Gastrotour “In the mountain of sweet chestnuts”

Daily Tour 2 days, 1 night Availability: 2020-10-17
2850 Petrich, Bulgaria Tour Guide: Екатерина Терзиева

A trip to the most southwestern regions of Bulgaria and the fabulous Belasitsa mountain. There in spring the chestnut forests smell of flowers, turn green all summer, and in late autumn weigh heavily on fruit. We go to the Bulgarian homeland of sweet chestnuts to learn their delicious history. Bulgarian chestnut has an excellent taste and high sugar content, which makes it suitable for both fresh consumption and the confectionery industry.

Chestnut is a tree that gives everything for the benefit of people. The flowers are honey and from them, the bees make very fragrant, healing, and expensive honey. Chestnut flour is gluten-free, and chestnuts, whose fruits are rich in nutrients and contain as much vitamin C as lemons, are used to make hors d’oeuvres, soups, meat dishes, and pastries. Chestnut wood retains carbon dioxide longer and gives wood that is dense and light. It is used in shipbuilding and for making yachts.

The birthplace of the chestnut is the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Asia Minor, from where it later spread to Central Europe, the Mediterranean, and China. The tribes in pre-Roman Italy called it “forest bread” and thanks to it they survived the winter. Chestnuts were also the staple food of Roman legionaries. French culture from the time of Louis XIV to the present day abounds in information about chestnuts in cooking.

Corsica, the island of Napoleon Bonaparte, actually takes its name from the chestnut forests which cover it. Chestnuts are the backbone of the industry in the region, and locals are proud of their chestnut flour beer. In Tuscany, there is no restaurant without chestnuts on the menu – from chestnut soup, spaghetti, polenta, chestnut jam, to chestnut ice cream. In Monte Amiata, Italy, the chestnut harvest begins in October with celebrations. In Germany, Charlemagne issued a decree ordering the cultivation of chestnuts for food. Today, chestnuts are widespread almost everywhere in the warmer part of Europe.


Place of departure / arrival

Departure hours: 07.00 from Plovdiv, 09.15 from Sofia. Possible transfers from other cities by prior arrangement.

For travelers from Plovdiv – departure from the bus stop to UBB Bank on Tsar Boris III Obedinitel Blvd. opposite the Trimontium Princess Hotel. For travelers from Sofia – departure from the parking lot in front of the stadium “Vasil Levski”.


The price of the tour includes:

  • One breakfast 
  • Two lunches 
  • Wine tasting 
  • Tasting of roasted chestnuts and wine 
  • Dinner (with wine) 
  • Overnight (for accommodation in a double room. For a single room – surcharge BGN 25) 
  • Transport 
  • Licensed mountain guide 
  • Entrance to all visited sites (Historical Museum in Petrich, Samuel’s Fortress, the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica) 
  • Guide service during the whole trip 
  • Insurance 

10% discount for:

  • Families; 
  • Groups of at least 3 people; 
  • Retirees. 

Opportunity to purchase

Chestnuts, chestnut honey, herbal honey, wine.


What to expect?

The gastro tour “In the mountain of sweet chestnuts” presents the qualities of Bulgarian chestnut and chestnut honey, as well as the traditional cuisine of the Bulgarian Southwest.

We will also enjoy the natural resources of the mountains Ograzhden, Pirin, and Belasitsa, which is little known due to the former border regime. Belasitsa is located in three countries – Bulgaria, Greece, Northern Macedonia and in addition to being a mountain of chestnuts, it surprises with its many waterfalls.

We will walk the walking route through the unknown and unique world of chestnut forests in Belasitsa. We will go to one of Belasitsa waterfalls. We will taste the honey collected from the blossoms of the edible chestnut, which is extracted only in the mountains Belasitsa and Ograzhden. It tastes specific, slightly sweet, and has a bitter aftertaste.

Hosts in the area will treat us to local traditional dishes such as “plyaska” with leeks and wild herbs, “rakarnik” – a dish with rice and river crabs, “trien bob” (crushed beans), “sarmi” in the leaves of the herb “butima”. In the evening we will roast chestnuts by the fire and enjoy them with a glass of wine in hand.

