“OMG THERE’S SNOW!” Yelled Jodon as he stood at our window over looking the small town of Melnik. “What??” I crashed my way across the hotel room to look outside. Our hotel was perched on the side of a hill right in the middle of the one-street town of Melnik. Our bedroom window looked out over the rooftops of the restaurants in the city. From where we were, we could pretty much see the entire town. It was our first morning in Melnik, and overnight it had snowed. The little rooftops, the river bank, the trees and the mountains were all lightly dusted with snow. It was like a perfect little Christmas village.
With less than 300 residents, Melnik is the smallest city in Bulgaria. It also happens to be the wine capital of the country. The town is just one street long. One street filled with micro-wineries, restaurants and little shops that sell homemade jams and honey. The town is nestled in a small valley between jagged beige mountain peaks. A few of the wineries have spent years carving out small caves in the mountainside in order to store their wines at perfect temperatures. Low tables with traditional linens and short wooden stools are set among the barrels. Visitors are encouraged to sit, relax and taste the young wines straight from the tap. It’s freakin’ adorable.
Most of the restaurants in the city also serve their own wine: something grown and bottled just a few kilometres away on a hectare or two of land. The wine is stored in label-less bottles or in plastic jugs by the litre and served in large glass decanters. The restaurants all look like traditional hunting lodges. Wood panelled rooms, with mounted taxidermy stag heads and antler furniture. The rooms are dimly lit and filled with antique decor. Hunting rifles hang on the wall along with countless bottles of aged wine. Bulgarian folk music wafts through the room. Everything feels cozy and warm; a welcome escape from the falling snow outside.
We joked that during our stay in Melnik we supported every family in town. The place was deserted. As far as we could tell, we were the only tourists in town. We walked up and down the empty streets leaving only our own footprints in the snow. Locals looked surprised to see us as we stomped in from the cold to join them for a glass of wine or a hot lunch. They scrambled up from their chairs, adjusted their clothes and hair and put on a smile as we entered. I bet sometimes days go by without any customers at all. We drank wine at one restaurant, then had lunch at another. We stopped at the different museums, and tasted wine in the mountain caves. We bought wine from one shop and jam from the next. At the end of our two days we figured we’d hit nearly every building in the city.
It was a perfect way to spend the last days of our trip together. Melnik was our last stop in Bulgaria and our last stop travelling just the two of us. To end off our adventures, we were meeting up with Kelsey and Peter for some fun in Greece before heading home for Christmas. Until next time Bulgaria!