Lovech, Bulgaria – the beginning of a new friendship

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I wonder why we hand’t gone for a weekend in Lovech earlier. Actually, there are so many towns in Bulgaria which we just do not count for travel destinations. We are usually in a hurry for the Krushuna Waterfalls, the Devetaki cave or any other popular attraction around and we pass through Lovech just for lunch or a quick photo of the Covered Bridge (which is the only attraction in Lovech most people know). We have passed through Lovech like this maybe 3-4 times in the past years.

Todor Kirkov square in Lovech, Bulgaria
Todor Kirkov square in Lovech, Bulgaria

Here we are again, walking by the Covered Bridge, looking around curiously. At one side of the bridge is the cozy Todor Kirkov square in the old quarter Varosha. On the other side are the beautiful Baroque houses. However, we are not here to hunt attractions, but rather to enjoy this cozy and hospitable town, which happily welcomes guests rather than tourists.

Walking around Varosha, Lovech
Walking around Varosha, Lovech

Varosha, the old quarter of Lovech

On Friday evening Todor Kirkov square in Varosha, Lovech, is a lively place. The adults are already sitting in the nearby restaurants, mostly in Drakata restaurant, which is one of the signature places of old Lovech and is still the most popular restaurants in town. But we will tell you about it later. The children are running around the small water cascade on the square and the monument of revolutionary Todor Kirkov. We have just arrived, settled in our hotel (which is also on the square) and are out to take beautiful sunset photos.

Todor Kirkov square in Varosha, Lovech
Todor Kirkov square in Varosha, Lovech

The ensemble of old houses on both sides of the square does not actually take us back in time but reminds us of a very beautiful present. The square is covered with renovated and neat pavement, the old houses are renovated and some of them host tourists. The Covered Bridge of Kolyu Ficheto (a famous Bulgarian architect and builder from 19th century, author of many notable buildings) is far from its original version but is still a symbol of Lovech and a place for crafts, traditions and culture.

The Covered Bridge in Lovech Bulgaria
The Covered Bridge in Lovech Bulgaria

Varosha is the old quarter of Lovech, located on the slope between river Osam and the medieval fortress Hisarya. During the Bulgarian Revival in the 19th century it was a quarter of craftsmen and merchants. Its typical houses with stone roofs have been preserved until nowadays, some of them restored. In 1968, together with the neighbouring areas, it was declared an Architectural Reserve.

The streets of Varosha, Lovech
The streets of Varosha, Lovech
Maria in Varosha, Lovech
Maria in Varosha, Lovech

Today the cars on the streets of Varosha do not contribute to the authentic look and some of the houses are at the end of their lives. But the cobblestone streets surrounded by the tall 19 century houses like cozy tunnels still keep the spirit of the old town. They still recall the times when young girls walked along them carrying coppers with water, loafs of warm bread, or young revolutionaries marched cheerfully by tha path to the freedom of Bulgaria.

Varosha, Lovech, Bulgaria
Varosha, Lovech, Bulgaria

We walk around in the labyrinth of streets. Watch the buildings – some of them are beautifully renovated and turned into museums, others are abandoned. Among the old houses there are even acting kindergartens. Our children would be more than happy to attend such one.

Maria between the old houses in Varosha, Lovech
Maria between the old houses in Varosha, Lovech

Life in Varosha, Lovech

Seeing local young women in traditional garments, carrying coppers with water on the streets of Varosha is a rare occasion nowadays. The times when women used to sit together, knit, sew and discuss household topics and local life are long gone. But there is still a way to return to the atmosphere of those times, some 100-150 years ago.

Ethnographic complex Drasova and Rashova houses

Ethnographic complex Drasova and Rashova houses lives its own life on one of the streets of Varosha. It is far more than a museum. There is no such person like curator Plamen Etchkov, speaking with such passion and artistry about old Lovech. He is like a living part of the place he is speaking about. We are greeted with “Welcome, dear guests”, as he is the very owner of these beautiful revival houses. He gives us a tour through the bedroom, the kitchen, the dining room and the guest room and make us immerse in the life of local rich people from the late 19th and early 20th century.

Drasova house is the example of that life between two centuries, between the memory of the slavery and life of 19th century and the step towards the future. The bedroom is still a large low plank-bed where the whole family sleeps. In the guest room you can find both oriental and European objects – traditional rugs, Viennese chairs and a Russian teapot. There is also a bride’s room with Viennese furniture and German porcelain.

