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A City Visit To Stara Zagora

The often overlooked city of Stara Zagora is situated in the central region of Southern Bulgaria near the Bedachka river, covering the northern fields of the upper Thracian plain and the southern hills of the Sarnenea Sredna Gora mountain. The city offers the visitor many hidden charms. Leafy boulevards, children's play areas and well-tended parks filled with greenery, beautiful flowers, as well as many ancient Roman remains, water fountains and the scent of the Lime and Linden trees.

It is a city of poets, writers, artists and magic often overlooked by most travelers to Bulgaria. Its proximity to the Balkan range provides many opportunities for the photographer, hiker, hunter or fishing enthusiast.


Stara Zagora's population of 163,000 ranks it as the sixth largest city in Bulgaria, yet a recent study ranked it as Bulgaria's second largest city in terms of average salary making it an important economic area.

Situtated in the central region of Southern Bulgaria near the Bedechka River covering the northern fields of the Upper Thracian Plain and the southern hills of Sarnena Sredna Gora Mountain. The plain lies 150-180 m above sea level, the highest point of the mountains, the Moruley peak, reaches 895 m. It is 231 km from the capital, Sofia, 90 km from Plovdiv and 180 km from the Black Sea. It has a continental climate with a Mediterranean influence.

A Dip Back in Time

Stara Zagora is one of the oldest cities in Europe, established over 8,000 years ago and has held many different names.

Inhabited by Thracians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Slavs, Ottomans and Bulgarians, this unique city bears the historical mark of early civilizations along with many of their old treasures. Archaeologists have found more than 100 prehistoric mounds dating back to the third century BC and a rich collection of tools and artefacts. One of them, the Bereketska mound, is the largest in Bulgaria and contains traces of people from the New Stone Age. The oldest copper mines in Europe were discovered 8 km east of the city; copper ore mined in Stara Zagora was traded throughout the continent.

The city's current name appeared for the first time in documents from the Church Council of Tsarigrad in 1875. It means ‘old town behind the mountain.' The first major battle during the Russian - Turkish Liberation War took place near the city, when a large Turkish army consisting of several thousand soldiers attacked the town. An undersized Russian army supported by a small unit of Bulgarian volunteers defended the town. After a six-hour fight, the Russians and Bulgarians surrendered. The Turks burned down the city; ironically, the only public building to survive fire was the mosque, Eski Dzhamiya. The number of the casualties from Stara Zagora and its neighbouring villages reached 14,500. Several monuments pay homage to them.

The town's restoration began immediately after the liberation of Bulgaria. Prince Aleko Bogoridi laid the foundation stone for the new city on October 5th, 1879. Czech architect, Lyubor Bayer designed the new city giving it a modern feel with a grid system of large straight streets and spacious squares.

Getting Around

Stara Zagora is a central hub for the main Bulgarian railroads, connecting Sofia with Plovdiv and Bourgas. The train station lies to the south of the City Garden, just ten minutes walk from the centre. There is also a strong bus link with key Bulgarian cities like Sofia. Bourgas, on the Southern Black Sea coast is home to the nearest international airport.

Parks

There are numerous well-tended parks and gardens in the heart of the city adding to it's natural feel. The open spaces provide respite for weary office workers and parents with children.
The most prestigious of the parks is undoubtedly the Ayazmoto Park, which was established in 1895 when a barren area to the north of the city was planted with a magnificent variety of trees imported from Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Spain and Italy. It is home to the cities only zoo, which is a great place for children and adults to view a vast array of animals including several brown bears and lions.

In the centre of town lies the City Park, created in 1891 on a vast green space of 20 decares of land. The small Bedechka Park offers the tranquillity of its namesake, the River, Bedechka, which runs through it. Other parks in the city are the Thrakia Park, the Zhiten Alan Park and the Railway Station Garden. In spring and summer, Stara Zagora is awash with blooms making it an ideal time to visit.

Where to Stay

Art Hotel - A quiet family hotel in the very centre of Stara Zagora. Cosy rooms with modern furniture, cable TV, Internet access, air-conditioning.
Dedov Hotel - In the heart of the city, a beautifully designed hotel with soundproofed rooms and a gourmet restaurant.
Hotel Ezerto - A luxurious facility built in 1996, with 24 beds, located on a lake between the train station and the city centre. It has two exquisite restaurants, featuring traditional cuisine.
Forum Hotel - Located in the town centre, this beautifully restored building dates back to 1891 and is now a cultural monument. It has been open for guests since March 2006.
Mania - A family hotel located in the eastern part of the city, close to Bedechka Park, and only within 5-minute drive to the city centre.
Uniqato Hotel - A quiet hotel with good communications, offering individual and sophisticated service. The hotel has a total of 16 unique rooms and apartments including a VIP suite. The restaurant here is highly recommended.

