Food and Drink Festivals of Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a traditionally agricultural country. Farming is one of the main industries and a livelihood for a huge part of the population. The climate here is moderate and suitable for growing a wide variety of crops. The landscape is diverse, plentiful on arable land, fresh water, and so far, relatively free from pollution. Bulgaria’s soil is fertile and rich in nutrients, giving birth to some of the tastiest foods you’ll ever find – a claim you can test yourself!
Traditionally, many people own some piece of land and cultivate an unbelievable variety of vegetables and fruits, grape vines, wheat, oilseeds and even tropical plants. As such, Bulgaria’s farming and cuisine are deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of its people. Parties and family gatherings are usually centered around the dinner table with surplus amounts of home-cooked food and questionable amounts of homemade wine and “rakia” (moonshine).
In light of all this, it shouldn’t be any surprise that there are more than a dozen official food and drink festivals all over the country, celebrating Bulgarian cuisine, folklore, dances, traditional costumes and other key elements of our culture.
I have personally visited every single one and if you want to peek into our culture, traditions and lifestyle, there’s hardly a better (or at least tastier) way than visiting one of the 17 food and drink festivals outlined below.
I can organize a custom tour to visit any particular festival and combine the experience with other sightseeing or tourism attractions of which there are many, to give you the most out of Bulgaria for your time and budget.
Wine Festival – “Golden Grape” – February – Melnik
- Where: Melnik
- When: February
If wine is your drink, and you’re visiting Bulgaria in February, try to make your way down to Melnik. Even though it’s the smallest town in the country, Melnik boasts a rich heritage with plenty of natural and architectural landmarks.
Wine production and tourism are the main livelihood of the locals. Practically every family cultivates its own grape vines to make wine for sale…and their own consumption. There are several high profile wineries producing high quality wine cherished all over the world. Commonly found varieties are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and the local Broad Melnik Vine.
The Golden Grape Festival is a two-day event that gathers the best winemakers of the region who compete to defend their product and pride. The celebrations are accompanied by the tunes of traditional Bulgarian music with a rich and diverse program every year.
Heated Brandy and Cabbage Soup Festival – February – Babovo
- Where: Babovo
- When: February
- Website https://www.facebook.com/folklorenpraznik/
Bulgarian winter cuisine reserves a very special place for sour cabbage – that’s cabbage fermented in salty water. It’s served raw in salads, baked with pork or chicken, or cooked into the traditional “sarma” – minced meat and rice mix wrapped in cabbage leaves.
The juice from the fermented cabbage is a timeless Bulgarian recipe for curing hangovers. Had too much “rakia” (local distilled spirit)? Sour cabbage soup will bring back the smile to your face the morning after.
If heated spirits and sour cabbage sound right to you, you should head towards the northeastern parts of Bulgaria, just a few kilometers away from the Danube river. In February, the village of Babovo hosts the Festival of Heated Brandy and Cabbage Soup.
The cabbage soup is prepared in the huge “Champion’s Pot” and contains some 400 liters of water, 500 liters of sour cabbage juice, 120 kilos of chopped meat, onions, 25 kilos of noodles, 360 egg yolks, and a mix of local spices.
Apart from the surplus supply of heated spirits and freshly-brewed cabbage soup, the festival celebrates Bulgarian traditions and culture. People from every corner in Bulgaria participate in competitions for the best traditional attire or cuisine, all of it under the tunes of customary folklore music and dances.
Bacon and Heated Brandy Day – February / March – Apriltsi
- Where: Apriltsi
- When: February / March
- Website: https://fest-bg.com/event/%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BA-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B0-%D0%B8-%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%8F%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B0-%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B8%D1%8F-3/
Bacon is a highly regarded food in Bulgaria – a traditional appetizer on the dinner table and great company to homemade red wine or “rakia” in the winter months. Bacon in the western world contains mainly meat with smaller amounts of fat from pork belly or back. In contrast, Bulgarian bacon is almost 100% fat with very little if any meat. Traditionally, it’s prepared by curing with sea salt and can be eaten as is, but you’ll aslo find it smoked, grilled, fried or even cooked in other dishes.
