There are many reasons to head down to this region of Bulgaria: cultural, historical and natural. You could be going to Kazanlak to explore the Thracian tomb from the 4th Century BC, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Perhaps you want to explore the quaint Bulgarian Revival architecture of Karlovo and Sopot, and take in the museum dedicated to national hero Vasil Levski. Or maybe you are fond of nature and walking on the gentle hills in the area, combining a tour of the well-preserved medieval Bulgarian fortress Anevsko kale near Sopot with treks along the eco paths of the spectacular Central Balkan National Park.
However, if you are visiting the Rose Valley at the beginning of June, you are probably here because of the roses.
Rose oil is synonymous with the area around Kazanlak and Karlovo, and for many centuries has brought Bulgaria worldwide renown. More precious than gold, more desirable than diamonds, possessed of great chemical properties, the Rosa damascena flower is unremarkable in appearance, but the attar of roses extracted from it is widely used in the perfumery and cosmetic industries.
Rose growing suffered during the early days of democracy, but is now recovering quickly – Bulgaria currently produces about 70 percent of the world's rose oil. It is a vulnerable branch of agriculture, highly sensitive to weather, handling and treatment. Traditionally, harvesting the roses should be done early in the morning, before the rising sun evaporates the moisture from the petals. It must be done by hand, with the pickers (usually women) snipping or cutting off the buds and transporting them as quickly as possible to the distillery, so as not to lose the essential oils. Through boiling and extraction the oil is condensed, blended, and shipped off to perfume manufacturers around the world.
Residents of the Rose Valley towns, including Kazanlak, Karlovo, Sopot and others, live with the rose oil heritage and take pride in it. The history museums in the towns lean heavily on periods when rose-growing was the major industry in the region and exhibit the devices used to extract the attar in bygone times. Each spring the Rose Festival is celebrated within the valley. Visitors flock to watch the crowning of the Rose Queen, a young woman chosen in a kind of beauty pageant, and to view demonstrations of traditional methods of obtaining rose oil.
This year was no different: the Festival in Karlovo went on throughout the day, with a folklore programme and dance performances, while the History Museum of the town showed how to extract the precious essential oil using old equipment. For the first time a Rose Alley was organised, where craftsmen from the region exhibited their produce. The cosmetic company Dit Commerce, which uses natural local ingredients for its beauty product lines, was a great success with foreign visitors, thanks to its Rose and Aloe products, which are 100 percent natural, and the Silver Line series – a skilful combination of rose oil and silver ions. Products rich in rose water and rose oil, such as those of Dit Commerce, have been the privilege of the rich for centuries, but now every one can access their rejuvenating and anti-ageing powers.
The long-standing tradition of the region as a major supplier of rare and valuable ingredients for the beauty industry now continues into the products of regional cosmetic companies. Tomy Show Cosmetics has its own manufacturing facilities in Kazanlak, but its chain of supply extends to almost all European countries. Its cosmetic and hygiene products are of the highest quality, manufactured to the strictest standards. The company's Rose The Queen of Beauty line contains natural rose water, which helps prevent wrinkles and hydrates mature dry skin.