Time travel in Bulgaria: Peshtera

In Bulgaria
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The city of Peshtera is located in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, and it provides numerous activities for both those who seek adventures and those who prefer to have just a retreat. It lies about 40 kilometers from Plovdiv, so if you have a spare day or two, I recommend visiting. Many people visit Bulgaria’s ski resorts in winter or seaside resorts in summer, but off the beaten track the country is rich in natural landscapes, archeological sites and recreational parks that are open year-long. For other destinations in Bulgaria, you can check out my blog or just follow my page on Facebook.

Peshtera and around

The city itself is relatively small, with a population of about 20 000 and one main street with shops, cafes and a central square. It is known for its wine factory as well as several shoe factories. However, travelers can find a lot more there.  The highlights I want to share with you here are the recent Cars of Socialism Museum and the ancient Peristeri Fortress, both of them situated within the town, and the Snezhanka Cave, the town of Batak and the Tsigov Chark dam that are the major attractions in the region. When I was a child, I used to stay at Tsigov Chark every summer for at least two weeks and I’ve witnessed the development of these places during the years. They are still my favorite getaway destinations for the weekends.

The Cars of Socialism museum

This peculiar museum opened doors in the fall of 2016. It is the only museum I have been to, whose entrance is located in a bar. Going through the bar’s back door, you enter a time machine, which throws you back in the previous century. For a former socialist country, such as Bulgaria, a museum like this brings about memories from the childhood of several generations. Besides fully restored cars from as early as the late 1950s, the museum has a huge collection of obsolete items from the socialist era – from coins and banknotes, through toys and games, to gramophones, typewriters and photo cameras. The younger visitors can have a look at the old photos of Sofia and witness the development of the city. Old Communist songs play in the background contributing to the overall atmosphere. All of this for the modest fee of three Euro. You can check out the museum’s website here.

Peristera fortress

The socialist era might not be of particular interest to some tourists, but the ancient Byzantine fortress of Peristera would definitely make it to travelers’ to-do lists. The excavations started less than ten years ago and the site has been recently opened to tourists. The fortress is situated on a small hill, which is in a walking distance from the city center. It was used as a fortification by a Byzantine garrison in the sixth century. It was a major storage facility and the large pots have been partly restored so that you can see some of them on the site. You can have a photo dressed as a Byzantine soldier, or simply enjoy the view of the city beneath and the mountains around. The name derives from the Greek word for ‘dove’ because of the central stone formation resembling the bird.

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Popular destinations nearby

For people touring the southern parts of Bulgaria, there are a few more must-sees around, which can be covered in no more than two days. The easiest way to visit them all is by car, but in case you don’t want to rent, the tourist information center in Peshtera will help you plan the tours.

The Snezhanka cave

Just outside the city of Peshtera lies this gorgeous cave, which requires some effort. You can go by car only halfway through, but there is about a kilometer of a steep trail you have to climb up. The literal name of the cave translates to ‘Snowwhite’. As you can guess, this is because the cave is white on the inside. It contains beautiful formations, which are definitely worth the effort to climb up. What is more, it provides a refreshingly cold zone to escape the summer heat. Make sure you take an additional piece of clothing to put on within, otherwise, you will be uncomfortable with the temperature. You can check the opening hours here.

The town of Batak

Historically speaking, the village of Batak is still a bleeding wound for Bulgarians. Foreign historians sometimes describe the events that took place in the village as the first genocide in the modern history of Europe. Briefly, in the year 1876, the local population hid within the church to avoid the attacks of the Ottomans, but everyone, including women and children, was trapped and massacred. Today everyone visiting the church in Batak gets the goosebumps when looking at the skull piles and the traces of the resistance. Therefore, know your company and decide whether they will be interested in going in.

The Tsigov Chark dam

Nature-lovers can make an even longer jump and go all the way to the Tsigov Chark dam. A beautiful spot for a walk and a quick lunch by the bank. In summer time there are also several water sports activities, but it is more than enough to just walk and take awesome pictures. A few decades back, the whole area used to be less densely populated but in the recent years, many hotels and private villas have been built in the vicinity of the dam. In winter the place is harder to access because of the heavy snow, and you might need a decent vehicle and driving skills to feel at ease.
No matter how you decide to spend your vacation in Plovdiv, don’t limit your time to staying in the city only. Bulgaria is a small country and this gives you the chance to easily explore its many riches. Touring the nearby town of Peshtera is only a single example. Depending on your taste, time and resources, with a few tips provided, you can have a memorable experience!
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