After all of my travel plans got canceled this year, I decided that this is the most perfect moment to start exploring my own country. I moved to Bulgaria with my family 10 years ago but since then I haven’t visited many places except for three main cities – Sofia, Varna, and Plovdiv (which I’m sure you’ve heard about). We all know that we always tend to overlook and neglect the wonders of our own ‘backyard’, right? I’ve known only two things about Melnik – first, that it’s the smallest town in Bulgaria and second is that they have great wine there. Well, let me tell you, now that I’ve visited Melnik myself, there is so much more to it. That’s why I decided to write my first post about Bulgaria in English because it just impressed me so much. Here, I’m going to share with you the things to do in Melnik and also information on where you can find the best wine in Bulgaria.
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Melnik – the smallest town in Bulgaria
I’m pretty sure that the moment you step into Melnik you will be pleasantly surprised by its charm. Its beautiful Medieval and Renaissance architecture which looks like straight out of fairytale books will help you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. You will be able to walk from one end of the city to the opposite one in a matter of minutes but it only adds to its charm. Melnik is considered to be the wine capital of Bulgaria, it’s a place where you’ll be able to find wine tours everywhere and try some of the best kinds.
Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria, and in 2011 only 217 people were living there, so by the time you’re reading this number will be even lower.
In 1900 the population of Melnik was 4,330 people, of which only 500 were Bulgarian Christians, 950 Turks, and more than 2600 Greeks. However, after the city was included in the territory of Bulgaria, its Greek population emigrated to Greece.
The city has been declared a city-museum and it’s a part of the UNESCO cultural heritage along with the Rozhen Monastery, which we will talk about later.
Best time to visit Melnik
If you can I would suggest you visit this little town on a weekday. Most tourists visit only over the weekend, so you will have to deal with bigger crowds of people and wait longer to be served in a restaurant on Saturday and Sunday.
However, if your only option is to visit Melnik over the weekend, still go for it, as it’s a place worth visiting for sure.
How much time to spend in Melnik
I recommend that you stay there at for at least one night as there are plenty of sights to see. It simply won’t be possible to do them all in one day. We decided to spend 3 days / 2 nights in Melnik and there were still some things in the region that I wished we could have time for.
How to get to Melnik
Melnik is located 111 miles (180 km) from Sofia. The route to get there is very easy to navigate and is in very good condition.
You can either plan your trip yourself or book a tour leaving from Sofia. If you want everything to be organized for you this is the tour that I was able to find online which includes most of the highlights.
Where to stay in Melnik
We chose Hotel Slavova Krepost (Славова Крепост) for our time in Melnik and I highly recommend it. The place is very clean, the beds are comfortable and its location is great. The owners of the hotel were very polite and helped us a lot with information about the places to visit in the region. The hotel has its own parking where we were able to park our car. However, keep in mind that it’s very small and not very easy to navigate if you have a bigger car.
Best Things to Do in Melnik, Bulgaria
1. Visit Kordopulova House
Kordopulova House built in 1754 is the most important building in Melnik. It is the largest Revival house on the Balkan Peninsula, which is preserved to this day.
It is also included in the list of 100 national tourist sites of Bulgaria, so it’s definitely a not-to-be-missed place.
The house belonged to the rich and well-recognized family, which lived in Melnik – Kordopulovs. Back in the day, they traded the wine throughout the whole of Europe.
The beautiful interior of the house, variety of styles applied, high ceilings and big rooms make it a very interesting place to explore and imagine how a rich family lived in those times in a house as such. The windows on the upper floor of the house are made out of colored glass and represent a mix of Venetian and Oriental styles. There are many rooms that you can explore in the house including the kitchen, bedroom, sauna, and even the hidden room. You can also visit the upper terrace outside where you’ll find a huge sun clock.
Another very interesting feature of this house is a huge wine cellar and tunnels underneath. The biggest barrel here, holds 12.5 tons of wine!
The Kordopulova House is recognized as the greatest building of the Bulgarian National Revival.
The entrance ticket will cost you only 3,50 BGN (around 2 USD) and you’ll be able to taste some of their wine before finishing your tour.
