The Fig House
Villa | 3 bedrooms | sleeps 6
The Fig House sleeps six people on a self-catering basis and is available for private rental throughout the year.
The house was built in 1926 but, 80 years on, had fallen into near-dereliction. The recent restoration has aimed to create a haven of tranquillity by retaining maximum atmosphere without sacrificing modern comfort.
Reflecting its location in the historical region of Aegean Thrace the interior décor of the house has been designed to have one foot in the Balkans and one further south. Exposed beams and hand-made terracotta-tiled floors give a Mediterranean flavour. Ottoman-style banquettes, rugs and light fittings and traditional hand-made Bulgarian revival style furniture add a taste of the near east.
The house has many charming and unusual features such as the romantic spiral staircase to the basement and the stone-built corner open fireplace in the sitting room. The beamed and terracotta-tiled airy main corridor is a particular delight.
|Size||Sleeps up to 6, 3 bedrooms|
|Nearest beach||Makris 160 km|
|Access||Car advised, Wheelchair users|
|Nearest Amenities||100 m|
|Nearest travel links||Nearest airport: Plovdiv 110 km, Nearest railway: Lyubimets 40 km|
|Family friendly||Suitable for children over 5, Suitable for people with restricted mobility|
|Notes||Pets welcome, No smoking at this property|
Features and Facilities
|Luxuries||Log fire, Internet access, DVD player|
|General||TV, CD player, Wi-Fi available|
|Standard||Kettle, Toaster, Iron|
|Utilities||Cooker, Microwave, Fridge, Freezer, Washing machine|
|Rooms||3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms of which 2 En suites and 1 Shower rooms|
|Furniture||Single beds (4), Double beds (1), Dining seats for 6, Lounge seats for 6|
|Other||Linen provided, Towels provided|
|Outdoors||Balcony or terrace, Private garden, BBQ|
|Access||Wheelchair users, Secure parking|
|Further details indoors|
* Sleeps four in two spacious bedrooms - one double and one twin.
* Two large bathrooms. One en-suite with the master bedroom with bath/shower and toilet and basin. The other a separate shower-room also with toilet and basin.
* Basement Mehana (summer dining room) with table for six. Exposed stone walls and tiny traditional window keep this room cool on even the hottest summers day
* Small kitchen with fridge/freezer conventional gas/electric cooker and microwave
* Cosy sitting room with Ottoman-style built-in wall banquettes around a corner fireplace.
* Basement boot and clothes-drying room with washing machine.
* Spacious built-in wardrobes in the bedrooms and copious drawers and cupboard space throughout.
* The bedrooms and sitting-room all have fans, although the thick stone construction and high ceilings keeps the whole house naturally cool in summer heat.
* All doors and windows have locally-made traditional wooden shutters for security.
* Mosquito nets in the bedrooms provide a romantic tropical look - but it is unlikely that you will need them!
* The atmospheric annexe (formerly a cattle shed!) 20 metres from the main house sleeps two people (in addition to the four in the main house). It has its own small sitting-room, exposed stone walls, traditional timber ceilings, corner open fireplace and twin bedroom with en-suite shower room and toilet. The kids, teenage love-birds or mum and dad can stay out here in independent comfort and still be able to join the others in the main house for meals.
|Further details outdoors|
* Swimming pool right in front of the house - 3.5 by 8 metres and maintained daily throughout the summer.
* Poolside open barn and summer kitchen for summer barbecues or just for chilling out in hammocks in the shade from the hot southern sun.
* Walled and gated garden for privacy. You can see the views over into Greece but the villagers cant see you.
* End of village location (by the restored 19th century church) with unspoilt views into Greece.
* Gated driveway to keep the hire-car secure off-road. Drive the car in bolt the gates and you are in a world of your own.
The house and annexe are available for a flat year-'round rate of €450 (+9% Bulgarian VAT). We charge no deposit to reserve a booking but if there is subsequent enquiry for that same time you are invited to pay the full amount at that stage and this is non-refundable.
The full amount (non refundable) is payable one month in advance of your stay under any circumstances. There is a damages deposit of €300 that is refundable in local currency at the end of your stay if there is no damage.
The Haskovo/Eastern Rhodopes region
TOPOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
For most visitors a trip to Bulgaria means the Black Sea in summer or the skiing resorts of the western Rhodope mountains in the winter. The Ivailovgrad region, in the less-developed deep south of the country, is part of the 'other Bulgaria' - a magnificent landscape of forests and lakes far from sea or piste, only visited by travellers looking for something different.
