Last weekend Vince and I took a little road trip to the lovely town of Melnik. This charming little village is famous for being the “smallest town in Bulgaria” as well as for its 600+ year winemaking tradition. The entire area is covered in vineyards and there are dozens of wineries dotting the rolling green and brown hillsides. In fact, rumor has it that Winston Churchill’s favorite wine was from the region and he stocked up on it often.
Melnik is settled in southwestern Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains. The area is noted for its unique–almost otherworldly–sandstone mountains and rock formations, into which many people have dug out labyrinthian tunnels to use as wine cellars for centuries.
Vince got a great deal on a room at the Hotel Despot Slav from his work, so we made a weekend of it and set Melnik as our home base from which we explored some of the surrounding area, including the beautiful Rozhen Monastery.
It’s clear that tourism has become the town’s lifeblood and that not much day-to-day village life remains. My Lonely Planet guide says that the remaining school and clinic closed up years ago–a little depressing when you think about it. That being said, however, the town still feels and looks very authentic and there is no shortage of things to do and see.
The authentic look to the town is due to local ordinances which require all new builds as well as renovations of older structures to be done in the Bulgarian National Revival architectural style; something that I absolutely love. The entire town is a cultural reserve and nearly 100 of its buildings have been designated as cultural monuments. If there’s one thing Bulgaria does exceedingly well, it’s preserving their rich history.
Before stopping in at our hotel, we drove the 7km past Melnik to the village of Rozhen and to its hilltop monastery. The views from the hill are incredible. As with most monasteries in Bulgaria, photographs are not allowed inside the actual church or rectory itself, but I snuck (sneaked?–English fanatics, chime in now!) a few on the grounds and no one seemed to care. I’m always pushing my luck when it comes to taking photos in restricted areas!
Back in Melnik, Vince and I took a little nap and then went to dinner in our hotel’s restaurant. The food wasn’t all that special but the wine was fantastic, as we expected it to be in an area so famous for their winemaking!
The next morning we set out to explore the village. The bulk of our time was spent touring the historic Kordopulov House, exploring its mountain wine cellar, and tasting their different vintages.
(I took so many photos of the house and wine cellar that they are getting their own dedicated post.)
We walked around the village for another hour or so, bought a big 2 liter bottle of homemade wine from a shop, and then headed out to see more of the region, including a drive through Petrich and visit to Rupite.
We could have easily spent another few days in Melnik exploring the fortress and ruined churches; but our trip was a great first-taste of such an interesting town. We will definitely be visiting again in the future!
P.S. GMB is at 299 subscribers! Won’t you make my day and become the 300th?! 🙂
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