In the centre of Bulgaria, near the Balkan Mountains, lies the Gabrovo Province. The name might sound familiar – perhaps you’ve heard of it during the International Humour Festival. Their inhabitants will tell you, their eyes sparkling with pride, that Gabrovo was not always this lively. Not so long ago, times were hard, food was hard to come by, and the only defences Gabrovians had against misery were hard work and humour. As such, this should come as no surprise that their sense of humour, their solidarity and their pride make up such a big part of their local culture. These warm people also love sharing, and they will bend themselves to make you feel at home and introduce you to their culture.
In Bulgaria, Gabrovo is mostly known for its mastery of pottery and ceramics, which are personalized with traditional patterns. One of many workshops in which you can get familiar with them is the ETAR museum. This open-air museum recreates an ancient village in the province, and is a living recollection of Bulgaria’s past. There, you will find a ceramics workshop, get advice from real professional ceramic painters and potters, and create your own piece of art adorned with traditional figures.
If Spring is your vacation of choice, you will be on time for spring festivals in the country. March 1st is the chosen day for celebrations in Gabrovo, during which children and adults alike make Martenitsi. These typical small wool dolls are a token of good health and protection and are traditionally offered to family and friends on the first day of Spring. Locals will happily welcome you in their workshops and teach you how to make a Martenista that you can take back home to your loved ones.
Music is in Gabrovo’s DNA, and many traditional dances and folk songs are available for you to learn. Be it with a gaida, a gadulka or other Bulgarian folk instruments, Gabrovian people will be happy to teach you songs and dances of their country and disclose the secrets of their lyrical, often mysterious music.
Gabrovo is also home to many wonderful culinary delights. You might have heard of the infamous “Gabrovo chocolate” and want to learn how to make it. Beware, though, as no chocolate is involved in the process: Pestil is actually only made with plum and is the most liked dessert in the region. It is also a completely waste-free cooking process, and you will learn plenty of information on traditional cooking methods.
The banitsa is another popular sweet throughout Bulgaria that is made with whisked eggs, filo pastry and cheese. It is traditionally served on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and carries a wish of happiness, success or health. This well-liked dessert can be made in traditional bakeries in Gabrovo, where artisans will give you their precious advice to bake the best banitsas you will ever taste.
Crafts and gastronomy are but the emerged part of the iceberg: culture is equally as important in the Gabrovian society, and a centric theme during your trip will be learning about local customs and traditions and sharing the locals’ daily life. You will immediately notice that most Gabrovians are keen to make you feel included and at home, and as such, you can expect to be fully immersed in their culture and be treated like a local.
The “Take Me to Your Village Initiative” (see picture above) is such an experience: the youth has to spend a few days at an elder’s home and help them with their daily tasks, all while learning more about their own culture. Even though it is mostly directed towards children, it is the perfect opportunity to spend a few days with local hosts and learn to cook, weave, and get a closer look at the daily local culture, break stereotypes and foster intercultural understanding.
We mentioned that Gabrovo is an international capital of humour and satire, and festivals and celebrations might be the best place for you to get the best taste of the local culture. As a global centre for humour and satire, Gabrovo masters the art of cartoons and humorous drawings. If you want to unleash your artistic fibre and your sense of humour while learning from experienced cartoonists, Gabrovo is the place for you: learn about the myth of the Gabrovian cat, depict a scene based on a typical Gabrovian joke, and get tasty advice from professionals.
At the end of March, the International Festival of the Illusion Arts also takes place: during this special event that is celebrated by all, you will be able to learn the best magic tricks during workshops directed by worldwide professionals. At the end of the workshop, you can even compete for the “Golden Cat Award” and showcase your talent.
This incredibly rich and lively Bulgarian province is still little known to worldwide travellers and yet, it is undoubtedly a world capital for arts, crafts, and intangible heritage. The locals and their eagerness to showcase their culture and introduce you to their daily life will give you an immediate sense of belonging. Their mastery in handicrafts and their creativity will certainly ignite your inner fire and awake your unrevealed artistic fibre.
– Article by Anaïs FLEURY for the Creative Tourism Network®.