In winter most of Bulgaria is chilled by freezing northern air sweeping south across the Danube Plain. This can bring heavy snowfall to much of the country, including the Black Sea coast.
Some small areas of the deep south, in southern valleys facing Greece (including the Ivailovgrad region) are protected from this cold air by the Balkan and Rhodope mountains. Warm air from the Aegean sea (less than a hundred kilometres away from Ivailovgrad) is also funnel north into south-facing valleys such as the Arda. As a result, Ivailovgrad has a very different climate to most of the rest of Bulgaria. The climate here is described as 'semi-Mediterranean' or 'Continental-Mediterranean'.
Ivailovgrad is, on average, 3 to 4 degrees warmer year-round than the rest of Bulgaria and the metres-deep snow experienced by the rest of Bulgaria is a rarity. Flying into Sofia in early March the weather is often 'reasonable British February'. On the drive down to Ivailovgrad through the mountains the weather usually changes to 'reasonable British June'.
The summers are also hotter in Ivailovgrad than elsewhere. As well as being bathed in warm Aegean air year-round, Ivailovgrad enjoys the highest number of hours of sunshine in Bulgaria. Temperatures in June to August can rise into the low-40s celsius with clear-blue skies for months on end (though summer temperatures of mid-20s to 30s are more usual).
If you don't like the heat we suggest that you stay at home in the UK in 'high' summer and leave your visit until the schools have gone back. On the other hand if you are a sun-lover like us and you feel like cooling down a little at The Fig House that is also possible. You can either pop down to the semi-subterranean stone-walled 'Mehana' for a cooling drink straight from the fridge or you can simply jump into the swimming pool, just metres from the front door.
The thick stone walls and high ceilings of The Fig House keep it cool throughout the summer (so much more environmentally-friendly and healthy than air conditioning!) If the evenings are chilly (March and October) you can sit by either of the log fires - inside or out - and enjoy your drink by firelight.
Whether lying in the pool and listening to the tinkling of goat bells (usually the loudest sound in Svirachi) or curled up by a log fire we are sure that you will enjoy the romantic and peaceful atmosphere of this remote part of the old Ottoman Empire.
As a result of the long, almost-guaranteed-hot summers (which usually extend from mid April to mid-October) and usually 'mild' winters many species of crop plant and tree grow in the Ivailovgrad region which cannot grow in colder parts. Tobacco, Grapes, Walnuts, Almonds and Peaches all thrive down here - as do figs (the house is named after the triffid-like fig which threatens to envelop the annexe).
This is also the case for wild plants and animals. Due to this region's 'crossroads' position the Bulgarian flora and fauna receives wild plants and animal from the Asian, Mediterranean and Balkan regions - leading to a particularly rich flora and fauna in proportion to land area. This is particularly the case for the Rhodopes mountain region, which possesses one of the highest natural biodiversities in Europe.
Nearly 64% of the territory of the municipality of Ivailovgrad is forested (mostly oak, oriental hornbeam, beech and black pine), a figure which is twice the national average for Bulgaria.
With one or two exceptions the area has been largely unaffected by the intensive cultivation and resulting pollution of much of western Europe. Due to this and its high biodiversity much of the eastern Rhodopes is scheduled to be incorporated into the EU's 'Natura 2000' complex of protected biodiversity zones.
Bulgaria as a whole has between 3,550 and 3,750 species of flowering plant - over twice as many as the UK even though Bulgaria is less than half its size. It also has proportionately much higher numbers of non-flowering plants such as algae (about 4000 species), mosses (670 species), lichens (600 species) and ferns (52 species).
170 plant species are rated as being endemic to Bulgaria as a whole, ie found nowhere else in the world. 50.3% of the entire Bulgarian flora is found in the eastern Rhodopes, ie 1,962 species. In Ivailovgrad municipality alone 84 plant species are found that are registered in the Red Book of endangered Bulgaria plants, plus 11 plant species which are endangered worldwide.
429 species of bird are noted from Bulgaria of which 278 are recorded from the eastern Rhodopes. The Ivailovgrad region is a particular ornithologists' paradise. 77 of the 84 nationally protected species of Bulgaria are found in Ivailovgrad municipality, seven of which are globally threatened. The area is particularly rich in birds of prey (37 of the 39 European species are recorded from the eastern Rhodopes). The internationally important Byala Reka ('White River') ornithological reserve and the Ivailovgrad Reservoir and Madzharova 'Important Bird Areas' are all easily accessible from Svirachi.
AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES
18 species of amphibians and 38 species of reptiles (including salamanders, 4 species of tortoise and terrapin and a gecko) are present in Bulgaria. 26 of the 38 species of reptile and 11 of the 18 species of amphibian are recorded from the eastern Rhodopes.
99 Mammal species are recorded from Bulgaria including wolves, jackals, lynx and 3 species of wild hamster. 67 of these 99 species are recorded from the eastern Rhodopes.
There are 207 species of fish in Bulgarian waters (122 of them freshwater) and there is excellent fishing in Ivailovgrad lake, only a few kilometres north of the town. 26 of Bulgaria's 122 freshwater species are recorded from the eastern Rhodopes.
The Bulgarian insect fauna consists of about 19,000 recorded species including 217 species of butterfly and 2,683 species of moths. 128 butterfly and 1,058 moth species are recorded from the eastern Rhodopes alone. To put this into context 79 known butterfly species are recorded from the whole British isles!
HISTORY & PREHISTORY
Ivailovgrad is set at the eastern end of the Rhodope mountains (home of Orpheus, the Thracian king and musician of Greek mythology). Nestling in the Arda valley this part of a frequently-troubled part of Europe has probably seen more turbulence than most. Any attempt at summarising the complex history of this frequently-invaded area (whose political boundaries have changed massively over the years) will inevitably be very simplistic!
Like much of modern south-eastern Bulgaria the Ivailovgrad region was originally under the influence of the ancient KINGS OF THRACE, famous for their fabulous golden artifacts. Various parts of ancient Thrace (now divided between modern Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey) have changed hands on many occasions throughout this region's confusing history. Much of Thrace came under the intermittent domination of the MACEDONIAN GREEKS between 343 183 BC. (It was Philip II of Macedonia who re-founded Philippopolis - modern day Plovdiv - in 342). A small Celtic Kingdom was even established briefly on Thracian territory between 273 and 213 BC. Between these and other incursions Thracian kings ruled sporadically over various parts of historical Thrace until 168 BC, at which point Thrace became a puppet state of Rome.
In about 46 AD (after being under Roman political domination for two centuries) much of Thrace became a full province of the ROMAN EMPIRE. Under Roman government the area of Ivailovgrad appears to have been wealthy from trade in the local marble, silk and wine which were exported from the Aegean ports of modern Greece. Thracians, like modern Bulgarians, seem to have been an enterprising bunch - one actually became Emperor and another was the famous slave rebel Spartacus.
When the Roman Empire disintegrated in the fourth to fifth centuries AD successive waves of invaders soon filled the resulting power vacuum. SLAVS migrated into the lands of modern Bulgaria from the north about the 6th century. BULGARS (whose ancestral homeland was probably in the area of modern Afghanistan) invaded a little later. The remains of the ancient Thracian culture were overwhelmed and in 681 the FIRST BULGARIAN EMPIRE was created. Curiously, although the culture was very largely Bulgar the language remains Slavic to this day.
This First Bulgarian Empire (incorporating at various times parts of modern Romania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey) flourished until 1018 when the Bulgarian Emperor was toppled by neighbouring Byzantinium.
The BYZANTINES ruled much of the land of modern Bulgaria until they were largely driven out in 1185. The independent SECOND BULGARIAN EMPIRE was then founded although its boundaries at times only included much of what is now northern Bulgaria and parts of modern Macedonia and Greece. Much of the southern part of modern Bulgaria remained Byzantine territory, changing hands frequently between the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires for two centuries. The Ivailovgrad region - as always close to the 'crossroads' of Asia and Europe - must have suffered extensive economic and social upheaval at this time.
In 1396 both the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires were defeated by the invading OTTOMANS. Bulgaria (and much of the Balkans) remained under Ottoman Turkish rule for almost half a millennium until their liberation (with the aid of Russia and other powers) in 1878.
Despite the LIBERATION of Bulgaria from the Ottomans - and the UNIFICATION of the country in 1886 - the region around Ivailovgrad was not handed over to Bulgaria by Turkey until after the treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1919. This treaty attempted to settle the 'final' boundaries of the old Ottoman Empire following the two BALKAN WARS of 1912-1913 and the FIRST WORLD WAR of 1914-1919, in both of which Bulgaria was ultimately on the losing side. Vast tracts of land were taken from Bulgaria at this time, including the modern Greek province of western Thrace - formerly Bulgaria's access to the Aegean. However, by a curious anomaly, Bulgaria was given the tiny strip of formerly-Turkish land around Ivailovgrad.