We will visit the Historical Museum in Petrich, and the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica in the Rupite area. We will try the aromatic wines of one of the local wine cellars.

We will meet the people and stories behind:

  • Preservation of local culinary traditions, recipes for pork, rabbit, and mutton to cook with chestnuts, to knead cakes, pies, and pies stuffed with chestnuts; 
  • Beekeeping farm for chestnut honey; 
  • Wine Cellar; 
  • The guardians of the local culinary heritage in the village of Gabrene; 
  • Petrich Historical Museum and the millennial tradition of chestnut growing in the region; 
  • The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica in the Rupite area. 

Itinerary

Day 1: Chestnut honey, wine, and roasted chestnuts – the scent of autumn

We arrive in the morning in the town of Petrich – edible chestnuts have been grown in this Bulgarian region for thousands of years. In the Historical Museum of Petrich, they will tell us all about the chestnuts from antiquity and the Roman era. Here people used to pay a chestnut tax during the Ottoman Empire. Locals have old traditions of growing chestnuts in the Belasitsa and Ograzhden mountains. The traveler Evliya Chelebi visited the city in the 17 century and wrote: “… There are 50 shops… The chestnut fruits are exported to many districts, even to Sofia”. “The whole foothills of Belasitsa are covered with chestnut forests,” said Nikola Stoyanov in the book “Petrich District in the twentieth century.”

We have lunch with traditional local dishes in the village of Kolarovo and visit a local wine cellar. We will explore the chateau, learn its history, try three types of wine, meat delicacies, and cheese. In the late afternoon, we go to an apiary, located among the chestnut trees at the foot of Belasitsa. The bee honey, collected from the color of the edible chestnut, is extracted only in the area of ​​the Belasitsa and Ograzhden mountains. It tastes specific, slightly sweet, and has a bitter aftertaste. Its color is dark brown, and because it is rich in fructose, it crystallizes extremely slowly. It has a stimulating effect, so it is often called male honey. It is ideal for flavor combinations, along with aged cheese or meat.

In the evening we arrive in the village of Kamena. In the evening we will roast chestnuts on a grill and with a glass of wine, we will enjoy the warm autumn evening. Dinner is with local traditional dishes – the famous “kraeshnik” from the village of Klyuch – pie stuffed with fish and leeks, sauerkraut, porridge with cheese and butter, and for dessert – a mild pie with Turkish delight and walnuts.

Day 2: In the mountain of sweet chestnuts: forests, waterfalls, Heraclea Sintica

After breakfast with homemade salty rolls, we set off on a trek through the chestnut forests of Mount Belasitsa. A trained guide from Belasitsa Nature Park will take us on the circular route “The Life of the Chestnut” (duration about 3 hours). We will see a waterfall, we will also pick chestnuts from the wild Belasitsa forests.

For lunch, we are greeted by the culinary masters from the village of Gabrene, who will prepare traditional local food. We leave for the Rupite area below the Kozhuh mountain (281 m). Here the volcano that went out about 1 million years ago is. Here the prophetess Vanga spent the last years of her life and built the church “St. Petka Bulgarian”. The temple is believed to have been built on the crater of a former volcano.

We walk around the mineral springs with a temperature of 74-78 degrees and visit the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica, which existed in the period from the IV century BC. to the VI century AD. According to researchers, it is named after Heracles and is the capital of the Thracian Sinti tribe, whose ruler for some time was Alexander the Great himself.

 

The villages of the southwestern mountains Ograzhden and Belasitsa. The Belasitsa Mountain is located in three countries - Bulgaria, Greece, and Northern Macedonia and is perhaps the steepest in our country. Its forests abound in plane trees and chestnut trees, lush rivers, and countless small waterfalls. In the mountain villages, time seems to have stopped, and thanks to the abundance of ecologically clean food and the healthy connection with the roots, the culinary traditions are preserved as in the XIX century.

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