Updated: Mar 4
This pandemic has wreaked havoc on my 2020 travel calendar and it looks like there is no end in sight as we approach the first quarter of 2021. But this shouldn't stop us from planning or rekindling our next destination bucket list.
Every year in the first week of June, a little town "Kazanlak", about 2 half hours away from the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia hosts the rose festival and they have been doing it since 1903.
The Valley of Roses and the Valley of the Thracian Kings both symbolize Kazanlak. Kazanlak is located at the foot of Stara Planina Mountain (Old Mountain), in central Bulgaria and is the largest producer of the most sought after Damascena Rose Oil.
Weeks before the Rose festival, the rose fields are full with rose pickers in the morning.
The rose picking begins as early as 4 o’clock in the morning and usually ends at 10 AM because the rose petals picked in the afternoon have 50% less rose oil concentrate in them.
Getting to Kazanlak
Public transport, train or bus
Personally, I have not taken the train around Bulgaria as the cost to rent a car is not as much as many European Union countries. But if you decide to embark on the journey by rail (click on this link to the Bulgarian Railways) I understand that the trains are not as high-tech and new as compared to many well-developed countries.
The next best option, if you are on a budget, would be to take the bus. (click here for schedule)
The journey by car from Sofia, Burgas would be the most comfortable pick. There are also many surrounding areas in the Thracian Valley that are worthy of a stop for a scrumptious meal at a vineyard, visit the museum (rose museum) and visit tombs and shrines. Apart from rose plantations, grapes are also grown in abundant in the region.
Where to stay
During the weekend of the Rose Festival, tourist swarm to the Kazanlak. It is advised that you spend a night there to absorb the vibes and the explosive scent in the rose fields. The atmosphere is really relaxed and there will be parades on the main street in town.
*Tips: It is advisable you don't pick a room that is located along the main street as it can be noisy throughout the night. Book early, once the boarders open and quarantine period ends, festivals as such will be full of tourist!
Kazanlak Rose Festival
During the days leading to the festival on the first week of June, there will be some line up of traditional rose-picking, the distillation process, folk dances, and roses ensconced in cakes, soaps, jewellery, wine, and rakia (a strong regional fruit brandy). There’s even a parade to honour a Rose Queen, picked from a pool of high school graduates.
All clad in their colourful, traditional costume, these local villagers perform some rituals and traditional dance and folk songs during the ceremony.
Bulgarian Kukeri dancers with elaborate costumes—complete with fantastical masks and belts of massive metal bells—and accompany musicians throughout the village, dancing rhythmically to drive away evil and invite good.
If you want more information on this mysterious dance ritual during your next trip to Bulgaria, click here
Bulgarian Kukeri dances warding off the bad spirits for a better harvest! These bells are made for ritual puposes.
To be able to walk in the rose fields, filled with intense scent is so pleasurable. You could get lost in the rose groves and even try picking roses.
During the rose festival there are many villages that offers rose picking rituals and you should not miss the opportunity!
Rose picking rituals by location, (click here for timing):
the village of Rozovo
the village of Razhena
the village of Rozovo
the village of Koprinka
the village of Yasenovo
the village of Yasenovo
Surreal Video of Bulgaria’s Masked Dancers Warding Off Evil Spirits
The Rose Oil Production in Bulgaria
This high labour intensive job, coupled with challenging growing condition has nick-named it as 'liquid-gold'! Fragrance manufacturers pay 6,000 euros, or even more, for one kilo of this thick liquid of amber color.
The Traditional Steaming Process of Rose Oil Production
Primitive method of disstilation involves a light fire. In the distillation vessel, rose petals and clear water are boiled. The rose water flows out in a trickle and is collected in bottles. To obtain oil, the contents of bottles from several vessels are poured into a vessel again, and the second boiling begins. The oil, which is lighter than the water, floats on the surface. It is collected carefully.
The age old method has been improved over the years to extra the optimal oil and subsequently making Bulgarian Rose Oil’ the best in the world and was patented in 1994.
If for whatever reasons you miss the rose harvesting festival, don't leave Bulgaria without buying that sunshine in the bottle! The precious content in the bottle will help bring back the rosy memories of the people and place, wine and food of Bulgaria!
Date of travel: June