The Ivailovgrad region (only 300 kilometres from Istanbul) once more suffered badly during this period and was probably being attacked by irregular Ottoman forces (the 'Bashi-Bazouki') up until only a few years before The Fig House was built in 1926.
The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire between the 1870's and 1920's led to MASS MIGRATIONS (some voluntary and some less so) of ethnic Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks and others throughout the region. The inhabitants of Svirachi itself are largely descended from 'Anatolian Bulgarians' stranded on the Turkish side of the border after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. These early 20th century immigrants' name for Svirachi village was ZORLOZAN (ie 'the place of hard earth'). They clearly found the land harder to cultivate than that of their 'home' on the Anatolian plains! Many of the citizens of Ivailovgrad itself are of ethnic Greek or Turkish origin. Nowadays almost all appear to regard themselves as one hundred percent Bulgarian.
Little seems to be known of the Ivailovgrad region under its prolonged Ottoman rule. However, during the late Ottoman and early post-Ottoman 'BULGARIAN REVIVAL' period the area of Ivailovgrad appears to have again become relatively prosperous - as the many derelict grand merchants' houses in neighbouring villages testify.
WORLD WAR II and the rise of COMMUNISM resulted in further upheavals, with the closure of the country's borders in 1948 and further mass emigration as recently as the 1980's. Extensive depopulation and lack of cross-border trade and investment until very recently has resulted in many derelict villages and considerable economic hardship throughout Bulgaria. The area of Ivailovgrad was particularly badly affected.
With Bulgaria's MEMBERSHIP OF THE EU in January 2007 the borders are gradually reopening and Ivailovgrad's historical contacts with the Aegean are being restored. Hotels, bars and restaurants are springing up in modern Ivailovgrad in the shadow of crumbling communist tenements. However, villages such as Svirachi are still highly agriculturally-based and relatively poor, with ox-carts and hand-scythes a common sight. As far as I am aware The Fig House is the only self-catering, high-specification rural tourist accommodation available at present for many kilometres in any direction.
Although Bulgaria's future looks relatively rosy it is also steeped in a fascinating past, with extensive remains of various cultures dating back over ten thousand years. Bulgaria's ancient monuments (after 60 years under communism) are not as well excavated or exploited as those of neighbouring Greece. However, many of them are every bit as impressive as their Greek equivalents - and usually free of charge! (General information on the antiquities of the area - in English - can be found at ancient-bulgaria.com).
Local highlights for day trips include the following:
VILLA ARMIRA (The 'White Villa')
Situated just outside the village of Svirachi this is a 2nd to 5th century AD Roman villa probably owned by the family of a local merchant. It was originally faced in the local marble (whose export throughout the empire once made the region rich, but is now exhausted) and must have been an impressive sight in its heyday.
The villa was burned to the ground by Barbarians during the dying gasps of the Roman Empire. One dubious legend has it that the Emperor Valent was recovering here from his wounds suffered during the battle at nearby Adrianoupolis - now Edirne in modern Turkey - in 378 AD and was discovered by barbarians, who burned the villa down in revenge.
The Villa Armira was re-discovered in the 1960's during excavations for a local water plant. Now completely covered by a glass-sided building - and with its mosaics and other original features largely restored - it makes a fascinating visit.
Interestingly the owners of the villa built the first swimming pool in the village 1,500 years ago - the one at The Fig House is only the second. Fingers crossed that the one at the Fig House doesn't leak like theirs!
THE BURIAL TUMULUS AT SVIRACHI
Only discovered and excavated very recently - and actually in the village of Svirachi itself - this appears to be the family tomb of the Villa Armira.
Interestingly there is a similar burial tumulus ten kilometres away in what is now Greece. In a symbolic gesture the Greek tomb now has a spotlight on it that shines a beam of light towards its Bulgarian partner every night.
Now that the Greek border near Ivailovgrad is open for the first time in over 60 years you are able to walk freely between the two tombs for the first time in several generations!
LYUTITSA 'The marble Fortress'
Just a few kilometres toward Ivailovgrad from Svirachi (and well signposted in both English and Bulgarian) is the 14th century fortress of Lyutitsa. It is still in a remarkable state of repair with eight of its twelve white marble-faced towers still standing.
You can drive some of the way to the fortress (visiting the 13th century Monastery of St. Constantin and Elena en route) but have to walk the remaining four kilometres.
