The Struma Valley wine region of Bulgaria has been producing wines since the Thracian times over 5000 years ago. The valley is bordered by Macedonia to the west and Greece to the south. It takes its name from the Struma River which runs through it. This wine region is located to the far west of Bulgaria which means that it is strongly influenced by the Mediterranean Sea. The result of this is the production of warm climate wines such as big and bold Cabernet and Merlot. The Struma Valley is the perfect region of Bulgaria to enjoy favorable weather, wine tasting, and the best of Bulgarian culture all in one destination.
The Struma Valley is located in the west of Bulgaria and is bordered by Macedonia to the West and Greece to the south. It is named after the famous Struma River around which the valley is situated. Wine making practices in the Struma Valley began over 5000 years ago when the Thracians inhabited the area. The location of the valley means that it is strongly influenced by the nearby Mediterranean Sea that provides the area with a typically Mediterranean climate. These climatic conditions allow the region to produce wines that are bold and filled with character and flavour.
The most famous grape of the Struma Valley region is the indigenous Melnick varietal that is named after the local town of Melnick. Melnick is located close to the Bulgarian border with Greece and is considered the perfect town for wine tasting and cultural tourism activities. It is also filled with breathtaking nature and wonderful sites such as the Historical Museum, the Museum of Wine and the Church of St. Nicholas.
In terms of size, the Struma Valley is the smallest wine making region in Bulgaria but is also the most specific. This means that is has the most distinct character because if its compactness and the unique geographical characteristics of the area in which it is located. As a result of its small since, the Struma Valley only produces a very small share of all the wines in Bulgaria, of which 90% are red wines.
The location of the Struma Valley wine making region means that is falls into three different climatic zones. These zones are the temperate continental zone in the north, the Mediterranean to the south, and the mountainous in the higher altitude parts of the region.
The soil composition of the region is extremely diverse with plenty of limestone and sandy soils. In some parts there are pockets of volcanic soils and in others there are cinnamon forest soils that are excellent for growing grapes and wine production.
The Struma Valley wine region of Bulgaria is known mainly for the production of red wines as 2465 ha of the region planted with red varietals compared to 139 ha of white.
The most predominantly grown red varietal of the local red grape called Shalaka Mellish Kaluza or simply Melnick. The Melnick grape is endemic to the region which means that it only grows in this particular region on the Melnick vine that is also called early Melnick or Bulgarian Arana Maliska. This vine was created in order to preserve the characteristics of the original grape but to allow it to ripen early. This is done as when the grape ripens late, it becomes very difficult to work with. The wines that are made using the Melnick grape have a distinctly dark red color and deep, complex aromas of dried fruit and leather. The flavor of the wine has a fruity freshness blended with hints of spiciness in the aftertaste. These wines mature very well and white maturing they develop flavors of cherries, chocolate, vanilla, and leather.
Along with the Melnick grape, other varietals grown in the Struma Valley include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Nebbiolo Sangiovese. In terms of white grape varietals, the most common varietal grown in the region is the Sandanski Misket. This grape is also a local varietal and is a hybrid of the Melnick wine.
The Kiossev Winery is a family run boutique winery the specialises in the production of limited quantities of high-quality Bulgarian wine. The wines of Kiossev are considered those for connoisseurs and collectors, created with special attention paid to each grape. Kiossev Winery can be found in the quaint village of Ilindentsi at the foot of the Prirn Mountains and welcomes visitors to taste their wines and learn about their wine making traditions and new trends.
The Rupel Winery is located in a beautiful gorge in the Struma River Valley between the Belasitsa and Sengelska Mountains. The winery itself can be found in the tiny village of Dolno Spanchevo which has a rich history of winemaking. The winemakers at Rupel aim to create excellent local wines that represent the true nature of the terroir from which they come. Visitors to the winery can enjoy spending time in the magnificent winery castle where they can enjoy the estate wines paired with the best local cuisines.
The Villa Melnik winery and estate is a family run winery born out of a love for the local wine making traditions and history. The winery creates innovative blended wines using both local and international grape varietals in order to present the true expression of the Melnik terroir. The team at Villa Melnik welcomes visitors for wine tours and tastings as well as visits to the underground cellars, the vineyards and nearby sites of significance.
The Rozhen Monastery has located 7km from the town of Melnick in the rolling hills of the Pirin Mountains. The original monastery was built in 1217 but it was majorly reconstructed in the 16th century after it was partially destroyed by a fire. The monastery is to this day a working monastery with wonderful 16th-century frescoes and a holy icon of the Virgin Mary. The most important building of the monastery is the Nativity of the Virgin Church. This church was built in 1600 and has some of the most incredible stained-glass windows, 200-year-old murals, and woodcarvings. The icon of the Virgin Mary inside the church is the main focus of the church for pilgrims who visit. Compared to other monasteries across Bulgaria, the Rozhen Monastery does not attract as many visitors. This means that there are still many rules that apply to visitors such as dressing modestly, remaining quiet, and not taking photographs. Although the most common way to access the monastery is by bus from Sandanski, the more adventurous can access the monastery by doing a 7km hike from Melnick.
Kordopulova House – The Biggest Preserved House of the Balkans
The Kordopulova House is located in the town of Melnick and is also known as the Cincarovata House. This house is the biggest and most significant preserved house in the Balkans. The house was built in 1754 during the Renaissance period for the family of the rich Greek merchant Kordopoulos. The Kordopulova House is best known for its incredible architecture and wonderful interior where visitors can see Venetian murals, stained glass and interesting carvings. The total house building has four floors that are connected by seven staircases. The most intriguing room is the living room which has 24 windows made from Venetian glass and a ceiling made of beautiful wood carvings. The Kordopulova House is named as one of the top 100 sites to see across Bulgaria and should not be missed on a visit to Melnick.
