Bulgaria, roses, perfumes and anything else…

Originally this was supposed to be, only and only about Bulgarian perfumes, by which I wanted to start a series of articles on perfumery in the former Eastern Bloc (yes, this IS supposed to be a teaser) but somehow it went its own way. One spends a few days in The Balkans and immediately takes different manners.

We decided on a trip by car to Bulgaria. Yes, it’s crazy. No, it doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it’s challenging. But in a family where both parents suffer more or less from fear of flying and where one half of the couple (me, but I didn’t want to reveal it right away) feels trapped if she can’t get out of the resort to look around, the drive is quite a practical alternative. (Okay, no, it’s not. It would be practical to go there by plane in two hours and rent a car on the spot and not travel there for two days, but that’s how we justify it).

Bulgaria has nice and relatively well-kept roads, tastefully decorated with traffic signs. They even frequently make sense and also, the signposts are in most cases in both the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabets, which is especially convenient for tourists because even if you know the script, to study something like Панагюрище in the middle of the highway requires to stop, dig out the eyeglasses from the handbag and squeeze your brain, already shaken by the road anyway.

The only thing missing in the system of traffic signs is that they probably forgot to inform the local drivers about the meaning of those signs, who obviously consider them as something like point of gaze on top of a drawer chest – it just belongs there, but it doesn’t require much attention. But this is not just a matter for Bulgaria, the same applies to a journey through Serbia – it tells you are in the Balkans better than GPS (I consider myself an expert in the Balkans driving from the moment we once got to a narrow one-way street on the the Vir, the Croatian island, where a car was stopped in the opposite direction in the middle of the road, completely blocking it, the driver standing next to the car, leaning against the door and debating with a neighbor. He said to us – “here no Europe, here the Balkans!” and continued the debate with his neighbor without paying any additional attention to us. So yes, now I know! And the expert is the one who knows, right? Well, for these reasons, the roadside is studded by the number of signs of traffic accidents and remnants of broken cars, which has an educational benefit on “why the rules need to be followed” theme, especially on the way back when children are in a revolutionary mood “why you force us to follow the rules no one else observes anyway and it still works here somehow? ”

Another thing that caught my interest already in Serbia and later in full in Bulgaria – especially in rural areas – is the number of unplastered houses. Many were relatively large houses, where it didn’t seem the builder had to save some money and many didn’t even look really fresh built, so I would really be interested in what is the cause (for the case – small, but what if – this is read by someone local – if it’s a matter of style, then , people, I don’t want to talk to you about it, it surely is a matter of taste, but it doesn’t look like Cambridge, really it does not!).

In any case, once you reach the coast, everything becomes completely standard, tourist resorts at European level, the only thing that will point you to where you are is that the hotel’s animation plan has once a week a “Bulgarian evening” instead of “Greek” or “Italian”…. Perhaps the only thing that was a bit unusual was looking for a tourist guide (I mean a book), which I usually buy on the spot because tourist shops are always full of them, everywhere available for a few bucks. It was a problem here, and when I finally found them, the choice was small – one small which was so pathetic I could write one just by looking at the map on my knees, or another rather overpriced, but – in my opinion completely unnecessary – with attached DVD. So I gritted my teeth and bought the second one. The DVD had a miraculous effect. I have never managed to maintain such a discipline in the younger half of the expedition as the sentence “if you don’t behave, you go straight to your room and there you will be forced to watch the DVD about Bulgarian landmarks!” I really consider I will place it in some well-visible place at home.

On the way home, we planned to visit the Valley of the Roses. For a long time I hesitated between Karlovo – which is still a major center of production – and Kazanlak, finally the Kazanlak won because it is a historical place and also, you can see something from the history of Thrace and since the girl insisted that she wanted to see some historical monuments, so it was decided.

In ancient times, this part of Bulgaria was inhabited by Thracians and beautifully preserved, unique excavations of the whole city were left behind. So, of course, they have been carefully restored and protected like an eye in the head. I’m kidding, of course. They flooded them with a dam, really. I contemplated for a while if it is better to flood the Thracian city with a dam, or to bulldozer a Celtic city into garages (do you hear, Bratislava, my hometown, my beloved city?) but somehow I didn’t come up with anything, so I was looking for what can still be seen. It turned out that a tomb has been preserved in Kazanlak, which can be seen, actually the original tomb can be seen from the outside, and since presence of tourists was harming for the the interior, a copy of the interior was built right next to it, which can be seen. So lets jump into it.

