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Gabrovo is a region and town in the middle of Bulgaria, in fact it is the exact centre point of Bulgaria, which in the past and up to present day, makes it a very important and strategical location. This region has 133 villages, hidden in the mountains between dense forest and fragrant meadows.
This town is a beautiful and peaceful place, which amalgamates nature and wildlife in a way that gives it a feeling of growing out of the mountains and not being built on it.
It is situated on the banks of the river Yantra, which in itself is important, as in the past it gave ‘power’ to the town and region. Baev Bridge is the most popular, but there is also the Arts, Yok, Shivarov and The bridge behind the theatre.
In the river itself there is a monument of Racho The Blacksmith, who is the founder of the town. He originally lived in Bozhentsi, with his mother and 8 other children. Knowing how important horses were for transport and farming, he learnt how to become a blacksmith. Living in a village, every day, he decided to make to a location where a busy road and river merged, so he could make more money for the family from the passing traders and travellers. This location eventually became a well known stopping point, so he built his house there, soon followed by many other craftsmen and their families, thus Gabrovo was born out of the rocks of the mountain pass.
The town centre is very quaint with a mixture of traditional houses, religious buildings, monuments and parks. There are several hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, parks and seated areas, so it is easy to take in the sights, atmosphere and noises of the town, which many say is the ‘voice’ of the mountains. The most modern of all the accommodations is Hotel Mak, which mangers to mix European style fixture and fitments, with traditional hospitality, food and drink. After choosing the venue to stay, eat or drink, order a Shopska Salad, a traditional Bulgarian dish. Then Supa Ot Kopriva ( Bulgarian Soup), which is made with nettles, garlic, yogurt, mixed peppers and crushed walnuts, so it is not only one very tasty, but extremely healthy too!!
Visitors walk, cycle and drive around the region, due to its mountainous terrain and natural beauty, so how it is done, is up to the individual or group. The Tourist Information Centre should be visited before plans are made, as the staff are helpful, friendly and professional. Near to the TIC and also centrally positioned is The Church of the Assumption, which is a masterpiece of Bulgarian National Revival Architecture. In the same park area is the Chapel of St Petka Gabrovska who is the spiritual patron of the town.
Nearby is Dechkoves House, which is a stunning looking traditional building, which was the town hall and is now a museum, which holds many artefacts from the history of the region and Bulgaria itself. One item of particular interest is the kebab roaster, which was actually powered by water?
Close by is the early 19th Century Clock Tower, which is situated where the original town market was held and is now an important cultural monument.
The Interactive Museum of Industry, joins the past to the future in an amazing way. The building itself is of traditional style, but the technology held within it is very up to date. The interactive presentations and items from the history of the town explains how industry was so important to the growth of the region. Gabrovo being in the heart of the country, it was a very important train link, thus the perfect position for industry to thrive, which it did. At one point there were 160+ factory’s/industry’s in the region, which brought a lot of employment, wealth and power, which helped the town build a name for manufacturing, especially in textiles. Legend has it that Hristo Bobchev collected 80,000 gold lev (which he hid on himself) to buy equipment and set off to the UK, to take advantage of the Industrial Revolution there. He armed himself with a note saying ” I’m travelling to Manchester and don’t speak foreign languages”, he succeed and the rest is history. At one time, Gabrovo had the nickname of ‘The Bulgarian Manchester’, because of this!
ETAR Architectural and Ethnographic Complex is a great way to ‘immerse in the spirit’ of the past of Gabrovo, with buildings, arts, crafts, herbs, icon painting, and much more. They do not only sell the items, but they can be seen getting made, by using the traditional methods of craftsmanship. It also has guided tours, educational programmes, cafes and even its own accommodation. It shows how many of the early machines and devices were powered by water and water wheels; mills, wood craft, textiles, grindstones, knife making, saws, even a large outdoor washing machine? Plenty of time should be allocated for a visit here, as it is virtually a size of a village in itself.
From ETRA there are beautiful and scenic Eco paths to Sokolski Monastery and Shipka Village, which are mentioned later, both locations are worth visiting, no matter the route to get there.
Bulgarka Nature Park is a paradise of flora (over 1860 species, which is half of all that can be found in the whole of Bulgaria), fauna, woods, springs, pastures and woods. It is also home to many creatures such as; bears, wolves, deer, boars, many birds (including eagles), insects and butterfly’s. There are several programmes for children, with an interactive one, so that the young can take there first steps into learning about nature and wildlife in the actual town, but instilling in them, a love and desire that hopefully they will keep throughout their lives.
As a total contrast to the mountainous nature in the region, is the now internationally famous ‘House of Humour and Satire’ which is a side splitting laughter ‘fest’. It is home to many events and holds national and international competitions for; one person shows, cartoons, art, craft, stories, paintings, photography etc, all comedy based obviously! The collections, installations and exhibits are ridiculously funny, but also done with such style and professionalism. Their motto is ‘the world lasts, because it laughs’, which is so true. In fact, Gabrovo got its Town Logo, from a funny story about people there, who are allegedly careful with there money – Gabrovo Cats had there tails cut off, so that the doors could be closed behind them faster, to save money on heating. Another famous joke it that when people from Gabrovo dance, they ware soft bottom shoes, so they can hear music from the neighbouring town, to save money on paying for musician. This is definitely a myth, as the Gabrovian people are friendly and extremely hospitable in every way.
