Sometimes bad weather conditions, injury, weariness or another reason may force you to not head for the slopes in the morning. Visiting the Rila Monastery or Melnik are day trips you may find interesting when you have to do something besides skiing and snowboarding.
Distance: 100 km, 1.5-2 hours drive by car
There is no convenient public transport from Bansko to Rila Monastery. I recommend hiring a car or booking a transfer. For the more inquisitive a guided tour is definitely the right choice.
The Rila Monastery is the most frequented UNESCO site in Bulgaria – both by tourists and pilgrims alike. It is located in a fabulous nature park in the heart of the Rila Mountains. The rugged peaks, the virgin forest, the elaborate monastery architecture and colorful wall paintings are a striking photogenic 4 season sight. There are no crowds during the winter months and you can appreciate the largest Bulgarian monastic complex in solitude and tranquility. Here you can discover one of the biggest gilded iconostasis on the Balkans, the famous Rafael’s cross – an invaluable masterpiece of miniature woodcarving, intriguing Bulgarian Renaissance frescoes and other interesting works of art.
Do not miss to sample some of the local food specialities: home made sheep or buffalo yogurt with honey, mekitsi – Bulgarian donuts and grilled troat. I personally buy my yogurt and mekitsi from the shop near the western gate. They are not overpriced and the shop is owned and managed by the monastic brotherhood. I hope that my expenses go to a noble cause. Good time to see a mass is to stay after 5:00 pm. The main museum is opened from 9:00 am until around 4:00 pm.
Distance: 105 km, 2 hours drive by car
Melnik is famous for three things: wine, Sand Pyramids and that it is the smallest Bulgarian town (325 permanent citizens).
Now regarding the wine. There are a few local brands, most famous of which is the red Shiroka Melnishka Loza. The locals tell a story that Churchill bought all the wine for his son’s wedding from a cellar in Melnik. If you are as doubtful as me you should go to Melnik and check if this story is true or not. I have been in Melnik a few times. It is really pleasant to have a glass or two, while siting in one of the local mehanas (restaurants) with a great panoramic view of the pyramids. Well, these are not like the man-made pyramids in Egypt. They are a sand formation, which the erosion has crafted into interesting formations. Even without applying too much imagination, they can be associated with pyramids and mushrooms. The area is picturesque and the Sand Pyramids are considered a natural phenomenon. If the weather permits you can stroll in the area. One time I took the road leading to the Rozhen Monastery and came back with fantastic photos. The native cultural attractions are fortress ruins and a Revival-period house of the Kordopulo family. The house is worth visiting. The admission tickeet is only 2 lv. There you can observe an authentic wine cellar, dug inside the a Sand Pyramid. Do not taste the wine there! Churchill has definitely not tasted this kind of wine. The house is located on the top end of Melnik, some 15 minutes walk from the lowest part of the town. The walk is not demanding for people with normal physical abilities. A good place to do wine tasting is at the recently opened wine museum. Otherwise there are plenty of restaurants with long wine list. Choose one with a good view. I’m fan of the view from Shestaka (the Six Finger Man).
Have you been to the Rila Monastery or Melnik before? We want to hear about your experience, so let us know in the comments below.