Gela, Bulgaria

Photo: Villa Gella
Photo: Villa Gella

It’s your turn. You have to come up with the perfect vacation. But you aren’t looking for a romantic getaway or a place full of family friendly activities. That would be easy. This trip is for a group of adults with very different interests. Every few years, you and your friends meet to catch up, tell old stories, and feel young again. You’ve gone on ski trips, explored wine regions, and relaxed at a lot of all-inclusive resorts. This year, you want to shake things up a bit.

So you suggest Bulgaria. The country in Southeastern Europe is known for its ancient ruins, Black Sea beaches, and traditional villages. Your eye is on the beautiful Rhodope Mountains, though. Southern Bulgaria is known for having lots of snow and a long ski season. Pamporovo is one of the southernmost ski resorts in Europe. And now that the snow has melted, it’s a hiker’s paradise.

Villa Gella is your home base for the week. The hillside villa overlooks the red roofs of the rural village of Gela. Pine-filled forests are in the distance. The white building may look traditional, but the interior is completely modern and comfortable. Neutral couches, lots of throw pillows, and a wood-burning fireplace welcome you into the living room. The dining table, which perfectly seats 10 people, stands in front of tall windows and the terrace. While the bedrooms have more fireplaces, wooden furniture, and crisp white linens.

Photo: Villa Gella
Photo: Villa Gella

As this year’s vacation planner, you get first choice of the bedrooms. You opt for the Wooden Room, which has a four-poster bed and a view of the orchard. After settling in, relax on lounge chairs on the lawn or retreat to the spa. There’s a small pool, a hammam, and a jacuzzi on the lower level. By the time everyone else has unpacked and toured the property, it’s almost dinnertime. A Bulgarian feast of cold tarator soup, salad with white brine cheese, grilled sausages, and stuffed peppers covers the table. Your glass is never empty as heavy red wine and, eventually, rakija are passed around. Plus lots of sweets—including baklava, fruit bread, and yogurt drizzled with honey—will tempt you to indulge more than you allow yourself at home.

After such a filling meal, everyone is ready to head outside in the morning. The unspoiled forest is filled with lakes, waterfalls, and rivers flowing with melted glacial ice. Wildflowers are starting to grow around budding trees. Well-maintained trails pass through deep gorges and around wide caves.

As you hike, see the bridges. Chudnite Mostove (the Wonderful Bridges) are two natural rocky bridges created by erosion, and the arched Devil’s Bridge was built more than 500 years ago. Explore the caves: Yagodina, Uhlovitsa, or Snezhanka. Visit Bachkovo Monastery, the second-largest monastery in Bulgaria. Check out the Thracian tombs and sanctuaries. See vultures, wolves, and, possibly, a bear along the way. Then climb Mount Snejanka, the highest peak in the Rhodope Mountains, for a view all the way to Greece and the Aegean Sea on this clear day. You might even be looking at your next destination—as long as your friends agree, of course.

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