In the middle of Bulgaria, located in the Chepino Valley, part of the mythical Rhodope Mountains, lays the spa capital of the Balkan region. The name of Velingrad is well known among people who look for a cure and relax. Usually, a spa weekend is a family business. Not for us. We were a group of four women who went to the town for a girls getaway and discovered that there is so much more than the 80 mineral water springs and beautiful nature around Velingrad. We discovered that there is an abundance of things to see, try and experience and it is our pleasure to share them with you.
Spa, Nature and Sightseeing for a Weekend
The town of Velingrad was created in 1948 when three nearby villages were united. These villages gave the names of the neighbourhoods and at each of them, there is a mineral water deposit. The name of the town comes from Vela Peeva, a woman that took part in the Bulgarian Resistance Movement during the WWII.
She became known for her heroic death after more than a month hiding alone in the forest around Velingrad, without food and injured. When finally the fascists found her location, she fought them for five hours. After her ammunitions ended, she committed suicide.
Apart from the dramatic past of the place, there are many more reasons why Velingrad is a good place for girls’ getaway. Here are some of them.
More Than 80 Mineral Water Springs
In the region of Velingrad, there are four mineral water deposits – three of them are in the town (Chepino, Kamenitsa, and Ludgene) and one is in the village of Draginovo. An interesting fact is that in each of this deposits the water has different composition and cures different medical conditions.
Some public mineral water fountains keep their ‘old charm’ status
The waters come from a deep – they are crystal clear and hot. This allows being used for inhalation, drinking, and even outdoor spa. They also have antifungal properties.
Velingrad is so rich of mineral water springs (more than 80) so that you need to know what water for what purpose is used and if you can drink it or not. Without limitations and every day you can drink the water from the Chepino deposit situated in the district of the same name. Its water is used for treating respiratory diseases, diseases of the musculoskeletal system like arthrosis, arthritis, fractures, dislocations, sprains, and occupational diseases like tendovaginitis and myositis. Also, neurological, endocrine, skin and cardiovascular diseases respond well to a treatment with the Chepino deposit mineral water.
The water from the Ludgene deposit also can be consumed but you need to make intervals because of the high content of fluorine in it. It is used to treat joint, gynaecological and neurological diseases. Drinking from this water helps in curing kidney and urological problems because of its diuretic functions.
The water from Kamenitsa deposit is not good for drinking. But it is very good for a treatment of certain rheumatic diseases with sulfur deficiency. Treatment of spikes spine of knee joints, hip joints, etc., and inflammatory joint diseases have a good effect on the treated person.
The water in Draginovo has the appropriate properties for the treatment of hepatobiliary disorders, gastrointestinal and dermatological diseases.
Other mineral water fountains are well maintained by the local business
The most important spa destination of Bulgaria has numerous indoor and outdoor pools with mineral water, many of them in hotels. Spa treatments are offered in many of them. However, even if you do not need a special treatment, you can still take advantage of Velingrad’s greatest wealth – the water, as we did in our 5* villa.
Except for spa treatments and drinking, the mineral water in Velingrad is also used as a natural energy source for heating buildings and in the households.
The rich mineral water deposits of Velingrad make it an excellent place for a spa vacation, even better for girls getaway where women can relax and explore at a slow pace the surroundings.
6 Public Baths with Mineral Water
I was very surprised to hear that in Velingrad there are still 6 baths open for public use. Such public baths are part of my childhood memories and from a long-time forgotten social phenomenon. That’s why I was pleased to see that some of the many public baths still work here. The bathrooms in Velingrad have a rich history and according to the characteristics of the water – different purpose. For example – the one named Sulphur Bath can be found in Kamenitsa district and therefore its water is good for the treatment of joint and gynaecological diseases.
What’s more interesting for me is the history and the architecture of the bath. You will understand my enthusiasm for old buildings with history when I tell you that I almost entered the bath on the man’s day in a passionate attempt to know and see more of this historical building! (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are the days when women use the bath; Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday is for the men).
Fortunately, a kind local lady stopped me with a wide smile on her face. The building is designed by the Italian architect Luigi Pietris and was built with the help of the local population. It is interesting that the initiator of this project was the Bulgarian King Ferdinand I.
The other five baths, that I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing, are less attractive from the outside but nonetheless enough interesting historically. I wouldn’t advise a person who never has been to a public bath to try visiting one here before knowing what to expect. I guess, the conditions inside are not what the Western people are used to, but if you like to experience new things, there is always a place to another memorable story to tell when you go back home.
More than 40 Spa Hotels
Velingrad is well developed and established vacation town in Bulgaria. It is popular not only amongst Bulgarians but recently Russians and other foreigners coming from all over Europe and beyond. The accommodation choices are not scarce here. There are registered more than 100 hotels in the area but let say that around 40 of them offer international standards.
All of these hotels use the mineral deposits of the town and have pools and baths that the guests can use. Several of the hotels offer exclusive service and environment. There are five that are rated 5 stars among which is our girls’ getaway home Villa Vuchev (you will read more about this villa in my next post). This villa is the only one villa in Bulgaria with such rating, and for a good reason.
Around 12 Museums and Galleries
To make your girls-only weekend more informative and interesting, visit some of the museums in Velingrad. If you like history and want to know more about the region, start with the Historical Museum of the name of Vela Peeva.
Another interesting, alas not so impressive from the inside, is the Pliocene Museum in the village of Dorkovo. The story is curious but as happens often in small countries like mine, the artefacts are from a long time gone to a museum in France. It is not well known (even to me before visiting the place) that this is the greatest paleontological deposit in the Balkans and the second most important exhibition in Europe. In the period of 1985-1987 excavations made by French scientists found more than 30 vertebrate species, more than 600 bones of large mammals.
