churches which have three naves, this one has a five-nave construction with wooden ceilings. The murals are relatively new and, again quite atypically, one of the walls is fully dedicated to female saints. The spacious yard is turned into a pleasant garden and a small shop at the entrance offers various souvenirs.
If you go to the eastern suburbs of the town of Gevgelija, just on the west bank of Vardar River, you will be able to see an important token of the turbulent past of these lands. On top of a hill overlooking the Vardar Valley, there the remains of a multi-layer settlement whose origins are supposed to go the ancient city of Gortinija from the late 5th century AD. Research continues today but what is visible on the ground are parts of a fortress, defense walls and some other premises, possibly crafts workshops. The small finds from the site are exhibited at the Historical Museum of Gevgelija. The most impressive object within Vardarski Rid is a contemporary watch tower built to demonstrate how the defenders of the keep must have seen the valley and the river from their towers.
One of the few standing churches from the 14th century in these parts of the Balkans, it is also known as Sveta Bogoroditsa Church (Holy Mother of God) as it used to act as the monastery church of a monks’ community bearing the same name. Its architecture and outer decoration present a sample of medieval Byzantine Orthodox traditions. The murals inside have been painted in two phases – one at the initial construction and another in the 18th-19th century. Remains of stone walls and a tower mark the size and shape of the former monastery. Both church’s exterior and interior have been recently renovated and accommodation facilities are under construction. Access is also very easy as the small complex is located right inside the village of Konce.
It is actually a dam built on Kriva Lakavitsa River in the late 70s of the previous century with the purpose to provide water for the surrounding villages and irrigation for agriculture in the Radovish Plane. Beautifully located among a group of hills, it offers wonderful opportunities for outings and picnics. The lake is a paradise for the fans of fishing, especially when they have the option to cook and eat the fresh fish on the spot. The yard of the small monastery of Sveti Gorgi at the lake’s shore provides all conditions for outdoor lunch while the winding paths on the surrounding hills offer opportunities for a refreshing walk after the meals. It is from there that the best views of the lake are revealed.
The site of Vlahs’ Cabins (Vlashki Kolibi) has been developed as a heritage and tourism project by the Municipality of Konce. A little over 100 years ago, Vlah shepherds used to move seasonally from north to south and back together with their huge flocks of sheep. They stopped at places offering water and grazing for the animals, and they built themselves simple light cabins, easy to put up and then put down. The site located on the high shores of Mantovo Dam aims to show what these cabins used to look like. It is also arranged as an out-of-town rest place with a beautiful view towards the lake. An alley descends down to the water for those wishing to take a closer look or go fishing.
A very large, well-arranged and well-maintained complex, the Monastery of Sveti Gorgi is a favourite place for all citizens of Radovish and even neighbouring towns. They all gather here for religious holidays of course but also on weekends and other non-working days. Rest-places and spots for picnic have been arranged in the vast and cool yard, equipped with a fountain of cold clear water, a small pond, children’s playgrounds and barbecue facilities. The monastery dates from the 80s of the 20th century, as well as the monastery church but it is attractively built in the best Byzantine traditions of Orthodox architecture. The mountain of Plachkovitsa rising above the Oraovitsa Village provides a picturesque background for the complex.
This is one of the youngest monasteries in Macedonia whose church dates from 1995 and monastery life – from 2004. Construction of additional buildings still continues today, as well as works on finishing and painting the church. It is still worth a visit, taking a short walk from the center of Novo Selo up in the hills of Ograzhden Mountain. The monks will welcome you, take you around the monastery and tell you about the murals beings finalized in the church. Then they may leave you to contemplate the cozy monastery library or sit a bit at the vast terrace overlooking Novo Selo and the Strumica Valley below, all the way to the opposite Belasitsa Mountain if the weather is clear.
