Bulgaria’s Flower Festival: Stop and Smell the (Kazanlashka) Roses

Bulgaria’s Flower Festival: Stop and Smell the (Kazanlashka) Roses

Breathe deeply – you’re in Rose Country.

Not just any rose, either. This is Kazanluk, Bulgaria, home to one of the most fragrant roses – and one of the most expensive rose oils – in the world. Generations of locals and visitors have been stopping and smelling the roses – the Kazanlashka rose in particular – grown for 300 years in the fertile fields and gardens known as the Valley of the Roses.

These rare <i>Kazanlashka</i> roses were just picked in the aptly named "Valley of  Roses" <br>Photo credit: John Baker

These sweet-scented Kazanlashka roses were just picked in the aptly named “Valley of Roses”
Photo credit: John Baker

The Kazanlashka rose is a key ingredient in many of the world’s most desirable and pricey perfumes. It’s precious, too: Kazanlashka rose oil is three times more expensive than gold, making it a key ingredient in the local economy.

When’s the best time to “stop and smell the roses?” No time is better than during Bulgaria’s Kazanluk Rose Festival in early June.

Pretty indeed, yet the <i>Kazanlashka</i> rose is also an essential ingredient in Bulgaria's economy <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Not just a pretty face, the Kazanlashka rose is also an essential ingredient in Bulgaria’s economy
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Celebrating RosesVisitors from around the world set their GPS on Kazanluk’s fragrant festival of roses, where homes, windows, streets and people are decked out in fresh roses. They’re a colorful backdrop to the festival’s week-long celebration of folk dancing, singing, feasting, and parades topped off with a beauty pageant. The festival began in 1903, a simple celebration of this heritage rose with its sweet-scented white and pink varieties. More than a century later, the Kazanluk Rose Festival has blossomed into a multi-day international celebration.

The Kazanluk Rose Festival has been a Bulgarian celebration for generations <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

The Kazanluk Rose Festival has been a Bulgarian celebration for generations
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Gals aren't the only ones with flowers in their hair – guys wear them as well at the Kazanluk Rose Festival<br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Women aren’t the only ones with flowers in their hair – guys wear them as well at the Kazanluk Rose Festival
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Petal-PickingThe festival coincides with this heritage rose’s three-week harvest time in late May and early June, when you’ll find women dressed in traditional costumes singing Bulgarian songs as they pick roses from dawn’s earliest light. The flowers must be gathered up before the day warms up, since the oil quickly evaporates from their fragrant blooms.

Up before dawn, rose pickers work quickly to gather these fragile flowers before it gets too warm <br>Photo credit: David A. Allen

Up before dawn, rose pickers work quickly to gather these fragile flowers before it gets too warm
Photo credit: David A. Allen 

Indelible memory: Rose gatherers sing Bulgarian melodies, drifting through fields of <i>Kazanlashka</i> roses <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Indelible memory: Rose gatherers sing Bulgarian melodies, drifting through fields of Kazanlashka roses
Photo credit: Michel Behar

How do you pick these roses? Carefully. Each one is picked by hand, gently laid in baskets, then taken to the local rose distillery for processing.There’s a lot of picking to do, since it’s estimated that it takes 200,000 roses to make just one liter of rose oil. Price: $3,000 and up. No wonder Kazanluk rose oil is dubbed “liquid gold!”

Kazanluk’s roses are used not only in perfumes, but also as a precious ingredient in rose honey, rose-flavored chocolates, rose liqueurs, rose jams, rose water, and pharmaceuticals.

Popular photo op: posing with an old-fashioned wood-burning rose oil distillery in Kazanluk <br>Photo credit: David A. Allen

Popular photo op: posing with an old-fashioned wood-burning rose oil distillery in Kazanluk
Photo credit: David A. Allen

Taking Time to Smell the RosesThe Kazanluk Rose Festival features men dressed in Bulgarian costumes performing kukers, rituals to ward off evil and bring good luck to all. Youth from several Balkan countries perform folk dances and songs, while artists display their hand-made treasures and locals cook up regional foods such as grilled lamb (cheverme), cucumber soup (tarator), and salad filled with tomatoes, onions, peppers and white brine cheese (shopska). A favorite highlight is crowning the festival’s Rose Queen, traditionally a young Kazanluk girl from the graduating class of high school seniors.

There's a bit of youthful playfulness in this Bulgarian line dance at Kazanluk's Rose Festival <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

There’s a bit of youthful playfulness in this Bulgarian line dance at Kazanluk’s Rose Festival
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Break time: Rose pickers demonstrate a Bulgarian song and dance in this field of <i>Kazanlashka</i> roses<br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Break time: Rose pickers demonstrate a Bulgarian song and dance in this field of Kazanlashka roses
Photo credit: Michel Behar

When you visit Bulgaria’s rose festival in Kazanluk, you can say with certainty that “everything’s coming up roses!”

Perhaps <i>"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet..."</i> but there's nothing like a <i>Kazanlashka</i> rose  <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Perhaps “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” but there’s nothing like a Kazanlashka rose
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Travel to the Kazanluk Rose Festival with MIRYou can stop and smell the roses for yourself on MIR tours  to Central Europe that highlight the Kazanluk Rose Festival in June, including Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses.  This itinerary is also offered in September, with a stop at the Kazanluk Rose Museum rather than the festival. You can also book a custom private journey.

(Top photo credit: Michel Behar – Even when picking them, it’s hard not to stop and smell the roses!)

PUBLISHED: November 17, 2014

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