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A Weekend Visit To Velingrad

Velingrad is Bulgaria's leading spa resort with over 70 mineral springs in the area as well as many natural and cultural sights including the UNESCO heritage site known as the

Kleptuza - the country's largest karst spring, which gushes around 1,200 litres of ice-cold water per second. Another interesting site is the intersection of the 42nd parallel and the 24th meridian, At the moment the spot is marked with a metal sign, but the municipality intend to turn this into a tourist attraction similar to the Greenwich Meridian. Velingrad has changed beyond recognition since its days as a dusty Communist spa retreat full of ugly concrete sanatoriums and "vacation centres."The town has undergone some large-scale renovation and massive foreign investment, yet it has avoided the heavy mass construction of some of the ski and sea resorts.

The Mineral Spas

Velingrad's mineral waters come from springs and wells and differ significantly in mineralisation, temperature and content. Around 9,000 litres of water per minute pour from five of the thermal springs in Chepino, Ladjene, Rakitovo, Kamenitza, and Kostadinovo. There are over 70 sources of mineral springs whose water is suitable for treatment and prevention of a wide range of diseases including the treatment of bone fractures, muscle tissues, the nervous system, gynecological problems, respiratory difficulties, kidney diseases, stomach aches and hypothermia. Chepino is home to one of the country's largest thermal springs;the water here is if a high alkaline content with a state of low mineralisation. The hotest spring is by far the one located in Kamenica; water here acan reach temperatures of up to 91 degrees centigrade.

What makes this resort unique is the abundance of old bathhouses, which have existed in the town since the days of the Romans. In all there are around 10 such buildings and many are situated in crumbling old buildings scattered all over Velingrad. These public spas give the visitor a unique chance to travel back in time to the days of the old Roman bath houses, which are more public than the spas of today. If you take on this spa experience, leave all of your possessions in the locker room, then prepare to enter a huge steam-filled stone hall often filled with strangers of all shapes and sizes! Some baths offer a segregated bathing experience whilst other baths are mixed. Once you have relaxed in this room for around an hour you can reawaken yourself with a dip in the bathhouse swimming pool.

The Dam Lakes

The countryside around Velingrad is rich in dam lakes and provides a perfect place for keen anglers. In fact some people maintain that the best source of fishing is in thses dam lakes, although the area along the Chepinska River and its tributaries, the Matnica, Grancharica, Ablanica and Dospat rivers are well stocked with freshwater trout, black barbell, carp, chub, rudd and perch.

The picturesque Batak Dam, a man-made lake 21 km away from Velingrad makes a wonderful place for a picnic, spot of camping or just a fun place to relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery in this area. There are plenty of water sports available including canoing, sailing, water wheels, and a motor yacht as well as some of the best fishing the area has to offer. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafe's to refresh the weary sailor or the hungry fisherman.

Just 30 km form Velingrad lies the amazing Belmeken Lake, which also offers some fantastic opportunities for a variety of water sports and fishing. This area is also home to the The High Mountain Sports Complex, which at a height of 2050 m offers some fantastic views as well as a diverse variety of training facilities and opportunities for relaxation. A littlefurther away there is yet another amazing dam, the Dospat Dam Lake. This lake offers great fishing and plenty of facilities for the recreational tourist.

Be sure to take in some of the surrounding countryside on your visits to the dam lakes; Kara Tepe offers some beautiful panoramas and is only 28 km south of Velingrad. It is rich in natural beauty including the scenic Selishte Valley, which is a renowned sun trap. This area is superb for hiking, walking and cycling and are rich hunting grounds. Likewise the Jundola is a rich hunting ground with many stags, fallow deer, wild-boar, bears, wood-grouse and ring doves.

The area has one famous natural lake, Lake Kleptuza, which is formed from the water pouring from the Kleptuza karst. The lake is surrounded by willow trees and is popular with locals and tourists particularly in summer. There are plenty of places to eat and drink, although some close down out of the summer season.

The Villages

Neighbouring villages offer some interesting sights particularly to those interested in archaeological finds in the area. Chepino, Kamenitsa and Luzhene, are now classed as suburbs of Velingrad and have been since 1945. Chepino was once home to an ancient fortress, which was first refered to in the 13th century Byzantine Chronicles. Bulgarian kings used to visit this district to enjoy the healing effects of the public baths here. There is also archaeological evidence that the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and Turks inhabited this village. In Kamenitsa, the ruins of a Roman bath house have been found and in Luzhene the foundations of a 1st century, large public building has been excavated.