The site of Mokrino Springs is to be found by the road connecting Mokrino and Smolare Villages. It is a favourite place for picnic for local people, so there are barbecue facilities, pavilions, tables and benches, and some alleys. Clear sweet water springs from right under the roots of the giant plane trees which provide life-saving shadow in the heat of the summer. You may relax among the mighty trees or walk around in the forest up the mountain; exercise your photographic skills or collect mushrooms. You may also open up a competition for who will compile the best forest tale with good giants, bad fairies, wood spirits and water gnomes. There is no better scenery for such a tale.
In Belasitsa Mountain, waterfalls bear the names of the villages they are closest to, so naturally the Gabrovski Waterfalls are to be found above the village of Gabrovo. This is a cascade of waterfalls, the lowest one being socialized for visits many years ago and most easily accessible. But it is also the least impressive one, so we recommend a visit to the higher parts. Sometimes there are problems with the access though, in which case we would suggest that you explore the Roman Path – an interpretative trail connecting Gabrovo Waterfalls with Bansko Roman Baths via a pleasant and easy 1.30-hours walk through the green forests of Belasitsa.
You may access this waterfall from the village of Koleshino. There are road signs pointing the direction to the mountain although it is hard to get lost along the very narrow and winding road. Do make a stop at the viewpoint terrace offering a wonderful view of the Strumitsa Valley. You may park soon after that and continue on foot, which we recommend, or you may leave you vehicle right at the foot of the path deviating from the road and leading to the waterfall. From there, it is a really very short walk through a magnificent deciduous forest and past several picnic pavilions. The Koleshino Waterfall is not as high as the Smolare one but it is equally beautiful. It is like a vast wall decorated with liquid crystals, and you should also see it in winter when the crystals are caught in ice.
This is the highest waterfall in the Macedonian part of Belasitsa Mountain and for that, you may say it is the most impressive one. It takes some time for one to reach it as first you have to travel to the village of Smolare, then park at the designated place at the foot of the mountain, and then climb up for about 600 m. It is not an unpleasant climb since the local municipality has secured and socialized the path; plus nature is so beautiful that you’ll hardly notice how you have gotten to 630 m above sea level. There you’ll find a wooden platform over the gully, offering a full view of the waterfall. You might also descend to the very bottom where water falls splashing from above but the rocks are quite slippery and you’ll be doing this at your own risk.
The Roman Baths in the village of Bansko are, we believe, the most amazing archaeological site in the whole southeastern part of Macedonia. What is even more amazing is that, quite big as it is, you cannot see it until you a practically on top of it. And once you are inside, then you can fully appreciate the mastery of construction and engineering preserved after so many centuries. The baths used the hot waters of the mineral springs now known as Parilo. They had a classic design with hot, warm and cold pools; rooms for changing and relaxation. The good news is that it has been confirmed that the complex was much bigger than what has been excavated up to now and research will continue.
The Monastery of the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God Eleusa, known as Veljusa Monastery was first established in 1080 according to a marble plaque inside the church. Up to 1913, it was a male monastery with a strict set of rules like the ones on Athos Peninsula. Today it is a small community of nuns who welcome the visitors and tell them about the history of the place. They offer homemade liqueur and jams, as well as natural cosmetics. The church stands as one of the most prestigious medieval works of art and architecture in the whole of Macedonia. The green yard full of flowers is a true joy for the eyes. The Monastery also offers one of the best views of the whole Strumica Valley.
The monastery church is dedicated to the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, while the whole monastery complex is dedicated to Saint Leontius of Strumitsa. The site of today’s church is known as a complex of Vodocha churches, because it comprises four churches that existed on this site at various periods. These are as follows: an early Christian basilica (4th–5th century), Eastern church (7th–8th century), Western church (11th century) and a middle Vodocha church (11th–12th century), the shape of which is kept until today. Another interesting feature of the complex are the two baths, from the 9th and 12th century, excavated and exhibited in the monastery yard. Today Vodocha is mostly known for the continuing tradition of icon-painting on wood using only natural materials.
