Velingrad, Bulgaria: Relax in the Spa Capital of the Balkans

Are you looking for an unforgettable SPA destination?

You’ve come to the right place.

The Bulgarian town of Velingrad has been crowned The Spa Capital of the Balkans.

For centuries, the healing powers of its mineral waters have attracted visitors to this beautiful town in the mountains of Bulgaria.

Now, it’s your turn to discover this true gem for spa lovers.

Ready?

Let’s explore everything Velingrad has to offer.

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Short on time? Book my favorite SPA hotel in Bulgaria here:

Balneo Complex & SPA Hotel Aquatonik, Velingrad

What Is Velingrad Famous for?

Velingrad - the Spa Lovers Paradise

Velingrad, Bulgaria is best known for the healing powers of its mineral waters. Remains of aqueducts show that the Ancient Thracians and the Romans used the water to rejuvenate centuries ago.

Nowadays, the town booms with SPA hotels, featuring diverse mineral pools, thermal baths, and wellness facilities.

Moreover, research shows that the altitude between 780 m and 800 m (2,560 ft. – 2,625 ft.) above sea level aids your body in recovering faster from health problems, built-up stress, and anxiety. This is the exact elevation of the small mountainous town in Bulgaria.

As you know, the best part about any vacation is coming back home relaxed and revitalised.

But when you visit Velingrad, The Spa Capital of the Balkans, you’ll come back not simply refreshed, but also healthier in every way.

Velingrad is worth visiting for the abundance of healing mineral waters, combined with the best altitude to revitalize your body, and the cleanest mountain air possible, which make it the perfect spa lover’s paradise.

The Healing Powers of Velingrad’s Mineral Waters

Mineral Water Spa in Velingrad
All hotel pools and SPA centers in Velingrad use the healing mineral waters of the region

With over 600 mineral water springs, Bulgaria is the 3rd richest in mineral waters country in the world, stepping down only to Iceland and Japan.

The most hypoallergenic spot in Europe is located in Velingrad.

Four main sources supply the town. Each of them comes from different depths of the Earth, has a different temperature, and is suitable for the treatment of various health problems.

Velingrad’s mineral waters have temperatures from 25°C (77° F) to 97°C (207° F).

The hottest spring is also rich in the radioactive element radon. The water is suitable for the treatment of various lung diseases, musculoskeletal system problems, nervous diseases, gynecological problems, and skin illnesses.

Velingrad’s waters have such strong remedial powers that they are capable of closing wounds and destroying kidney stones.

You can enjoy the benefits of the mineral waters of Velingrad in three ways:

  • Drinking the water,
  • inhaling it, and
  • soaking your body in therapeutic pools.

In this way, the water can treat different diseases and revitalize your body from inside and out.

Furthermore, the tap water in Velingrad is not only drinkable. It’s delectable and healthy. Since the level of mineralization is rather low, it’s also perfect for daily use.

The city prides itself on six public thermal baths. Here’s what you should know about them:

  • The oldest public beach in Velingrad is as old as the town itself.
  • The city also features an Olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s the oldest in Bulgaria and the second-oldest in Europe.
  • The sand for the beach came directly from Varna, the largest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, also known as the Sea Capital of Bulgaria.

Personally, I’ve been taking allergy pills for the last 25 years. In 2017, after spending a week rejuvenating in Balneo Complex & SPA Hotel Aquatonik, Velingrad, for the first time since I was a teenager, I didn’t need my medications!

After learning all these facts, I bet it comes as no surprise to you, that in 2008, the International Hotel & Restaurant Association awarded Velingrad Spa Capital of the Balkans.

Velingrad’s Climate and Location

The View From Pashovi Cliffs
The mountains surrounding Velingrad offer some of the most magnificent views you’ll ever see

Only 2 hours away from the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, and 1.5 hours away from Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv, Velingrad is a beloved spa destination for both locals and visitors. It’s definitely one of my favorite spa towns in Bulgaria if not the whole world!

