Bulgaria is situated at the corner of Europe, a beautiful country with flowers, wine, cuisine, cherries, amazing scenery, ancient history and culture. Like any other European country, Bulgaria celebrates lots of festivals related to their customs, culture, history and religion. Some festivals are rare to find elsewhere. You will definitely enjoy exploring all the hidden beauties of this country.
Rose Festival (May 24 – June 9)
In the region of Kazanlak, a part of the rose valley, the Rose Festival is arranged, during rose harvest season. This has become a very popular and important festival in Bulgaria. It was first arranged in 1903 and slowly it attracted others, even outside the country. It is hosted on the first weekend of June every year. Local community of Kazanlak takes the initiative of hosting the festival. From mid May to Mid June is the rose harvesting season. The famous rose Rosa Damascena’s blooming season is celebrated in a grand way. The city is filled with thousands of curious visitors at this time. There are many events such as morning rose harvesting ritual, selecting Queen Rose, the parade and distilling roses. Bulgaria is famous for producing roses. Almost 70% rose oil in the world are produced and it is very expensive. The rose ‘attar’ is very important in perfumery business. It is also used as greasing component in spacing equipment because of its temperature resistance properties. Many cultural events, dance, arts, music and sports are arranged to entertain everyone. Concerts and workshops are there as well. The rose picking ritual is done by going to different locations in the rose valley. There are crafts, folk songs, local dances and taking photos in the valleys to make memories. The ritual arranged in the first Sunday of June in Kran village is the most popular one. It starts at 10 am by the local rose producers and municipality. They are picked by hands in the morning. Then they are transported to distillery. Rose festiveparade or carnival is the biggest paradesin the country with more than 3000 people join the event. Dance groups, local arts, student from different institutions join the march and show their talents. Rose coronation means a new Rose Queen is elected and crowned. It is held on Sunday. There are singing and dancing to spread joy and happiness. During the festival time it is little bit difficult to find accommodation. So book your place as early as possible. Also you can choose caravan, camping or couch surfing. You only need entrance fee for the rose picking rituals. It normally costs 5-10 euro. You can also go for Kazanlak Thracian Tomb or museums to visit. You can buy tickets from online or from Tourist Information Center. You can try Bulgarian Mouthwatering dishes such as Sopska salad, Banitsa, Moussaka, Kyufte etc. Kazanlak doughnut is a very tasty snack. The local alcoholic drink Gyulova Rakia is famous and very much loved which is made from roses. It can also be made from grapes and palm but the one made from rose is quite classy. It has more than 40% alcohol. So drink carefully. There are also other types of wines found in the Kazanlak Theater. Rose museum is situated in Rosarium Park, Kazanlak. You will see artifacts, many pictures, tools and manyhistoric and traditional works related of Kazanlak region. You can acquire knowledge about roses. There are also other museums as well. At northern part, you will found the valley of Thracian Kings. Many kings and royal members were buried there. More than 1500 tombs were discovered. Many treasures made from gold, silver and bronze were found. The Kazanlak Thracian Tomb is included in UNESCO World Heritage. During the month of May and June there can be chance of rain. So keep umbrella or raincoats with you.
Nestinarstvo (June 3)
Nestinarstvo is an eccentric ritual found in the village of Bulgari in the Strandzha Mountains. This place is near the Black Sea.The village is almost 75 km away from the main city. You have to rent a car or join an organized tour to get there. Normally, according to the old calendar, the ritual is performed on 3rd June every year. Sometimes it is changed and arranged on the first weekend of June. This dangerous ritual is known as fire dancing, which is performed barefoot. The dancer has to step on the embers/live coal in front of the villagers. According to experts, this Bulgarian folk tradition came from ancient Thracians. They used to worship the sun.The embers represent the warmth and light of the sun. At that time only the king has the right to perform the ritual. Traditionally, the person who can participate in this ritual is called head ‘Nestinari’ who is inherited the rights only when the previous one is dead or unable to perform. The Nestinari stays in a chapel called stolina which is a very sacred place. Many icons of saints and a sacred drum are placed there for this ritual. The motto behind this ritual is to ensure the well-being, health and prosperity of the village. After the arrival of Christianity, the tradition is blended with orthodox beliefs and prehistoric pagan ritual. Though the ritual was forbidden in the Communist era, but the locals did not forget that. On the day of St. Constantine and Helen which is 3rd June or the day of that village’s patron saint it is performed on the square of the village to show honor. The ritual is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2009. The head nestinar and the priest perform few pre ritual ceremonies for spreading spiritual power and inspiration. The saints’ icons are decorated with bright red cloth and old silver coins. A procession is arranged where all villagers take part. An offering made from mutton is served to the people. Then a large fire is made after the sunset and villagers dance around the fire. The fire is made symmetrically so everybody can observe that. This traditional dance is called Horo. The dances keep going on until the fire dies and leave the embers. Then with the beat of the sacred drum and bagpipe’s tune the fire dance is started. While dancing, they keep an icon of Saint Constantine and Helen in their hands to give them strength. It is said that due to strong religious state they don’t feel pain and burn their feet. The musicians play three tunes. The dancers dance there in an order and perform beautifully with the melody. In the 20th and 21st century this dance form became quite popular and many tourists started coming to this region to witness this ritual. Now, for the tourists the similar show is arranged in many seaside resorts and restaurants to just entertain them. Those are not authentic like the original traditional ritual. The ritual is followed in some population of Greek villages who were once a part of Bulgaria but occupied later during the First World War.
The Cherry Festival (June 29 – July 6)
In the month of June, two consecutive days on the last weekend are dedicated to for celebration of cherries in Kyustendil, Bulgaria. The city is 85 km away from Sofia. You can go there by renting a car or by bus. In 1896 the foundation of the fruit growing exhibition established for celebrating the fruit orchard in the city. The city won the title of “Mother of the Bulgarian Fruit Gardens”. Now cherries have become one of the well known symbolsof the city. The best quality cherries are produced in the Institute of Agriculture and by the agriculture growers. Here cherries are preserved with love and care. Many customs, culture, songs and poetry are created for cherry plantation and harvesting season. The exhibition includes all different varieties of fully ripe cherry stalls, cherry artwork, cherry rakia, concerts, dances and folklore songs. The exhibition is competitive where different NGOs, community center, schools, kindergarten and other association come to join. Cherries and their stems around thin branches are weaved beautifully to create a skillful artwork called ‘veshala’. All display tables are covered with artworks, cakes, jam, cherry syrup and jarred fruit. People are dressed beautifully and traditionally. The table which looks the best is going to win the prize on the last day. The cherries are distributed and eaten after the end of the festival. Children’s drawing, painting session are also organized and displayed later. In this unique cherry world, you can taste all the delicious varieties of cherries and other deserts wholeheartedly.
Now, before you start packing your bags for this unique adventure, make sure to visit the German website from Backpackertrail. There you can find more information on what to expect on your journey in Bulgaria.
List of other major festivals
- January – New Year’s Day, Surva
- February –Day of Remembrance and Respect to Victims of the Communist Regime
- March – Sofia International Film Festival
- April –Easter, Sofia Jazz pick
- May – Humour Carnival, Saint George Day,Labor Day
- June – Rose Festival, Nestinarstvo, The Cherry Festival
- July – Wake Up Open Air Festival, Wrong Fest
- August – International Bagpipe Contest. International Folk Festival, Varna Day
- September– Independence day
- October – European Education Fair Burgas
- November – Revival Leaders’ Day
- December –Christmas