What do Bulgaria and Iceland have in common? Besides that both countries are situated on the Old Continent and they offer jaw-dropping sceneries, Bulgaria takes second place after the icy country in terms of diversity and abundance of hot, mineral springs. And since Iceland is quite cold most of the year, Velingrad, lately known as “The Spa Capital of the Balkans”, is a much better choice for your next spa destination. Not persuaded? Please, allow me to convince you.
Location of Velingrad
Velingrad is a beautiful town in Southern Bulgaria cosily embraced by the Western Rhodope Mountains. Standing at around 150 km (93 mi) south-east of Sofia, it is located at an altitude of 750-830 metres (2,461-2723 ft) which is believed to be the best altitude for the body to acclimatise itself to the surrounding environment, to relax, and to revitalise.
The town is the only Spa region in Europe where harmful substances are neither found in the water, nor in the air. Moreover, there is a negative air ionisation for at least 8 years every day which rejuvenises our body cells much quicker.
1937 saw the construction of the first, Olympic-size, mineral water pool in Europe. The sand, which is scattered around the pool to make a mini beach, was brought from the Sea Capital of Bulgaria – Varna.
The Magical, Healing Waters of Velingrad
Not only Velingrad’s whereabouts and crystal clear, fresh air will make your stay as relaxing as possible, but also it is the curative, therapeutic mineral water of the region that adds up to the magic.
The Manager of the Spa Section of Hotel Rich, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, shared with us several facts that make Velingrad’s mineral waters inimitable.
- There are a couple of main springs around the town. The water’s temperature varies from 420 C (107 F) (at Chepino deposit where the water has radon – said to possess anti-inflammatory action and to enhance the body’s vitamin production) to 88,50 C (190 F) (at Kamenitsa deposit where the water is hypothermal, weakly mineralised, sulphate-hydro-sodium, fluorine, and silicon; the low quantities of hydrogen sulphide make the water very useful in the fight against muscle and joint diseases, such as spikes, and inflammatory joint diseases, such as arthritis, tendinitis, etc.)
- There are traces that the Ancient Thracians and Roman warriors have used the water for healing purposes. Roman aqueducts are found in the town’s vicinity.
- I will reiterate the fact that the town takes the first place in continental Europe and the second place in the world (after Iceland) measured by the copiousness and diversity of its mineral waters.
- Measured by the flow of the water, Velingrad is ten times higher than Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad). While in the latter, the springs are 16, those in Velingrad are five times more – 80.
- The water has a profound origin, crystal clear, and with a very pleasant smell. Due to its low mineralisation, it takes all the toxins out of the body and eliminates all the waste products from the metabolism via the urinary tract.
- The hot water structure is very similar to the structure of our body liquids. Therefore, it is easily assimilated by our organisms almost without any energy losses. The saved energy is then used for healing and invigorating the body.
- The water contains gases (such as radon – mentioned above). Gas-rich waters are the most curative waters.
- The most hypoallergenic spot in Europe is indeed in Velingrad.
- Some of the springs are rich in meta-silicic acid (H2SiO3) which is extremely beneficial for the skin.
- The water’s remedial powers are so strong that they are capable of closing wounds and contribute to destroying kidney stones.
- The Chepino spring water can be consumed as table water every day.
In and Around Velingrad
The Spa Capital of the Balkans is much more than hot mineral waters, though. Below, I will provide you with some tips what to visit if you grow tired of the spa procedures.
The Historical Museum
It holds many pieces of the town’s history which (the town) was established in 1948 by joining the villages of Ladzhene, Chepino, and Kamenitsa. The museum was founded in 1952 and was then transformed in Museum-house “Vela Peeva” after whom the town of Velingrad is named. The museum is petite, but has many interesting exhibits on display – from traditional Bulgarian clothing and costumes through instruments for decorating Easter eggs to Vela Peeva’s own furniture. Vela Peeva fought against the fascists and was a stern worshipper of communism. 40-50 minutes will be more than enough to explore it.
The Dorkovo Pliocene Museum
The village of Dorkovo, standing 14 km (9 mi) north-east of Velingrad, houses the Dorkovo Museum. In 1983, Bulgarian and French palaeontologists excavated the area around the small village and managed to unearth 5-million-year-old fossils of prehistoric mammals dating back to the geological epoch of the Pliocene. Some 30 years later, was inaugurated the Dorkovo Museum which is within a walking distance of the village and is set amongst the verdant ambience of the Rhodope Mountains.
The museum itself has a wooden, domed structure. By far the most interesting exhibit is a full-size model of a gomphothere.
The guide told me that Anancus arvernensis was about 4 metres (13 ft) in height and weighed between 8 and 10 tonnes.
The Carpet Factory in Kostandovo
Kostandovo is another small village very close to the Pliocene museum in Dorkovo – around 3 km (2 mi) to the south.
Besides being gorgeous, it houses a unique carpet-making factory. What makes it one-of-a-kind, you will ask.
- Remember Harry Potter? The Bulgarian presence of Viktor Krum is not the only one in the movie. All of the actors have been walking on carpets, weaved in Kostandovo’s factory, in Alnwick Castle’s living room – where part of the movie was shot.
- Each and every carpet is hand-made by assiduous ladies who are masters of their craft (check out the images below). Extravagant, familial coat-of-arms and exuberant images are hand-woven in each and every carpet.
- The carpets of the factory are adorning one of the most prestigious buildings in Europe. Some of them are the summer residence of Queen Victoria and Albert Museum in Vienna. Other masterpieces have been ordered by Mick Jagger, Jane Churchill (granddaughter of Winston Churchill), and the famous British screenwriter and TV producer John Elliot.
- The factory holds the largest weaving loom in Europe which allows for creating carpets of up to 160 m2 (1722 ft2).
- It takes 4 ladies to create 10 cm of a carpet daily and the precision of their work has been tested and approved by Interiors UK, Architectural Digest, and Houses and Gardens.
The Only Narrow-gauge Railway in Bulgaria
Fancy exploring the countryside around the town? There is no better way than hopping on the train which travels on the only narrow-gauge railroad in Bulgaria. I strongly suggest you take it to Avramovo which is the highest train station on the Balkans. Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe which is a proud owner of these magnificent railways that cut through gorgeous mountains. The slow pace of the train gives you the opportunity to take astonishing photos while meandering through tunnels and lush vegetation. Take a look.
Velingrad hosts numerous spa hotels with great service and food. However, if you are yearning a secluded, yet luxurious stay, Villa Vuchev is your place to go. Just look at this pool. Book your stay here.
Food is an indispensable part of every stay at a certain location. You don’t need convincing about that, so I am just going to show you 3 photos for all types of people – meat lovers, vegetarians, and vegans. Velingrad has it all.
And one last tip – before you start packing your bags, bear in mind that August and December are the busiest months so book in advance! If you plan on renting a car, Val & Kar is a great choice.
Are you ready to dip yourself into Velingrad’s hot mineral waters?