The city is an all-year tourist destination. The winter is mild and the summer is fresh. The average yearly temperature is 10°C (50°F) and the sun shines for about 2,000 hours per annum over the town.

Since there isn’t a single factory in Velingrad, the crisp unpolluted mountain air and the mild climate boost the healing powers of the mineral waters. The town’s location at an altitude of around 800 m above sea level additionally helps your body to rejuvenate quicker.

The magical Rhodope Mountains, surrounding Velingrad, offer countless opportunities for hikes of different durations and levels of difficulty. The magnificent views, which unravel before your eyes in all directions, make your soul forget all your troubles.

The Best Hotels in Velingrad

ARTE Hotel Lobby
The cozy lobby area of ARTE Spa & Park Hotel

With 5,000+ beds to choose from, finding the perfect accommodation in Velingrad is a tough choice.

Here are a few tips for you to consider when choosing your hotel in Velingrad:

  • The guesthouses offer lower prices but no wellness facilities. Instead, you can choose to visit one of the six public thermal baths in Velingrad.
  • If you decide to splurge on luxurious accommodation, you’ll be happy to know that every hotel in Velingrad has a SPA center with mineral water pools.

My top 3 recommendations for hotels in Velingrad include:

Balneo Complex & SPA Hotel Aquatonik, Velingrad

Spa Hotel Aquatonik Velingrad
After countless visits to Velingrad, Bulgaria, I believe Spa Hotel Aquatonik is the best place to stay

My favorite place to rejuvenate not only in Velingrad but also in Bulgaria is this four-star hidden gem.

Located near the picturesque Kleptuza Lake, Spa Hotel Aquatonik will pamper you with two swimming pools, a gigantic wellness center, and a wide range of treatments.

Here are the top amenities the hotel offers:

  • A unique aquatonic mineral pool
  • Contrast hot and cold pools with radon-rich water
  • Several saunas with different temperatures and humidity
  • A salt room to heal and prevent allergies and respiratory problems
  • A relaxation room and a sun terrace
  • A medical center offering physiotherapy treatments, healing baths, and relaxing massages

If that’s not enough, how about a cozy restaurant where you can sample local and international dishes?

Grand Hotel Velingrad

If you’re looking for luxury at affordable prices, your search is over.

At Grand Hotel Velingrad, all your wellness wishes will be taken care of.

Overlooking the town from the top of a picturesque hill, the gigantic facility offers 8 indoor and outdoor swimming pools, two SPA zones, and an adults-only area.

In the hotel, you’ll also find:

  • A medical center offering balneological and beauty treatments
  • A piano bar with live performances and a bowling center
  • A huge fitness room with modern equipment and professional instructors

If you’re ready to book your unforgettable luxury experience, use the button below.

ARTE SPA & Park Hotel

Located in the middle of a beautiful meadow, ARTE Spa & Park Hotel is famous not only for its excellent wellness facilities but also for hosting some of the best live festivals in Bulgaria.

The deluxe 5-star gem awaits to spoil you with the following:

  • Indoor and outdoor pools
  • Multiple jacuzzis, saunas, and steam baths
  • Contrast temperature pools
  • A restaurant offering exquisite dining and a fine selection of wines

The interior of the hotel is elegant, cozy, and chic. It features natural materials, such as wood and stone, in all details.

The Best Things to Do in Velingrad

A trip to any destination, even a SPA paradise like Velingrad, would be incomplete without immersing yourself in the nature, culture, and history of the place.

Velingrad and the nearby villages hide some of the best views, vibrant traditions, and extraordinary legends.

Below, you’ll find my recommendations for the best things to do in and around Velingrad:

Ride the Last Narrow-Gauge Train in Bulgaria

Narrow-gauge trains are a rarity throughout the world. Railways prefer the wider trails as they offer more stability.

The railway Septemvri – Velingrad – Dobrinishte is the last remaining of its kind in Bulgaria.

Due to the terrain, the average speed of the trains is 40 km/h (25 mph). Hence, the short distance of 125 km (78 mi) is traveled in about 5:00 hours.

