Plovdiv Old Town is the single prettiest place we’ve visited since beautiful Lijiang in China.
The city’s history is written in its walls. Successive generations of conquerors — Macedonian, Roman, Bulgar and Ottoman — have left their mark here, cannibalising each other’s buildings to build and defend anew.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, first settled 8000 years ago or so, the Old Town ambles across three crags above Bulgaria’s Maritsa river, complete with a Roman theatre.
The skyline now, bar the big, brick-built Ottoman mosque, is firmly Orthodox. There are dazzling churches, dense with gilt and icons, at every major crossroad.
In winter, the Old Town is almost empty. Children ride sleds between galleried houses, the homes of wealthy merchants 150 years ago or so.
The old town is pocket-sized and if you stay in the heart of it you can wander at will.
There are museums of pharmacy, history, icons, ethnography, old houses kitted out for display. A myriad art galleries, both private and public, compete with antique shops.
And these are addictive. Ancient sewing machines, Ottoman coffee mills, Russian pre-revolutionary icons, bundles of drachma, war medals, vintage books, box cameras, jewellery, old letters cluster the shelves.
You can wander down a back street and find a flawless view, take a walk up to an ancient monument and find a winter wonderland. (Snowballs and icycle battles optional.)
Yes. Plovdiv, despite your name, I think I love you…