A weekend in Southern Bulgaria – Chirpan and the oldest monastery in Europe


Duration: one weekend

Distance: 410km

Accessibility: car recommended

This is a trip that will take you to the Southern part of Bulgaria, it can be done within a short weekend, but if you like to spend some more time on the road, you can easily combine it with a short detour to Plovdiv and/or the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon.

Day one: Chirpan. Distance from Sofia ca. 190km

Chirpan is a small town in the southern part of Bulgaria famous for the knives produced there (according to a saying, there is no Chirpan man walking around without a knife) and as the birth place of Bulgaria’s most brilliant poet Peyo Yavorov. A must see in Chirpan is his family’s house where he was born, a very neat small museum with a guide who will blow your mind with his interesting lecture on Yavorov’s life.

We were mesmerized by his stories and did not get bored even for a second by the talk, even though it lasted almost an hour. You could tell that the guide is a passionate Yavorov fan.

Right behind the museum there is another sight to visit – the town art gallery Nikola Manev. The gallery has an interesting story – it was bought in 2010 by another famous Chirpan citizen – the artist Nikola Manev who is a successful painter in Paris, France. He purchased the house which was built more than 150 years ago, restored it, displayed some  of his own artworks in it and donated it to the town of Chirpan – a patriotic act of a kind that happens all too rarely nowadays in Bulgaria.

There is also an impressive crystal collection in the gallery, donated by a friend of Manev’s – Iliya Delev, who made his fortune from crystal mines in Brazil.

After we walked around the yard of both Yavorov’s house and the art gallery full of wonderful flowers and friendly cats, we went on to explore a bit more of the town. We ended up in the yard of a pretty old church. Opening the door rang a bell prompting the pastor to come out, sell us some candles and let us in the church.

The downtown is not very impressive, but still neat. There is a couple of nice restaurants which offer a good and cheap meal. Later we heard from some locals, though, that we missed the opportunity to take a stroll around the town park which is supposed to be really nice.

Day two: St. Atanasiy monastery. Distance from Chirpan ca. 12km

Many legends surround the St. Atanasiy monastery which is situated in the village of Zlatna livada in Chirpan’s proximity. It truly is a magical place being the oldest monastery in Europe – founded in 344 AD. Apparently St. Atanasiy felt the special energy of the place when passing through it, and spent some time living in the rocks surrounding the place in a state of Christian meditation.

The water springing from a well in the monastery yard is said to have healing powers, many believers from all over Bulgaria come here to cure all kinds of ailments. Another legend about monastery has to do with the communist regime. They turned the holy house into a cowshed, but then St. Atanasiy appeared in a dream of the local party head and told him to restore the monastery. He must have been pretty convincing because the cows were removed the very next day 🙂

Right behind the monastery runs an ancient Roman road.. well, you’d have to believe it’s that, because it looks like a pretty regular path to me 🙂 see pic above. Also, you could go and visit the little cave where the saint used to live. There is a saying that if you can get through the whole in the cave, you have no sins.

After the visit there I suggest driving back to Sofia, because the villages around the monastery don’t offer any restaurants unfortunately. You could stop by Chirpan or detour to Plovdiv on the way to Sofia for lunch.

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