The challenge: Wake up before dawn to join the rose picking ritual in the Rose Valley in Bulgaria
A visit to the Rose Valley in Bulgaria in May and June is a must. You’ll see, touch and smell the oil-bearing roses, whose aroma has made them famous around the world, especially for visitors from China and Japan. It’s easy to understand why so many tourists travel thousands of miles to come here.
Why is the Bulgarian rose so special?
The oil-bearing rose Rosa Damascena, grown in the Rose Valley, is a symbol of Bulgaria recognized across the world. It possesses great beauty and a unique fragrance, and is widely recognized as the only rose capable of producing the highest quality rose oil. We can prove it: in almost every expensive French perfume there are several milligrams of Bulgarian rose oil.
Amazingly, the precious liquid is also used as the finest grease in NASA’s space shuttles.
How to join the rose picking at the Rose Festival?
The peak season for visiting Kazlanak, from the end of May until the end of June, coincides with the town’s Rose Festival, which has been held for more than a century. During this time, the town’s streets fill with the sweet fragrance of roses. Roll up your sleeves and help pick the rose petals, or see how the precious oil is extracted from the roses. There’s only one condition – you have to get up before sunrise to take part in the work.
Ask at your hotel what’s the nearest rose-picking event (they are usually held in a different village every Saturday and Sunday morning during the Rose Festival).
Don’t miss Kazanlak’s Rose Museum, which displays more than 10,000 exhibits related to rose oil production. It’s the only one of its kind in the Balkans and is located in the Rose Park in the city.
What else can you do in the Rose Valley?
Kazanlak was crowned the capital of the Rose Valley a long time ago, but centuries earlier Thracian kings ruled their empire from this area. The UNESCO-listed Tomb of Kazanlak, located in Tyulbeto Park in the town center, is a masterpiece of antiquity with its exceptional frescoes.
Just a few kilometers from the town, submerged beneath the Koprinka Reservoir, the ancient city of Seuthopolis – the capital of the Odrysian kingdom – lies in its watery grave. Spread across the foot of the mountains, the Valley of the Thracian Kings is home to more than 1,500 Thracian mounds. Some of the most impressive to visit are Golyama Kosmatka (the Tomb if Seuths III), Shushmanets and Ostrusha.
More information about the tombs’ opening hours, admission fees, etc., you will find here.
A phial (“muskal” in Bulgarian) is a measurement unit of rose oil, equal to 4.810 grams. Until World War I, the oil was measured in phials (as gold is weighed in carats). One phial of pure rose oil was considered equal to 24 carats of gold.
Food from roses
The rose is not only used for fragrances in the Rose Valley. You can find it served on the table as well. Don’t leave the area without tasting the aromatic rose jam made from the rose petals and the rose liqueur that is a trade mark of the Rose Valley. You can try them during your visit of the Ethnographic Complex Kulata in Kazanlak, part of the History Museum (information here).
How and when to visit the Rose Valley in Bulgaria?
The Rose Festival takes place during the whole month of June, so you can plan your trip in this month. The most impressive events are held on the weekends. Kazanlak is located 230 km (143 mi) from Sofia, and can be reached by train, by bus or by a rental car.
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