Every February, the Bulgarian town of Apriltsi celebrates traditional bacon and heated brandy (“rakia”). You can browse a variety of stands by local meat and alcohol manufacturers, and enjoy a rich program of traditional music. The main attraction is “Grandma’s Special” – a meal prepared from 30 kilos of bacon, 500 eggs, 30 kilos of leek onion – all cooked in a huge pan on firewood in the middle of the plaza.
Rakia Fest – March – Sofia
- Where: Sofia
- When: March
- Website: https://balkanrakiafest.com/en/home-2/
Rakia is the traditional distilled alcohol of the Balkans – the local alternative to brandy, tequila, sake and other strong spirits around the world.
It’s made by distilling fermented fruit, the most common being grapes and plums. That said, you can make rakia from just about any fruit, so long as it has sugar contents – peaches, apricots, apples, pears, figs, cherries, kiwis and even roses. The variety is further increased by mixing in herbs, spices and ageing the alcohol in wooden barrels of various origins.
Since many Bulgarians own either an orchard, a vineyard or some form of agricultural land, rakia production remains a strong tradition and a source of national pride. Though industrial production occurs in large volumes, Bulgarians have special regards for homemade rakia, which is usually stronger, between 40% and 65% alcohol content, and more rich in flavor.
The Rakia & Spirits Fest in Sofia is a two-day event celebrating traditional Balkan alcohol. Visitors can taste a huge selection of over 400 different rakia spirits. Representatives from more than 30 distilleries in Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey, China, Brazil and other countries gather to show their best products and celebrate their success.
It’s a truly wonderful event for appreciators of spirit alcohol and a great way to heat up the atmosphere in usually chilly March.
Barbecue and Bagpipe Festival – May – Zlatograd
- Where: Zlatograd
- When: May
- Website: https://fest-bg.com/
Did you know that the sound of Bulgarian bagpipes and the voice of Valya Balkanska travel through space on the Golden Record aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts?
This sample of Bulgarian folklore music is so mesmerizing and pure, it brings you to a halt, runs shivers down your spine and puts tears in your eyes. It comes from the Rhodope Mountain region that spans the southeastern parts of Bulgaria.
Digital records don’t do it enough justice though. If you want to experience this cosmic vibration, come to Zlatograd, Bulgaria’s most southern town, in May and take part in the Barbecue and Bagpipe Festival. It’s a four-day event that celebrates Bulgarian folklore music, including the famous bagpipe competition. You’ll find a rich variety of traditional foods, and open-fire barbecue.
The festival ends with the celebration of Saint George’s Day – one of the national holidays in the country, day of the Bulgarian army and all people named George, which is one of the most commonly found male names. It’s customary to celebrate with lamb barbecue, which will be prepared on the day before.
Wine and Gourmet Festival – May / June – Plovdiv
- Where: Plovdiv
- When: May / June
Grape vine thrives successfully pretty much everywhere in Bulgaria. Wine production is a huge sector in the country and in 1966 tiny Bulgaria was the sixth largest exporter in the world. Many people cultivate their own vineyards and homemade wine is a widespread tradition and a source of national pride.
If you’re a wine connoisseur, you’ll appreciate your stay in Bulgaria and especially the Wine and Gourmet Festival taking place in Plovdiv during May or June (dates change). The festival is a marathon of events that span the whole week and take place in different venues around the historic old town of Plovdiv.
You can taste a huge variety of Bulgarian wines from established wineries, take part in wine tasting workshops, attend lectures, and participate in the celebration activities towards the weekend.
Day of The Flat Sausage – June – Gorna Oryahovitsa
- Where: Gorna Oryahovitsa
- When: June
- Website: https://www.g-oryahovica.org/sudjuk/4726-2016-05-13-12-50-23.html
The flat sausage is a staple on every Bulgarian dinner table. It’s a most excellent appetizer or “meze” for the evening glass of wine, or “rakia”. You’ll find it in practically every Bulgarian home. You can eat it sliced, in a sandwich, throw it on the grill or in various hot pots and other dishes. There’s no Bulgarian who hasn’t had flat sausage and bread for dinner at least a couple of times in their life.