The bride's room
The bride’s room

Rashova house is a monument both of architecture, life and culture of the late 19th and early 20th century. It was built in 1835 as home of local cultural activist Nencho Rashev. In the house you can witness the life of moderately rich local intellectuals from the first half of 20th century. Including a high table, European chairs and porcelain. In the bedroom there is a baby swing and German clocks. Musical instruments were almost a must in the study.

A place for culture and art
A place for culture and art
Varosha is not just a tourist area, daily life is all around
Varosha in Lovech is not just a tourist area, daily life is all around

The photos may be able to show the exhibition but nothing could explain the full experience in the ethnographic complex. It was a tour like no other tour. Plamen Etchkov is not only a good guide. He is your only chance to really imagine life in the two houses. A guide through time, who is capable of handling a tour in at least three languages (Bulgarian, French and Russian), while singing. No, you cannot imagine him, so you must go and witness this if you are in Lovech. We wish him many years of health ahead!

Assumption of Virgin Mary church

Assumption of Virgin Mary church in Lovech, aerial view
Assumption of Virgin Mary church in Lovech, aerial view

Another interesting old building in Varosha is the church Assumption of Virgin Mary. It is also famous because Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski served there in his younger years. The church has very authentic spirit. Well, it is a little sad that many of the frescoes are badly damaged, but this actually helps preserve the natural feeling and authenticity.

Maria and our friend Tsveti enter the yard of the church Assumption of Virgin Mary in Lovech
Maria and our friend Tsveti enter the yard of the church Assumption of Virgin Mary in Lovech
Museum of Vasil Levski in Lovech
Museum of Vasil Levski in Lovech

The Turkish bath

A few blocks down, almost by the river, is the building of the former Turkish bath “Deli Hammam”. It was a functioning public bath until the early 1990s and nowadays you can still see the old water heater which was providing the hot water in the past decadec. Nowadays the building is restored and turned into a water-themed tourist attraction. If you like multimedia and light effects, you may like it.

Lovech fortress Hisarya

Hisarya fortress is just above Varosha quarter. Or actually, the quarter is be,ow the fortress as the fortress is quite older. It dates back to the 9 – 10th century, from the period of First Bulgarian state. It is located on a hill with two terraces providing natural defence. Until 12th century the fortress was a military facility, hosting mainly troops and a limited number of civilians and clergy.

The stairs from Varosha towards the fortress
The stairs from Varosha towards the fortress

The fortress acted an important role for agreeing the peace treaty between Bulgaria and the Byzantine empire in 1187, which recognised the independence of the areas, liberated during the Uprising of Asen and Peter in 1185. (In the period 1018 – 1185 Bulgaria was under Byzantine rule). The army of emperor Isaac II attacked the Lovech fortress in 1187 but failed to capture it after a 3-month siege. This led to the signing of a truce, de facto recognising the rule of the Asen and Peter over the territory, leading to the creation of the Second Bulgarian Empire

Hisarya fortress in Lovech Bulgaria
Hisarya fortress in Lovech Bulgaria
The entrance to the fortress, seen from the inside
The entrance to the fortress, seen from the inside

Towards the end of the 12th century the fortress became a citadel. Nowadays you can see the restored remains of medieval churches, houses and streets. Among the interesting remains are the turned stones, used to block intruders by stumbling their horses and pedestrians as well.

The restored walls of the Lovech fortress
The restored walls of the Lovech fortress

Among the most important attractions within the fortress are the foundations of a metropolitan church. Nowadays, above them there is a strange metal construction which I would not like to comment. Local tourist guides admit that the restoration of the fortress does not correspond well with the historical knowledge of it. But this is another story. Today the Lovech fortress Hisarya is a place for walks, cultural events and curious tourists like us.

Lovech fortress Hisarya
Lovech fortress Hisarya

Tip: If you are visiting the fortress for the first time, you should definitely take a visit with tour guide. They will tell you interesting stories and facts which will help you understand the place much better. Actually, this is our advise for every historical attraction or museum.

Just before the entrance to the fortress you will see the largest monument of Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski – 14 m tall, inaugurated in 1964. In Varosha there is a museum of Vasil Levski.

