Megalithic borderlands: 6 reasons to visit Sredets

Sredets municipality is situated between the Burgas Lakes region of coastal wetlands and the northern parts of Strandzha, the vast area of hilly woodlands extending on either side of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. With its Roman heritage, dozens of prehistoric megaliths, sunny climate and unspoiled Balkan nature, this wild corner of southeastern Bulgaria is waiting to be explored!

From “dragon houses” and sacred boulders dating back to prehistory to 20th-century Cold War memories, kashkaval tourist presents 6 reasons to visit Sredets municipality and its megalithic borderlands!

1. Ave Caesar: explore the Roman colony of Deultum

Ave Caesar: explore the Roman colony of Deultum

Ave Caesar: explore the Roman colony of Deultum

Founded by Emperor Vespasian in the 1st century AD as Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium, today Deultum is an extensive archaeological site with a museum. As a Roman colony with Black Sea access via the once-navigable Lake Mandra, ancient Deultum prospered for centuries. It traded precious local Strandzha oak timber for other goods from the Mediterranean world, minted its own coinage, welcomed Roman emperors and honoured imperial customs. In the Middle Ages, Deultum marked the border between the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empire as the Burgas Lakes region often changed hands between the two.

Along with other Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian artefacts, the Museum of Deultum features a rare bronze head of Emperor Septimius Severus. Outside, near the village of Debelt (Дебелт), the ruins of the ancient colony are in part still being excavated and researched, so you can get a first-hand impression of the archaeological team’s work!

2. Dragon houses: step into ancient dolmens on a jeep safari

Dragon houses: step into ancient dolmens on a jeep safari

Dragon houses: step into ancient dolmens on a jeep safari

You have to delve deep into the forested foothills of Strandzha to uncover Sredets municipality’s best-kept secret: the prehistoric dolmens, or megalithic portal tombs. Rather poetically, Bulgarian folklore interprets these Iron Age tombs as “dragon houses”. Supposedly, they’re the homes of shapeshifting dragons who, transformed into handsome young men, would lure local maidens to their dens.

There are dozens of dolmens in western Strandzha, though most of them are extremely remote and barely accessible. Some of the best preserved “dragon houses” can be found near the border villages of Belevren, Granichar, Kirоvo and Dolno Yabalkovo. The dolmen in the Korubata area between Belevren and Kirovo is one of the most remarkable and easiest to access (it’s just off the asphalted village road). However, a sturdy four-wheel drive, a local guide and an adventurous spirit are well recommended in any case.

3. Massive megalith: discover the prehistoric sanctuary of Marko’s Rock

Massive megalith: discover the prehistoric sanctuary of Marko’s Rock

Massive megalith: discover the prehistoric sanctuary of Marko’s Rock

Sredets’ prehistoric megaliths don’t just come in the shape of dolmens, though. Indeed, the most famous of them all might be Marko’s Rock near Dolno Yabalkovo. A giant solitary boulder balanced upon two other rocks with an opening underneath, Marko’s Rock (Марков камък, Markov kamak) is in fact an Iron Age sanctuary associated with Sun worship. It’s more than eight metres high and when you reach the top via a ladder, you’ll find two shallow holes that collect reputedly medicinal rainwater.

In more recent myths and legends, Marko’s Rock has come to be associated with the folk hero Krali Marko, a giant of superhuman strength and a defender of the local population from the Ottoman Turks. To Krali Marko, this enormous megalith was just a pebble that he threw behind his back as he was walking to Istanbul.

4. Horn of plenty: taste the local cuisine of Strandzha

Horn of plenty: taste the local cuisine of Strandzha

Horn of plenty: taste the local cuisine of Strandzha

Western Strandzha, which covers Sredets municipality, is a sparsely-populated region of unspoilt woodlands and complete with a century-old culinary tradition. In simple terms, this means: sun-kissed homegrown fruits and veggies, authentic Bulgarian-style white brine goat cheese and, if you’re lucky, even a wild boar from local hunters on the table!

The best-known gourmet food of Strandzha might be the strandzhansko dyado (странджанско дядо), or “Strandzha grandpa”, a dried pork sausage flavoured with classic Bulgarian spices like summer savory, paprika and black pepper, and fed into a pork belly casing. And when in Sredets, don’t miss the local banitsa pastry called zelnik (зелник)!

5. Triangle of Death: learn about Warsaw Pact military heritage

Triangle of Death: learn about Warsaw Pact military heritage

Triangle of Death: learn about Warsaw Pact military heritage

At the height of the Cold War, Bulgaria was a staunch Soviet ally and a loyal member of the Eastern Bloc and the Warsaw Pact. So from the 1950s to the late 1980s, Sredets was a major military outpost on the border with Turkey, which Bulgaria saw as a hostile NATO member. Oh, how times have changed!

The compulsory military service in communist Bulgaria was long and hard anyway, but few assignments were worse than being dispatched to the border guard in the “Triangle of Death” of Elhovo, Grudovo (modern Sredets) and Zvezdets. The surprisingly inventive and well-designed museum collection in Sredets tells the story of the thousands of soldiers and officers who served in the area through authentic exhibits of Bulgarian People’s Army life.

6. Dark skies and rolling hills: relax in Golyamo Bukovo

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Dark skies and rolling hills: relax in Golyamo Bukovo

Dark skies and rolling hills: relax in Golyamo Bukovo

After a busy day of adventuring in these megalithic borderlands, there’s nothing better than chilling out among nature, right? Well, that’s exactly what the holiday village in Golyamo Bukovo offers! A spacious complex of cottages around an artificial lake, Village Bukovo is set among the hills of Strandzha, in a natural area far away from city noise and light pollution.

The complex’s decoration of Roman legionary statues and a wild cat driving a flowery Trabant might be whimsical and a bit kitschy, but the deer, hares, swans and pheasants that you’re sure to meet within the holiday village are an absolute delight!­ The cottages are comfortable, clean and new, just perfect for a quiet night in starry Strandzha.

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