"The City In The Mountains" Top 5 Page for this destination Veliko Turnovo by johngayton

Veliko Turnovo Travel Guide: 279 reviews and 723 photos

First Impressions

Arriving by bus from Plovdiv I was surprised by how industrial the outskirts of the city were. I had expected a more scenic introduction. The scruffy south bus station too was more reminescent of a factory town than a tourist one.

As usual I'd packed my mental map of where my hotel was and, as usual for Bulgaria, I couldn't find a street sign to orientate myself. I reckoned that I should be on the main Hristo Botev road and so off I walked in what I guessed would be the direction of the centre.

The area around the bus station is part-residential, part-commercial and 100% concrete. The main road was under reconstruction and a new roundabout being built. In the fading light of the November evening the place was taking on an aura of gloomy depression. I reflected back to how bright and cheerful the main road in and out of Stara Zagora had been when we'd passed through an hour or so previously - and Stara Zagora IS an industrial town.

Never mind, I could see the lights brightening ahead at what I assumed was the city centre. I'd now been walking for about twenty minutes. My mental map told me my hotel shouldn't be far away but maybe my map had scaled itself optimistically. After another 5 minutes or so walking I was definitely in the city, there were now brightly-lit shops and restaurants instead of roadworks and grey concrete. Even brighter was the row of yellow taxis at the corner ahead.

I knew what was going to happen before I got in, but I did anyway. "Hotel Stambalov Molya." I instructed, trying to sound as Bulgarian as possible.

The driver replied something in Bulgarian which I didn't understand but assumed he was asking for an address. "Hotel Stambalov, ul Stefan Stambalov." I expanded.

He nodded, which isn't a good sign in Bulgaria, and asked something else. I got my pen and paper out, wrote it down in Cyrillic capitals and handed it to him.

More nods then he got out, holding my piece of paper as if it was a ransom note, and went to consult the driver of the cab behind. It's always worrying when the taxi driver doesn't know where your hotel is. I had visions of finding out that I was in the wrong town and that I'd end up being driven for hours in the dark looking for a Hotel Stambalov out in the middle of nowhere.

After his brief consultation the driver returned, this time shaking his head (a good sign), and off we went, joining the slow-moving city rush-hour traffic. He did the usual taxi stuff of changing lanes whenever a gap appeared but at least we were heading in the right direction.

The main street, Nazivimost, seemed to have traffic lights and pedestrian crossings every 10 metres and our journey was all stop-start. After about 10 minutes he pulled over and pointed to a forbidding-looking cast-iron doorway. Yep! This was my hotel, or should I say my "Koushta za Gosti Stambalov" as the signage proclaimed.

"Kolko?" I enquired, trying to read what it said on the impossible to read meter. I'm sure he said three but held up five fingers. Ach, I wasn't going to argue, even if the 10 minute ride had only taken us about half-a-mile At least I was here and so gave him the five. He made no motions towards giving me any change and so I wrote off whatever the odds were and left him to it.

Then It All Started To Look Up!

Despite the forbidding doorway my hotel turned out to be ideal. More of a "Guest House" than a hotel but the welcome was friendly as I completed the paperwork and paid in advance. The building had been recently restored (restored as opposed to renovated and my room managed the balance between traditional and modern with its pine flooring, elegant lighting and home-spun rugs. The WiFi worked, the aircon worked and despite it now being dark there was a spectacular view out from the balcony looking across the river to the lit-up Assens monument, City Art Gallery and the rather plush-looking Hotel Veliko Turnovo.

After freshening-up and checking emails it was definitely beer and a bite to eat time.

Heading back along the main street into downtown I passed several inviting bars and restaurants. But I was still in mehana-mode and kept walking, checking out the side streets that I passed. The tactic worked and I found a friendly little backstreet place about ten minutes away (not far from where I'd gotten my taxi!).

A nice simple meal in congenial company was enjoyed, along with a few beers. Then a short meander around the city as it began closing for the night before heading back to the hotel and doing similar.

The Historical Old Capital City

With only one morning here I was up and out early with no particular agenda. Breakfast was coffee and cigarettes at a nondescript cafe on the main street then off for a wander. This was the first time I'd seen the city proper in the daylight and it certainly looks much more attractive from within than without. A woman I'd had a chat with in the restaurant the night before had recommended visiting Gurko Street which turned out to be worth doing.

Gurko Street brought me down to the river which I followed for a mile or so until I ended up in somebody's yard with chickens clucking at my feet and a tethered dog straining at its rope whilst barking vociferously at me. My retreat brought me out to Tsaravets, the magnificent fortress of the 12th to 14th century Bulgarian Second Empire Kings.

Unfortunately I didn't have the time to visit this time round but it certainly looks impressive, as does its neighbour Trapezitsa on the other side of the river.

I did make time though for a visit to the Museum of "The Renaissance and the Constituent Assembly" where, despite most of the exhibits and labels being in Bulgarian, I managed to glean an idea of the role that Veliko Turnovo played in the National Revival.

Thus inspired by Renaissance history I paid brief homage to the city's Vasil Levski commemorative statue and then it was time for lunch. By now the sun was out and the weather unseasonably glorious. An al fresco salad and beer on the terrace of one of the city centre bars completed my morning's tour and then it was time to get the bus onwards to Varna.

Even though I was only here for such a short time, and that my first impressions weren't particularly stirring, I did enjoy my visit and have now added V Turnovo to my list of places worth a revisit - watch this page!

UPDATE Feb 2010 - A revisit has been made, this time for a couple of days, which was thoroughly enjoyed and so a few more tips will be added. This is the sort of place that really does grow on you and I reckon another revisit will just have to be done - summer next time tho'!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Interesting History
  • Cons:History In Bulgarian ;(
  • In a nutshell:Mountains and Revolutionaries!!
  • Last visit to Veliko Turnovo: Feb 2010
  • Intro Updated Sep 2, 2014
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Reviews (30)

Comments (9)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Sep 12, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    John, you've written a fascinating introduction to this place that I had never even heard of before. Also I like the mixture of summer and winter photos from your two visits.

    • johngayton's Profile Photo
      Sep 12, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      Hi Don. Thanks for the visit. Veliko is perfect Bulgaria with no pretences, unlike Sofia. I want an early summer visit next time when the leaves are green and the mountains are lush.

  • xaver's Profile Photo
    Nov 23, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    nice tips. Cities with a long history of rebelliousness like this make me definitly curious to visit.

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Nov 17, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    YOur experiences to find the hotel first time and trip to Tsarevets fortress was very interesting; just what travelers need to know what they are in for. The pictures a details comments are excellent

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    John, you really seem to be an expert on Bulgaria. Now I even know where the beef I ate in Sofia was from. I especially like your practical transportation tips. Well done.

  • Durfun's Profile Photo
    Feb 22, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Hey, Where's the pic of the 'vital ingredient' that made Hadji Mincho so memorable for you? ;)

  • Zvrlj's Profile Photo
    Jan 17, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    Excellent tip about Vasil Levski. Thank you for the history lesson. V

  • bijo69's Profile Photo
    Nov 29, 2009 at 4:25 AM

    Great page John!!! Makes me want to re-visit V. Turnovo.

  • Nov 25, 2009 at 11:33 AM

    Excellent job introducing Levski to VT - Cheers!!!

  • unaS's Profile Photo
    Nov 23, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    Good transportation tip. Concise and to the point.


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