Melnik is a unique place in Bulgaria in many ways. It is officially the smallest town in the country with less than 400 inhabitants according to the latest census; it’s surrounded by the remarkable white Melnik Earth Pyramids; and is also known as one of the best wine regions in the country, with local grape varietals being grown only here.
The town of Melnik has long been known for its wine and it used to be a famed trade hub with rich merchants owning hundreds of camels (yes, there used to be camels here!) to criss-cross near and faraway lands. Today, it is the smallest town in Bulgaria, located near the border with Greece, where you can always expect milder weather than the rest of Bulgaria and friendly locals inviting you to try their homemade wine. The tiny town depends mainly on tourism, with all roads leading to the imposing Kordopulova House – a 250-year-old house of a rich local man with a still functioning cellar in cave-like underground tunnels.
While the area is good for growing international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah, there are two significant local grape varietals you should aim to try while visiting Melnik. The first one is Shiroka Melnishka (sometimes found as Broad-leaved Melnik) and the other is Ranna Melnishka (or Early Melnik). The latter was created as a hybrid of Shiroka Melnishka with other varieties.
You can taste homemade wine all over Melnik (signs are inviting you from every corner) but if you want to delve into the region’s fame, visit a winery. The best wineries offering guided visits and wine tastings are located in the surroundings of Melnik. Villa Melnik‘s wine tasting room has one of the best views in the region – the gentle curves of the winery’s vineyards. Sintica Winery is located at the entrance of the town of Sandanski. Orbelus produces wine from organic grapes. Rupel Winery is in the small village of Dolno Spanchevo.
You don’t need to play Columbus to discover a good winery to taste wine – there’s a Melnik Wine Route Map that you can follow across Bulgaria’s southwest (if you want a larger file, you can request if from the Facebook page, or you can find a paper version for free in the Melnik area).
The best idea is to rent a car because most of the wineries are out of the routes of public transportation. Another option is to book a guided tour and be free to drink as much wine as you wish. The distance between the capital Sofia and Melnik is 180 km (111 mi).