A royal lunch on a royal train – one unusual journey in Bulgaria

Тази статия може да я прочетете и на: Български

The wine glasses chin because of the swinging of the train. No whistle sound is heard, as it would be if it was drawn by a steam locomotive. However, the cars are the same ones which once carried Bulgarian ruler Tsar Boris III and the romance is still there. Indeed, I lied a little bit. The first train cars belonged to the tsar and the one we are sitting in was actually built in 1957 in Dryanovo, Bulgaria. We are sitting here because it is the largest salon of Korona Express. The feeling is royal, the wagon is heated by a diesel heater and inside is warm and cozy despite it is winter outdoors. But the sun is gently shining through the windows, making countercurrent on the photos.

The doors of the royal train wagons in Bulgaria
The doors of the royal train wagons

The royal train

I push Maria to leave from home earlier because she always forgets that I like arriving at the very beginning of every event. I just want to show respect to the work of all the people who managed to organize it and gather 40 people at 10.30 am on Saturday. At 10.29 we arrived at the Central Railway Station in Sofia and headed to track 1. I was happy to see other people arriving on time and together we entered the train. It is emotional to touch these historical cars that served several different generations of state leaders and regimes. We entered the last wagon and headed towards the first one.

Korona Express (Crown Express) is a name uniting several authentic luxurious train cars, among which the personal carriages of the last Bulgarian tsar (king) Boris III and his family. The cars are now served by the Bulgarian State Railways and can be hired for special events like the one we are telling about in this article.
Boarding the train of last Bulgarian royals
Boarding the train of last Bulgarian royals

Wagon №050-1 А

The personal wagon of Tsar Boris III was built in Germany in 1938 and is very well-preserved, despite the tsar’s monograms are not present anymore. We were only shown one pillow case with the royal monogram. We stopped for a while in front of the toilet door. The word on the plate, once officially used, now is not very common in contemporary Bulgarian langugage and is sometimes considered impolite. It is amazing how Bulgarian language changed in a few decades. Next to the toilet is the stove – a huge wood-burning stove, warming up the water for the heating installation and the fountains in the wagon. If the carriage is drawn by a steam locomotive, the heating can be connected to the steam machine and use the power of the locomotive. Now the stove is working on its own, warming the whole wagon.

The salon of wagon №050-1 А
The salon of wagon №050-1 А
The monogram of tsar Boris III
The monogram of tsar Boris III on the pillow case

After the stove are the cabins of the royal security officers. And then the appartment of tsar Boris III. At the end of the car is the reception room, featuing a dining table with chairs, radio, phone, sofa and armchairs. Maria sat for a while on one of the chairs and we had a talk about how it felt being responsible for a whole state. Because luxury goes with responsibilities as well.

Maria and the royal tea set
Maria and the royal tea set
The apartment of tsar Boris III
The seating are in the apartment of tsar Boris III
The bathroom of the royal apartment
The bathroom of the royal apartment

Wagon №051-9 А

We step on the next wagon, the one that served tsaritsa (queen) Giovanna from 1938 to 1946. It is as luxurious at the tsar’s wagon, but even more beautifully and female-style decorated and furnished. Maria loved it but she has no chance to become a queen. But anyway, she felt as a royal at least for a day.

Maria travelling in the royal lounge
Maria travelling in the royal lounge

The wagons are perfectly maintained, surprisingly well, considering the many problems of the state railways of Bulgaria. This is due to the wonderful team who takes care of the royal wagons – three wonderful smiling elder men who speak about the cars with such passion.

The lounge of the queen in the royal train
The lounge of the queen in the royal train

There is another wagon, №052-7, that was not travelling this time but is also a royal train car. It belonged to Kiril, prince of Preslav, the brother of tsar Boris III. This is the third wagon produced in Germany for the Bulgarian royal family.

The salon in the queen's wagon
The salon in the queen’s wagon

Wagon №057-8

The above wagons remained in use even after the members of the royal family left Bulgaria to live in exhile and the political system changed. After the monarchy they were used as governent carriages.

Now we move to the newer wagon – salon, built in 1957 in Dryanovo, Bulgaria, based on sketches of Linke Hoffman Werke-Breslau, Germany.

The royal carriages
The royal carriages

This wagon is also luxurious, with diesel heater and Siemens fans. The glass for the lamps was made in Czechia. The wagon has two large salons, now hosting the guests of the royal brunch. Unfortunately I could not take a picture of the salons, the program of the event was shortened and I missed the moment. The waiters hurried to serve the first course of the menu and we took our seats. One of the best things about these events is that you always meet new interesting people.

Wagon - salon
Wagon – salon

How do you get to such event? This event is a part of the Mastercard Priceless series. We have Diners Club credit cards, actually Diners Club Evolve – co-branded with Mastercard. We intentionally picked exactly these cards because we were eager to have Diners Club cards with all the benefits that go with them, but also to use the advantages of Mastercard. The tickets of the Priceless events can only be reserved and bought with Mastercard.

