Feature: Smell the Roses in Kazanlâk
For centuries Kazanlâk has been the sweet-smelling centre of European rose-oil production. The Valley of the Roses' underground water and rich soil are ideal for cultivating the flowers, and the region churns out pink-packeted soaps, moisturising balms, rose liqueurs, jams and candies.
Roses come into flower around mid-May to mid-June, and Kazanlâk's valleys are aflame with pretty blooms at this time of year. Kazanlâk's Rose Festival is the highlight of the season, but smaller villages such as Razhena, Kanchevo and Rozovo often have rose-themed festivities at weekends during the season (check dates at Kazanlâk's tourist office). Celebrations often involve rose picking, costume-clad dancers, blessing visitors with a shake from a branch dipped in rose water, and the opportunity to buy scented souvenirs. An entrance fee around 10 lv is usually charged.
To thoroughly immerse yourself in rose season, join a tour: guide Nikolay Tsutsov runs multi-day rose-themed excursions from Cucovata House in Kalofer village, 40km west of Kazanlâk. Book up to a year in advance to avoid disappointment.
There is plenty of fragrant fun outside rose season. At Enio Bonchev Rose Distillery, 27km west of Kazanlâk in Tarnichene village, you can learn the history of Bulgaria's rose-oil trade (and inhale its soothing smell). Touring the 1909-founded distillery's huge copper vats and small museum is possible year-round, but call or email in advance to fix a time. Meanwhile, Kazanlâk's newly opened Museum of Roses is a worthy introduction to the industry's history. Finally, you can sample rose-flavoured goodies as part of a visit to Kulata Ethnological Complex.