There is an additional medieval fortress at Slaveevo just a few kilometres from Svirachi.
THE MONASTERY OF ST. CONSTANTIN & ELENA
Dating from the 13th century - but ruined under Ottoman rule and restored in 1872 - this is the only monastery in the Ivailovgrad region. It is easily accessed by car on the same road that leads to the fortress of Lyutitsa. From the main Svirachi-Ivailovgrad road to the monastery itself is about three kilometres.
in Ivailovgrad include the St. God's Transfiguration Church (1805) , the St. Prophet Ilia church (1820) and the St. Constantin and Elena Church (1806).
23 more 'Artistically or Architecturally Noteworthy' Orthodox churches are present in the Ivailovgrad area. Thanks to the Ottoman invaders of the 14th century few are more than 150 years old. However, their beautifully-executed tempera icons and other artwork does suggest that Bulgarian art was flourishing even in this remote area.
DOLMENS AT PLEVUN & ZHELEZENO
Near the villages of Plevun and Zhelezeno are a series of ancient Thracian dolmens (chamber tombs) in a style unique to this area. They appear to have been in more-or-less constant use throughout the first and second millenia BC prior to Roman annexation of this area.
This is a day-trip as it is a two hour drive from Ivailovgrad.
Located 15 kms to the north-east of the city of Kardjali it is well worth the effort as it is the largest megalithic acropolis and temple structure in the Balkans.
A fortified city since possibly 5,000 BC the views from the top alone are breathtaking.
Although it is a bit of a scramble up to the city itself the dirt road to leading to the site is reasonably good. It is accessible in most weathers without the need for four-wheel drive.
The city was the site of the ancient oracle of Dionysus at which it is reputed that Alexander the Great received his prophecy that he would rule the then-known world.
10 kms off the road back to Ivailovgrad from Kardzhali is also worth a look. A shrine complex to Orpheus it contains the symbolic tomb of the musician himself and is clearly signposted (in English and Bulgarian).
The site is easily accessible from the road and has an on-site car-park.
LOCAL VILLAGES OF NOTE
Due to the legacy of the Ottoman Empire this area contains a remarkable assortment of village houses in the various architectural traditions of Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and even Albania. (The village of Mandritsa is the only Albanian village in Bulgaria and to this day the inhabitants speak a unique dialect of Albanian).
The villages of Dolno Lukovo, Gorno Lukovo, Odrintse, Mandritsa and Plevun are particularly noteworthy for their houses. The whole area has even been referred to as an 'architectural reserve' in one European Union publication.
DAY TRIPS TO GREECE & TURKEY
If you don't have your own car the Fig House has its own comfortable BMW 381 Estate car that can be hired with the house if required. It is quite feasible to make a trip to Greece or Turkey for the day. Alternatively you can stay at The Fig House for a few days on your drive down in your own vehicle.
Until recently getting to Greece from Ivailovgrad involved quite a large 'dog-leg' - north to Lyubimets (one hour) then east to the border crossing at 'Kapitan Andreevo' (half an hour or so) before either heading east for Turkey or hanging a right for Greece. However, the border crossing to Greece at Slaveevo (only 9 kilometres from The Fig House and closed since 1947) opened permanently to light traffic on the 9th of September 2010. It is now possible to get across the border to Greece in under a quarter of an hour. If you turn sharply right immediately after the customs post at the border crossing at Slaveevo a good tarmac road takes you to Didimoticho in Greece in about half an hour. From there to the Aegean coast is about an hour on fast roads.
To get to Turkey you can either cut across the northern tip of Greece if you take the Slaveevo crossing or you can go up the old road to Svilengrad via Lyubimets. The sign at Lyubimets says 'Sofia 285 km - Istanbul 285 Km'. Even with the fast road to Istanbul after Svilengrad a day-trip is probably a bit optimistic as it would take a total of four hours or so. However, the town of Edirne (historical Adrianoupolis) would be quite feasible for a gentle day-trip into Turkey as it is barely 15 kilometres across the border.
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30 Aug 2012
"A beautifully renovated property within an unspoilt region of Bulgaria."
We really enjoyed our stay at The Fig House. The accommodation was comfortable with a mixture of modern and tradional fittings. The pool was just right and a godsend for all as temperatures soared int… More
9 Mar 2011
We had a memorable week at the Fig House and would highly recommend it. The house has been very tastefully done up and everything is comfortable and works. The pool and patio are spotlessly clean. Dim… More