Visit a Carpet Factory
Another very interesting place to visit is situated in the village of Kostandovo. It’s a place of magic, even if it doesn’t look like such from a first glance. It’s a carpet factory. But don’t think that this is one of the many that make carpets for the masses (i.e us). Here women work during months with their hands (no machines here; thank you very much China but no!) to create masterpieces that will be spread on the floors of palaces like the one that is the summer residence of Queen Elizabeth (recent news speak about an order for two carpets for Versailles!).
There are ten more museums and galleries in Velingrad and in the places around. The Tourist Information Center (at Svoboda Square) can organize for you a visit (and transport) if you need. In case you are a larger group, better book your tours in advance.
More than 30 Chapels and Churches
One of the loveliest things you can see in Velingrad is its many chapels and churches. I found by accident probably the most colourful of all, with the kindest woman assisting the visitors. She was sitting inside, under the walls and dome painted in cartoon-like colours portraying scenes from the Bible. This sweet old lady was wearing (obviously) a wig. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that probably she suffers from a disease that causes her baldness but this didn’t prevent her to be a warm, positive and humble person that shows nothing less than kindness to everyone who enters the door of this chapel.
The chapel that my girlfriends and I visited is the one in the park in Ludgene neighbourhood. Its name is ‘Zhivotopriemniy izvor’ meaning Life-fostering source because the chapel is built on a place of a mineral spring.
More about the chapels and churches in and around Velingrad (that are all charming and different in style and story), you can read on velingrad-bg.com, a site that offers a comprehensive and updated information about the destination.
Tsepina Fortress deserves to be visited on a beautiful day when the clear sky allows seeing the panorama around the hill. From the fortress, there are just several ruins left but there is no doubt that the place has a special energy and it is especially beautiful in fall.
To reach the hilltop where the fortress is, you will have to walk a pleasant 10 minutes. However, foresee at least a half hour because the views are magnificent and I’m sure you will stop at several places to take photos or just to enjoy the moment.
Visit this place can be combined with a visit to the Pliocene Museum in Dorkovo, as it is nearby and the entrance ticket covers both places. Mondays, the visits are free of charge.
Large Choice of Restaurants
Although Velingrad doesn’t have a distinguished traditional cuisine that is unique to the region, because it is settled between the Pirin and the Rhodope Mountains and mixes traditions from both places, here you can taste some typical Bulgarian dishes. Ask for the specialities, and especially for the ‘lunch menu’.
Good restaurants to check are:
Tom and Nezi
Address: Saedinenie Blvd
Address: 169 Saedinenie Blvd
Beautiful Parks and Green Areas
The climate in Velingrad is favourable with fresh summers and mild winters. This is one very good reason people love to come here. For a girls getaway, relaxing weekend in a women-only company, it is a perfect destination.
Possibilities for long walks in and around the town make the town a place infused with clean energy coming directly from the pure nature surrounding the town. Age-old pine trees purify the air the same way the numerous mineral water springs do with the soil. Many of the hotels here are nested in parks; the large, well-arranged streets are covered with the shade of deciduous trees.
The town centre is a long pedestrian alley where in summer you can sit and observe the local’s life under thick shadows but in transitional seasons can feel cold and humid because of the high trees sheltering the alley. Velingrad is especially beautiful in autumn with October being the best month of the season to visit. Alternatively, I can say that May and September are the best months to come and enjoy all the features that this spa capital can offer.
There are many villages around Velingrad that have a special atmosphere and are full of life. These are the villages where the Bulgarian Muslims live. We call them “pomatsi” and that’s to distinguish them from the other Muslims in Bulgaria who have been brought here from Turkey during the Ottoman Empire.
The ‘pomatsi’ are blond with clear eyes people. They are Bulgarians (Christians) who have been turned into Muslims during the 5 centuries of Ottomans rule in the country. Today, they keep their traditional lifestyle and have a very simple life that cannot be seen in the rest of the country. Often, they are with limited education, have many children and families live from the hard agricultural work of animal breeding, tobacco plantation, collecting forest fruits and preparing homemade jams, honey and beans and selling them to the tourists passing in the region.
These people deserve great admiration because they are all hard workers, live simple and even poorly, but are always smiling, kind and helpful. Their villages are not an example of a beautiful architecture or unforgettable sightseeing, but it’s interesting for a person who likes learning about other cultures. Cross the villages and observe the life of one of Bulgaria’s minority groups discreetly and respectfully.
Traditional Food and Homemade Products
One of these ‘pomatsi’ villages is Undola, a place at 30 minutes drive from Velingrad. Nature is beautiful around here and the air so pure. Undola is an extensive saddle pasture that makes it look like a postcard. Nearby are the Belmeken Dam and the National Alpine Sports base.
At the crossroad of Undola, you will find (all year round) the market where the local women sell their homemade production. Wild strawberries jam, blueberries jam, different types of honey, special kinds of beans, herbs and more are on a display here. Prices are reasonable and the sellers, although you see the competition, are very kind.
If you don’t have the time or possibility to go to Undola, visit the town market of Velingrad. You will find almost the same production although the choice is limited as the sellers are not so numerous, and bring home some homemade goodies to your family from this much-needed (I’m sure!) girls getaway.
One thing is sure. If you are a curious woman that seeks more than just to chill out at the pool, the time of a weekend will be not enough to see everything around Velingrad.
In any case, in the company of your best friends is always fun no matter what you decide to do – relax in the hot mineral water of the outdoor pool in October, go for a walk to the Tsepina Fortress for a good view over the valley or indulge with a traditional food in one of the numerous restaurants in the town.
WHERE YOUR MOST REMARKABLE GIRLS GETAWAY EXPERIENCE WAS? WHY WAS IT SO SPECIAL?