MIAM and Natsko Sotirov

Chef Natsko Sotirov was the royal chef of tsar Boris III. He started his career as an intern in the kitchen of tsar Ferdinand – Boris III’s father and previous tsar of Bulgaria. He also took part in the WWI and returned with three orders of bravery. Later he became main chef in Boris III’s kitchen and followed him everywhere. After the fall of the monarhy he worked as a chef for communist leaders Vasil Kolarov and Georgi Diimtrov until his retirement in 1948. The following 10 years he dedicated to his book “Contemporary Cuisine” with 3000 recipes. But after the book was published, it was withdrawn from the then-rulers because they found it too bourgeois. We have never seen this book but we really envy those who have it.

Mira and Angel from MIam Catering
Mira and Angel from MIAM Catering

Chef Natsko Sotirov believed that if we want to keep the traditions alive, we should constantly change and adapt them to the contemporary taste. And here come Mira and Angel from MIAM. These two young smiling people had created and prepared the whole menu for the royal lunch, based on Natsko Sotirov’s recipes.

Mira from MIAM Catering
Mira from MIAM Catering
It is a challenge to serve on a swinging train but the waiters did great job
It is a challenge to serve on a swinging train but the waiters did great job

Following the beliefs of the author himself, they also admitted that they changed and adapted a part of the recipes. But preparing royal recipes 60 years old is only a part of the challenge. The other part is cooking in a moving train with no electricity to power the ovens and serve amazing 4-course meal to 40 people who have paid for a royal experience.

The royal meal in 4 courses and a half

The initial program suggested a 4-course meal with an additional final step with tea, coffee and various desserts. MIAM had made some small surprising changes, but all of them proved really successful. In terms of drinks, it was a curious decision to start with rakia (a trtaditional brandy-like Bulgarian beverage) and then continue with wine. But now we will tell you more about each step of the lunch.

Ritual pie Trifon Zarezan

The train journey took place on 15 February, a day after Bulgarian holiday Trifon Zarezan, the day of winegrowers and winemakers. So the ritual pie was in course with the holiday. The rose-shaped bread was extremely aromatic, with traditional Bulgarian herbs and served with a spoon of aromatic butter. Its liquid companion was mulled quince rakia with honey. It was so good that even Andrey, who generally refuses any hard alcohol, drank the whole glass.

Ritual pie and mulled rakia with honey
Ritual pie and mulled rakia with honey

Winter appetizer with beetroot and crispy leek

The time was passing really quickly during this trip. While still slowly enjoying the bread, the waiters came to offer the next course of the menu. It was a seasonal winter appetizer with beetroot, glazed in wine, crispy leek and caramelized walnuts. As a surprise we found in our dishes small balls of cream that made the feeling even more tender. And the wine – riesling from Germany, was one of the best white wines we have ever tasted. But we are telling more about it later in the article.

Winter appetizer from beetroot and crispy leek
Winter appetizer from beetroot and crispy leek
Winter appetizer from beetroot and crispy leek
Winter appetizer from beetroot and crispy leek

Roasted duck leg with surprises

The main course was announced as a roasted duck leg with hazelnut crust, bulgur, quince puree and baked ground apple. However, the bulgur was replaced with buckwheat popcorn and there was some other small surprise. But the result was wonderful. Lean and aromatic meat with an explosion of tastes and textures in the dish. Here we felt the real magic of Mira and Angel, who had changed and improved the initial menu in a way that made us remember this taste for the whole day.

Roasted duck leg, prepared on a moving train
Roasted duck leg, prepared on a moving train
Roasted duck leg, prepared on a moving train
Roasted duck leg, prepared on a moving train

A cake with emotion

How special could a cake be? Too special. The dessert was initially announced as Angel Food Cake with sour cherry jam, vanilla sauce and poached pears on the top. The dessert was paired with Melnik 64 dessert wine – a real dessert wine from 1964. While we enjoyed the dessert, Mira and Angel from MIAM shared a few notes about it.

The dessert of the royal brunch
The dessert of the royal brunch

They admitted that the initial idea of the cake was changed because they were unable to fine proper flour on the Bulgarian market. So the cake turned a bit different. But it was just a part of the emotion in the dish. The jam, the sauce and the pears, poached in white wine and herbs, were just phenomenal.

High tea and desserts

This had to be the fifth step of the menu, but for some reason the initial program was cut short by and hour and we had to enjoy our coffee in Italian style – really quickly, while saying goodbye to the organizers and our new friends.

Afternoon treats
Afternoon treats

Wines with history for a richer brunch

‘Why are you so enthusiastic to write about the wines?’ – I asked Maria. ‘Wine has more stories’, she replied.

