Melnik & Struma Valley: Endemic Grape Varieties, Culture and SPA

The Struma River Valley Wine Region is one of five broad wine regions in Bulgaria. Located in the southwestern corner of Bulgaria, the region is easily accessible from Sofia. It is about a 2½ hour drive from Sofia to the small town of Melnik which serves as a great base for a wine tasting and cultural exploration tour of the region.

Map of Bulgaria with Struma Valley Wine Region Highlighted

Regional Overview

The region offers a wonderful blend of beautiful landscapes, local food and wine, wine cellars, spa & wellness, cultural heritage sites and ancient history.

Gorgeous weather and ideal conditions for grape growing. It is no wonder that this region has been producing wine since the Thracians inhabited the area more than 5000 years ago. The Melnik and Struma Valley area is the region with the highest average daily temperatures in Bulgaria. The temperatures soar in the summer and the winters are mild. The micro-climate in the very south of the country close to the borders with Greece and Northern Macedonia is similar to a Mediterranean climate. This fact, combined with the diverse soil types, provides the ideal conditions for cultivating grapes. Rustic cuisine, local wines, a wealth of culture and breathtaking nature. Could you ask for more on a leisurely getaway?

Melnik Wine Map

The map of the Melnik Wine Routes (above) is a helpful tool for tourists and highlights wineries as well as historical, cultural and natural landmarks in the region.

Local Wines

The Struma Valley area is known for its distinctive wines. The region is home to an endemic grape variety found only here – Shiroka Melnishka Loza [Broadleaved Melnik Vine]. Wines from this particular grape variety were the most popular Bulgarian wines in Western Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Even Winston Churchill himself was a big fan of Melnik wine allegedly purchasing 500 litres of Shiroka Melnishka Loza each year. The bluish-blackish grape is a late-ripening variety that can be challenging to cultivate.  There have been a number of hybrid varieties developed from Shiroka Melnishka Loza in order to preserve the unique characteristics of this local grape variety, but at the same time make it easier to cultivate. Such hybrid varieties are: Melnik 82, Melnik Ruen and the most famous one Melnik 55 also called Ranna Melnishka Loza [Early Melnik]. Native white grape varieties in the area are Sandanski Misket and Keratzuda. In addition to the grape varieties associated predominantly with the Melnik and Struma Valley wine region, other grape varieties grown here are: Mavrud (another native Bulgarian grape variety), Rubin (a hybrid Bulgarian grape variety) and a range of international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Marselan, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer, Viognier and Muscat Ottonel.

One thing is certain – you cannot leave the Melnik area without trying wines from Shiroka Melnishka Loza and experiencing the pride that the locals take in this grape variety.

Broadleaved melnik vine

Struma Valley Wineries: Where to taste wine

The glory days for Melnik wines and other wines from the Struma Valley are far from over. The wineries in the Struma Valley Region produce high-quality, award-winning wines and offer a wide array of wine tasting experiences amidst a peaceful natural scenery. The wineries provide informative, laid-back wine tastings tours 

The following wineries are must-visit wineries in the region that can easily be visited in 3 days:

Medi Valley Winery

Medi Valley is situated in the Struma River Valley area that was inhabited by the Thracian tribe Medi up until the Romans conquered the region; hence the name of the winery. The most famous historical figure from the Medi tribe was Spartacus – the slave who led a revolt against the mighty Roman Empire. With similar boldness, Medi Valley set out to produce high-quality wines and is one of the forerunners in wine tourism in the area. Medi Valley is located nearby Bulgaria’s largest monastery – the Rila Monastery, which makes it a natural stop on the way to or from the monastery. Medi Valley has some of the highest vineyards in Bulgaria at over 550 meters above sea level. Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking required.

