luni, 8 august 2011

Queen Marie of Romania's Castle, Balchik, Bulgaria

Well, our feet seem to burn when we stay home in the summer... so last weekend we decided to try something new.
If you are Romanian and you spend your holiday in Bulgaria (like every Romanian) don't you dare to miss the Balchik! This area was a part of Romania between 1913 and 1940, and Queen Marie of Romania built here a small summer castle, as well as a gorgeous Botanical Garden, which is now a branch of University of Sofia.
The castle is more a villa, but all the garden is filled with small guest houses and other kind of buildings, you can even rent a room here for the holiday. 

Marie of Edinburgh, the wife of Ferdinand I of Romania, visited Balchik in 1921 and liked the location of the summer residence, ordering the vineyards, gardens and water mills of local citizens to be bought so a palace could be constructed at their place. 

Balkan and Oriental motives were used in the construction of the palace that was carried out by Italian architects Augustino and Americo, while a florist was hired from Switzerland to arrange the park. 
The main building's extravagant minaret coexists with a Christian chapel, perfectly illustrating the Queen's Bahá'í beliefs.

  The official name of the palace was the Quiet Nest Palace.

The gardens are set on a steep hillside, and descend in six terraces to the sea - supposedly one for each of the Queen's children. 

There are over three thousand varieties of shrubs, roses and flowers, set among streams, waterfalls, and ornamental channels. Cacti alone are over 250, and thus Europe's second most important collection, after the one of Monaco!

There is a rock garden, a formal French one with clipped box cones and geometric beds, and an astonishing collection of roses. Interspersed are stone thrones, seats, pillars and ornaments collected by the Queen.

Runa tried to play at a traditional instrument. With a little help, she was really good!

This is the famous Fountain of Youth, a spring which is told to cure illness and purify your thoughts.

Today many of the former royal villas and other buildings of the complex are reorganized inside and used to accommodate tourists. Some of the older Bulgarian water mills have also been preserved and reconstructed as restaurants or tourist villas.

To have an idea about how beautiful it is, I can tell you that Francis Ford Coppola spent 11 days at the palace shooting scenes of "Youth Without Youth", with Tim Roth.

During the inter-war period, Balchik was also a favourite destination for Romanian avant-garde painters, lending his name to an informal school of post-impressionist painters - the Balchik School of Painting - which is central in the development of Romanian 20th century painting. Many works of the artists composing the group depict the town's houses and the exotic Tatar inhabitants, as well as the sea. 

So, please, please go there, especially if you are Romanian, the place is worth a visit! And... all the restaurants will serve you with great pleasure, everybody speak Romanian, as you can see in the inscription above, they even accept our LEI instead of LEVA to pay! But, for the God's sake, don't you dare to order coffee! Is the most awful coffee I ever had!

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