Bulgarian flat sausage is made from minced pork or beef mixed with caraway, savory, pepper and salt, then filled in specially prepared pork intestines and cured for several weeks until dry.
Each region has its own different recipe and many people make their own. But they all agree that Gorna Oryahovitsa, a small town near Veliko Tarnovo in northern central Bulgaria, has some of the best flat sausages you can find.
Every year in June, thousands of people gather in Gorna Oryahovitsa to celebrate this traditional Bulgarian food and cultural heritage. Expect to see a variety of Bulgarian folklore performances with traditional music and dancing, along with all the flat sausage and beer you can send down your throat.
Fried Sprat Festival – June – Kranevo
- Where: Kranevo
- When: June
- Website: https://www.festivalnacacata.com/
With a coastline over 350 kilometers long, spanning the entire eastern border of the country, the Black Sea is ingrained in Bulgarian lifestyle.
One of the best ways to relax on a hot summer evening is to find yourself a table with a view and treat yourself to a large serving of fried sprat and the coldest beer you can find. Sprat is overly abundant in the Black Sea and therefore cheap and served in pretty much every restaurant on the coastline and even further to the west.
Kranevo, north of the “sea capital” Varna, holds the annual Sprat Festival – a two day event dedicated to the small fish and it’s best friend, the ice cold beer. Visit the town in June to celebrate this Bulgarian seaside tradition and enjoy an interesting program of modern music, dance and craft workshops and unique games and competitions every year.
Cherryfest – June – Kyustendil
- Where: Kyustendil
- When: June
- Website: http://kustendil.com/
Every June, the southwestern city of Kyustendil holds Bulgaria’s Cherryfest – a 3-day celebration of the country’s rich variety of cherry trees.
Dozens of farmers gather in the city square to display a huge assortment of cherry sorts and derived products like jams, syrups, pies and other delicious treats. Nearby, you’ll find an arrangement of stands where local artisans display their cherry-themed works – dolls, jewelry, sculptures, holy icons, and other artworks.
It’s a truly wonderful celebration of this delicious fruit, which grows in abundance in orchards all over the country. If you like cherries, there’s no better place to be than Kyustendil in June.
Blueberries Festival – July – Lodge Ambaritsa
- Where: Lodge Ambaritsa (mountain cabin)
- When: July
- Website https://www.peika.bg/Parvi_Festival_na_Borovinkite_l.e_i.90484.html
You can find a variety of berries, taking a stroll through the Bulgarian forests in the summer. Neither of them has the fine taste and juicy texture of the blueberry. But if you want to have a bite, you’ll need to pack up your bag and head to the mountains.
Bulgarian blueberries grow around 1,700 meters in altitude, making them hard to reach for most tourists. If you’re up for the hike, you can take part in the Blueberry Festival in July, near lodge Ambaritsa in the Trojan Balkan region.
The lodge itself rests at 1,540 meters above sea level and is accessible through several mountain trails, the shortest one starting from “Cherny Osam” village. A few hours of hiking through the Central Balkan National Reserve will take you to the lodge and several hundred meters further your goal will unfold before your eyes – blueberry shrubs everywhere you turn.
The Festival was organized through voluntary efforts up until 2016 in support of the lodge, which was undergoing renovations. Hundreds of campers travelled in July to set their tents under the starry sky and taste the ripe blueberries right from the ground.
Although the Festival is not officially held anymore, the blueberries, and some of the most beautiful mountain views in the Balkans, are still there waiting for you to visit.
The Cherry Holiday – July – Kyustendil
Kystendil, in southwest Bulgaria, is a town where the Cherry Festival is held. Besides the scrumptiousness of local cherries, people are invited to marvel at works of art, cherry themed, and the local chefs are unsurpassed in the preparation of pastry, syrup, and jam from cherries. That is an entire world, absolutely cherry dedicated. Those who present their works in the best way and make an indelible impression are the winners at the event.