Smochevo 2641, District of Rila

+359 88 555 2901

Villa Melnik Winery

Villa Melnik is a modern family-run winery located in an area with a long history in wine making – the Melnik area. A number of wineries lie scattered but close to each other in this small area. Villa Melnik cultivates a broad selection of grape varieties ranging from the local Melnik varieties to traditional international varieties. A tasting in their tasting room, or in their spectacular underground labyrinth-like wine cellar, is truly a unique experience. The Zikatanov family and their team are always happy to welcome visitors. Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking is preferred.

Harsovo 2819, Blagoevgrad Region

+359 884 840320


Orbelus is one of the few 100% organic wineries in Bulgaria. Orbelus is certified by the EU Green Leaf (Eco) label and the construction of the winery also speaks to its eco-vision. The winery is shaped as an oak barrel, half of which is buried underground. The construction of the winery allows for sunlight maximization, reduction of lighting needs and energy use and facilitates the use of the gravitational method in the wine making process. Orbelus is proof that there is a future for high-quality, organic wine in Bulgaria, which is also produced with minimal environmental impact. Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking is required.

Kromidovo 2871, Blagoevgrad Region

+359 295 15495

Orbelia Winery

Orbelia winery is located in the far southwest of Bulgaria, close to where the borders of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece meet. Orbelia is the Thracian name of the mountain that surrounds the area and it means “The White Mountain” because of the ever-present snow caps on its peaks. Following the Thracian traditions of the area, Orbelia places emphasis on the local grape varieties such as Shiroka Melnishka Loza, Sandanski Misket and Keratzuda. Orbelia is a new winery but provides an authentic atmosphere reminiscent of rural and traditional Bulgaria. Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking is required.

Kolarovo 2880, Petrich Municipality

Phone: +359 884 667793

Rupel winery

The small Rupel winery is located in the famous Melnik region that has been producing and trading wine for millennia. Wine making is more than a tradition in this region. It is a way of life. The family winery of Rupel has vineyards that were re-established around the year 2006. The vineyards are characterized by rich soil characteristics and hot climatic conditions with influence from the Aegean sea giving the entire area a Mediterranean-like environment. The winery has French, Bulgarian and Italian varieties, and produce trendy, high-quality wines. The team behind the winery are passionate about what they do. The winery is also dedicated to welcoming visitors for tastings, and makes you feel very welcome. Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking is preferred.

Dolno Spanchevo 2869, Petrich Municipality

Phone: +359 887 612 578

Zlaten Rozhen Winery

Zlaten Rozhen is a modern, newly-built winery in the village of Kapatovo. In the nearby village of Rozhen, there is also a Zlaten Rozhen hotel and restaurant. The family-owned hotel and restaurant is in walking walking distance from one of the most beautiful Bulgarian monasteries – Rozhen monasteryZlaten Rozhen’s young and ambitious team strive to produce wine reminiscent of the times when wine from this region was served at the tables of respected Western European families. Their must-try wines, that represent the region and the local grapes, are their Melnik blends and Sandanski Misket wines.  Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking is required.

Kapatovo 2872, Petrich Municipality

Phone: +359 899 409 464

Uva Nestum Winery

Uva Nestum Wine & Spa is so much more than a winery. The modern complex offers their guests a hotel, a spa, a winery and an impressive restaurant. The small, boutique winery produces limited quantities of craft wines at the highest level of quality. Most of the wine is consumed by guests of the hotel and restaurant. The spa is state-of-the art with swimming pools and a spa center. The hotel offers comfortable and high-end accommodation. The restaurant is world class with great attention to quality and a focus on locally sourced food from their own farm or selected partners. Uva Nestum is the ideal place for a rejuvenating getaway. Tours and tastings are available daily. Pre-booking is required.

125 Gotse Delchev Boulevard

2900 Gotse Delchev

Phone: + 359 887 021 020

Culture, History and Nature: What to see

There is no shortage of things to see in this region. Monasteries (incl. a UNESCO World Heritage Site), roman ruins, the highest mountains in Bulgaria, the smallest town in Bulgaria and the Melnik sand pyramids are a good start to some of the interesting sights this area has to offer.

