While visiting Pamporovo recently we decided to take the short drive (15km) to the town of Shiroka Laka. Situated in the Rhodope Mountains in the Smoylan region, this town has been around since the 17th Century. What got my attention first was the name, Shiroka Laka, purely because I loved how it’s pronounced in Bulgarian, (more like shiroka woka). Every time I heard it mentioned it reminded me of some kind of song title, which is interesting because actually this town is famous for its music school (National School of Folk Arts) established in 1972. There have also been many popular performers of Rhodope folklore songs born in Shiroka Laka. And, perhaps even more amazing, the mythical singer, Orpheus, was said to be born in the Rhodope Mountains in the nearby village of Gela. It seems that this historical town has music flowing through it alongside the river and what’s more, it’s so beautiful.
The town has preserved its buildings since the 1800’s and it’s another great example of the incredible history of Bulgaria. We explored the steep cobbled stone streets and peered into the gardens and windows of the old houses that we passed. The whole town can be described as a museum but you will also find the Ethnographic Museum which is a wonderful way to learn more about the 19th century way of life. The town also holds an annual mummery festival on the first Sunday in March, where men dress up in costumes and dance to chase away evil spirits. This is just like the Kukeri festival in Pernik that we visited recently.
We took the drive further up the mountain to the village of Gela and found the remains of a Byzantine Church from the 5th-6th Century. The area was very peaceful and the views were stunning. It wasn’t easy to reach with some icy roads and snow covered paths but it was worth it when we reached the top. There were also signs for some Thracian remains which I really wanted to explore but it was a further 5kms and the roads were just too icy to manage. I’ll have to go back in the spring or summer to explore the region further!
If you are in the skiing in the area I urge you to take the short trip to Shiroka Laka and see some typical Bulgarian history. There are some lovely little hotels and restaurants in the town so you can stop for lunch or even for a night or two if you want to really experience the fresh air and relaxed atmosphere.