It’s kind of hard to believe that a place like Melnik, a town in southern Bulgaria, exists. It’s not because it is officially the smallest town in the country with just under 400 residents. It’s not because it is home to a huge collection of preserved Ottoman houses, protected as cultural monuments. Nor is it for the region’s niche and burgeoning wineries that produce highly sweet and fruity wines. Finally, it’s not for the remarkable geological formations that run throughout the region, creatively known as Sand Pyramids. No, it’s because all of this can be found in a tiny town that most have never heard of.
Tucked away in the lower reaches of the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria’s south, Melnik lies simply waiting for tourists to discover it. While it is officially distinguished as a town, it really is a village in both size and atmosphere. Historically known as a wine-making region as far back as 1346, the town was vastly larger. A vicious fire and the removal of Greek residents in the early 20th century resulted in the town’s decline. Today it is a humble town whose winemaking industry is starting to rebuild and whose architecture and geography are beginning to draw some tourists.
A single main road runs up through the town, passing between the charmingly quaint Ottoman houses that line it. The road is divided by a dry and sandy river bed that must have flown once but seems dead today. Further down the valley is a still-running creek that flows, with some exceptionally old bridges crossing it. Off the town’s main road are some small cobbled lanes that branch off up the valley sides. The town appears to still be in a state of repair, with some houses falling apart and others under repair. You really do feel like you’re in a rural village in the countryside away from the world.
If you continue to walk up through town you reach a path leading to a small hill where several ruins lie. The first of which is that of a stone church, lying beneath the well-preserved Kordopulou House. As you work your way up the hillside, you start to get some nice views over the other houses. Further up the hill you are also granted better views of the Sand Pyramids that surround the town. I’ll explain them a little further on, but for now know that they’re some pretty awesome and unusual geological features. The best spot on the hill though is directly above the stone ruins of an old fortress, where you are able to see most of town and how it sits within the valley. It’s also a fantastic place to watch the sun set.
To me, the real highlight of visiting Melnik is the Sand Pyramids. Throughout the wider area around the town are these fascinating sandstone formations. Essentially they are jagged or rippled sandstone hills and cliffs that break free of the forest canopy and often look quite similar to the actual pyramids. Because Melnik is situated almost in the Pirin Mountains, the terrain is quite hilly and so you find plenty of these pyramids in all shapes and sizes. In my opinion, the best way to see them is to leave town and explore some of its immediate surrounds.
The best place to appreciate the sand pyramids, particularly up close, is the from the ridge line towards Rozhen Monastery. From here you can look out over the entire region and you can see the pale white peaks of the pyramids emerging from the forest canopy. Also, because you’re standing on one of pyramids you’re able to see the details of the rock formations and how truly jagged they are. In the opposite direction to Melnik, you’re able to look off into the Pirin Mountains proper.
So there you have it. The town of Melnik in Southern Bulgaria and its unique landscapes that are bound to fascinate you. To read about my hike through the sand pyramids of Melnik to Rozhen Monastery, have a look here.
Have you visited a place with a truly unique and remarkable landscape? Did this article make somewhere spring to mind? Please share in the comments below.