There was nothing accidental in our royal brunch. The wines were also carefully selected, with a lot of symbolism, so that they are as close as possible to the story with the last Bulgarian monarch. Tsar Boris III was a fan of Old World wines and each one of the four wines we were served was in some way related to his era and this region.

Drinking Champagne at Lakatnik rail station in Bulgaria
Drinking Champagne at Lakatnik rail station in Bulgaria

Riesling from Germany

With the appetizer we were served Riesling Troken from Mosel, Dr. Loosen wine cellar, Germany. Why riesling? The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, from which tsar Boris III originates, is German. Riesling is one of the symbols of German vinegrowing and wineamaking and Mosel is a traditional region for riesling wines. Last but not least, Dr. Loosen is a winery with 200 years of history so it was probably famous during tsar Boris III’s time (ruled 1918 – 1943). The wine itself was one of the best white wines we have ever tasted – incredibly fresh and aromatic, with a little bit higher acidity, just as we like.

Chianti from Italy

The second wine, served with the main course, was Castiglioni Chianti from Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Tuscany, Italy. Chianti is a protected name of origin for wines made in the Chianti region in central Tuscany. The wine is mainly from Sangiovese with a small part of Merlot. We cannot deny that it was nice, light and aromatic. But we have to admit that, according to our taste, it was not the best pair of the duck leg. Somehow we expected this meal to be paired with fuller and matured wine.

Chianti from Italy at Lakatnik train station
Chianti from Italy at Lakatnik train station

Here is the story about this wine. The wife of Boris III, tsaritsa Giovanna, was Italian. She was daughter of Italian king Vittorio Emmanuele III. They married in Assisi in October 1930 and the wedding was attended by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. There is some deep political reason in the latter but we will not speak about it now. But Marchesi de Frescobaldi have been making wine for 700 years and during the times of Tsar Boris III they were certainly one of the most famous Italian wine cellars.

Real Champagne from Champagne, France

Many people are irregularly calling Champagne every sparkling wine. But let’s make it clear again. In the EU and many other countries it is legal to label Champagne only wines that have been produced in Champagne, France and are produced under the rules of the appellation. So this time we had the chance to enjoy real Champagne from Louis Roederer, another house with a long story, close to the last Bulgarian monarch. We had a refreshing toast outside at Lakatnik train station.

Drinking Champagne on the rails at Lakatnik train station was a really memorable experience
Drinking Champagne on the rails at Lakatnik train station was a really memorable experience

Melnik 64 – real Bulgarian dessert wine from 1964

The absolute wine attraction of the day was a Bulgarian dessert wine from Melnik varieties, vintage 1964, from Damianitsa winery. The story is extremely curious. During the socialist times, Damianitsa was one of the 6 large state-owned wineries. When it was privatised in 1998, the new owners discovered two forgotten 5-ton barrels with dessert wine from 1964. In one of the barrels was the Melnik wine, in the other – Muscat wine.

Tasting Melnik 64 wine in the train
Tasting Melnik 64 wine in the train

The information about these wines is limited. The barrels were somehow forgotten in one dark overground room with bad ventilation, a concrete roof and two outer brick walls. But is is obvious that the wines inside were created with a lot of attention to detail and were meant to be dessert wines. This is the reason they survived for so long. After the barrels were discovered, the wine was bottled without any firther processing with glass cap to preserve it.

It is incredible to touch wine with such amazing story. The wine itself is magnificent – with aroma and tastes of walnut jam, full and creating really royal feeling. One of the really priceless moments of that day.

Experiences are priceless

Experiences are everything in a journey. The opportunity to feel and live something different and unique, something that does not happen every day, is really a priceless experience.

Our team, the royal train and the rocks above Lakatnik train station, Bulgaria
Our team, the royal train and the rocks above Lakatnik train station, Bulgaria

When we started sharing photos from the trip on Instagram, many people from abroad asked us how to book a place to such event. Indeed, it is a really unique journey, attractive both for Bulgarians and visitors. We were only a bit sorry that it did not last longer and the program was cut short. But this is us – we always arrive first and leave last because we want to enjoy every moment to the maximum.

And despite this might sound as off-topic, at the end we want to thank to Diners Club Bulgaria. They are not among the organizers of the event but they helped us attend this amazing trip at the last moment.

View towards Gara Bov, Iskar river and the train line in the Iskar gorge
View towards Gara Bov, Iskar river and the train line in the Iskar gorge

The itinerary of the royal train was from Sofia to Lakatnik rail station. The route offers amazing views of the Iskar river gorge. Despite we did not have much time to watch through the window, I want to show you parts of the route. I don’t have a winter photo of this ares but spring there is amazing. The train passes by Gara Bov, from where is the photo.

We are very curious about the history of the Bulgarian royal family so when we learn and write something new, we place it in the section Bulgarian Royal Family.

Instagram Andrey Andreev PhotographyIn our Instagram account we share more photos and thoughts from our trips and daily life, so if you are curious, follow us there, too.

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