On the way to Kazanlak, I was eagerly looking for where the large rose fields start, but well, we didn’t see any. They are probably deeper in the mountains. Or not. After we visited one nature reserve a few days before, which was famous for protected water lilies and the place was nice, it just lacked any water lilies (I tried to say optimistically that maybe it’s not just the season when they bloom, while my children pointed out that if I haven’t noticed it yet, the water lilies, even if they don’t bloom, at least have leaves…), I can’t judge. But the Kazanlak was there.

Thracian tomb in Kazanlak. Image source wikivoyage.org

So lets get to it. The gentlemen, for whom both roses and old Thracians could have been completely and deeply stolen, and also the smaller one declared a tummy ache, were left in the park and we went. I wanted to visit the Thracian tomb first, so that I have peace on the roses, so we climbed to it, with a little concern, because we no longer had any Leva (Bulgarian currency), hoping that it will be possible to pay by a card or in Euros. It didn’t work. Definitely not with a card, and on Euros, with which I somehow tried to indicate that I would not insist on an official exchange rate, the lady announced to me with her own English: “Bulgaria ONLY Leva!” So I dragged my shaking by laughs and puberty stricken daughter away from the tomb to try at least the Museum of roses. I tried the same thing there, but the elderly gentleman at the cash register made it clear to me that neither in English, nor in German, nor in Italian, that if I wanted to deal with him in a language other than in Bulgarian, I might try Russian. So I dusted off my Russian language brain threads unused for decades, trying to put together a sentence, while the gentleman (knowing very well what I want to ask), helped me intensively and kindly to verbalize the question just so that he could finally and triumphantly answer it with “Nyet!!!” (“No”). But at least he advised me where to go to exchange currency. I decided to leave the adolescent there because she was already in a state that she had trouble breathing due to laughter and went to the money exchange alone. She was behind me in a quarter of a minute, determined not to miss anything like that. To her great disappointment, however, the money exchange was standard and we were able to return to the museum. There were mainly the expected exhibits, vials, distillation apparatus, old ledgers, photos of old merchants with rose attar. In addition, the young lady was fascinated by the distillation columns and, for some incomprehensible reason, the old accounting desk. It is allowed to take photos for a fee-only, the fee is nominal, but I forgot to obtain the permission it in the whole process and after the previous experience I refused to try to solve it, so we decided to take a good look at things instead. We finally took a picture at a rosary in the park next to the museum.

I exchanged enough money so that we could return to the Thracian tomb, but since my teenage child resolutely declared that there would be no such thing because it would be the same as admitting defeat, the young man’s abdominal pain did not go away even after a walk in the park, I already stocked rose souvenirs earlier in the trip, with the proviso to buy only a pure rose oil if possible (and that roses are used to make almost anything, besides perfumes and cosmetics, like a rose jam, rose syrup, rose extract, rose tea, liqueur, sweets, loukhum… I just did not find any rose honey anywhere, which is strange, because Bulgarians produce a lot of various kinds of honey, from which I concluded that either the bees do not like roses, or that the roses are picked before bees could reach them), and I already had enough of the whole of Kazanlak, so I sent the rest of the Leva for a book about roses in the museum and we left.

And finally something about roses

Already during the Thracian times, roses were grown in the valley. During the reign of King Amadocus (389-356 BC), it was even depicted on coins. Thracians are known to have grown up to 12 species of roses and were considered the most fragrant in the ancient world.

After the rise of Christianity as the state religion in the Roman Empire (of which the Thracians have become a part) the cultivation of roses gradually declined, until it finally disappeared – since various pagan rituals were associated with roses, roses understandably went away with them. But during the Middle Ages, the popularity of roses began to grow again, especially in France, where it became one of the symbols of the Virgin Mary. Along with the crusades, the Damascus rose arrived in Europe, which grew best in today’s Valley of the Roses, and the tradition of growing it has been restored. The rose is harvested here from mid-May to the end of June. Approximately in the middle of the harvest period, the “Rose Festival” has been taking place here since 1903 in early June. In Bulgaria, mostly Damascus roses are still grown today, the name “rose Otto” is not the name of a variety of rose, but rose oil obtained from it. The name is derived from the word Attar. Production began in Bulgaria in 1680, when technology was imported from the Ottoman Empire. In addition to rose oil, rose water, which also began to be produced after the invention of distillation, is an important product. The first factories were built near watercourses, due to the availability of water. Rose attar and rose water were exported to the whole Europe, today to the whole world.


image source www.senderismoeuropa.com

I have not yet figured out when production of perfumes and cosmetics themselves started in Bulgaria in addition to the basic ingredients. Probably somehow gradually. (Yes, this sentence has an extremely deep informative value, I am aware of it :-D.)

