Bulgaria Holidays 2010: The Unexplored Hinterland
Sofia News Agency /extract of the original article/, 25 March 2010
Bulgaria Holidays the different point of view
Lovers of Greek mythology may know where Orpheus went - his head was torn off and thrown into the River Hebros - but not where he came from: Bulgaria.
The mythical musical hero, whose skill with the lyre calmed savage beasts and made trees dance, was born in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains, which stretch all the way to Greece.
Orpheus lost his wife, Eurydice, to the underworld for ever when, emerging into the sunlight, he turned to smile at her.
These days, there are new myths about Bulgaria - that it is home to Alexei Sayle lookalikes, women with aubergine hair, cheap ski resorts and sandy Black Sea beaches. But there is much more to it than that.
An increase in visitors and predictions that it will become the 'Florida of the Balkans' hide a surprising and relatively unexplored hinterland.
As the country struggles to find its own identity after centuries of Turkish rule and a dreary period of communist stagnation, one thing has remained - a strong folklore and folk-music tradition.
They say myth is a country's mind at rest. In Shiroka Luka, a village in the central Rhodopes, it's part of everyday life. In homes and restaurants you'll hear the haunting sound of Rhodopean open-throat singing, accompanied by complex rhythms and tunes played out on the gaida (bagpipes) and kaval (flute).
They're taught at the National School of Folklore Arts, where a frieze showing Orpheus, his lyre and a group of gaida-playing horsemen covers the outer wall.
While Shiroka Luka keeps memories of Orpheus alive in music and dance, nearby Gela claims to be the birthplace of the legendary hero.
It's a peaceful little village, with lovely views. You might find a flower with lyre-like stamens - the Silivriak or Orpheus flower. Its pink petals are said to have been coloured by his blood. But the Trigrad Gorge is where it went so wrong for him.
In an awesome landscape, the sheer sides of the Trigrad canyon hang over the river Trigradska, which disappears into one of the largest caves in Bulgaria - the Devil's Throat.
You hear the roar of water before you see a waterfall that vanishes into a void below. A long tunnel at ground level lets you in. Like Eurydice, people don't always come back.
We stood on a viewing platform outside to see where the river went underground. With water boiling away below like a cauldron, this is where Orpheus is said to have entered Hades.
Though tourism is fairly new to the Rhodopes, I found immense warmth and hospitality. If you went for tea in a restaurant - or even a full-blown meal of Shopska salad (diced tomatoes and cucumber with grated white cheese) and spit-roast lamb - the chances are someone in folk costume would start up the music and invite you to dance the hora.
There are several cosy hotels in Shiroka Luka, and a number of private rooms, and while public transport is inexpensive, hiring a car would give you greater flexibility.
See source here
Original written by Sarah Lucas