Thoughts on Kyustendil: a charming town on the Bulgarian border

About Kyustendil

Kyustendil is small border town connected to Macedonia via an arrow-straight, distinctly Roman road. It’s definitely an “off-the-beaten-track” location; they don’t get many tourists. After a fairly efficient border crossing, we arrived on a rainy Wednesday. We weren’t sure what to expect from Bulgaria however based our enjoyment of the other Balkan countries, we were definitely looking forward to the experience. So far, we have not been disappointed!

The first thing that I really love about this town is the fact that I haven’t found a supermarket. Fruit and vegetable sellers have their wares lined up tidily outside their shops selling produce from the local farmers. Cheese, milk, kefir and ayran (a fermented yoghurt drink that we’re totally addicted to) can all be purchased in the dairy shop. There are plenty of small bakeries to buy breads. The city is proud of it’s produce and rightly so, celebrating their cherries in a June festival and later in the year holding a festival for the harvest.

Kystendil Things to do: Hisarlaka Roman Fort

Kyustendil is nestled in the mountains, so one of the first things we did was venture up the hillside to visit one of the highlights, the Roman fort. The remaining walls and towers of the fort are gigantic and well worth checking out. The location commands an impressive view of the city and the valley below; you can clearly appreciate it’s defensible advantages.

Other things to see in the town include the Ahmed Bey Mosque (pictured above) and the Roman Baths. They are situated next to one another near the town centre.

One thing that is striking about Kyustendil is the amount of abandoned property. Learning more about Bulgaria it’s not surprising. Since 1989 and the end of socialism, the population has decreased from 9 million to 6.4 million due to a low birth rate and the exodus of the younger generation to other EU countries. English speaking ability is quite low in the country, and particularly in this town. Despite this, the old grandma in the grocery store was smiling and laughing at my attempts to speak Bulgarian. Having a go at saying thank you (“Blagodaria”) goes a long way; people are very patient and explain things slowly enough that we can pick up the gist.

Our experience so far can be summed up with the events of our last evening. We ate again at an excellent traditional tavern “Mihalkova House“. Through the window we watched a man cutting the grass with an actual scythe. Minutes later a horse and cart arrived and he provided to load the cart up with the grass clippings. Bulgaria’s answer to a zero-carbon solution!

Read on for the next part in the tale where we end up with rather red faces: Rila 7 Lakes Hike.

A Road Trip through Southern Bulgaria

Check my other Bulgaria Posts for other off-the-beaten track destinations on Southern Bulgaria

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