Melnik is Bulgaria’s smallest town.
While it takes commitment to get there, don’t let that throw you off – it may well be the highlight of your trip.
Blagoevgrad Province, southwest Bulgaria
The ancient town of Melnik is nestled in the Pirin Mountains, surrounded by 100-meter rock formations, and lined with 500-year-old trees and heritage-listed structures. If the history side of things doesn’t do it for you, the 600-year-old wine culture will – there are more wineries on the main street than you could shake a stick at.
To see the place in all it’s glory, summer (June-August) is undoubtedly the best time to go. Piano accordions fill the warm air, birds sing, streets are adorned with alfresco wineries, the trees are green, and the flowers are in full bloom – it’s like stepping in to a fairytale.
On the other hand, winter (December to February) is a much cheaper time to go, and the place is still a small but thriving metropolis of wine and culture. The greenery is in hibernation, but the surrounding mountains are dusted with snow, and Melnik is very close to the ski village of Bankso – the best slopes Bulgaria has to offer. The wine festival is also in early February, and definitely worth sticking around for.
There are a few bus routes that will get you there. The best (and easiest) way is by catching the bus straight from Sofia to Melnik (Мелник) – just make sure you write down the Cyrillic version of the place you're going so you recognise the bus signs. BGRazpisanie is an excellent bus route tool, and I recommend double-checking all information before you head off, or you’ll find yourself in a similar situation to me.
From Sofia (София)
There’s one direct bus daily, it leaves at 2pm from Central Bus Station, costs 17lv, and takes around four-hours.
From Blagoevgrad (Благоевград)
There are two daily buses that leave at 11am and 6:20pm, cost around 7lv, and takes round two-hours.
From Sandanski (Сандански)
There are two daily buses that leave at 12:50pm and 6:20pm, and take around 30-minutes. Keep in mind this is a minibus, and it does fill up with locals.
While it’s easier to head straight from Melnik to Sofia and catch a bus to somewhere else from there, you have a few other options to keep in mind. Again, I recommend BGRazpisanie.
There’s one bus that goes directly from Melnik to Sofia. It leaves at 6:10am, costs 17lv, and takes around four-hours.
There are two daily buses from Melnik to Blagoevgrad that leave at 6:10am and 3:50pm. They take around two-hours, and cost 7lv. From Blagoevgrad you can catch a bus to Plovdiv (Пловдив) stay overnight in Blagoevgrad and catch the Plovdiv bus the next day at 6:20am) or Sofia (there are many daily buses).
Sandanski doesn’t have many bus connections, so unless you’re opposed to catching a bus really early in the morning, you may as well catch the direct bus from Melnik to Sofia. There are two daily buses that leave at 6:10am (goes through to Sofia) and 3:50pm. They take around 30-minutes, and cost around 17lv.
You can take your pick along the main street and order something authentically Bulgarian, from salads with world-famous Bulgarian cheeses, soups, meat dishes, and of course, wine. You can buy wine in big plastic jugs on the street (2-25lv), at souvenir shops in 'Melnik' branded bottles (7lv), or by the glass in all restaurants (4-6lv) and consume it in the picturesque table settings under trees that were planted before Australia was discovered by the British.
Though Melnik basically comprises a single kilometer-long street, it’s home to many souvenir shops selling everything from ornately-decorated bowls, plates and crockery, to wooden knives, toys, and fridge magnets. It’s easy to spend an afternoon wandering around the stores looking at goods, and tasting wine as you go.
There’s accommodation above many of the wineries, and thought you can probably figure out where to stay when you get there, it’s also really easy to book online. I stayed atMario Hotel for 24lv/night and arrived to find breakfast was included, and I had my own balcony overlooking the street, but there’s a range of options for all budgets.
While you can probably see the sites of Melnik in a day, you could easily spend a day or two tasting wine, souvenir shopping, and looking at the mountains (also known as the Melnik Pyramids). If you’re really in to wine,The Wine Gallery is an excellent way to get acquainted with the local wines and do some tastings, along with Kordopulova House. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can head up to the Melnik Pyramids and look at the Rozhen Monastery (it’s a bit of a hike, but definitely worthwhile).