Like an invisible canopy, the scent extends across the fields. Every time a gentle breeze rattles the open buds, the wind carries a delicate array of aromas past the village and down into the valley. The scent is clean and fine, but still has a sumptuous and sweet effect like honey. It is delicate, but of an almost overwhelming intensity. This smell is so extraordinary that even experts lack vocabulary to describe it. And at the same time so seductive that it almost takes your breath away: If you breathe deeply and inhale the scent through your nose, you can see the roses even with your eyes closed.
In the early morning hours, only the fields on the hills of the village of Kalofer are shrouded in aromas. Later, it looks like the scent of flowers can be scented in every corner of the valley, as if the whole landscape has been sprayed with the seductive sweet perfume. To make matters worse, there is also a dose of opium for the eye. The bright pink of the many millions of pink flowers flashes through the lush green of the bushes that stand in rows.
on the way
Bulgaria Air (www.air.bg) and Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com) fly non-stop from Frankfurt to Sofia. To Kasanlak in Rosental you can rent a car (approx. 200 kilometers and three hours drive, price comparison at www.reise-preise.de).
A charming guest house with homemade food is the Iliikova Guest House in Kalofer (double rooms with breakfast from 25 euros, www.iliikova-kashta.com). A centrally located accommodation in Kazanlak is the Roza Hotel (double room with breakfast from 50 euros, www.hotelrozabg.com). Pools and spa treatments are available at Pavel Banya’s hot springs at the Balneo Hotel DianaMar (double rooms with breakfast from 90 euros, www.dianamar.eu).
The study tour “Monasteries, Mountains and Sea” by Studiosus leads to Rosesdalen (ten days incl. Flight from 1895 euros per person, www.studiosus.com). The specialist Ekaterina El Batal has completely dedicated herself to flowers (nine days from / to Sofia from 1290 euros per person, www.rosenreise.de).
The damask rose blooms until mid-June. In many villages there is public harvest. The first weekend in June, Kazanlak celebrates a Rose Festival (www.rosefestivalkazanlak.com). In the city park there is a fragrant rose museum (www.muzei-kazanlak.org). A visit to Enio Bonchev’s historic distillery is exciting (by appointment only, www.eniobonchev.com).
One kilo of rose oil costs more than 10,000 euros
As soon as the first rays of the sun flash over the Balkan mountains, bees and rose petals swarm forth and sparkle as green as if they were flying emeralds. Many people are already on their feet. Like Nikolina Baneva, her brother Stoil Bachkarov and a handful of harvest workers. From mid-May, the well-established team spends almost four weeks on their small field on the outskirts of the village of Kalofer, morning after morning. Kalofer is a nest forgotten by world events in the middle of Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU. And yet it hides a valuable treasure: one that you can breathe in and that smells so breathtaking that perfumers from all over the world shout for it.
Each rose bush has countless buds that unfold at dawn. Every day, the field turns into a sea of pink little flowers for a whole month. But the pickers do not have time to enjoy the natural sight. “It’s a race against time,” says Nikolina, who will only allow herself a coffee break when the many dozens of sacks of cut flowers are on their way to the distillery in the van. Because the essential oils in the rose petals evaporate with increasing temperatures, speed is required at harvest. If you do not wear solid gloves, you will get bloody fingers. Stoil shows how the harvest can still be done quickly.
He snaps the flowers off with his thumb and forefinger parallel to both hands. The apron he has tied around his waist weighs three kilos. The essence of it is just a few grams of essential oil. But that’s what it’s all about.
Where the Balkan Mountains and the Sredna Gora mountain range approach a few kilometers, lies the approximately 80 kilometer long “Valley of the Roses”. A mild climate, protected from the wind, lots of rain in the winter, lots of sun in the spring: The damask rose has thrived here for hundreds of years. Even the Romans knew that their scent was suitable for relaxation.
Most of the production is purchased by leading perfume manufacturers: Damascus rose oil is the basis for the finest fragrances in the world. Other stems may have longer stems and larger brightly colored petals. “But the Damask rose smells cleaner and more intense than the other varieties. Their flowers are small, but contain several fragrance molecules, ”explains Alexander Draganov. The fragrance specialist has a good reputation in the industry because it paid suppliers fairly and was one of the first to use organic farming.
Employees pour 3,000 kilos of flowers into the boilers to get a single kilo of rose oil at the end. The noble product goes straight into the safe: on the world market, a kilo costs more than 10,000 euros. No wonder people often counterfeit, using cheap geranium oil or wild rose oil squeezed from rose hips. A cheaper souvenir for visitors is the rose water from pickled flower petals. But you do not buy it at the souvenir stand either, but in the distillery.
“Having rose water in your purse can do wonders. When I spray it in the subway, even the most stubborn people have a smile on their face,” smiles Ekaterina El Batal. The Bulgarian, who lives in Germany, arranges trips to his old homeland, where it’s all about the roses. The participants help with the picking and process the harvest into jams and essences. Above all, there is plenty of time to make the scent seem magical. “Trying to describe the magic of the rose in words is just that: an experiment,” ponders Ekaterina El Batal. “You must experience their magic.”