Found in the Veliko Tarnovo Province in central Northern Bulgaria, the historic village of Arbanasi enjoys a position on a high plateau between the country’s former capital Veliko Tarnovo and the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa. Around 25 miles from the banks of the Danube River, it’s a popular excursion stop-off for Danube voyages which pass through Bulgaria, and river cruisers will often explore it and Veliko Tarnovo in the same day. Believed by a number of scholars to have started off life as a settlement founded by high-ranking members of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Arbanasi’s written history officially begins in the 15th century when it became the property of the Grand Vizir to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, many of the village’s oldest buildings are of Ottoman design. Throughout much of its history, Arbanasi was strongly affiliated with Greek culture, making it a fascinating place to explore.
Excursions to Arbanasi typically involve an authentic and immersive Bulgarian village experience, where river cruise passengers enjoy traditional dances, music and food. Visitors will also enjoy a guided tour of the village, where they’ll be introduced to its landmark buildings, many of which are churches dating from the 15th right through to the 18th century. The most famous of these and a definite must-see when visiting the village is Chiesa della Nativita, or the Church of the Nativity of Christ. Unassuming from the outside due to the restrictions put on the building of religious structures by the Ottoman Empire, its interior really is a sight to behold and features around 2,000 stunning frescos which stretch from floor to ceiling.
Konstantsaliyata’s House is another popular attraction and is the well-preserved former home of a prosperous family from the 18th century, which guests can explore at their leisure. It offers a fascinating insight into the family’s life as well as those of the villagers and informative guided tours are also available.
Other notable landmarks you may encounter on your tour of the village are the Monastery of St Nicholas, the Church of Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel and Arbanasi Palace, a hotel and bar which was once the holiday home of former Bulgarian President Todor Zhivkov.
Eastern European food is traditionally tasty, relatively simple and filling too, so if you’re in need of a bite to eat or simply want to sample some of the local cuisine, Arbanasi is home to a number of excellent eateries, which offer a warm welcome and even warmer food. Soup is a particular favourite.