Kalofer, Bulgaria: A Story of Life, Lavender, & Lace

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Arriving in what was to be our home away from home in rural Bulgaria, we knew not a soul. But by the time we left Kalofer, a tiny town tucked away in Central Bulgaria, where the livestock population quite possibly outnumbers the number of humans living there, an impromptu farewell committee was wishing us adieu.

As we rolled our bags out of town, over Kalofer’s bumpy roads spotted with droppings from the village’s numerous goat, cow, and horse residents, locals whom we’d not yet met popped their heads out over their fences exclaiming the equivalent of Bon voyage in Bulgarian.

They waved goodbye, flashed wide smiles, and head bobbles that we’d determined to be customary in the region – gestures that are reminiscent of those we encountered in India.

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The Snowflake-Like Lace of Kalofer, Bulgaria

Kalofer Lace Bulgaria

In the shadows of the Balkan Mountains in Central Bulgaria, residents in the village of Kalofer have been making lace for more than one hundred years. The artisans initially drew inspiration from traditional Belgian patterns, but over time they developed their own designs, evoking images of ephemeral snowflakes, and silk-like spiderwebs. In Bulgarian, the lace is known as Калоферска Дантела (Kaloferska Dantela).

Today, artisans of all ages painstakingly craft the delicate masterpieces, transforming thread into pieces that depict swans, flowers, peacocks, and even amoeba-shaped flourishes destined for women’s dresses.

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A Lesson in Making Yogurt in Kalofer, Bulgaria

One of our favorite aspects of Bulgaria’s tasty cuisine is its yogurt, which is appreciated worldwide due to its health benefits and creamy texture. In Kalofer, a village nestled in the mountains of central Bulgaria, our wonderful hosts, Tony and Stefan, taught us how to make yogurt (Кисело мляко, or kiselo mlyako). The couple’s infant son, Iliya, also lent enthusiasm, in this sleepy town where it’s not uncommon to see sheep, goats, and cows freely grazing among the half-timbered brick barns and wildflowers.

It’s believed that the people of the Balkans have been making yogurt for more than three millennia. Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, the bacteria responsible for making Bulgaria’s prized yogurt, is appreciated as far away as Japan and China. Bulgarian yogurt dominates about 60% of the Japanese market and many believe that the yogurt is rich in probiotics (good bacteria), which aid in digestion.

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