 


 

Where to Stay 

Vereya Hotel - Located in the middle of downtown and the largest hotel in the city. It is renowned for its style and luxury.

Zagorka Lake - Situated on a beautiful lake in the north-eastern part of town, the hotel has 60 beds and 4 apartments, lakeside restaurant, cafe, conference facilities for 150 people, and a secured parking area.

Eating and Drinking

Stara Zagora is a city with a wide range of culinary delights ranging from traditional Bulgarian mehana food, ethnic food to gourmet cuisine. Chefs here take advantage of the cornucopia of locally grown fruits and vegetables augmented by locally produced wines.

Restaurants

Mehana Chevermet - Located in the Complex Ezeroto, not far from Stara Zagora's Railway Station. It has an impressive garden extending onto a small island in the middle of an artificial lake. It is laid out on several terraces, with wood dominating the
interior. The menu offers a variety of choices and the live band will keep your spirits up during your stay.
Krim - Tastefully designed furnishings in pastel shades with discreet lighting. Excellent menu. Only 100 metres from the Vereya Hotel.
Sans Souci - Housed in the building of Alliance Francaise, near Ayazmoto Park. Its summer garden nestles under the blossoms of exotic trees. The menu offers a mixture of Bulgarian and French dishes. The meat specialities are prepared in the restaurant's fireplace. Customers are kings here and the chefs are willing to take orders for dishes prepared to your own recipes. A selection of good wines.


Typical architectureSkalite - A uniquely designed pizza restaurant / mehana with a winter garden. With its stone and wood interior, Skalite echoes Italian boutique restaurants. The pizzas and the salads are always good but the rest of the menu is also worth exploring;
grilled meats, shish kebabs and meats prepared on a hot clay stone.

Venezia - Fantastic food and ambience with excellent service. Inside the restaurant, you can view ancient Roman ruins. If this does not whet your appetite, a glass window into the kitchen allows you to watch the chef cook your meal. Recommended dish: the Chicken Fillet.

Restaurant Uniqato - Located in the hotel of the same name, the luxurious restaurant offers a rich list of European, with an accent on Italian, specialities and the large list of wines makes the choice difficult. Book ahead as the restaurant is often fully booked.
Zlaten Luv - The interior is a mixture of past and present, of folklore elements with a modern influence. It is inhabited by history: the window shutters, the heavy gate, the vine trellis and the stone water fountain all carry the charm of days gone by. The chef's masterful dishes are prepared to ‘long-forgotten recipes'. Look at the stylish Revival-style balcony with its cast-iron balustrade and the paintings on the walls, which tell the story of the town's artisan life.


Cafés

The cafe culture has a tremendous significance in Bulgarian life. Stara Zagora's numerous cafes provide good conversation, great coffee as well as many other beverages and snacks.

Get a taste of Stara Zagoran café culture at the Malibu, Lagos or Paralax Cafes.

The Adonay Café is a local favourite and features delicious ice cream and fruit fare.

Bars

Show Bar Select - A great place to hang out during the day or night. It has a moody ambience. There are two bars with pictures of famous people. It has a small Hard Rock Cafe feel to it.
Absolut - A spectacular mix of light, colours and materials. Dance and retro plays and the bar is open until the small hours. The army of waiters and bartenders display New York skill and flare. In addition to quality drinks and cocktails, the bar also has a snack food menu.
Bu'atee - An authentic Moroccan bar located in central Stara Zagora. It also offers an excellent restaurant serving Moroccan food. The bar serves exotic cocktails and plays a variety of pop music. There is also a separate VIP room. Enjoy a glass of delicious wine on the soft low couches or try a traditional Moroccan hookah, a water pipe with scented tobacco.

Modern CentreClubs

Club 33 - A popular club with an eclectic, red, white and graphite interior design. To one side of the main area, there is a VIP corner where the floors are decorated with giant fish tanks. The music is retro and house and there is a good selection of local and foreign DJ's taking control of the sound system during the weekend. The list of quality liquor and alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails is impressive.
Cosmopolitan - With a capacity of 500 and a central location, this is one of the most popular clubs in Stara Zagora. The club is laid out on two levels, with a separate bar and VIP area. State of the art sound, lighting, and guest performances by top Bulgarian and foreign DJs. Well known Bulgarian pop and folk singers, dancers and dance groups also perform here. There is also a spacious garden area with palm trees and stylish furniture during the summer months.
Phobia - Located in the Vereya Hotel Complex. Every night there is a different musical theme; every thing from techno, tribal and progressive to Latino.

