If you only ever visit one village in Bulgaria, then it really should be Koprivshtitsa. Hidden away among the foothills of the Sredna Gora mountains some 75 kilometers east of Sofia.
This bucolic highland settlement preserves more in the way of traditional Balkan architecture than anywhere else in the country.
Enriched by the proceeds of the local wool industry, Koprivshtitsa’s 19th-century merchants employed Bulgaria’s best painters and wood-carvers to adorn their houses, turning the village into a focus of the cultural upsurge known as the National Revival Period of Bulgaria.
Koprivshtitsa was also a key centre of political resistance to the Ottoman rule, and it was here that the ill-fated April Uprising broke out on April 20 1876. The Ottoman authorities put down the Uprising with savagery, but Koprivshtitsa has occupied a special place in the Bulgarian psyche ever since.
Places to visit in Koprivshtitsa
Oslekov House-Museum. Built for a rich trading family in the 1850s, this is one of the finest National Revival houses in Bulgaria. The façade, held up by cedar-wood columns, is an artwork in itself, painted with floral designs and fantastical city-scapes. A wooden staircase leads to the huge first-floor hall, flanked on either side by reception rooms opulently furnished with carpets, fitted couches and brass charcoal braziers.
Dimcho Debelyanov House-Museum. This more modest, low-ceiling dwelling was the birthplace of Dimcho Debelyanov (1887-1916), whose symbolic poems achieved posthumous fame after he was killed on the Macedonian front during World War I. Upstairs, there’s a display of manuscripts and photographs.
Todor Kableshkov House-Museum. The organic, wavy lines of this house’s ochre façade is Koprivshtitsa’s most famous visual trademark. Inside lie luxuriant nineteenth-century interiors, and displays devoted to rebel leader Todor Kableshkov, who launched the April Uprising ahead of schedule upon learning that the Ottoman authorities were about to arrest him.
Bridge of the First Shot. A few steps downhill from the Kableshkov house, this petite stone bridge marks the spot where the Rising began. With the stone houses rearing up on either side, it’s one of the most appealing spots in the village.
Lyutov House-Museum. Koprivshtitsa’s interiors don’t come more sumptuously decorated than this, with colourful murals depicting the European cities that local merchants visited with their caravans. The house now harbours Koprivshtitsa’s ethnographic collection.
Georgi Benkovski House-Museum. Marking the southern end of the museum trail, the birthplace of local tailor and rebel commander Benkovski (1844-1876) houses the banners, uniforms and weapons secretly manufactured by the villagers in the months before the Rising.
Lyuben Karavelov House-Museum. Local boy Lyuben Karavelov (1834-1879) spent much of his adult life in exile lobbying for support for Bulgarian independence. His birthplace is decked out in kaleidoscopic woolen rugs and antique domestic utensils, although most impressive of the exhibits is the huge cast-iron printing press.
Accommodation: rooms in private houses are available for around E10 per person. Advance reservations are advised on summer weekends.