In stores (and later searching on the net) we gradually came across the following contemporary Bulgarian perfume brands: Vital Cosmetics, Fine perfumery, Aroma Essence, Rosa Invest Kapital, Lema, Refan (here it is interesting that while in Slovakia the Refan brand is synonymous with faked perfumes , in Bulgaria it sells normal, original cosmetics and perfumes based on roses), Melitis, Nature of Agiva, Bulgarian Rosa – Karlovo, Biofresh, Alba Grups Ltd., Damascena Ltd., Bulfresh, Priz. There will probably be more, I will gradually add them to the database.

As far as I could, I tried or bought a sample. The problem is that mostly:

– No testers are available.

– If testers are available, they are either empty or broken.

– Even if there are testers that are neither empty nor broken, there are definitely not testing strips (in fact, we came across test papers in a single perfumery in Nessebar, which consisted of a cardboard box from some cosmetics or perfume cut into tiny squares).

So here are some insights about the scents we managed to try:

Aroma Essence

Sense of Nature – Rose (red) – a very pleasant rose, as “easy” as a bouquet of tea roses with petals and greenery, but not heavy, oily, or intrusive. Later, a very fine and unobtrusive, almost unsweetened little vanilla with musk is added, which gives the whole a little gentle touch.

Sense of Nature – Rose (white)- white rose with light green tones, with a slightly fruity touch, basically something on the theme of “White Rose” by Floris

Sense of Nature – Rose (pink)- a pure delicate garden rose, as alive

Musk – a delicately sweet powder scent with a pink accent, something very familiar

Roza – pure Bulgarian slightly oily rose, in a decent dilution.

White Rose – delicate scent of white rose

Rose Man – some herbs, quite typical, classic men’s scent, a bit old school, a gentle breath of rose in the background.

Pleasure Rose – a natural rose with something sweeter, I suspect a peony

Mademoiselle Rose – really nothing much from the beginning. Weak miserable, unclear, cheap-looking. Later, it settles into a quite bearable, not too sweet, light rose scent with a slightly powder-cream base. It stays close to the body. It’s not the same, but it’s not a disaster either, for the price (in terms of about 2.5 € for 12ml) In fact, probably really best for a young lady (really very, very young lady 😀), a nice bottle a few change and smell cosmetic rather than perfume… so the young lady will feel more than freshly washed and creamed with rose cosmetics.

Image source www.aroma-essence.eu


Rose of Bulgaria Lady’s – a very faithful tea rose with a bit of greenery at the beginning, quite reminiscent of Tea Rose from Perfumer’s Workshop.

Rose of Bulgaria Kids – delicate, light, optimistic scent of fruity rose, without alcohol in a gel consistency. Excellent endurance.


Rose Perfume Essence – faint scent of delicate roses with greenery and a bit of musk. Not bothering, but really very weak.

Nature of Agiva

Roses – first weird, alcohol with rose oil, then when it settles down, quite heavy, oily, in warm weather a little uncomfortable, later it evolves into a pleasant, slightly waxy heavier rose, not unlike Lyric EdP (so I didn’t want to compare the quality, rather the overall tone and atmosphere of the scent, even though the quality is bearable here, so for the price). It lasts a long time, waxiness is leaving sooner than the rose aroma, which is definitely pleasant. I probably wouldn’t wear it, but as a heavier rose soliflor bearable. A bit boring, but for example, in my opinion, an ideal material for layering.

Bulgarian Rosa Karlovo

Lady’s Joy Melody – an indefinite start at first, from which something like a heavier oily rose really peels out. Unfortunately, an exotic animal (no, I’m not an expert on the Bulgarian fauna) gets attached to it and persistently refuses to leave, even though someone has gained courage and is trying to drive him away by throwing loukhum cubes. With the help of a candy trigger, the rose later breaks through its odeur, but the result is still relatively poor. It is possible that admirers of oriental scents would see it all differently, but it is not my style. Definitely not.

Rosa Invest Kapital

Perfume from Bulgaria – a very clear and distinctive scent of rose oil. Unbelievable endurance, it even survived a shower and swimming in the sea.

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