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

The largest and most important Bulgarian monastery – Rila Monastery – is located in the region. The Rila Monastery might just be the most iconic and well-known cultural heritage site in Bulgaria. It was recognized as having outstanding universal value and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. The Rila Monastery is just 120 km from Sofia and not too far from the Medi Valley Winery. Prepare to be drawn in by the beautiful architecture, ornate frescoes and spiritual ambiance. The name is taken from its location in the Rila Mountains which are the highest in Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula.  The highest peak is Mt. Musala at 2925m/9740ft. For the adventurous souls, it is an absolute joy to hike in the Rila Mountains, especially all the way up to Mt. Musala or to the Seven Rila Lakes – a group of seven glacier lakes spread among impressive peaks and deep gorges.

Rozhen Monastery

Rozhen Monastery

The Rozhen Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God is the biggest monastery in the Pirin Mountains in southwest Bulgaria. It is located close to the village of Rozhen and not too far from the town of Melnik. The charming monastery boasts some of the most intricate and beautiful iconostases and frescoes. The holy icon of Virgin Mary is particularly famous. The serenity of the monastery grounds will leave you spellbound. Wander around the green surroundings. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy a peaceful lunch or visit the nearby Zlaten Rozhen Hotel for an authentic meal with some splendid wines from the cellar.

The town of Melnik

Kordupolov House

Melnik is Bulgaria’s smallest town boasting a population of ~210 residents. The town is an open-air living architectural reserve. Up towards 96 of its buildings are cultural monuments of which most are traditional Bulgarian revival style houses. The most famous national revival house is the Kordopulov House that was owned by a rich merchant family in the 18th and 19th century. As was typical for all the merchant houses in the area, wine was made in the cellar of the large house and shipped off to wealthy customers in western Europe. The home is now a museum open to visitors and a glass of wine can still be enjoyed in the wine cellar. A day or half-day is easily spent in Melnik exploring the house-museums, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and taking a walk in the Melnik Sand Pyramids – a natural phenomenon where the sandy slopes are formed as small pyramids.

Heraclea Sintica

heraclea sintica

Heraclea Sintica is an ancient Thracian, Greek and Roman city located in Bulgaria’s southwestern-most region near the border to Greece and close to the town of Petrich. The city was was founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon (r. 305-297 BC), who also founded Thessaloniki. The city thrived until the Late Antiquity. It was a marvelous, busy city in its glory days and served as the epi-centre of the ancient region of Sintica. Strategically located close to Struma River, the area was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Sintians. The city of Heraclea Sintica was mentioned by Homer, Herodotos and Thycudides in their respective writings. Today, visitors can visit the archaeological site everyday from 10 am – 5 pm. There is a small entrance fee (~1 euro). 

Restaurants: Where to eat

Bulgarian cuisine is one of the country’s best kept secrets. Many first-time visitors are pleasantly surprised by the culinary scene that is characterized by unique flavors, fresh ingredients and large hearty dishes. A throwback to a simpler time where a garden-to-table or farm-to-table approach to cooking was not a trend but the norm. The rich culinary heritage of the country is just waiting to be discovered. Savor a taste of Bulgaria and sample regional dishes in the following recommended restaurants:

Bistro Melnik

A traditional tavern [mehana] located on the main square of the historical town of Melnik. Bistro Melnik that serves up typical dishes from the Bulgarian cuisine. Expect soups, stews, salads, homemade bread, homemade cheese and, of course, a fantastic selection of grilled dishes. We recommend trying the tarama dip – a speaciality from our neighbours to the south – Greece!

