We get more and more tired every day. Our jobs, hobbies and lifestyle are squeezing out our juice and we need to find ways to recharge our batteries and renew our energy. If you are following your dreams, chasing your passions and taking the maximum out of everything life serves you, you’ll know what I mean. We need to apply strategies to regroup our energy and recenter ourselves.
In this post we’ll show you a strategy of that kind – the perfect place for a weekend getaway, where not only will you recharge, but also you will be able to cherish nature and clean air. Moreover, you will be exposed to Bulgaria’s most healing water. And this must mean something to the spa-aficionados like us.
Velingrad – the SPA Capital of the Balkans
This title comes from the International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA) so it’s not just good branding or marketing. The thing is it’s hard to compete with Velingrad when it comes to mineral water. Every pool is mineral in there. The springs come from different sources with different healing characteristics.
The town of Velingrad was founded as an alliance between three villages who had their mineral springs with different temperatures and chemical composition. So the water temperature goes up if you move from south to north of the town. Different water temperature and composition works for different deceases and conditions. You can really improve your locomotor and neurological systems, your skin and joint conditions, your fertility and general well-being.
Choosing a place to stay
According to your desire and financials, you can choose to stay in a family-run guest house, small and big hotels and resorts, anything from 3 to 5 stars. Remember, pretty much every pool in Velingrad is mineral. So indulging yourself in the mineral waters of the SPA capital is a must! We stayed at Arte SPA&Park hotel and we loved it!
Food and drink
The best drink you can have in Velingrad and the area is of course tap water! Tap water is absolutely delicious and safe to drink! Typical (and found only in the region) food is the lamb steak and the sheep steak. Meet-lovers should definitely try those, while the plant-based diets will be satisfied by the tasty potatoes (we’re in the mountain, yey!).
The summer festival
If you leave the mineral pool and the spa center, there’s still some things to do in Velingrad. For example, you can walk to pedestrian central street, do some shopping, or admire Bulgarian folklore music, dance and traditions at a festival. The latter was what we chose to do, along with most of the local people. Fire-dancing and walking is something you shouldn’t miss if you have the chance to watch live. It’s hot, it’s on fire, it’s a privilege to watch!
An epic journey through the mountains – the narrow-gauge railway
This is seriously one of the most epic things you can do in Bulgaria! Riding the narrow-gauge is just a method of transportation for those living in some forgotten by God mountain villages. It connects them to bigger villages and towns, to opportunities to work and study. For others (including us) it is an unforgettable experience that will bring you not only back in time, but back in the nature and back in life!
My life would have been much more picturesque and authentic if I rode the narrow-gauge train more often. My connection to nature and people would be much purer if I followed the narrow-gauge line. My mind would be much cleaner and sharper, and my imagination much crazier if I harmonized with the steam locomotive every once in a while!
You just have to experience it! Take the chance to ride the Balkan Alpine Railway! We rode it from Velingrad to Avramovo station, which is known as the highest station in the Balkans! Here you’ll find some timetables, but don’t forget to call and make sure before you head to some station to board the narrow-gauge.
“C’mon, c’mon, we have wonderful stuff!” – that was what I could hear passing the numerous stalls in the improvised center of the locality. Voices as soft as honey invited me kindly to take a look at the items, to taste the pine honey and the home-made cheese. It was hard to say no to them, but I had to leave food and drink shopping for later.
If you want to have a place for chill and relax in Rhodope mountains, you’ll be acquainted with the numerous cute little villas, bungalows and huts – so many and so having their own spaces and view. Yundola is the place to relax and reconnect with nature.
There’s this 2-hour easy hike to Pashovi rocks that will take you to mesmerizing views over layers of mountains. You will pass through majestically tall trees and lush meadows, you will spot wild horses, maybe some fallow deer. You will encounter many endangered plant species and virgin views towards disappearing mountain-neighborhoods and green hills. Do yourself a favor and keep hiking, while learning stories for the region by a local (thank you, Vasko, our knowledgeable mountain guide)!
This is another picturesque stop somewhere between Yundola and Belmeken and there is a some restaurant and ski center to keep you entertained all the time. The green summer views were just filling me with joy and putting my mind at peace, while I can only look forward to visiting the winter fun park and ski over the small slope as soon as some snow falls.
Belmeken Dam is the located right where the battle between Western Rhodope mountains and Rila mountain happened. Rila won that battle but the place is still very conveniently located just a 30-minute-drive away from Velingrad. I can tell you the places is so cool (figuratively and metaphorically speaking) that now wonder a lot of people were wild-camping in the area during the summer. I won’t exaggerate if I compare the views around Belmeken to some views in New Zealand. And you know what NZ means to me!
The carpet factory
We’ll end the weekend getaway with another hard-to-believe-it’s-happening-in-Bulgaria experience. A visit to the Carpet Factory in Kostandovo village. Why is it so hard to believe? Because it will definitely take some time for you to accept that carpets, weaved by hand in a small village factory could decorate palaces, castles and movies.
Yes, that’s right. The factory is run by a Bulgarian entrepreneur (no, that is not an oxymoron) and employs around 30 people. Most of the staff are ladies from the nearby villages who weaved carpets for the better part of their lives. Those carpets are designed and weaved for months and are sold for boutique usage – many castles and royal houses in the UK and France are the proud owners.
It is far beyond my financials and principles to possess something so expensive and so hard to create, but a want to raise a round of applause to those people creating royal art while struggling with unhealthy business environment in the country. Just for an example, a 3-square-meter carpet can be produced for 5-6 months by at least 3 weavers and contains 80+ colors and will be sold for 3000 euro. And this is a “simple design”. Now I understand why celebrities like the Queen of England and Harry Potter are eligible to walk over those carpets!
So this is the plan for a weekend getaway in Velingrad and the region. The activities would include relax in the spa, nature walks, mesmerizing views, fresh air, interesting traditions, tasty meals, epic train rides and royal carpet-making. Can you imagine how you will feel after a week in that region? This is the recharge I was talking about in the beginning!
*This post comes as a collaboration with Velingrad Municipality. As always, all opinions, views and thoughts are our own and can be only affected by our tremendously-relaxing-and-inspirational experience in the SPA Capital of the Balkan and its surroundings.