2. Museum of Wine
Most of the best wineries in the region can be easily accessed by car, however, if you don’t have your own ride and you’re short on time, my suggestion for you would be to visit the Museum of Wine. It’s located on the main street of Melnik, so you won’t have any trouble finding it.
Several galleries of the museum explain each stage of winemaking. You will learn about the history of winemaking and a lot of interesting facts.
Did you know that Bulgaria started the process of winemaking even before France d9id? Also, that Sir Winston Churchill used to buy wine from Melnik?
You can even seal your own bottle of wine with your personal photo on it.
The price of the entrance ticket is only 5 BGN (around 3 USD)
3. Bolyarska House
There are a lot of ruins of different houses that you can explore in Melnik. The one that we got a chance to see up close was Bolyarska House / Slavova fortress (Славова крепост или Болярската къща).
It is a former castle of Despot Alexy Slav. It served as the capital of Despot Slav in the years 1211-1230. This is the first such monument of its kind in Europe.
The house, or what’s remained of it, is considered the most remarkable monument of medieval residential architecture from the XIII century in Bulgaria and it has been declared a cultural monument.
It will take you only 5-10 minutes to walk to the ruins and it’s located right above the Church of St Anthony.
Today the house is half-destroyed but it still attracts a lot of people because the views from there are very beautiful.
We got there just on time for the sunset and seeing the houses of Melnik and the sand pyramids surrounding the city submerged in golden light was truly magical.
4. Get on top of the hill surrounding Melnik
There is another place above Melnik where you can go to enjoy the fascinating views from the top. I was too tired and unfortunately didn’t go there, I asked my friend from One Ticket Just Go to share his photos with you.
Up there you can find
– Metropolitan Church of St. Nicholas / Митрополитска църква Свети Никола
– Despot Slav Fortress (Melnik Fortress) / Крепост Деспот Слав (Мелнишка крепост)
– Monastery of the Holy Mother of God Spileotis / Манастир Света Богородица Спилеотиса
and from there you can also enjoy the most stunning view of Melnik!
You can reach the top of the hill by taking the path, which is located opposite to the wine museum. There is an old, faded sign that will point you in the right direction. After about 10 minutes the road forks in two, but there is an old sign that will direct you – left to the monasteries and right to the church of St. Nicholas and the fortress of Despot Slav.
You can read more information on his blog: here
You will find a lot of small souvenir shops on the main street selling local goods. I highly encourage you to buy either their delicious local jam, honey, or whatever else you may like. It will support local producers and help the community.
Buying wine from Melnik is a must. Even though I don’t drink wine, we bought 3 different bottles and our friends returned home with 20 wine bottles in total.
5. Villa Melnik
Once again Melnik is a very well-known destination for its amazing wine. So, even if you’re not a huge wine drinker, in my opinion going on a wine tour or at least visiting a local winery is a must!
Villa Melnik will be your top choice if you want to try the best wine in the whole region and I can’t recommend it enough!
It is a family-owned winery that produces wine from different local and international varieties of grapes with its own unique characters of Melnik.
The vineyards are located on two massifs around Melnik, and its natural and climatic conditions are some of the best for wine production in Bulgaria. This is also the warmest and sunniest part of the country. Summer here is long, dry, and warm, and the winter is mild which are the perfect conditions for growing the best grapes.
When we got to Villa Melnik for our tasting package we were blown away by the hospitality of the people who work there. We went on a tour of the winery to get insight into the winemaking process which was very interesting and informative. The wine at Villa Melnik is made in a very special way with the help of gravity to preserve and be of its best quality.
After that, we continued our tour to its underground cellar-tunnels where the wine is bottled and placed for aging. The tunnels keep a constant temperature and humidity throughout the whole year.
You can even leave your bottle in Villa Melnik and keep it there for a special occasion in the future.
We finished the tour with an actual tasting of some of their best wines. We even got to try their unique kinds as the Orange wine and the Hailstorm.
Make sure to try “Shiroka Melnik” sort as it’s a unique kind of wine specifically to this region.
We also loved their Melnik 55 and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Out of their white wines, Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite.