Translated in English as the Monastery of Sts. Fifteen Tyberiopolian Hieromartyrs, this unique site stands a bit aside from the center of Strumica but is among the most visited ones. We call it unique as, in addition to the newer monastery church and premises, it includes also one of the oldest early-Christian basilicas on the Balkans which is actually a succession of churches – a pre-Christian basilica, an early-Christian basilica and a cross-shaped church, which was renewed later. Their history is closely related to the story of the 15 martyrs who came from Tyberiopolis in Asia Minor at the time of Emperor Julian the Apostate. Many visitors come to the Monastery just to see the miraculous Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God “She Who is Quick to Hear” originating from Athos Monasteries.
The Museum of Strumica manages a network of historical sites around the town and in its vicinity. The central museum building hosts permanent exhibitions of the history of the area; there are also an ethnographic exhibition at the building of the old Turkish Post Office and the so-called Orta Mosque which is sometimes used for temporary exhibitions. The museum performs archaeological research of several sites, among which are the Roman Baths in the village of Bansko and the fortress of Carevi Kuli (King’s Towers) on a hill right above the city. The latter takes a bit long to visit for it may seem close to Strumica but the access is via a winding road through the hills. If you do not suffer from nausea at the road curves, do take this journey, the views are fantastic.
This is the house in the town of Petrich where the famous Bulgarian prophet Vanga spent most of her lifetime and welcomed hundreds of people in need of help. It is not really important whether or not you believe in ‘these things’; there are records that many people did get help here and the house is full of tokens of gratitude, both luxurious and modest. The exposition includes over 3000 personal items of Vanga and her family, preserved in their original forms and place. The prayer room keeps a number of icons, including the one of the Holy Mother believed to be miraculous. The guide of the museum will tell you a lot about the life of the prophet and the personal stories of people whom she had helped. Some say the energy is still there and those who seek help may still get it.
Heraclea Sintica is a Roman town whose ruins are located on the southern slope of the volcanic cone of Kozhuh. In ancient times, this was a big city, the center of the district of Sintica inhabited by the Thracian tribe of Sinti. The town had advanced urban planning; it was quite modern for its time, and a very busy one too. This is evident from the sizes and proportions of the central public buildings which are slowly being uncovered, and by their artistic value. Parts of the town basilica have been preserved where court cases were also dealt with. Smaller finds such as coins or pieces of pottery speak a lot about the life of the ancient city. There is a lot more to be discovered there but witnessing the process is rather exciting in itself.
The only ever existing volcano in the southwest part of Bulgaria has formed the Kozhuh Crater cut in half by the waters of Strumeshnitsa River. In its heart lies the Rupite locality where the famous Bulgarian prophet Vanga spent the last years of her life. She claimed the place had a special energy and so she initiated the construction of a church – Sveta Petka. The church is mostly known for the atypical murals inside. In recent years, the surrounding grounds have been turned into a beautiful green park, with a museum house and permanent exhibition dedicated to the life and deeds of Vanga. Just next to this complex is the site of Rupite Mineral Springs which attract many people suffering from various illnesses or just willing to re-charge their bodies and spirit.
On the road from the town of Petrich to the Border Checkpoint of Zlatarevo, one can stop at the Samuilova Fortress Monument, located where the slopes of the mountains of Belasitsa and Ograzhden lock together to form the Klyuch Gorge. The place has natural defense significance and has served such a purpose through many centuries. The memorial complex is dedicated to a tragic episode of medieval history when this fortress was part of the fortified defense line against the Byzantine Empire. In the summer of 1014, the Byzantine Emperor Vasiliy II defeated the Bulgarian army and is known to have blinded several thousands of soldiers taken captive. The complex was renovated recently and new visitor infrastructure was provided.
Even some of the ancient inhabitants of the Struma River Valley, the various Thracian tribes, knew about the qualities of the land in the valley and surrounding hills and especially how good it was for growing vines. Thracians are now remembered for the production of wine and its place in their culture as much as for the fine craftsmanship we are able to witness thanks to archaeologists. Wine tradition has been maintained and developed through the centuries. There are several small wineries scattered around the sandstone hills in Sandanski and Melnik areas which are worth a visit as they offer full circles of services including walks in the vineyards, guided tours of the production process, tastings and opportunities to buy quality wine. Pay attention to Villa Melnik, Zlaten Rozhen and Zornitsa Estate.
