Tryavna, located bang in the middle of Bulgaria, is a historic little town perfect for a long weekend getaway in every season. Boasting Bulgaria’s best-preserved (and most instagrammable) town square from the Revival period, a strong woodworking and icon-painting tradition and delightful natural surroundings, Tryavna is classic Bulgaria in a nutshell.
The town lies in the valley of the Tryavna River, surrounded by forested ridges of the middle Balkan Mountains just northeast of the heroic Shipka Pass. As a true Bulgarian heartland, Tryavna and the surrounding regions of Gabrovo and Dryanovo are a fitting introduction to the quintessential culture and nature of Bulgaria.
Be it exploring the Balkan outdoors or treating yourself to a tranquil spa holiday, kashkaval tourist presents 6 things to do around Tryavna, an enchanting corner of quintessential Bulgaria.
1. Discover the picturesque Bulgarian Revival town centre
It might be pint-sized, but Tryavna’s town centre is full of architectural grace from the Bulgarian Revival age (18th-19th century). As you step inside the old town via the Hunchbacked Bridge from 1845, you’ll be facing the gorgeous timber-framed clock tower from 1814. On the Captain Dyado Nikola Square, set the massive gate ajar to take a peek inside the quiet, monastery-like yard of the Old Tryavna School: this was one of Bulgaria’s earliest secular schools, dating to 1839. And don’t miss the stone Church of the Holy Archangel Michael at the edge of the square, built in its current from in 1819 in the unmistakable local architectural style.
Afterwards, savour the spirit of the Bulgarian Revival as you follow the rows of traditional white-painted slate-roof houses, stores and workshops on the Street of Handicrafts. You’ll end up right in front of the Museum of Woodcarving and Icon-painting, where you can sign up for a short woodcarving workshop.
And if you’d like to take the gorgeousness of Tryavna home or gift it to a loved one, then the Symbols of Tryavna jigsaw puzzle by my friends from Roden Puzzle is a great idea!
2. Eat and stay in peaceful comfort at Hotel Kalina Palace
Thanks to the four-star Hotel Kalina Palace, Tryavna can now call itself a spa destination in its own right. The spacious rooms in this contemporary hotel offers scenic views above the entire town (including the historic square) as well as numerous amenities for a relaxing, comfortable and carefree stay.
Begin your day at Hotel Kalina Palace with a rich breakfast buffet including locally-grown Bulgarian veggies, meats and cheeses. Then, spend the a.m. lounging by the indoor swimming pool, perhaps testing the waters once or twice. In the afternoon, visit the spa centre for a soothing massage or a breath of salty air in the trendy halotherapy room. And for dinner, choose from the hotel’s three restaurants – the heavenly Bulgarian grill and appetizing salads served in the outdoor Barbecue Garden come highly recommended!
3. Hike the lush Balkan trails of Balgarka Nature Park
Balgarka Nature Park is a verdant highland of endless forest expanses on the northern slopes of the Balkan Mountains. In stark contrast to the exposed and epic cliffs of the neighbouring Central Balkan National Park, Balgarka is gentler, thickly wooded and kinder to beginner hikers. Whether you’re looking for a pleasant forest walk looking for blooming red peonies or a more ambitious adventure, Gabrovo Plus is your best partner for hiking, mountain biking, skiing and climbing in the Gabrovo and Tryavna area. Their guides are extremely knowledgeable about the region, as well as kind and attentive to boot.
From Tryavna, Gabrovo Plus offers multiple day tour options. You could start with a short but scenic train ride to the tiny Bazovets station. Then, a light ascent past an Orthodox chapel will take you into the shaded beech forests of Balgarka Nature Park, rich with tasty forest mushrooms, meadows of wild garlic and countless wild strawberries. You could bag the shaded Krastets Peak (just 1002 metres high) and finish your walk at the Krastets Hut next to the highest railway station in the Balkan Mountains.
You’re up for a much tougher challenge? In that case, visit the region in July for the annual Tryavna Ultra, 141 kilometres of gruelling but extremely rewarding trail running. Scared? No worries, they have shorter distances too.
4. Ride a mountain bike down the countless forested hills
Of course, those Balgarka forest paths aren’t just fit for hiking and trail running – the wooded slopes are superb for some quality downhill rides too. The asphalt road from Krastets down to Plachkovtsi and further to Tryavna is 20 kilometres of pure fun, virtually all downhill and with little motorized traffic, especially before Plachkovtsi. And there’s no shortage of off-road options in the Balkan Mountains either, with dozens of dirt roads and trails fit for mountain biking around Tryavna alone.
If you’re in need of a mountain bike rental, expert local advice or a guided downhill biking tour, Gabrovo Plus are once again the people to go to. They’re able to provide biking equipment even for bigger groups of ten or more – and seriously, nobody knows the Gabrovo and Tryavna trails better than those guys.
5. Sample craft-brewed Belgian ales in the Tryavna Beer House
You spent the hours actively hiking and biking or you had some leisurely time by the pool in Hotel Kalina Palace? Either way, you deserve a cold beer at the end of the day. And if it can be a flavourful Belgian ale right in the historic town centre of Tryavna, then why settle for less. The Tryavna Beer House, also known as Luc’s, is a delightful pub with its own microbrewery, born out of Belgian-Bulgarian cooperation. The Tryavna Beer House produces and serves four beer styles that you can sample as part of a tasting menu: a refreshing pale ale, a pleasant amber ale, a dark ale (best enjoyed on a winter evening) and an unusual peach ale.
In summer, sit outside by the river and observe the tourists on the Crooked Bridge while sipping your beer. Or retreat to the comfort of the lovingly designed interior of the Beer House in the colder months. But in any case, don’t miss out on the delicious selection of small dishes to go with your ale – be it German sausages, homemade fries or… a kashkaval fondue!
6. Go on a day trip to the captivating Bozhentsi architectural reserve
Tryavna’s town centre from might be impressive with its more notable monuments of the Bulgarian Revival, but in Bozhentsi, you can truly immerse yourself in the spirit of this age of prosperity, enlightenment and rebellion. The village’s cobblestoned alleys are home exclusively to authentic white-painted houses from the 18th and 19th centuries and Bozhentsi has been protected as an architectural reserve since the 1960s – with good reason!
There’s a path conveniently encircling the entire village, so you can explore its architectural heritage in a single long walk, taking in the views and returning back to the main square. Then, you can sit in one of Bozhentsi’s many folklore taverns for a traditional Bulgarian lunch – or buy handcrafted trinkets from local vendors.
If you’re coming from Tryavna by car, you’d be a lot better off taking the seemingly much longer road via Torbalazhi, Orlovtsi and Donino (near Gabrovo) – there’s a more direct road from Tryavna to Bozhentsi, but it’s a narrow dirt road (little more than a walking trail) and a demanding off-road drive even for well-equipped 4WD vehicles.