Veliko Tarnovo is a dream city in the north of central Bulgaria. The architecture is beautiful and there are so many view points around the city that mean you don’t have to search for a scenic view. If you don’t have a view where you are just walk a few hundred metres and you will find one.
The city itself is not just beautiful; it is of huge importance in Bulgarian history. Once the capital of the Second Bulgarian empire, it achieved this when Bulgaria through two brothers Assen and Petar who successful threw off Byzantium rule and created a powerful empire and capital until its fall to the Ottoman Empire in 1393. The abundance of medieval architecture and in particular Tsarevets fort is impressive. A lot of it is reconstruction but you would not know. The Ottomans destroyed the fort and a lot of historical architecture as Bulgaria began almost 5 centuries under Turkish rule until the Russians liberated the city and Bulgaria. It was from the Holy Martyrs church in Veliko Tarnovo that he Tsar proclaimed Bulgarian independence.
I originally planned to stay in Veliko for 2 nights but extended by a day, a forced choice really. The city is small but it is the place to relax and enjoy and even 3 days is too short. I decided to stay at a hostel as I had no friends from Veliko and no plan. I stayed at Hostel Mostel which I have to say is the best hostel I have stayed anywhere in the world, although one guy I met says the Ginger Monkey in Slovakia would be the best but I haven’t been there.
The price of the hostel was cheap yet it offered free pickup, free breakfast, free dinner and free beer! Now I am not a beer drinker but it is impressive. The dorm room was spacious, they had a balcony, area for BBQ, the kitchen was nice and the atmosphere great. It is in a renovated Bulgarian house. If it sounds like I am advertising it, I am not but.. it was the best such hostel I had stayed at
I enjoyed my time there where I was lucky to meet so many kind people from Germany, Korea, UK, Ireland among other countries.
I didn’t just eat dinner at the hostel though. I went to a restaurant called Lucky restaurant in English. The decor was nice and they had a traditional Bulgarian menu. The food was of good quality and the prices compared to the UK where very good (although apart from Nordic countries, and Monaco perhaps where isn’t reasonable compared to the UK?).
On my first day I visited the fort. It is a beautiful place although not everything has been restored yet. There is the patriarch complex, and places like Baldwin tower where as the Lonely Planet says Stephen Baldwin ‘got his just desserts’ and was executed after being defeated and captured by the Bulgarians. Baldwin was a crusader responsible for the sacking of Constantinople.
The rest of Veliko is very walkable and I did walk many to places. There is a statue of the brothers Asen and Petar who successful overthrew Byzantium rule. Near the city there are several monasteries one of which, Prebrazhenski, I visited. In fact I visited two monasteries while in Veliko.
I also hiked to Arbanasi, which has the beautiful Nativity church. However other churches were shut while I was there as I arrived too late. The town itself is small old and historic but it is easy to think it is just a town of hotels and restaurants! (And of course some old churches).
On my first of two trips to Arbanasi I met a kind Bulgarian who works there. We tentatively had plans to meet the next day but my schedule did not allow it in the end. I also managed to misplace his contact details/ although I still might have them somewhere.
Before going to Arbanasi, I visited the beautiful Holy Martyrs church. Some of the original frescos were damaged by the Ottomans who turned it into a mosque. It is now functioning as a church again.
Nearby there is also another beautiful church St. Dimitar Church.
Next to Dubrovnik, Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. I would like to comeback probably for the hiking opportunities.