Discover the Rose Valley - Bulgaria
You may not recognize these fields are special if you simply drive by. It happened to me once. You would be forgiven if you thought the mountains in the background are the best part of the view. You may have no way of knowing that just a few mornings later, in sparkling early daylight, nimble hands will be picking precious blossoms in a yearly ritual that has existed for centuries. But I do hope you don’t just keep driving and realize you are in Bulgaria's Rose Valley - the home of Rosa Damascena, one of the most important flowers in the formidable business of fragrance.
When Nancy Haas chronicled one fragrance wizard’s quest to “breed a revolutionary blossom for modern times” in her 2015 New York Times article “Francis Kurkdjian and Fabien Ducher, Changing History in a Bottle”, she wrote, “Perfume roses live in a different dimension from the ones we see most often: wax-perfect and upright as No. 2 pencils in a frosted vase, with no smell at all. The suede petals of perfume blossoms are tethered to stems as willowy as a shoelace of licorice, on plants cultivated without an eye for garden beauty. They peak on a single early morning in ancient fields in obscure locations and must be plucked by hand before the sun turns them limp, robbing them of their redolence. Just yards away sit copper stills in which they are processed by methods that haven’t changed much in generations.”
Welcome to one of the most important of the aforementioned obscure locations - Rose Valley in Kazanluk, Bulgaria. If you are lucky enough to visit Bulgaria in the next few weeks, you may be able to participate in Bulgaria’s 114th Annual Rose Festival. For two weeks, you can see, smell, and salute the experience of rose picking and rose oil extraction in a way that is hardly available anywhere else in the world. While nowadays some of the festivities can be a bit over-stylized for the sake of tourist entertainment, the main attraction - the beautiful Bulgarian rose - still reigns as the rare and highly valued source of rose oil. Often called rose otto or rose attar, rose oil is remarkably valuable. According to Haas, “it can take up to 60,000 roses to get a mere ounce of oil”.