The monument of Vasil Levski in Lovech
The monument of Vasil Levski in Lovech

Lunch in Lovech

After our joyful morning in Varosha and the fortress, it was time to sit for a lunch and then head to an afternoon break.

We settled at restaurant Drakata, on the shady terrace overlooking the square (they have another terrace overlooking the Covered bridge). We ordered beans with sausage, pljeskavitsa and chicken kebab from the lunch menu. It is great that restaurant Drakata serves lunch menu in the weekends as well. We are always happy to eat something freshly cooked for the day.

Restaurant Drakata in Lovech
Restaurant Drakata in Lovech
Beans with sausage, a popular dish in Bulgaria - restaurant Drakata in Lovech
Beans with sausage, a popular dish in Bulgaria – restaurant Drakata in Lovech

We had a nice meal and later headed to our hotel on the opposite side of the square for an afternoon break.

Drakata restaurant is a wonderful place and we really recommend it for dinner as well.

Before our afternoon walk, we sat for a sweet bite and coffee in the nearby Iron Fe cafe. It proved a wonderful place not only for its special atmosphere but also for its delicious waffles. Be careful when ordering, one waffle is enough for two people.

Mimi and Andrey having coffee in Lovech
Mimi and Andrey having coffee in Lovech

While enjoying our coffee and waffles, a torrential rain started outside. We quickly escaped in the nearby Covered bridge.

The Covered bridge – the symbol of Lovech

The must-visit place in Lovech is the Covered bridge. Every visitor of the town, even if he is there for 5 minutes, would go and take a stroll in the beautiful pedestrian bridge. The place is known as The bridge of Kolyu Ficheto, although this is only partially correct. At that very moment, the bridge rescued us from the torrential rain outside.

The covered bridge from the inside - Lovech, Bulgaria
The covered bridge from the inside – Lovech, Bulgaria

A curious stop: Bulgarian national crafts workshop

On the southern side, maybe the second shop when walking from Varosha towards the new town is Tinkovata Maistorilnitsa (Tinkov workshop). It is a wonderful place for everyone who loves traditional handicrafts and hand-made items.

Wood carving at Tinkovata Maistorilnitsa, Lovech
Wood carving at Tinkovata Maistorilnitsa, Lovech

The owners – Stefka and Stanimir Tinkov, are people of art. They have worked as arts teachers for years and now they organize art workshops for children. But most of their time they spend in the workshop in the covered bridge making various hand-made beauties – hand-painted glasses, textile dolls and toys, other textile decorations like pillows, table cloths, jewellery, wood carvings and many more. Whenever you enter the workshop, you will find someone making something beautiful. And they will happily show you how it is made. When we entered, Stefka was just drawing Bulgarian shevitsa decorations on wine glasses.

Painting Bulgarian shevitsa on wine glasses at Tinkov's workshop in Lovech
Painting Bulgarian shevitsa on wine glasses at Tinkov’s workshop in Lovech

We continue our walk by the bridge. It is still raining and wet pigeons can be seen on the windows, trying to find shelter. They said it was luck to have a pigeon on your window. We pass by the small authentic-style cafe in the middle of the bridge. I don’t know whether the original bridge of Kolyu Ficheto had a cafe in the middle but it was not unusual for the Ottoman era bridges.

Tourust information centre in Lovech

We did not sit this time but entered the tourist information centre. We had a quick look of the models of notable buildings in Lovech – the Covered bridge, the Hisarya fortress, the old Turkish bath and the church Assumption of Virgin Mary. At this time the rain stopped and a few minutes later we went out to enjoy the bridge in its full beauty from all sides.

The covered bridge on sunset - Lovech, Bulgaria
The covered bridge on sunset – Lovech, Bulgaria
The covered bridge seen from the air - Lovech Bulgaria
The covered bridge seen from the air – Lovech Bulgaria

A memorable history

The contemporary covered bridge was made in 1981-82 and is 104 m long. However, this is not its first version. A covered bridge existed in Lovech as early as 1838, according to the notes of French geologist and traveller Ami Boué. In 1871, Felix Kanitz also mentioned a covered bridge in Lovech in his writings.