Plum Festival – September – Troyan
September is the time for the Plum Festival in Troyan. The town is famed for its plum brandy, celebrated at the festival’s predecessor, the Plum Brandy festival. Now plums are high on the agenda, as the staples for that mountain area. They are eaten fresh, made in jam, or dried. The festival comprises a competition for the best brandy, and the medals for the winners are plum shaped. In the nearby village of Oreshak, center for crafts, celebrations are also massive. Parades are adorned by flags with plums on them.Plum Festival
Bulgarian Plum Festival – September – Troyan
- Where: Troyan
- When: September
- Website: https://festivalnaslivata.com/bg/za-festivala.html
Plum is a native tree in Bulgaria, commonly found in backyards, orchards and gardens in all parts of the country. Plums are particularly prolific in the mountainous region of Trojan. Trojan is a cultural center in Bulgaria, whose heritage dates back to the Roman empire, and an access point to some of the most beautiful natural reserves in Balkan Mountain Range.
Come to Trojan in September, and to take part in the Bulgarian Plum Festival. The event spans several days and presents the best from local folklore with traditional music, dancing and dozens of artisan stands where you can find hand crafted products – carpentry, potery, sewing, jewelry and a variety of arts.
Of course, the main attractions are the food and drink stands, where you’ll have a huge supply of fresh plums and a variety of plum jams, nectars, and favorite to Bulgarians – Trojan Plum Rakia, a strong distilled alcohol from fermented plums.
Momchilovtsi Fest – September – Rhodope Mountain
- Where: Momchilovtsi
- When: September
- Website https://momchilovtsifest.bg/
Yogurt is ingrained in Bulgarian culture and cuisine. It’s a staple dairy product found in every refrigerator and produced in huge quantities both for the domestic market and export.
More than a hundred years ago, Russian scientist and Nobel prize winner Ilya Metchnikov, studied the longevity and good health of the Bulgarian rural population and discovered it was linked to the consumption of locally-produced yoghurt and a particular bacteria called “Lactobacillus Bulgaricus”.
This bacteria is responsible for the curdling of the milk and transformation into yogurt. It’s harmless to ingest, but it helps balance the gut flora, strengthening the intestines and preventing harmful bacteria from settling in and causing chronic diseases.
More than a century later, the Bulgarian yogurt has no analogy in western nutrition or medicine. The best it could do is stuff you with probiotics, vitamins and supplements. However, it takes a single visit to the Bulgarian Rhodope Mountain region to realize how much healthier these local villagers are and how much energy and strength they have to show, even at old age.
Each September, Momchilovtsi Village, in the central Rhodope region, hosts the Momchilovtsi Fest. This three-day event celebrates Bulgarian yogurt, traditions and culture. Visitors can taste yogurt and dairy products from a plethora of local and national manufacturers and enjoy a rich program of folklore music and dancing. There are several educational lectures and workshops, a photo contest, a variety of games and activities. The main event is the Miss Rhodope contest – a special event celebrating Bulgarian beauty.
Kurtovo Konare Fest – Tomatoes & Peppers – September – Plovdiv region
- Where: Kurtovo Konare
- When: September
- Website http://chitalishtekkonare.com/?cat=47
Bulgaria is traditionally an agricultural country. Its fertile land, rich in nutrients has given birth to some of Europe’s most delicious fruits and vegetables. Specifically, tomatoes and peppers have played a big role in the local cuisine, with consumption all around the year – fresh in the summer and canned in the winter.
Kurtovo Konare is a seemingly unimportant village in the southern part of the country, but in September it pays tribute to this large sector of the Bulgarian economy and livelihood.
If you want to try what real vegetables taste like, head down to Kurtovo Konare in September. You’ll find many traditional Bulgarian foods like freshly-made “lyutenitsa” – a cooked sauce from tomatoes, peppers and spices. You can participate in a dozen different art, photography and cooking workshops, and listen to traditional folklore music.
