Yoga, Food and Wine goes Bulgarian style

I visited Bulgaria for the first time back in 2011, invited by a very good Bulgarian friend I met during my first month in Amsterdam. She took me to her house in Sofia and her sister drove us all the way to the Black Sea, were we enjoyed some relaxing days at the beach in a couple of small towns across the coast. To be honest Bulgaria was not in my top 10 destinations, but I was pleasantly surprised by its nice people, good weather, tasty food and of course the breathtaking mountain scenery of the Balkans.YoryogaSo when Kremena told me she was organizing a yoga retreat there, I knew right away that I wanted to join.This time the location would be Apriltsi, an enchanting little town in the province of Lovech, Northwest of Sofia.   It was a full week retreat but me and three other friends could only make it for weekend from Thursday to Sunday. We were picked up at the airport in Sofia by a gentle man with a tempting sign: “Yoga, Food and Wine”. I assure you we got some jealousy looks from the people at the airport. This is when you realize that you have nothing to complain, on the contrary, what a life to be grateful for.     Yoga, Food and wine

During the car trip to Apriltsi, my friends were mostly resting, after having to wake up very early that day to catch the flight to Sofia. So I enjoyed the silence and indulged in the contemplation of the beautiful landscape to both sides of the road. I love mountains. Maybe just because my home country is flat. Not flat as a pancake like the Netherlands, but we don’t have any big mountains around. Being there cruising across the highest region of the Balkans just made my day. After a couple of hours we arrived in Apriltsi and in the Trinity Retreat House. We sat in the relaxing garden for a snack and I had a chance to eat again those amazing Bulgarian tomatoes, so tasty you can’t imagine. They are earth-grown, by the neighbor next door. You know… the real thing.YFW 1 dMost of the group was out visiting a nearby monastery, and when they returned we had our first yoga workshop for that day. The yoga room was big and comfortable, nicely decorated and with window walls on both long sides. It was very special to do a warrior pose and see your arm stretching into the mountain forest ahead.Yoga food and wine

Later that night we had a surprise guest: a sommelier that introduced us to Bulgarian wine tasting. A way of getting into the mood for the next day’s activity: a visit to a real winery. Maryan winery is branding their wines with the names of kings and queens, mixing real history with legends. Their Rose wine (that won a Silver medal at the Balkans International Wine Competition) is called Sense of Tears, as a tribute to the sad tears shed by princess Kera Tamara. Her brother the king Ivan Shishman gave her in marriage to Sultan Murad to keep to the peace in Bulgaria, and legend has it that the first vines in this region arose from her tears. I thought this was such a touching story. Maybe because my wine tasting is more like wine drinking, or maybe it was all those heart-opening yoga postures… who knows.YFW2ff

Our last day was quite memorable. Early breakfast, yoga workshop, closing ceremony and a fun fight with colors in the back yard. At night after dinner we sweated it out learning some Bulgarian traditional dances. Later some of us sweated it again with party dancing. We didn’t stop until it was time to pack our stuff and say goodbye. A moment a bit sad, when you feel like a child pulled out of your friend’s house by your mother.But once again, like whenever I travel with a group, I’m always left most impressed by the people. It’s not a surprise that holidays and travelling -and of course specially a yoga holiday- seem to bring out the best in people. I’m happy I made some new friends, and connected with some office colleagues after this chance to really get to know them. And taking the time to talk to somebody you thought maybe you didn’t fancy so much, and be gladly surprised when they show you kindness. Another lesson learned, is what yoga and travelling are all about: a lifetime of learning.

By Romina Alves Pons Romina

Romina is an expat in Amsterdam that moved to Europe seven years ago with an itching desire to travel and see the world. She likes to stay fit and do sports specially yoga. Her favorite quote is from Anais Nin: “Throw your dreams into space like a kite and you do not know what it will bring back: a new life, a new friend, a new love or a new country”.