In mountainous places such as the Bulgarian highlands, where the trails take numerous turns and go through countless tunnels, the narrow-gauge trains are the only means of transportation for hundreds of people.

The most spectacular part of the railway is between the train stations Velingrad and the small village Avramovo.

The tracks follow the curves of the Rhodope Mountains between mesmerizing hills, green meadows, pine tree forests, and through numerous tunnels. The ride takes exactly one hour (watch the video below).

For the last 9 km before Avramovo, the train passes through 16 tunnels and one 8-shaped serpentine. It then arrives at the highest train station in the Balkans at 1,267 m (4,157 ft.) above sea level.

Riding the narrow-gauge train is like time travel.

Narrow Gauge Train In Winter
Riding the narrow gauge train in winter is uniquely spectacular

The line was constructed between the 1920s and the 1940s. It seems like time has stopped in the villages whose train stations you’ll pass. Some of the station buildings haven’t been renovated since their construction.

Passengers on the narrow-gauge train travel the distance between the biggest city in the area, Velingrad, and their tiny villages several times a week.

There’s no other way for them to get supplies for their daily needs. Some of the villagers also visit Velingrad to sell their own produce: milk, honey, jams, cheese, and souvenirs.

While we were simply riding the train for entertainment admiring the mesmerizing views from the window, for those people, it is a part of their sustenance.

Try Unique Scrumptious Local Delicacies

Sofenka Beans
The Sofenka beans melt like butter in your mouth

Bulgarian cuisine is an experience for all your senses.

In Velingrad, the locally grown produce is always fresh. The organic ingredients in the dishes will help make your body stronger and healthier.

Some of the dishes you’ll find on the restaurant menus are only prepared in this part of Bulgaria.

The reason is that the population in the region of Velingrad is mainly Muslim. Therefore, the local delicacy is a sheep or lamb steak, marinated for several hours.

The recipe for the marinade is a well-kept secret and no one outside Velingrad can tell you how exactly the steaks become so juicy and tender.

Lamb Steak
A juicy and tender lamb steak, a local delicacy in Velingrad

Another local dish you absolutely must try is the Sofenka beans. The huge white-colored beans grow at only a few locations in Bulgaria. Velingrad’s climate and altitude are perfect for the production of Sofenka beans.

The vegetarian dish is cooked for several hours.

You can’t stir the beans because you’ll break them. Instead, you’ll need to shake them in the pot. They’re cooked until all the water evaporates. The unique mixture of herbs and spices makes this traditional dish taste like pure drops of heaven.

An excellent place where you can try both sheep or lamb steaks and Sofenka beans, prepared with great expertise and love, is Mehana Demeko.

Hike the Trails Around Velingrad

The View From Pashovi Cliffs
The panoramic views from Pashovi Cliffs are worth the hike

If you manage to leave the comforts of your spa accommodation and exchange the swimming for other activities, you can hike several trails around Velingrad.

Until 1938, the neighborhoods of Velingrad – Chepino, Ladjene, Kamenitsa, and Draginovo – were separate villages. Then came the idea of uniting them and naming the new town Velingrad after the local hero Vela Peeva.

A sidewalk and a short hiking trail connect the former villages. You can walk from one end of the city to the opposite in about an hour and a half. For most people, that would be enough exercise.

But if you want to strain your legs even more, here are a few more hiking ideas for you:

  • Head over to Belmeken Dam, the highest dam in the Balkans. A challenging trek of around 4 hours to Belmeken Peak will give your muscles the perfect exercise. Make sure to bring enough water as the climb is quite steep and tiring.
  • If hiking Belmeken Peak sounds like too much effort to you, take the trail from Yundola to Pashovi Cliffs. In about 30 minutes, you can enjoy the incredible panorama of the surrounding Rhodope Mountains, the picturesque villages in the valleys, the narrow-gauge train tracks, and the Rila Mountains in the distance.

Visit Velingrad’s Cultural Festivals

At the beginning of July, Velingrad hosts several cultural festivals.

