Melnik, Bulgaria: Where is Don Juan When You Need Him?


Melnik (population: 385) in southwestern Bulgaria

We’re on the Road to Nowhere

Just as the rain began, the minivan we had boarded in Kavala, Greece pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of Gotse Delchev, Bulgaria. The driver turned to the eight or so of us in the back, said something in Greek or Bulgarian, it really didn’t make a difference to us, and held up ten fingers. Ok, ten-minute potty/smoke break. Kinda weird since we were just on the edge of the town that was our final destination. We got out of the minivan to stretch our legs while the others went into the mini-mart.

Or, Maybe We’re Here…

The driver got out too and went around to the back of the minivan. He opened it up and grabbed our two bags. “Hey! This isn’t the bus station! We have a driver meeting us. How is he going to find us here?” He looked at us with a face expressing zero comprehension, and a touch of loathing, then emphatically pointed at the ground as he dropped our bags at our feet.

Pat with our heroine, Cvetelina. Thank you!

We grabbed the bags and found a spot out of the rain and away from the surly driver. We didn’t know where we were and our cell phone had a now useless Greek SIM card in it since we crossed the border into Bulgaria. A Bulgarian woman from our van came out of the store. She had spoken to us earlier in English, so we asked her for help. She talked with the driver — who clearly hated our guts — then informed us that the van was not going to the bus station. She was kind enough to call the driver who was to meet us at the bus station and instructed him as to where we had been unceremoniously deposited.


How to Piss Off People

Speaking of the border crossing… I didn’t make many friends and maybe that was why the driver was so crabby. When we arrived at the Greek/Bulgarian border, the Greek official came to the van and collected our passports to check us out of the country (and Schengen region in my case). Unfortunately, their system was down. It’s cool. No problem. Oh wait, is that a US passport? Now we have a problem. The minivan driver was instructed to park off to the side. He looked at me the way a six-year-old scowls at a piece of broccoli. Everyone was handed back their passports except for me (Pat travels on his French passport). After about 30 minutes of officials making phone calls and cross stares from most of my van-mates, we were on our way.


Back on the Road to Nowhere

Crisis averted, with the help of a stranger, we were in a car on our way to the land of deep crimson gold. The driver took us over the mountains and into the low hills on the other side. They were covered in vineyards. It was beautiful. The view itself was nearly intoxicating. I’m going to like it here!

The first step in making a Melnik wine. Photo: PK


Who is into a little S&M?

Kinky Wine? Yes, Please!

Melnik grows many of the grapes we’re all familiar with: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, etc. But, they also have a couple of grapes unique to the region; Melnik 55 and S&M. Well, we call it S&M because we can never remember Shiroka Melnishka (I had to google that). Besides, it is painfully good.

We were already salivating by the time we got to the restaurant where we intended to try our first of the deep dark Melnik elixir. We ordered half a liter of the S&M. Well, we thought we did. A liter of S&M arrived at our table. If anyone is ever to screw up my order, take notes, this is a screw up I won’t complain about. I consider it fate.

The color was deep, like grape ink. My dental hygienist probably just cringed. The fruit was present but nicely balanced with tannins. Dry, not sweet. The biggest note was that it is a very dirty wine. Appropriate for S&M to be a bit dirty, huh? There is something in the terroir that gets into the Melnik grapes like nowhere else. We were instantly addicted.

Melnik backed by the sandstone “pyramids”


Kordopulov house party room!

You Can’t Make Us Leave

We had booked four nights in Melnik even though people had told us that one day was all we needed. It was a town of only 385 people after all. I guess we all need different things. We extended our stay to an entire week. Our room had a comfortable bed and A/C, and the town’s topography, museums, and ruins were interesting. Best of all, Melnik was awash in wonderful wine!

There is more to Melnik than just wine, well sort of. The Kordopulov house museum is worth a visit. It is a restored house of a wealthy merchant originally built in 1754. He traded with Venice and throughout Europe and brought success to his family and community. Guess what he traded… Wine! The entire basement was a winery with tunnels burrowed into the hills to provide a nice cool place to age and store the wine. Of course, a tasting was part of the tour. My motto: It’s ok to have a drink before noon, or 11 am in this case if it’s part of a tour.

Melnik Wine Museum: Toe jam was a common affliction suffered by early Melnik winemakers, at least that is what we gathered from our very limited (ok, non-existent) understanding of Bulgarian.


Really, There’s So Much to Do

The wine museum in town was small but interesting. It was probably more interesting to us than it actually was because we had to make up stories to go with the exhibits. None of the signs were in English and we can be quite creative when we are in the mood. The tasting needed no translation though. Excellent wines and rakia.

In addition to wine, Melnik is famous for its “pyramids,” eroded sandstone hills that rise up around the village. We climbed to the top of one of the hills and walked around the ruins of a 12th-century church and Despot Slav’s fortress. There was also a monastery up there, but the darn monks put it at the end of a cliff-hanging path, so we settled for a view from afar. Anti-social twerps.


Our Power Spot

It took us nearly our entire stay in Melnik to find “our spot” and most of this post for me to get around to incorporating the esoteric title. Usually, we are drawn to our spot almost magically, but in Melnik, it took a bit of trial and error. On our second to last night, we tried yet another restaurant, Chavkova House. The food was excellent, the owner friendly, and the house wine was wonderful. Carlos Castaneda would have been proud of our perseverance.

The owner struck up a conversation with us at the end of our meal. It was crowded outside, but we were the only ones inside. We had to sit there. It was our spot. It resonated. We talked about travel and wine. He spent a good 15 minutes with us then asked if he could drive us out to a winery the next morning. Ummm, is that a trick question? Of course, we’d like to go!

A few of the numerous tanks at Villa Melnik. It’s a huge operation.

Great Wine… and Kittens!

The next morning we were driven out to the Villa Melnik Winery and left with a very personable and knowledgeable winery guide. She took us and a Bulgarian family through the winemaking process repeating each step in Bulgarian and English. The winery was state of the art and quite large.

After the tour, the fun part began: tasting! We opted for the five selection tasting with cheese and meat plate. We had a sauvignon blanc, a rosé, a family tradition Melnik, a gold medal Cuvee, and a Syrah. The pours were generous and we were happy to have a little nosh as our stomachs were empty. A sixth wine appeared. Yummm. Then a seventh wine appeared. Then the owner appeared and an eighth, ninth and tenth sample (glass) occurred. We chatted and tasted the wines and became increasingly happier that we were being driven back to our guesthouse by someone other than ourselves. They were so nice they even offered us kittens! I would have loved one, and it seemed like a good idea right then, but Pat said no. Boooo.

The Villa Melnik owner and winemaker (right) with two winemakers from Belgium.


Owners of the Chavkova House and our spot. Inside, not outside. The energy was strong there.

Time to Move On

The wine maker’s son drove us “home.” We rested up, washed up, and sobered up while the sun finished its bake-cycle for the day. When the rays of El Sol were only a glow from the horizon we followed our stomachs — and the irresistible draw of our power spot — back to the Chavkova House. We had another fine meal and interesting conversation with the owners who were happy we enjoyed the tour of the winery.

Melnik was a delight and if you have the same needs as we do — kinky wine, museums, hiking, and more kinky wine —  you will definitely need more than one day to explore. The wines, museums, and ruins all take time to appreciate. And, don’t be surprised if you leave Melnik with a new appreciation for S&M.

Hike Drink Live Laugh

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