If you’re thinking of traveling to Bulgaria over the coming months, or if you already live here and are looking for distractions from the cold weather, head to any of these winter festivals in Bulgaria and treat yourselves to experiences of cultural, musical and traditional festival life…minus the tent!
1. Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games – Pernik – 29th to 31st Jan
Taking place on the last weekend of January, this Bulgarian Kukeri pagan festival of Thracian origin is a mixture of colourful costumes, traditional dancing and the warding off of evil spirits. Participants from all regions of Bulgaria along with other partakers from the Balkans, join together to celebrate the imminent arrival of Spring and to wish good fortune for the year’s harvest, health and happiness. In a deeply-inspired carnival atmosphere, men dressed in elaborate costumes with huge cow bells jangling and wearing ceremonial masks, take to the streets of Pernik in a vivid act of antique ritualism.
2. Sveti Trifun Den – 14th Feb
February 14th is not just dedicated to St Valentine but also to Sveti Trifon, the patron saint of wine, and is a celebration for all wine lovers throughout the Balkans hailing it as a day to bless the new grape growing season. Orthodox Christian in its origins, it’s an age-old ritual of the connection between the land and the spirits to wish a fruitful wine harvest of the coming year. Three sprigs are cut from different vines and are made into a wreath which is then worn before watering the base with wine (and sometimes holy water and ash) to awaken the land after a long winter. If you join in, be prepared to spend the rest of the day with friendly locals drinking homemade wine or rakia, and eating your way through home-cooked traditional food…in abundance!
3. Baba Marta Den – 1st March
On the 1st March, the streets of Bulgaria are filled with people buying, selling and giving martenitsi – red and white dolls, tassels and friendship bracelets. The day harks back to pagan times to symbolise the coming of spring and the end of winter. Baba Marta, or Grandmother March, is a renowned to have severe mood swings which relate with the changeable weather in March. When she is happy, the sun will shine and spring is imminent; however, if she is grumpy, the weather will transform to wind and possibly late snow. Wearing a martenitsa is thought to keep her happy, ward off evil spirits, to bring you luck and is now big business in Bulgaria. The festivities take place throughout Bulgaria and are free to join in.
4. Horizon Festival, Bansko, 12th to 17th March
If you want to combine action on the slopes of Bansko with raving the nights away, then Horizon Festival could be the perfect holiday for you. Now in its third year and gaining momentum with each annual event, it comprises of over twenty different venues in Bansko playing electronic music in all its wide-ranging beats and breaks. Not only are DJs mixing in the locals clubs and bars, but you’ll also find forest and mountain stages playing host to international performers along with great local feasts and banquets throughout a week of hedonistic festivities. Whether you’re a snow-sport fan or not, there are multiple festival price packages available and can include ski passes and accommodation.
5. Sofia International Film Festival – 10th to 20th March
At the time of writing, there is no programme of events or ticket prices on their website but given that this is their 20th year of showcasing the best of Bulgarian and international films to the rest of the world, it’s sure continue its worldwide recognition. If you’re a lover of films, keep checking back on their site so you can book your tickets for distinguished feature films and documentaries.