Bulgaria's Hidden Treasures: Oreshak and the Troyan Monastery
January 1, 1970
by Eva Gueorguieva
The beauty of the Bulgarian mountains
Hidden in the Northern slopes of Stara Planina, Oreshak is a small village with a population of approximately 300 people. Only about 4 kilometers away from Troyan, a bigger and a bit more touristic town, Oreshak has an atmosphere of friendliness and hospitality. Like most of the small mountain villages in the country, it has savored the spirit of an ancient Bulgaria, from the typical architecture to the small, family-run restaurants that offer traditional Bulgarian food. The beauty of the mountains and forests, in between which this little village rests, is incomparable. The fresh mountain air, the calm and relaxed atmosphere of the place, and the fact that it is only a few minutes-drive away from some of the bigger towns, makes it the perfect place for a family vacation or a weekend getaway for you and your partner.
The village of craftsmanship
Ever since the end of the 18th century, Oreshak and the Troyan region have been known for having the highest percentage of craftsmen in the country. The different types of craftsmanship, practiced there, include carpentry, smithery, furriery, shoe-making and weaving. Pottery and carpentry have remained the most practiced in the region today.
If you happen to be visiting Oreshak or the villages around it in mid-August, make sure to check out the Craftsmanship fair, which normally starts around the 15th of August and continues for a couple of days. There you can find around 200 craftsmen showing and selling their work. That could be a very interesting experience, especially considering that it also happens at the same time as one of the biggest religious celebrations for Orthodox Christians – The Assumption.
Troyan and the Troyan monastery
According to historians, the first peoples to inhabit the lands, where Troyan is nowadays situated, were the Thracians. It is assumed that the city was first built as a village around a few small inns, which used to give shelter to traveling merchants, and then later on grew to become a well-known town for trading. The first time Troyan was registered on a map was in Italian geographer Giacomo Cantelli da Vignola’s map, printed in Rome in 1689. The name of the town most likely originates from the name of the historical Troyan road that passes through the Balkans, specialists assume.
The Troyan monastery is the third biggest monastery in Bulgaria, situated 10 kilometers south from the town of Troyan, just a few minutes outside of the village of Oreshak. It was first founded in 1600 and then reconstructed in the 1800s in its present look. The most significant part of the monastery complex is the main church, “The Assumption of Virgin Mary”. The interior and exterior of the church, painted by Zahari Zograf, are considered to be some of his best work. The church has been declared a monument of culture.
The legends of the monastery
Like many Christian Orthodox churches, this one has its miraculous icon too. The legend of the “St. Mary Troeruchitsa” – the Three-handed Virgin Mary – tells the story of a Bulgarian monk who went to live in the monastery during the Ottoman rule with his only student. Years later, a monk from Mount Athos, carrying the icon, took on a long journey to Romania, where he was meant to leave the Three-handed Virgin Mary as a gift for the Christians, who weren’t under the rule or the Turks anymore. On his way, however, he heard about the respected Bulgarian monk living in the monastery, and decided to go out of his way and visit him for a few days. However, he stayed for a long time, and lived a life of prayer and fast with his fellow monk. Months passed, and he had to leave and finish his journey to Romania. He prepared his horse’s saddlebags, took the Three-handed Virgin Mary, and left. Only a few steps outside of the monastery, however, his horse fell down and barely managed to get up again. The monk turned back and stayed for a few more weeks until the animal had recovered. The second time he decided to leave, the same thing happened – his horse had barely made a few steps outside the monastery, tripped and fell in the same place as the first time. This was when the monk knew that the miraculous icon wanted to stay in the Troyan monastery, so he left it there, and ever since it has hardly ever been taken outside of that church again.
Another famous legend of the monastery tells the story of a Turkish policeman, who one day broke into the church with a pistol in his hand. The people, who were in there praying, panicked and started to scream in fear. The policemen shot in the air and the bullet hit the dome, on which a Jesus Christ with his arms outstretched is painted. The bullet ricocheted and killed the policeman. Ever since that happened, the Ottomans left that church alone and never went inside of it again.
To this day, if the skies are bright, you can see the black hole that the bullet left in Jesus Christ’s painting on the ceiling.
Grab a bite
When exploring the village of Oreshak and the rest of the region, there are a few must-visit little inns which you should add to your places-to-eat list. I am going to give you some information on the two best ones (in my opinion).
The “Kayzer” inn
Both the exterior and interior of the inn are made in a traditional Bulgarian style, which gives the restaurant a very pleasant, homey atmosphere. During summer they have a small outside garden area, where you can enjoy both the great weather and the great food they serve. You will be given a choice of many different appetizers, salads, meat and vegetarian dishes, all prepared and served in a traditional Bulgarian way. The prices definitely do not correspond to the quality of the food. For only 15 leva (roughly around 8 euro) you can have a three-course meal, and I can guarantee you will love every bite of it.
The “Hitar Petar” inn
It is about half an hour drive away from Oreshak, but it is so worth it. Believe me. It is the perfect combination of location and high-quality, fresh food. Situated in a lovely area, right next to a small river and overlooking the mountains, it also offers the best of Bulgarian cuisine. The Hitar Petar inn is also built and decorated in a traditional Bulgarian style and offers a great choice of different traditional dishes, including a daily menu with the specialties of the restaurant. Here, too, you can get an amazing meal for a very low price. I highly recommend it! It is actually a part of a small, cozy complex, that also has its own little farm, where they grow organic vegetables that you can buy at very affordable prices.
Hitar Petar inn
Bulgaria’s beauty is endless and the country has a lot to offer. Situated in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria is quite a cheap destination, but be sure – here price doesn’t define quality! If you are a winter person you have numerous ski and snowboarding vacation options to choose from. If you prefer the sun and the beach, Bulgaria has you covered! Hundreds of kilometers of golden sandy beaches, but also rocks and cliffs for the adventurers! If you want to blow some steam off and party – this is the perfect place for you. The nightlife in the country is incomparable! There are bars and clubs for every taste, and great parties are being organized all the time. If you want to stay away from the city noise and just have a relaxed vacation, you can find that too. Oreshak is only one of the many, many treasures Bulgaria keeps hidden in her warm embrace.