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The Ancient Village of Arbanassi

During the summer this quaint village near Veliko Turnovo is alive with Americans, Japanese, English, French and other tourists strolling through the narrow cobble streets and trying to peer over the high garden walls which surround the 200 year old houses. For those who love authentic old Bulgaria and adore Bulgarian cuisine, then Arbanassi has to be on the "must see" list. Local dishes and original architecture abound.

Arbanassi is set in the rolling hills of Stara Planina mountain range and is one of the most visited places in Bulgaria.

 

The architecture dates from the 17th and 18th Century; the houses have long narrow windows often with iron bars on the front, so to the visitor they appear almost as small fortresses. The village flourished many years ago as a trading centre, with wealthy citizens. It is because of their wealth that they felt obliged to build high stone walls around their houses to protect themselves against bandits. The stone garden walls have a wooden gate set in them which is the only way to enter the property and there are many secret passageways which lead out of the village in case there were raids.

One such house, which really has to be visited, is Konstantsalieva House, nowadays a museum. From the outside it is forbidding and not at all friendly but it was amazingly functional for its time - even having indoor bathrooms and toilets.

The oldest church in the village is The Nativity of Christ, which was built as early as the 16th Century and is now UNESCO listed. Despite the austere external appearance of the churches, inside there are splendid murals and ornate woodcarvings.

Tip: Many museums are not open from the end of October until April.

One of the charming things about the village is to just stroll slowly and take in the authentic atmosphere of times gone by and a way of life which was far more stress free than we have today. There are plenty of small shops jam packed with hand-made crafts; watch out for the lace makers who produce fine tablecloths.

Although a small village, there are plenty of good family owned and run guest houses. Frequently there is no sign outside to indicate what they are, so you need to be vigilent to spot them.

Tip: there is no bank nor ATM machines in Arbanassi, so make sure you arrive with some cash.

Once you step through the wooden gate you'll be amazed by the wonderful well laid out gardens. They also bear no relation to their counterparts of years ago, now having saunas, bars, satellite television and internet. All this luxury is added to by the charming family hosts, who you will find friendly and helpful. Food is, of course, homemade and traditional and often in vast old dining rooms with log fires in the winter months or under a vine covered terrace in the garden during the summer. Delicious salads, stuffed peppers with rice, Arbanassi style veal casserole...

Some owners even show visitors how to make the local Bulgarian dishes as well as how to make the world famous Bulgarian yoghurt. Many of the small restaurants have live music, with small groups playing folk music. Re-enactment of local customs are sometimes performed too. If you want a meal in a pretty setting, the the Mehana Izvora is good. In typical Arbanassi style, it has a summer courtyard garden where you can eat outdoors in the warmer months. Folk music is put on in the winter andd even fire dances are held at the small lake.

Over recent years more Americans tend to stay for longer holidays in the village and some tourists have also bought property, with Germans and Dutch being particularly prevelant.

No wonder, with it's unpolluted air, wonderful nature, marvellous architecturally original homes - this is a little bit of heaven. Simplicity, atmosphere and incredible views.

 

Photos by www.bulgariaphotos.net