National Geographic Traveller (UK)


Whether it’s a journey through wine country or a trip to see glimpses of ancient monastic life, most excursions from the town are easily undertaken by car or via organised tour


FOR CULTURE: RILA MONASTERY On the forested slopes of the Rila Mountains sits one of Bulgaria’s most celebrated architectu­ral marvels. The Rila Monastery, famed for its striking black-andwhite archways and daffodilye­llow domes, has been home to Eastern Orthodox monks for more than a millennium and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. Visitors often arrive on day trips from Sofia, but the monastery is closer to Bansko and can easily be visited independen­tly or on a tour. For an immersive experience of the lives of Rila monks, consider staying the night in one of the guest cells. rilskimana­


Set amid towering sandstone cliffs and ancient ruins, the town of Melnik is considered Bulgaria’s wine-making capital, having produced wine for more than

600 years. The picturesqu­e town — home to just 300 people — can be explored on a full-day wine-tasting tour from Bansko. As well as stops to sample the town’s signature red, Melnik 55, at a number of local wineries, most tours include a visit to the medieval Rozhen Monastery, the Melnik Pyramids (the town’s landmark 330ft-high sandstone formations) and Kordopulov­a, a grand house built in Bulgarian National Revival style.


How about swapping stews for souvlaki? It might feel a world away, but Bansko is just a couple of hours’ drive from the port of Kavala, sitting pretty on Greece’s Aegean coast. There’s no denying the appeal of the sandy beaches and seafront restaurant­s along this stretch of northern Greece, but there’s plenty more to tempt history and architectu­re buffs across the border, too. Highlights of a visit here include the wellpreser­ved aqueduct and the picturesqu­e, pastel-coloured old town, which is squeezed onto a narrow peninsula and dwarfed by a rambling hilltop fortress. visitkaval­

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