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Melnik Bulgaria

Melnik Bulgaria is a blend of unique nature - the cliffs clustered around the houses on the hills, history, culture and wine. It is reputed to be the most romantic town in Bulgaria! With its history, winding streets and ancient houses it really is like a picture postcard and utterly charming. It’s also the smallest town in Bulgaria with around 230 inhabitants. Set in the most south-westerly corner of Bulgaria in the municipality of Blagoevgrad, which covers 25 villages, Melnik lies in the warmest and sunniest part of the country. It is surrounded by three of the country’s largest mountains, Rila, Pirin and the Rhodopes and consequently offers clean, clear air and wonderful mountain spas.

Blagoevgrad city is one of the most important economic and cultural centres in the south western region as the main international road between Bulgaria and Greece runs through it. The area around has many natural resources and is extremely scenic with fabulous lakes and rivers providing pure fresh spring water.

A Dip Back in Time

Melnik Bulgaria has had an eventful and turbulent history; archaeologists claim that the Thracians were the first to settle here. Following this, the Romans passed through, and you can still see the ancient Roman bridge to this day. However, it is believed that the Slavs gave the town its present name of Melnik, which is from the sand pyramids surrounding the town on all sides. It prospered under Slav rule and became the capital city of the domain of Lord Alexi Slav and was an impregnable fortress with brisk economy in arts, crafts and the building trade. Between 1218 and 1241, under Tzar Ivan Assen, a duty free trade charter was made with merchants from Dubrovnik. These traders brought exquisite goods and artisanal skills to the town and Melnik soon became a centre for icon-painters, masters of ceramics, goldsmiths, stone masons and builders.
The Byzantine Empire ruled over the town and this was followed by 500 years of Ottoman rule. The Bulgarian National Revival of the 18th and 19th Centuries came to life here before it established itself in any other parts of the country and the town regained its former splendour becoming once more a major cultural and commercial centre. Remarkable architectural works were built, churches and schools were opened and the eminent merchants thrived. The fame of Melnik spread, particularly in relation to its superb wines, which matured in deep cellars for dozens of years. This maturing process gave the Melnik wines a specific taste and flavour which in turn made it extremely sought after as far afield as Greece, Austria, France, Spain - and even in Great Britain!
Devastation later arrived in the shape of a dramatic fire during the Balkan war (1912-1913).

Must See

Today Melnik Bulgaria is a protected museum town. The fortress wall, magnificent houses and churches remain testament to its past glory and standing here one really feels immersed in the past. The natural scenery of this town is truly amazing; from everywhere you can see the famous Melnik sand pyramids, which are one of the most remarkable natural phenomena in the whole of Bulgaria. These pyramids cover an area of 17 sq km and the effects of wind, water, sun and snow erosion over centuries have created unusual natural sculptures. They are made up of white Pliocene sands with a mixture of clay seams with a rock ‘crown’ protecting the sand beneath from falling apart. Some of the most interesting and impressive are those formations, which look like mushrooms. Tourist tracks lead all over for excellent views of this phenomenon.
The ancient houses in Melnik retain a charm and architectural style related to its geographic location. The town is set on a mountain slope and offered limited terrain for building, which is why the houses seem to be piled one on top of another and are really too close together. Because of the steepness of the terrain it was necessary to build the basement of stone (this is where they matured their famous wines). Above these basements are one or two storeys with white facades framed with dark wood and elegant windows. The interiors are often lavish with carved wood, fireplaces and decorative wood carved cabinets, murals and some even have stained glass.

Well worth seeing is the Feudal Lord or Byzantine House, which is among the earliest civilian buildings in the Balkans and predates the architecture of the Bulgarian National Revival by several centuries. It is said that the house was built for a royal relative, Elena-Olena, probably being built in the 12th or 13th century. Only the west and south outer walls of the house are preserved. The Kordopoulov House dates back to 1754 and is built in the Bulgarian Revival style. It contains decorative murals and stained glass, beautifully carved ceilings and fabulous decoration. The basement contains one of the largest wine cellars in the town. Pasha’s House belonged to the richest Turk in the region at the time, Ibrahim Bey. It was built for him in 1815 and is elegant and impressive with oriels and wood carved suns on the ceilings.

Melnik’s old churches are also noteworthy;  St Nicholas, dating from the 13th century, St Nikolai the Miracle Worker, and the church of St Peter and Paul all blend into the old world atmosphere. Even the Melnik Hotel is in the style of the National Revival period and offers all usual facilities one would expect. Traditional Bulgarian dishes are served in the restaurant and the tavern and you can sample those famous natural Melnik wines too. Melnik Winery revives the centuries-old tradition of Melnik wine producers. The techniques used for production of these famous wines are a mix of traditional methods combined with modern technology. You can taste the wine in its natural environment - the most famous St Nicola Melnik is of extremely high quality and even though this area is renowned for its red, the  St Nicola Chardonnay is a fine and crisp white wine of astounding quality.