After, oh, 21 years, my mother took me back to the mother country: Bulgaria. There was so much to see and explore! So many historical sites, places, things, figures, facts and pop culture that I never really learned while growing up in my little Canadian cocoon. My (American) stepdad had a “50 must-see places in Bulgaria” map, and after zipping around the country for two straight weeks, we had barely ticked off five items from the list. We’d been to tons of museums and ruins (Bulgarian, Roman, Thracian), idyllic mountain towns, picturesque rural villages, the paradisiacal seaside, and more churches and monasteries than I can count. In a fit of class and glory, I even got to blaspheme at a UNSECO sanctioned religious site, shouting, “Jesus f$*#&^@ Christ!” as I rammed my head into the low archway while entering the holiest part of a 10,000+ year old medieval church, because I was tweeting about it. (So you’ll be glad to know that there is a surprising amount of free wi-fi access across the country — in fact, more than I encountered in notoriously ritzy parts of Europe, like France and Monaco and even London).
And there’s plenty to be said about all of the places we visited. Political and social strife aside, Bulgaria is so rich in history and geographical wonders, it’s hard not to be a little proud to call it my birthplace. I know I’m biased, but I was truly amazed by the range of beauty and history packed into such a small country. I mean, come on, we have a functional Roman theater! That’s pretty awesome.
I more than enjoyed seeing hundreds of these artifacts, ruins and so much stunning architecture. Despite the thrills of simply peering over our Pamporovo hotel balcony into the plummeting valleys of the Rhodope mountains, or being tossed around by the choppy Black Sea waters near the ancient town of Nessebar, something else stands out for me.
Being the unabashed Taurean Caligula-bot that I am, one of my favorite stops in Bulgaria was a hotel and vineyard called Starosel (Старосел), about an hour outside of Plovdiv. We set out for the drive to Plovdiv from the Rhodope mountains early in the day, and following a few hours of exploration in the old city center under a smoldering late summer sun, we made our way to Starosel to relax for the night.
After a long day of travel and visits family we hadn’t seen in decades, the Starosel complex was like an oasis in a blistering desert. Boasting a vineyard, distillery, spa, restaurant, mineral pools and a small menagerie of small animals, the grounds are situated around a gorgeous courtyard whose centerpiece is a replica of a domed Thracian tomb (here’s an example of one we visited in Pomorie).
The stunning interior of the carefully replicated Thracian temple – “храм (hram)” – hosts weddings and special events, and houses a wine cellar — clearly, the most crucial function. Beginners’ tours through the “temple” earn you certified initiation in the secrets of Thracian mysteries at their close, and are followed by one or all of three key options: relaxation, food or wine.
The hotel itself is lovely; with 42 rooms available in the low-rise complex — overlooking expansive vineyards from suite windows and the aforementioned courtyard from arterial wrap-around verandas — picturesque is an understatement. A mixture of rustic and modern, each room is elegant and sophisticated and sleek but cozy. What looked to me like over the top Halishte rugs charmingly doubled for bedspreads, and an open bathroom unlike any I’ve seen before both delighted and confused me in concept (water got everywhere, but I loved it nonetheless).
My stepdad and I both found our happy places in the five-year old complex’s gorgeous outdoor mineral water pool, sourcing some of the warmest natural spa waters in the region. A late September afternoon swim in toasty, mineral-rich waters with a cold glass of house wine while the sun sets over the vineyard? I feel dizzy with bliss just thinking about it!
Why did we ever leave?!
The complex also features a stunning indoor pool, which I did not have the opportunity to visit and am understandably heartbroken about.
Al fresco dining means that the lovely family of peacocks that resides on the grounds will likely strut by you as you sip a frosty Chardonnay or smooth Merlot. In fact, all manner of fancy fowl cluck about the quad, and don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by an angelic deer as you stroll, or a cuddly bunny bounces by. It’s some real Sleeping Beauty-esque whimsy all up in there. Even the aggressive exchange of information between a few roosters outside of my room early in the morning was more endearing than disruptive!
In retrospect, this resort has quite a bit more to offer than we could take advantage of in the less that 24 hours we were there, so while I’d love to close the chapter on this one and move on to the next adventure, I think it’s worth revisiting for a proper stay. I didn’t even get a chance to jump on the trampoline or play a round of mini golf by the pool and cabana bar.
If you’re curious about the resort, check out their website – www.starosel.com – and set the winter blues aside with some gorgeous photos of what could be!
Their Facebook page is a little more Anglophone friendly, but you can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop me a line in the comments if you have questions!