Hidden amidst the amazing Melnik Sandstone Pyramids, a protected natural site in themselves, the Monastery of Rozhdestvo Bogorodichno (Nativity of the Virgin) in the village of Rozhen is the largest one in the south-westernmost corner of Bulgaria. It is not clear enough when was it originally erected; the first thing we have heard about it was that it was destroyed sometime in the 17th century. What we see today dates mostly to the National Revival Period (18th-19th century). It is a quiet and serene place, very pleasant to be at in various seasons. Nearby, you could also see the church of Sveti Sveti Kiril i Metodiy and the grave of Yane Sandanski, a great figure of the liberation movement against Ottoman occupation in these parts of the Balkan Peninsula.
Melnik offers many reasons for one to visit it. Tagging yourself in the smallest town of Bulgaria is just one of them. This goes with the wonderful samples of the specific Melnik National Revival Architecture Type dating from the 18th-19th century, which you can see from the inside in the buildings of the Melnik Historical Museum and Kordopulov’s House – a private ethnographic museum. It also goes with the remains of the medieval town of Despot Slav, a local ruler whose fortress on the hills above the town offers a great view of the scenery. The latter is yet another asset of this place for there are the famous Melnik Sandstone Pyramids, a natural phenomenon and protected site. And we must not forget the Melnik red wine which is no less famous and very, very good.
The town of Sandanski and especially its center has always been a very pleasant place to walk around. It has some vacation atmosphere about it; as if you are always on a holiday. This atmosphere is all around the main street with the nice shops and cozy little cafes, but it is best felt in the city park of Sandanski. Spacious green areas with colourful patches of flowers, nice alleys and romantic quiet corners from the core of the park are added by the small pond which brings coolness in the hot summer days. There are swimming pools and good restaurants, playgrounds and children’s sites. Morning or evening, the park of Sandanski is a good option to spend some pleasant time with family or friends.
This museum was born as a child of socialist times in Bulgaria but is making every effort to grow in line with modern day changes. The building was renovated and the exhibits – re-arranged. The museum is dedicated to the ancient history of the area and more precisely – to the Roman town located under the present town of Sandanski. In recent years, archaeologists have uncovered and restored gradually the so-called Early Christian Complex next to the museum building, and now one can see not only the large basilica but also part of the yard with stone well and fountains, part of the adjacent street, a beautiful baptistery with mosaics and an array of surrounding premises some of which are still not identified in terms of their function. We hope more exciting discoveries are under way…
The town of Gotse Delchev or Nevrokop as it is widely known among local residents is the historical and economic center of a region formed around the middle course of Mesta River before it leaves Bulgaria and flows into Greece. It has a special spirit of its own and some special dignity and pride which are felt in many aspects of local cultural life. The essence of this life in retrospective is shown by the Historical Museum. The very building it is located in is one of the most beautiful samples of aristocratic urban architecture. The exhibits show some archaeology and a lot of crafts for which the town was known in the 18th-19th century. Do not miss the collection of animal bells called Chanove and of colourful local textiles.
This exclusive Roman site at the edge of Garmen Village has been known and studied for many years but until not very long ago all that one could see was an open field with some old-looking stones protruding among the bushes. Today there is a modern archaeological tourist site for you, with a small Visitor Center, alleys, well-exhibited ancient buildings and eloquent guides. You can imagine how the citizens of the Roman Empire spent their days, whom they worshipped and what did they think about decorating life. This town was one of three founded by Emperor Trayan to commemorate his victory over tribes north of the Danube, and its name clearly shows that – it is a town (polis) dedicated to the Goddess of Victory Nike – Nikopolis. It may even be true that everyone who visits it becomes a victor…
Perched at the very end of the road starting from Ognyanovo Village up into Rhodope Mountains, the village of Kovachevitsa is one of the oldest architectural reserves in Bulgaria, best known for the many movies that have been filmed here and the attractive villas socialist celebrities from the art world have bought in the late 20th century. Getting there for the first time seems like getting to the end of the world but the reward is truly breathtaking. Houses topping over each other offer magnificent views of the mountain hills and gorges and not least of the stone-plate roofs and steep yards of the neighbours below. The architecture of the village is very, very special and there’s no mistake in putting it under protection.