Shopping

Stara Zagora offers a unique and diverse shopping experience with a wide range of shops fully equipped to cater to the needs of both visitors and locals. Tsar Simeon Veliki, the main shopping street has a pedestrian walkway lined with sidewalk cafes.

The Central Market is quite simply one of those joyful experiences you can find in Stara Zagora. As you walk between the stalls, your senses will be awakened by the smells, tastes, sounds, vision and lively atmosphere created by the interaction between stallholders, customers and browsers. Locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, locally produced Bulgarian honey, cheeses and eggs, and a myriad of locally grown flowers grace the tables.

 


 

 

There are shopping centres of renowned hypermarket chains like Metro, Billa, Kaufland, Technopolis, Technomarket, and Mr. Bricolage. Plus modern shopping malls including Galleria, Park mall, Carrefour city mall.

Also worth visiting is Handknit Crafts, an enterprise owned and operated by a group of women from the Stara Zagora Home for the Handicapped. These eight women combine their talents to create unique hand knitted products that reflect the very best in traditional Bulgarian crafts. Designs are created by local artist Leonora Gencheva. The group have a website where you can purchase goods over the internet. (www.handknitcrafts.com).


Recreation and Sport

Rent a rowboat on lovely Zagorka Lake or have fun in a paddleboat at Ezeroto Lake. Stara Zagora offers much to do in the way of sport and recreation. Fishing is available on the banks of the Tunzha River or the popular Coprinka Dam.

Located in the north-western part of the city near Ayazmoto Park, Beroe Stadium seats 12,000 and has gymnastics, acrobatics, boxing, and table tennis facilities. Many tournaments are held here including the Martial Arts Tournament in May and two annual football tournaments. The National RC Speedboat Championship is held on the Zagorka Lake in August.

There are also bowling alleys in the town centre with excellent bar facilities. Moya, Stara Zagora's latest bowling alley and entertainment centre, has a total of six Brunswick lanes and a stylish setting.
Water Land lies 30 kilometres from the city and offers an Aqua Park with mineral water swimming pools with artificial waves, waterslides, large Jacuzzis and swimming pools. In addition to water sports facilities, there are areas dedicated beach volleyball and one for football.

In addition to recreation facilities, the park also offers six open-air bars, one of them submerged in water and a nightclub with a huge laser beam cutting through the darkness above the Kazanlak Valley. Stara Zagora is renowned for its hiking and trips can be arranged to nearby villages and through the Stara Planina. If walking is too energetic, you can arrange to take a jeep safari.

Performing Arts

The Geo Milev theatre presents outstanding classical and modern productions by the Stara Zagora Drama Group.

The opera is connected with the names of internationally recognised Bulgarian opera singers like Hristina Morphova, Georgi Batalov, Todor Mazarov, and Anna Tomova-Sintova. Further to the Stara Zagora Opera house renovations, it now boasts to have the largest, modern revolving stage in Bulgaria.

The State Puppet Theatre provides excellent performances for children of all ages. The productions are both creative and fun-packed. Every September, the Puppet Theatre hosts the Pierrot International Puppet Theatre for Adults Festival.

There are two cinemas in the city, the Comsomol and the Septemvri Open Air Cinema.The region has a long cultural history and boasts an impressive number of talented poets, writers, artists, musicians, and actors. Numerous cultural events take place throughout the year and it is worth planning a visit to co-inside with one of them.

The Bagatur School for Ancient Bulgarian Martial Arts organises demonstration tournaments to present typical combat techniques and weapons, historical and folklore tales, rites, dances and games that were performed by the first Bulgarians, Thracians and Slavs.

During the Palm Sunday weekend, in the town centre, local girls perform traditional Lazaruvane songs.
During late May and early June, The Trakia Pee (Thrace Sings) Festival attracts folk groups from throughout Thrace to perform at outdoor venues. The National Festival of Gypsy Music takes place in Ayazmoto Park at the end of June.

BEER!

You could be forgiven for wondering why every cafe and bar has large parasols with Zagorka Beer so heavily promoted. Apart from the fact that Zagorka is the most popular beer brand in Bulgaria, it is produced by the Zagorka Brewery in the city and many of the townsfolk are employed here. The lager's name was derived from that of the city.

The beer itself is a full bodied, mildly hopped Pilsner with a 5% alcohol content. The brewery is not independently owned, in the mid-1990s, it became a fully owned subsidiary of the Dutch brewing giant Heineken. Today the brewery produces Ariana, Stolichno, Heineken, Amstel and Murphy's here.

In August, the beer festival takes place on the banks of the Zagorka Lake.

Photographs courtesy: www.bulgariaphotos.net