Pumpkin Festival – October – Sevlievo
Bulgaria has its Pumpkin Capital, the town of Sevlievo, in the Balkans. There, people show off not only their culinary talents, but also their skills in preparing decorations using pumpkins, especially at the annual festival. When October come, the Pumpkin Festival invites all aficionados of pumpkins, with delicacies and opportunities to get masks and attend the Pumpkinbourg Train, the carnival. Folklore dances are part and parcel of the celebrations. Creativity is welcome at the exhibitions of pumpkin delights. Participants young and old can enjoy performances themed on pumpkins, usually performed by children. Pumpkin colored balloons are everywhere.
Elena Pork Ham Day – October – Veliko Tarnovo region
- Where: Elena
- When: October
- Website: https://visit.elena.bg/sabitiya-i-kultura/praznik-na-elenskiya-but
Elena pork ham is a delicacy produced from pork leg cured with salt in a traditional wooden barrel for a month and a half, then air dried. This meat resembles Italian “prosciutto crudo”, but it’s only produced in the mountain town of Elena, near Veliko Tarnovo, and has its own unique taste. It’s a very special treat for Bulgarians and usually reserved for the highest of occasions.
At the end of October, Elena hosts a special celebration day of it’s pork ham. You can enjoy a plethora of pork ham prepared by Elena’s best masters, take part in the pig roasting ritual, shop through a dozen of crafts stands and enjoy an amazing program of folklore music.
Pumpkin Capital Festival – October – Sevlievo
- Where: Sevlievo
- When: October
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/StolicaNaTikvata
Halloween is not a traditional holiday in Bulgaria, but if you’re a master pumpkin carver, you can get an early practice session in Sevlievo – a town in the northern central part of the country.
Early in October, Sevlievo hosts its traditional Pumpkin Capital Festival, bringing together pumpkin enthusiasts and farmers to celebrate the squash fruit and its trace in the local culture and cuisine. The festivities include pumpkin carving, a plethora of delicacies and meals prepared from pumpkins, art displays and open concerts in the central plaza.
The first day of the event coincides with the international Night in the Museums initiative, so visitors can tour the local museums and galleries free of charge in the evening. On the second day, more concerts and entertainment awaits, as well as the farmer’s market, where you can purchase local foods and delicacies from Bulgaria.
Potato Fest – October – Chepelare
- Where: Chepelare
- When: October
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/kartoffestchepelare/
Potatoes are one of the fundamental foods in Bulgaria and a staple ingredient in the local cuisine. Potato farming is widespread throughout the country and the livelihoods of entire communities are dependent on the yield.
Chepelare in southern Bulgaria is mostly known for its proximity to some of the country’s best sky slopes and state of the art winter sports facilities. However, the Rhodope region is traditionally occupied in agriculture. As such, the Chepelare municipality and the National Association of Potato Farmers organize the only one of its kind Potato Fest in Bulgaria.
This two-day event offers amazing insight into Bulgarian culture and the potato-based cuisine. Visitors can try an assortment of local potato dishes, shop an assortment of potato varieties and traditional crafts, while children can take part in several art and cooking workshops.
The festival doubles as an industry conference, bringing potato farmers from all parts of the country and arranging meetings with representatives from the restaurant and hospitality industry, as well as holding lectures on the modern farming methods.
Smilyan Bean Festival – November – Smolyan
Beans are a staple in Bulgarian cuisine with bean stew being part of the menu in just about every home around the country. Bean cultivation s a significant industry in Bulgaria and the Smilyan village, in the southern parts of the country, is famous internationally for its high grade salad bean production.
In November, the village hosts its annual Smilyan Bean Festival – a celebration of local agriculture and traditions. You can expect a big selection of bean stands on display, colorful artworks and compositions using real beans. Numerous contests, games and a comedy program will entertain visitors.
Of course, there will be plenty of bean meals to try and original recipes only found in Bulgaria, all of them served under the tunes of Bulgarian folklore music.
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