The International Association of Vets in Action has decided to open the first on the Balkans retirement home for donkeys exactly in the village of Banichan. It is still under development but the first pensioners are already accommodated, together with a bunch of rescued stray dogs who have also found a caring home here. The donkeys are provided with a full board, medical care and much deserved recreational facilities. The visitors are welcome to walk freely in the park and establish close communication with the retirees, given that they don’t mind having their T-shirt chewed a bit. The Park offers also very nice scenery amidst the tender green hills of Banichan, so you may just walk around and enjoy the views.
A little more than a century ago, when the town of Blagoevgrad was called Gorna Dzhumaya and was a predominantly Turkish settlement, the small Bulgarian population inhabited a narrow band of land east of the Bistritsa River known as the Christian Quarter or Varosha Quarter. In the 80s of the 20th century the quarter was conserved and turned into a small historical reserve portraying National Revival Period architecture (from the 18th-19th centuries). It is now the headquarters of the Children’s Center of Blagoevgrad offering interest clubs to pupils in both science and arts. It is also the home of the Church of Vavedenie Bogorodichno (Holy Annunciation) from 1844 renowned for its beauty as both architecture and decorations. You could walk along the narrow streets, get a bite at the cozy restaurants or buy a crafts souvenir, all in one place.
The road to Stob Village is a deviation from the main road to Rila Monastery but despite the fact that there is a sign to the Pyramids at the turn, not very many people go to visit. Not even acknowledging that visitor infrastructure was provided not long ago and now the access is much easier and safer than before. Moreover, it is a pleasant walk with nice views, suitable even for small children. If you have a spare hour-and-a-half and some curiosity, we highly recommend you devote them to this site. It is not of the rank of its much bigger brother, the site of Melnik Pyramids, but it is still worth it. The sandstone draperies can tell you any story you dare to see depicted in their mysterious shapes. It is a good challenge to anyone’s imagination.
Several settlements fight for the honour of being the birthplace of Ivan Rilski, the saint who founded the Rila Monastery and has since been its patron. The place of his last resort is, however, indisputable . The saint’s grave is to be found in Rila Mountains, if you take the road up from the Rila Monastery, park at the designated place and then climb up the path which the Directorate of Rila National Park marked as a Botany Trail some years ago. There is a small temple and a cave where everyone can test his or her virtue by crawling up a vertical rocky tunnel. Virtue is confirmed if you manage to emerge from the hole intact. The site is accessible in all seasons but you should wear appropriate attire for the mountain and not forget that Rila was also called the Water Mountain by the ancient inhabitants of these lands.
This site was constructed at the Adrianov Chark locality in Rila Mountains with the purpose to collect dancing bears from their ‘owners’ and re-introduce them to the natural environment. It is a modern and very well-arranged environmental center where you could see the bears from quite a close distance (except during their winter sleep when the Park is closed) and you could learn a lot since the staff offers excellent educational programmes. You may wish to spend a whole day in the vicinity of the Park with your family or friends as there are wonderful picnic locations and walking paths. Access is very easy in any vehicle, so do not hesitate if you have the time!
Such a spacious and diverse museum usually comes as a surprise to the visitor of the small mountain town of Belitsa. The somewhat traditional way of exhibiting is compensated by the interesting exhibits and by the enthusiastic staff who also maintain the Tourist Information Center of Belitsa. You may see the short films about Rila Mountains and Rila National Park; about the themed nature trails in the area; about local traditions and folklore. There are some very special items in the halls of Archaeology, National Revival Period, Present Day and Ethnography; do not forget to ask about the unique Sarcophagus of the Horseman.