All in all, I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s a family-owned winery and you can definitely feel it while being there. You can truly tell that the owners and the workers at Villa Melnik care a lot about producing the best wine and taking care of their guests. They strive to provide the best service and make it a memorable experience, and they for sure delivered when we visited. It’s truly the people that make the wine special.
You can check their official website here
Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about wine culture.
At Villa Melnik, they will help you become more appreciative of the art of winemaking and who knows maybe even turn you into a sommelier.
6. Melnik’s Pyramids
Another amazing place that you have to see for yourself while being in that region is the Melnik’s Pyramids.
They are a unique natural rock formation that spans an area of 17 km2 near the town of Melnik.
The Melnik pyramids, fabulous natural sculptures, were created by erosion and continue to change its shape and form to this day.
Тhere is a direct path from the city that leads to this beautiful landmark. The path starts on the right side of the Musuem of Wine and try to not miss the signs as we did at the beginning. You should follow the river for around 20 minutes of your hike. It took us around 1 hour to get to the viewpoint. The path is not very steep or hard, even for inexperienced hikers. You will probably sweat a bit when going uphill but the views will be worth it for sure.
I highly recommend that you take your hiking shoes for this one, as the path is very sandy and slippery at some spots.
After reaching the top viewpoint the path will continue and take you to our next point of interest, which is Rozhen Monastery.
7. Rozhen Monastery
The Rozhen Monastery is the biggest monastery in the Pirin Mountains in southwestern Bulgaria. It is one of the few medieval Bulgarian monasteries that is well preserved to this day.
There is not a lot that I can say about the Monastery in itself as for the part that it was incredibly beautiful, well-taken care of, and very peaceful when we were there. If you’re going to hike to see the Melnik’s Pyramids it’s worth stopping by.
After that you’ll have to continue to Rozhen village to get back to Melnik. It is around 3,5 miles (6 km) from Rozhen to Melnik and will take you around one hour.
If you don’t want to spend one hour hiking you can also get to the Monastery and Melnik’s Pyramids from Melnik by car. It will take you about 10 to 15 minutes to get to the Monastery and from there, it will take you about 10 to 20 more minutes to hike to the viewpoint of the Pyramids. Look for the sign which says “Роженски пирамиди”, and at the fork continue to the left.
Half-Day Trip ideas from Melnik
If you’re coming to Melnik by your own car there are some more ideas that I would suggest you add to your list
8. Visiting the Complex of Baba Vanga
The Rupite Locality (Местност Рупите) is situated in the inner part of the crater of the extinct Kozhuh volcano. The site is known for its high concentration of cosmic energy and mineral springs. This is where the Temple “St. Petka Bulgarska” constructed by Baba Vanga the prophetess is located.
There is also a small museum located in the complex where you can learn her story and see the house where she lived until her last days on Earth
There are two more places that we visited while in Melnik:
9. Church “St. George” in village Zlatolist
This is the place where the Reverend Stoyna (Преподобна Стойна) lived at the beginning of the 20th century. She had healing powers and was also considered a mentor for Baba Vanga.
In the center of the church under the dome, you’ll find a marble plate with a double-headed eagle. There is a belief that the stone radiates the power to heal the sick. The original plate was stolen and replaced with a marble one that you can find nowadays. However, the locals say that it doesn’t matter because the place itself is healing not the plate.
You can also find a 1300 year old tree in the garden on the right side which is also believed to hold a lot of cosmic and positive energy.
10. Samuil’s Fortress
Here you can see the reconstructions of the dugouts, a museum exhibition of the Samuil’s fortress, and the watchtower. The place itself is not very big and it took us around 30 minutes to explore. If you’re used to seeing a well-preserved Medieval fortress, it might not be the best place. There is not a lot to see and explore on its grounds and there is definitely a lack of informational signs.
As you can see there are a lot of fun and interesting things to do even in the smallest town in Bulgaria. I truly enjoyed our time in Melnik and consider it to be the perfect place to visit on a weekend trip. In Bulgaria, you can find so many more amazing gems like this full of character and history, and I’m planning on writing a lot more about Bulgaria in the future.
What about you? Have you been to Bulgaria? And if yes, what are the places that you visited that impressed you the most?