29.05.2009 - 03.06.2009
On our last day we set off in search of Rosa Eterna Distillery, which is the only billboard we saw during the whole trip that advertised a distillery. It was not clear where it was located, and after many miles of narrow, bumpy roads [Sandi’s neck took major strain], and asking several peasants for directions, we seemed to happen upon it in the absolute middle of nowhere.
It is a very modern distillery, and the security guard eventually let us in after conferring with the manager. The charming manager, Krasimir, who spoke some English, told us we were lucky, as it was his wedding anniversary! He spent the next 2 hours showing us, and allowing us to photograph, the whole process. The vans arrive with bags of roses, freshly picked. A good picker can pick about 20-30kg between 5am and 12am before the sun gets too hot and vaporizes the oil. S/he gets paid about 80 stotinki/kg [40 eurocents], whereas the farmer would get 2 leva/kg from the distillery. The bags are weighed, then stacked around the large alambics/stills.
When the distillation process is finished, the huge lid is winched up, with fragrant plumes of hot vapour billowing out, and the exhausted rose blossom [spent biomass] is washed out to the sump. We received the best full body steaming ever from our vantage point on a balcony above the steel stills!
The steel alambic is then hosed down
and 25 bags of roses [20kg each] are poured in
with 2500 litres of fresh mountain water from the River Leshnitsa nearby.
The distillery is sited near the water supply, rather than near the rose fields, as this is more economically viable.
This distillery is unique in that it combines 10% Rosa alba [a delicate white rose] with the pink Rosa damascena, to give a different quality and aroma oil and rose water.
The lids are fastened back into place
and the roses are boiled for 2 ½ hours.
The distillate goes through a condenser, as well as a special concentrator. The rose water that is produced is a triple concentrate, unlike most others, which are dilute in comparison. The final precious rose otto oil is collected in a Florentine vessel in a separate, secured room.
The oil is so precious there is even a padlock on the outlet pipe!
We were privileged to be allowed to view the Florentine [by Krasimir],
as it is not normally seen by outsider mortals, just as the fresh rose otto was coming through.
And although it was not possible to purchase any essential oil on-site, we were gifted with some glorious triple-distilled rose water [which Sandi is eking out and sharing with some lucky friends and family].
All in all, a totally thrilling and fulfilling experience!
Each hectare of rose fields can produce 4-5 tonnes of flowers per season, but organically cultivated Rosa damascena production is only about 2.5 tonnes per season. It takes 3.5-3.8 tonnes of rose blossom to produce 1kg of pure oil. Up to 5 tonnes is needed to produce 1 kg of rose otto, if the crop is poor. From the research we could glean it appears that the whole of Bulgaria has about 30-40 distilleries, which collectively produce about 1500kgs of oil per annum. A smaller distillery produces 10-20kg/season, and the larger ones up to 200kg. The wholesale price of the oil is about 6000€/kg, so we guestimate a large distillery can make about 1.2 million euros in a 3-4 week season.
Our next destination was a wine farm in Karlovo, but all we could find was a factory outlet in a metal container, where we bought a couple of bottles of very good wine for very little [about 4 leva each].
Plamen had contracted to take us to the station in Plovdiv, from where we could catch the train back to Sofia. Plovdiv is a large city, situated halfway between Kazanlak and Sofia. Having secured our train tickets, we battled our way back through the heavy traffic to the old part of the city. The star attraction of the old city is the Roman Amphitheatre, which was accidentally revealed after a landslide in the 1970s. It was built in the 2nd century AD by the Roman Emperor Trajan, and could hold 7000 spectators. It is well preserved and still used for performances today.
Wandering around the cobbled streets of the old city, we were struck by the large houses with elaborate architecture and decoration, most of which are now preserved as museums or restaurants.
As we were leaving Plondiv, walking down a steep cobbled lane and treading very carefully, with eyes cast down , I was struck by a heady, floral scent that suddenly filled the hot, still air, accompanied by a resonant and frenzied Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzing serenade. An unmistakable scent and sound combo, which meant there MUST be a Linden Blossom tree nearby. I looked up and there it was - with it's fragrant canopy and mellifluous Apis choir - almost touching my head! Memories of aromatic days spent in Provence, under the Linden trees, with beloved friend Janet, flooded my senses and emotions.
All too soon, it was time to catch our train and bid farewell to our new friends Plamen and Chan Yee. After the 2 ½ hour trip we arrived back in Sofia at 1930, exhausted. A notice board outside the station advertised a HOTEL, up the stairs. Going up we found the sign to read HOsTEL which was a bit of a dive, but clean and functional, besides we were too tired to argue. Sneaky advertising though. The station lights outside our window, shining through the thin curtains, ensured that the room was mega-watt bright all night, and the 4a.m. party that sprung up in the road outside added some mega decibels to our slumbers – interspersed only by Sandi’s hacking cough, which had developed in response to all the 2nd-hand smoke we encountered. After a desultory breakfast of Bulgarian salami, squashed apricots and flat Coke, we caught the shuttle back to the airport and flew home [well not exactly home, but Gatwick!] From there we rented a car for 24 hours to get us back to Exeter, as it proved to be cheaper than bus or train tickets!