Melnik and Rila

By the way I have shared the map overview of my solo driving after the Rose Valley Workshop here. This does not include every side detour or detail but it gives you the basic outline of the loop. And pictures are here:, though it may not be clear yet which pic goes with which destition. I will try to add some sort of labels to the pix later…

Last we heard from this intrepid traveler he had arrived in Melnik, famous for wine and “sand pyramids”. The local grape variety is called Shiroka Melnishka Loza, although the local vineyards and producers also grow and produce wines from other grapes such as Syrah. The wine is almost always drunk when under a year old. I tried glasses at two restaurants and had a tasting at a fun wine cave. As it happens I am not a fan, though I expect that is because it is so different from the wines I drink and enjoy frequently, and I could likely develop a taste for it. I hear there are a number of other wines in this region that are quite different, which I did not taste. The soil is sandy and the climate dry, with a long growing season, and moderate slopes, which combine to make an ideal locale for growing wine grapes.

The sand formations are quite impressive and I had a view of them out the window of my hotel room. In the evening I climbed up a little-used path up steep stairs to a small chapel on top of the outcropping closest to the town. It was a great view and again satisfied my exploring yen.

Melnik has a tiny population of residents, but a main street running up a valley containing an intermittent stream that is lined with beautiful and picturesque large old houses and some fairly old (crusader?) ruins. It is a real tourist trap. When the rains come the riverbed fills up with sandy torrents, and due to unpaved roads with totally inadequate drainage, the main road gets deeply rutted. While my little Skoda managed up the road fine, a couple of BMWs had to bad to back down when they reached the damaged section.

After a mediocre but expensive dinner, I had a good night in the hotel, which then served a generous breakfast with endless coffee. Took a walk up to the ruins of the fortress and stopped in the wine cellar for a tasting (not too much for the driver!) then headed off for the last stop before returning to Sofia: the Rila Monastery. I had mostly skipped over the churches and monasteries to this point, but this place really impressed me. It is located in a steep-sided valley at about 3,700 feet altitude, and the mountain peaks around it are up to 9.000 feet! The Monastery itself is quite large and decorated beautifully. I’ll have to post the pictures when I get back home. The monastery hosts guests in a large number of austerely-outfitted rooms (horrible beds) that are large and beautifully decorated. I got to see the inside because I ended up being a guardian angel to two young Belgian sisters that showed up at my hotel exhausted, soaking wet, and very achy from the 5,000 foot descent in heavy rain after 5 days of high altitude hiking. That is a story for another post. Inside the monastery is a large and super impressive old Eastern Orthodox church. I got to hear and enjoy the monks chanting during a service and surreptitiously recorded them.

After a somewhat disturbed night of sleep I set off with the sisters in tow and drove the short 1.5 hours to Sofia. Parked in the center of town, said goodbye to the sisters, and walked around a bit. Saw the synagogue from the outside, had some hummus at a hole in the wall Arab restaurant, then headed for my airbnb where I am now about to go to bed. Tomorrow at 5am I will hopefully return my rental car and hop on a plane to Newark via Vienna. Whew!!