The Melnick Pyramids – The Magical Formations of Melnick
The Melnick Pyramids are a unique natural feature of Melnick that is located at the base of the Pirin Mountains in the Struma Valley. The pyramids are a truly unique feature across the Balkans and because of this, attract visitors from across Bulgaria and from abroad. The formation of the Melnick Pyramids was as a result of the process of the erosion of the clay soils of the region. The pyramids have vertical walls that extend for 50 square miles and that consist of Pliocene sand and clay. At the highest point, the walls of the pyramids reach an impressive 100 meters high. The Melnick Pyramids were declared an official natural landmark in 1960. The most popular section of the pyramids to visit is the part that lies near the Rozhen Monastery. This section can be reached by taking a hiking trail from Melnik.
Explore the sunny village of Ilindentsi
Ilindentsi is a small and charming village that is located in the Struma Valley of Bukgaria. The village is a short 3.5km from the main road that runs from Sofia to Kulata. This village is a popular destination thanks to its art centre and its unique sculpture park that sits at the foot of the Pirin Mountain. The sculture park contains Bulgarian and international sculptures that were made from 1998-2006. The views of the Struma Valley from Ilindentsi cannot be matched. It is also a popular tourist destination because of its excellent weather conditions. the location and the wonderful weather make Ilendentsi the perfect place to visit for rest and relaxation.
The Beauty of the Struma Valley
The natural environment of the Struma Valley is strongly influenced by the presence of beautifully flowing and meandering Struma River. The Valley is characterized by plunging gorges and beautiful valley slopes covered with vineyards and green sceneries. This environment is perfect for spending time in nature and engaging in some wonderful outdoor activities.
The Pirin Mountains National Park
The Pirin Mountains National Park is located in the heart of the Pirin Mountains and was officially opened in 1962. The total area of the park covers over 40 000 acres of land and in 1983 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the park is the Bayuvi Dupki, one of the oldest reserves in Bulgaria and home to some of the country’s most important and protected species. The Pirin Mountains National Park is home to over 2000 different species of plants, more than 2000 invertebrate species, 159 bird species and over 200 vertebrate species. Visitors to the park can follow the brown markers from the Mandrat base to the Sipanitsa Shelter or the yellow marked route from Mandrat to the Black Water Base. There are a number of different trails and hiking routes to follow which provide hours of escape for visitors.
Peak Orelyak – The Peak of the Pirin Mountain Range
Orelyak is a peak of the Pirin Mountain Range that reaches an incredible height of 2 099 meters. The peak is the highest summit of Central Pirin and is the second-highest of the entire mountain range. The peak itself is located on the main ridge of the Pirin, north of the Baba Peak and west of the Chala Peak. Orelyak is unique thanks to its triangular dome shape. The steepest descent from the peak is on the western slopes where the peak drops vertically into the Pirinska Bistritsa river valley. Geologically, the peak is made mainly of marble and its lower northern slopes form part of the Orelyak Reserve. The most popular starting point for climbing Orelyak is the Popovi Livadi refuge where there is a marked trail that takes on a 2-hour hike to the peak.
Popina Luka – The Beautiful Waterfall in the Pirin Mountains
Popina Luka is an incredibly beautiful waterfall that is located in the northern parts of Pirin Mountain. The waterfall can be found 15km northeast of the town of Sandanski and sits at 1230 meters above sea level. The water of the Popina Luka falls drops from a height of 11 meters into the Sandanska Bistritza River. The environment surrounding the waterfall is made of serene forests and tranquil woodlands that truly surround one with nature. Nearby to the waterfall is the Villa Popina Luka where there are plenty of opportunities for tourism and recreation including hiking trails, chalets, and a resort.
The Delicious Foods of the Struma Valley
The cuisine of the Struma Valley is strongly influenced by the regions warm and Mediterranean climate. These conditions allow for fresh and rustic cuisine that when paired with the excellent local wines, make for a wonderful Bulgarian food journey.
Kavarma – The Famous Meat Dish of Bulgaria
Kavarma is a staple dish of Bulgaria, the traditional version of which is made with pork meat. This dish is enjoyed by the locals on cold winter evenings with a glass of excellent local red wine. For making Kavarma, the meat is cut into small pieces and browned in oil. To this, onions are added along with mushrooms, peppers tomatoes, wine, salt, pepper and paprika. The mixture is transferred to individual earthenware bowls and baked in the oven. The best way to serve Kavarma is to sprinkle the cooked dish with finely chopped onions and pair it with hot cooked rice or potatoes.
Banska Kapama – The Casserole of the Struma Valley
Banska Kapama is a typical Bulgarian meat casserole that is made with sauerkraut and meat. The meats that can be used in the dish are chicken, veal, pork or rabbit. The meat and the sauerkraut are then combined with rice and sausages for extra flavour. In some versions of Banska Kapama, plums, potatoes and even beetroot are added to the dish. The unique flavours of the meal are achieved with spices such as bay leaves, peppers and paprika. In making the dish all the ingredients are layered and then baked in the oven for at least 4 hours in a clay pot.
Chomlek Stew – The Beef Stew of the Balkans
Chomlek is a traditional beef stew that is enjoyed across the Balkan regions. The stew is usually prepared with veal or baby beef, made with small onion bulbs and garlic. Red or white wine is then added to the mixture along with dried red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, parsley and mushrooms. The stew is seasoned with salt, pepper, and bay leaves and is cooked in a traditional earthenware pot with the lid sealed shut with dough. This is then left to cook in an oven for many hours. The best way to enjoy Chomlek is during the colder winter months with local red wine.