However, it is thought that both bridges were destroyed by the river at some point. In 1874-76 the famous Bulgarian builder Kolyu Ficheto built another bridge. It had 5 stone foundations and was covered with wooden contruction. It was 74m long and 7m tall. Inside there were 64 small workshops, each one only 2.50×2.50 m large. The bridge was then lit by gas lamps. But during a fire in 1925 almost the whole bridge was destroyed.

In 1926 – 1931 on the same place was built another covered bridge, this time made of iron and stone. It was quite different from the original, with two foundations and a glass roof. The contemporary look of the bridge dates from the reconstruction in 1981-82 and is close to the original bridge of Kolyu Ficheto.

The covered bridge in Lovech Bulgaria
The covered bridge in Lovech Bulgaria

The covered bridge is beautiful from all sides, especially on sunset, watched from the alley by the river just below Hotel Lovech in the new town. The ensemble of the bridge and the terraces of the colourful houses in Varosha is a picture we can watch for hours. And we have really a lot of photos. One of the terraces against us, the beautiful one with the arches, is the river terrace of Drakata restaurant which became our favourite because of the view.

The view of the covered bridge from restaurant Drakata in Lovech
The view of the covered bridge from restaurant Drakata in Lovech

A walk in new Lovech

The covered bridge is like a tunnel through time. You enter it from the side of Varosha with its beautiful square, surrounded by old houses and narrow cobblestone streets. On the other side you are met be the magnificent baroque houses. They are in different colours, with beautiful porticoes and shops on the street level. The first baroque houses in Lovech were built in the 1920s and 1930s. They have always been residential buildings with shops on the street level. They ensemble was restored in the 1980s in the same style.

If you go left from the bridge, in a few minutes you will find yourselves in a shady tunnel by the river. This is the Bash Bunar alley. It is a favourite place of local people in the hot summer days. The alley is about 2 km long with a famous fountain on it, surrounded by legends. One of the beliefs says that whoever drinks from the fountain, will stay in Lovech forever.

If you take the right way from the bridge, you will pass by the main central street of Lovech and the impressive church St. St. Kiril and Methody, Behind it is a pedestrian bridge with interesting statue of lions. If you keep walking by the promenade, you will reach the Alley of Cosmonauts.

The Alley of Cosmonauts, Lovech Bulgaria
The Alley of Cosmonauts, Lovech Bulgaria

What Lovech has to do with cosmonauts and astronauts?

Well, the first Bulgarian cosmonaut Georgi Ivanov was born in Lovech. On the Alley of Cosmonauts you will see 38 birch trees, all planted by cosmonauts and astronauts. The alley was created in 1988 by cosmonauts participating in a congress in Bulgaria. During their visit to Lovech, each one of them planted a tree in the central part of the town, by Osam river. Georgi Ivanov was the first one. In 1999, 2004 and 2009 more trees were planted and their total number today is 38. By each tree there is a stone plate with the name of the person who planted it.

Andrey and Mimi on the Alley of cosmonauts in Lovech
Andrey and Mimi on the Alley of cosmonauts in Lovech

Golden Lovech

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries Lovech was known as Altin Lovech, or Golden Lovech because of its wealth. In that times Lovech was a centre of trade and economic activity. Nowadays Lovech is rich in history, culture and beutiful cosy places every visitor would love. We found Lovech hospitable and cosy and we left with smiles, because we will be back, next time with the kids.

The roofs of Lovech
The roofs of Lovech

Where to stay and eat in Lovech?

For the food, we already mentioned restaurant Drakata which is located right on the square in the old town. It is the best restaurant in town according to both tourists and locals. We cannot actually compare it with any other because during our weekend in Lovech this was the only place where we went to eat. We just loved it from the first dinner and did not want to go anywhere else.

Hotel Varosha Lovech
Hotel Varosha Lovech

For accommodation we stayed in the hotel with probably best location in Lovech – Hotel Varosha (the hotel in Booking.com). It is also located on the main square. The hotel building consists of three conjoined old houses with very cosy and artistic atmosphere and really good prices. There is a nice inner yard. On the opposite side of the square is Drakara restaurant.

Todor Kirkov square in Lovech with Drakata restaurant to the right and a part of Hotel Varosha to the left
Todor Kirkov square in Lovech with Drakata restaurant to the right and a part of Hotel Varosha to the left
Restaurant Drakata at night
Restaurant Drakata at night

If you have any special requirements of just want to take a look of the other options in Lovech, there are many hotels and guest houses.

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