I have always considered myself a child of the big city – I adore the city’s dynamics, its bustling streets, the variety and opportunities it can offer you. However, I remember with a certain sense of nostalgia the summers at the villa where my cousins and I met. My grandmother used to make my favorite small loaves with cheese and yoghurt and we had breakfast in the yard without rushing. Sometimes I miss this feeling of togetherness and timelessness, but I realize that it is difficult to find it in the city. That is why I accepted the invitation to join Questour Project in order to explore the way of life and traditions in the Kyustendil region.
Today I take you with me on a tour of seven destinations for rural tourism, where you will have the chance to immerse yourself in the magic of the Bulgarian countryside and get to know the traditional Bulgarian crafts.
1. The house-museum of Vladimir Dimitrov – The Master, Shishkovtsi village, Kyustendil region
Vladimir Dimitrov – The Master is a phenomenal Bulgarian painter – he managed to capture in his paintings the life and soul of the Bulgarian village and to immortalize the beauty of the Kyustendil region – “Bulgaria’s orchard“. You can see his masterpieces at the Vladimir Dimitrov Maistora Art Gallery in Kyustendil. However, you will witness an extremely fascinating lecture on his life and work, based on the stories of his contemporaries only in the house-museum at the village of Shishkovtsi.
His talent as an artist was noticed during his work as a clerk in the Kyustendil District Court and local people helped him pay his tuition fee at the drawing school in Sofia. He came to the village of Shishkovtsi quite by accident at the invitation of his friend – Andon Viachev. Over time, he became very close to the other people from the village and built a strong bond with each other based on mutual respect. Subsequently, some of them trusted him and became his models.
In the village of Shishkovtsi and the surrounding area, the Master discovered “Paradise on Earth”, as he calls it, and a place that inspired him to create. His gift is indisputable, but while listening to the curator’s story, I was most impressed by Vladimir’s humanity, modesty and kind character. He lived in a very small room and did not yearn to possess property or material possessions. His most valuable item was his favorite tambourine. Although he did not have much money, he paid the verdicts (debts in the local shop) to those of his countrymen whom he was sure they could not repay.
There are many more interesting facts about his daily life as an artist and military correspondent, but for them you should visit the house-museum in Shishkovtsi.
2. Museum collection “Life and culture until the 50s of the XX century”, Goranovtsi village, Kyustendil region
The ethnographic museum collection in the village of Goranovtsi is a hidden gem about which there is no information on the Internet. As with a time machine, the exposition takes you back 70 years and clearly shows you the way of life and crafts of the peasants at that time.
The charisma of grandmother Ani – a former teacher who has dedicated herself to the mission to revive the Bulgarian traditions in the region – also contributes to the overall experience. She is very sweet, hospitable and up to date with modern technology. She will show you some of the forgotten crafts – basketry, brandy brewing, knitting and will remind you of the satisfaction you feel when you create something on your own – be it a garment, a dish or a drink. She will not forget to treat you with home-made zelnik (a trademark of the Kyustendil region – a pie with various greens in it – cabbage, leeks, spinach, etc) and cherry brandy.
If you’re curious enough, she can teach you a weaving lesson or two, but let me warn you – it’s not easy at all. I can’t imagine how in the past the girls made all the clothes and textiles for the household themselves. I think they mastered time management to perfection.
I admire their ingenuity and dexterity. They relied only on themselves and the fellow villagers to create household items and on nature – for a good harvest. Nowadays, we rarely know about the technology behind the things we use, and we rely on experts in the field.
3. Craft Center “Old Cherry”, village Rajdavitsa, Kyustendil
I have been to the village Rajdavitsa before, but I wasn’t aware of the existence of Craft Center “Old Cherry”. Workshops on basketry, blacksmithing and pottery are being organized in it.
Tourists can make household items themselves using old technology, while their children learn through experience and fun about the wheat path, how to comb hemp and shoot a bow. A find is the restored 100-year-old oven, which in the past was used by 7 families from the village and each family had only one day to bake their bread for a whole week.
The hosts will make you feel very welcome, will give away the secrets behind their recipes and the codes of Bulgarian costumes. Don’t worry about starving. Baba Rosa will lovingly prepare local specialties for you – banitsa, soda bread, tutmanik and kachamak.
4. Yogurt Museum, Studen Izvor village, Transko
Studen Izvor village is the birthplace of the discoverer of the bacterium Lactobacillus Bulgaricus – Stamen Grigorov. That is why the Yogurt Museum is located right here. I warn you that the road to it is difficult and not for people with weak vestibular system. I hope they will repair it soon so that the destination can become more accessible for tourists.
It is an interesting fact that in many countries they are trying to get the bacterium Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, but only in our lands there are conditions for its appearance. It is assumed that it comes from plants. When the cows are grazing, it sticks to their udders and comes into contact with the milk during milking.
5. Museum of Busin ceramics, Busintsi village, Transko
Only a few kilometers from the Yogurt Museum is the Museum of Ceramics in the village of Busintsi, which bears the glorious memory of the mastery of local potters. The main occupation here was pottery, because the region is rich in clay deposits. Busin pottery differs from Trojan pottery with a wide variety of shapes and uses. There was a product for each application. Typical colors are brown, yellow and green.
6. Cow farm and dairy “Zemenea” – Zemen, Kyustendil region
In the cow farm and dairy “Zemenea” have closed the cycle of production of yogurt, cheese and various types of yellow cheese. They told us about the stages of the technology – filtration, cooling, pasteurization and maturation and introduced us to several photogenic cows. The dairy is open for visits and organizes tours that demonstrate the path of yogurt and end with a tasting. I really liked one of their yellow cheeses with spices. Not to mention their soft halva waffles, which I fell in love with because they reminded me of my childhood.
There is a separate program for children, showing them how yoghurt is obtained from milk and they are assigned to different roles – shipping agent, laboratory assistant and technologist in order to learn about the process in detail. I guess such an experience would be fun and attractive for them.
While you are in Zemen, you can also visit the Zemen Monastery.
In one of its exhibition halls there is an exposition dedicated to shepherding as a craft.
7. Cultural club “Bratstvo”, Kyustendil
In cultural club “Bratstvo” we met grandmother Elena, who makes costumes, mummer’s masks, corn dolls for luck, amulets and other souvenirs and participates in demonstrations of old crafts and rituals. She told us about the variety of festivals in Kyustendil and invited us to visit them – Cherry Festival, Fertility Festival and Panagia – a ritual of kneading bread with prayer.
She also told us that foreigners are much more interested in our traditions and crafts than Bulgarians. And yet there is light in the tunnel, as she has taught her granddaughters to weave, and they can pass on that knowledge to the next generations.
Thanks to Questour Project, the organizers of National Tourist Cluster “Bulgarian Guide” and our walk in the Kyustendil region I managed to overcome some of my prejudices towards the rural way of life. Unfortunately, we – the citizens, as a rule, always thought that we were superior to the peasants – be it in vocabulary, clothing, class, general culture or standard of living. I realized that we could not be further from the truth. I was convinced first hand how well-read and enterprising the people of the village are, how much knowledge and wisdom we are able to gain from their experience and how many disappearing traditions and practices they could pass on to us. We just need to be open-minded about what they can teach us.