The name of the small village of Banya (meaning Bath in Bulgarian) comes from the miraculous warm springs which have been cherished by generations of inhabitants of these lands. The ancestors of today’s modern spa facilities have been recently restored and are managed by the Tourist Information Center of the village. We recommend that you visit both the Turkish Bath and the Old Bulgarian Bath. Both are fully operational and, despite the fact that one cannot actually take a bath there, you can see how they worked in their youth. You can, however, take a bath in any of Banya’s public pools and spa hotels; and if the miraculous waters do not heal any real or imaginary ache you might have, at least you’ll have relaxed and recharged for weeks ahead.
Bansko is nowadays widely known as The Ski Resort of Bulgaria but we prefer to see it as the unique combination of an architectural reserve and a gateway to UNESCO site which is the Pirin National Park. Bansko is also the home of one of the largest and best organized museum networks in the whole country. Its heart is the Museum House of Nikola Vaptsarov who is among the most loved and most translated Bulgarian poets. There is also the Museum House of Neofit Rilski, an incredible encyclopedist from the Bulgarian National Revival Period in the 19th c.; the finely painted Velyanova House belonging to one of the founders of the Bansko School of Art; the convent of the Rila Monastery with the exhibition of samples of the Bansko Icon-Painting School, and a lot more to see.
The church is located in the village of Dobarsko. It is one of the few standing monuments from the 17th century in Bulgaria and its historical value is unquestionable. Why you should decide to visit it, though, may have nothing to do with its specific architecture semi-dug into the ground, or the legend of Tsar Samuil’s soldiers blinded by the Byzantine Emperor after the Belasitsa Battle in 1014 who settled here because of the healing sacred well now located in the yard. It may even have nothing to do with the broadly publicized statement that Jesus Christ has been depicted in a jet rocket on the walls. You may simply decide to visit because this is a very pleasant and calm place with a beautiful garden full of flowers. You’ll like it anyway.
This church is a prime example of modern religious architecture and art. Standing in a beautiful small garden of its own, by the river, it dominates the surrounding scenery in a spectacular way. Inner decorations have tried to capture and demonstrate all that is good in Orthodox artistic traditions – mosaics, murals, carvings, marble plates, etc., etc. One could spend hours marveling at the fantastic colours and images. A visit to the church can be well combined with a short walk to the town center, to see some samples of the old urban architecture, the library with the exhibition of Milka Evtimova – a world-famous opera singer originating from Radovish, the place of the old mosque and the colourful open market.
The youngest nature park of Bulgaria covers the northern slopes of Belasitsa Mountain which continues to Macedonia and Greece. Its Visitor Center is located at the village of Kolarovo and offers to its guests a magical interpretative tour around the sweet chestnut forests of the mountain. The exposition includes interactive modules for both children and adults, plus fun games and puzzles, a 3D-model of a chestnut forest and a lot of information about the area. There is a small workshop for the youngest guests of the Center. The park has developed a system of long routes to the main ridge and short interpretative trails in the vicinity of Belasitsa villages. They are all well signposted and maintained, and often include rest places suitable for picnic. Many of them lead to the beautiful waterfalls Belasitsa is so famous with.
The village of Ognyanovo has been blessed with an asset that many may envy – the Ognyanovo Mineral Springs, yielding hot water with huge healing powers for a number of diseases. Not to mention its relaxation and recreation powers. It was no accident that the communist leaders of Bulgaria chose this place for one of the so-called Residences – a system of luxurious rest homes for the high levels of authority. The former Residence is today one of the best SPA complexes here, accompanied by a number of more recent establishments, all offering a quality service. When going to Ognyanovo, do not miss to stop at the centuries-old plane trees in Garmen Village. Unfortunately you cannot see this now but there are old photos showing the furnace for bread that used to exist inside the oldest of the trees.