Phone: +359 88 925 2430

Bistro Melnik

Mantar Restaurant

A charming place to eat and stay in the village of Marikostinovo close to the Melnik wineries such as Villa Melnik, Orbelus, Rupel and Zlaten Rozhen. The Mantar Hotel & Spa is the perfect place to stop for lunch in between winery visits, or why not choose to spend the night and enjoy the mineral water pools? The restaurant has an outdoor garden for summers and a contemporary indoor dining area for the colder days. Indulge in traditional food or a health-focused menus – all food is made with local ingredients and love!  Located close to all the major cultural and historical attractions of Melnik, Mantar Hotel & Spa is a relaxing, rural and convenient place to eat or stay.

Mineral Springs, Marikostinovo Village

2850 Petrich Municipality

Phone: +359 742 01004

Mantar Hotel and spa

aEstivum restaurant (Zornitza)

aEstivum restaurant is the in-house restaurant at the Zornitza Family Estate – a proud member of Relais & Chateaux. The restaurant offers exceptional wine and dine experiences that gourmands and bon viveurs would appreciate. Enjoy the excellent service and the atmosphere. The selection of almost 300 wines is bound to impress as is the cuisine offered at the restaurant. The talented sommelier and the service staff will guide you through your culinary experience. The aEstivum restaurant is the perfect choice for an unforgettable farewell dinner for your last evening in the region, or why not pamper yourself and spend the weekend at Zornitza Family Estate?

Zornitza Village, 2821 Melnik Area 

Phone: +359 877 762 217

aEstivum restaurant

Sveti Nikola Classic Restaurant (Sandanski)

A charming place to eat in the town of Sandanski. While this restaurant and hotel is hidden away from the main pedestrian area of the town, it is worth finding it and enjoying a dinner there. Why? The food is fresh and delicious. There is an emphasis on Greek-Mediterranean cuisine with fresh fish coming over from Greece daily.

1, Macedonia Street

2800 Sandanski

Phone: +359 88 78 03 195

svet nikola restaurant

Guesthouses: Where to stay

From luxurious villas to spa hotels or small, traditional guesthouses. There are many options in the Melnik-Sandanski area for accommodation in the categories rural luxury, mid-range spa resorts and traditional rural guesthouses.

We like the following hotels/guesthouses:

Zlaten Rozhen

Zlaten Rozhen is a hotel, wine cellar and restaurant located in the village of Rozhen and not too far from the scenic monastery of Rozhen monastery. The small hotel is a great base in the region with easy access to the wineries and sights in the surrounding area. The food and ambience is authentic and honest. The underground wine cellar is a real gem with superb local wines and an elegant tasting table. Several attractions are nearby and the hotel is wonderfully quiet due to its non-crowded location.

Rozhen Village, 2820 Sandanski Municipality

+ 359 879 801300

Hotel Zlaten Rozhen

Villa Sintica

Stay at a modern and charming wine hotel in the town of Sandanski. Villa Sintica is located adjacent to Sintica Winery in the town of Sandanski. The town of Sandanski is famous for its thermal water springs with healing qualities and is a popular all-year-round spa and recreational destination. The town is close to wineries and attractions and adds the element of spa and wellness to a trip. Villa Sintica offers beautiful rooms, great service, spa therapies and a swimming pool Last but not least, the all-day-dining restaurant is simply excelletn with a great wine list and the possibility to do wine tastings and wine-paired menus.

Sandanski road E79

2800 Sandanski

+359 877 02 52 52

villa sintica

Zornitza Family Estate

Splurge on a stay at a luxurious resort in a secluded village. Zornitza Family Estate offers boutique accommodation and excellent dining. Relax and rejuvenate at the spa. Enjoy a tasting in the wine cellar. Let yourself be pampered by the excellent service staff. Zornitza Family Estate is close the major attractions in the area and the wineries.

2821 Zornitza Village, Melnik Area

+359 877 762 217

Zornitza Family Estate

Unique wine tasting experiences await you in the Melnik & Struma Valley region. Insider tip? Take advantage of the unfamiliarity with the region and visit sooner rather than later.