Near to the town is The Gradishte Fortress, which was built in the 4th century, it has a beautiful Eco Park and views of the region of Gabrovo.
The village of Bozhentsi is now an Architectural and Historical Reserve and is over 600 years old. Legend has it, that a noblewomen named Bozhana decided to leave their home in Turnovo and travel until they found paradise. She found a fairy tale location in a centuries-old forest and built a village there, that is why it is named after her. Many say it has a feeling of what ‘The Shire’ from Lord of the Rings would have been like, if real? The village has several residents, but are 6 buildings are Guest Houses and 6 are Museums, run by the Municipality. The monies earned from accommodation and tours etc are used to preserve this magical and mystical place.
Due to restrictions on the height of religious buildings at the time, Sokolski Monastery Holy Mothers’s Assumption, was built into the side of a mountain, so only the domes are above ground floor level. During Ottoman rule, rebels would meet in Monastery’s and make their plans for freedom, sometimes in secret rooms within the buildings. Unfortunately, 8 of these rebels were discovered here and hung, so a eight sided drinking water fountain was erected, as a way of commemorating their bravery. It was designed by Kolyo Ficheto, one of the best architects of the time.
Shipka is not only a village, but it has a monument that can be seen from miles around. It has a beautiful church with a gold coloured dome, plus a museum with many Thracian artefacts and magnificent views too. On the nearby peak of ‘Buzludza’ also stands a famous landmark named after the location itself and has remained from communist times.
Gabrovo and two neighbouring villages Tryavna and Sevlievo entered into project to promote all three locations, as they are so close to each other and have a lot to offer to tourists. In other words, if there is time, see one, see them all.
Also nearby is Uzana, which is a large meadow area with a number of attractions to draw visitors there, the first being a structure that indicates the exact geographical centre of Bulgaria. It is surrendered by a large Nature Park and nearby is the Bulgarka National Park. There are great views of Ispolin (Giant man) which is the highest peak in the region. Due to the height of this mountain range and weather conditions, this area is excellent for Winter Sports and well as summer one, so is popular for ‘activity seekers’. For visitors with a more relaxed attitude to spare time there are many walks, cycling routes, views, nature and venues for food and drink. The Information Centre is also the base for the Children’s nature Academy, which is a joint Bulgarian/Swiss project to teach infants and youths about the flora, fauna, landscape and creatures in the region.
One of the ways to appreciate the scenery in the area, is to visit the Balkantsi Hotel. It has balcony’s to several sides to allow not only guests who stay there, but all visitors, to take advantage of the absolutely amazing panoramic views.
Try and go on a Winery Tour, as Bulgarian wine is now well established in the world market. It’s not only the wine tasting that is good, it’s the history of each Winery, plus the buildings, scenery, methods used and some traditional food as well. One of the best in the region is VILLA YUSTINA, which has a beautiful countryside vineyard, professionally run winery and a great wine tasting experience too.
To promote Gabrovo, actually to promote the whole of Bulgaria without mentioning the Central Balkan National Park, would be incorrect. It is known as the ‘Oasis of wildlife’ and is one of Europe’s most valuable and largest protected areas. It covers over 72 sq km over many terrains with Bio Diversity being the key objective. Words are not enough to explain the splendour of nature and wildlife throughout this vast area, so it can only be fully appreciated by seeing it!
Gabrovo is famous for holding ‘events’, so before a visit is booked, check if it coincides with one of them. There are more than one a month, so depending on what type of interests visitors have, there is something for all tastes. They range from; , Magic, Art and Culture to Choirs, Folklore and Jazz. The most famous are The Festival of Humour (a week long event), which is concluded by the Gabrovo Carnival on the third Saturday of May each year. This is a spectacular event with thousands taking part with people dressing in costumes, so the colour, noise and atmosphere is electric. Add to that; contests, music, dance, food, drink and parades. It is a great opportunity for everyone from the town, surrounding regions and visitors from the around the world to join together in one big celebration of fun, friendship and Bulgarian culture.
So, what is Gabrovo; is it an ex-influential industrial town, is it Comedy Central, is it a region for Art & Culture, is it a Tourist Destination, is it a relaxing mountain retreat, is it place to discover nature at it best and most raw, is it a keeper of traditional ways and crafts, is it a trekking and cycling dream, is it an ‘event venue’ or is it a cosmopolitan town of quality restaurants and eateries – IT IS ALL OF THEM, PLUS MUCH MORE!!
THE MUNICIPALITY ARE ACTIVILY LOOKING FOR INVESTMENT PARTNERS TO SUSTAINABLY IMPROVE AND GROW THE REGION. INTERESTED PARTIES SHOULD CONTACT THEM TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE POSSIBLE OPPOTUNITIES!
Gabrovo is like a delicious soup, make up of a variety of natural ingredients from the surrounding mountains, rivers and forests. Add some spices provided by the friendly hospitality of the people and then topped off with a sprig of modern outlook and you have a dish that can be on any menu. It is ready to be served to the rest of the world, so enjoy this bowl of tasteful cultural mountainous delight!