For 45 years in a row, the municipality has organized concerts, dance performances, parades, fireworks, games, and diverse other activities. The biggest summer festival lasts for several days.

On a recent trip, I was lucky to watch folk dancers and singers from different regions of Bulgaria, as well as locals and visitors, joining hands in typical Bulgarian dances.

The culmination of the evening was the fire dancer, who performed a barefoot “nestinar” dance on glooming embers in the center of Velingrad (see the video).

Marvel at Exquisite Hand-Made Carpets

Carpet Factory Kostandovo
The ladies at the carpet factory in Kostandovo are working hard to make yet another (royal) customer happy

In Kostandovo, a small village just several minutes away from Velingrad, you’ll find a tiny carpet factory.

The uniqueness of this business hides not only in the high quality of their produce but also in the grandeur of their customers.

Believe it or not, Queen Elizabeth II is just one of many happy royal clients who have ordered their unique hand-made woolen carpets in Kostandovo.

In the last 20 years, the factory has hand-crafted hundreds of unique carpets that last a lifetime. And the weavers have used all their designs just once.

All except one.

The only design that they agreed to reproduce several times belonged to Napoleon. The original was destroyed. In Kostandovo, the pattern was restored using old photographs.

One designer and four weavers worked together for six months to create the gigantic floor covering measuring about 50 m2 (540 sq. ft.)

If you want to take a copy of the opulent carpet home, be ready to pay €1,000 per m2 ($108 per 1 sq. ft.)

Visit Tsepina Fortress

Tsepina Fortress Dorkovo
The ruins of the medieval Tsepina Fortress near Dorkovo

The medieval fortification occupies a lovely hilltop above the village of Dorkovo.

Its location is only 25 minutes away from Velingrad. The easy-to-follow path makes Tsepina Fortress a great activity to add to your list of things to do in Velingrad.

The fortification has been demolished a few times during its history. The current structure dates back to the 11th century.

In the archaeological site, you can also see the ruins of a Thracian sanctuary, the foundations of several churches, a basilica, residential buildings, a necropolis, and water storage facilities.

Explore the Paleonthologic Museum in Dorkovo

Mammut Model Dorkovo Museum
The highlight of Dorkovo Museum is the model of a life-sized Mammut

You’ll find this fascinating natural science museum in Dorkovo, a small village 20 minutes away from Velingrad.

Also known as Dorkovo Museum, it features a domed wooden structure. Inside, you can marvel at an extensive collection of fossils.

The exhibits date back to the Pliocene geological era and are approximately five million years old.

The highlight of the museum is a life-size model of a Mammut borsoni, an extinct relative of the elephant.

How to Get to Velingrad, Bulgaria

The Road to Velingrad
The road to Velingrad is windy and picturesque

Velingrand stands only 2 hours away from the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, and just 1.5 hours away from Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv.

Both Bulgarian major cities have international airports.

From the airport, it’s easiest to travel to Velingrad by car.

If you don’t have your own, you can find the best rental prices at Discover Cars.

And if renting a car and driving on Bulgarian roads isn’t your cup of tea, you can arrange a transfer with your hotel.

Are You Ready to Rejuvenate in Velingrad, the Spa Capital of the Balkans?

Velingrad’s perfect elevation and mild climate, the healing powers of its mineral waters, the crisp unpolluted air, the breathtaking views, and the diverse activities make it a perfect spot to heal and rejuvenate.

People have come for centuries to this jaw-dropping area of the Rhodope Mountains. Velingrad’s natural treasures help everyone who ventures to the Bulgarian town improve his health.

Don’t you think it’s time for you to discover this true gem for yourself?

Start your healing now – Velingrad awaits you!

6 Comments

  1. It is just amazing how you can have everything in this place – healing mineral waters, delicious meals, nature walks and stunning views, cultural activities, am I missing something?
    Velingrad amazes me every time!

    1. Hey Bistra,

      Velingrad is pretty amazing and for me it was even more fun last time because of the awesome travel companions ;)

      Cheers and happy travels,
      N.

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