South of the Stara Planina Mountain is the Valley of Roses. Unique to Bulgaria, it covers a huge area. The Rosa Damascena has been cultivated here for centuries and become one of the Bulgaria
s symbols. The famous rose oil of which Bulgaria is the worlds largest producer, is extracted industrially by distillation and widely used in the pharmaceutical and perfume industry. The oil is extracted from the rose blossoms between 5 am and noon before the dew evaporates. The leaves which must be processed immediatly are diluted an a ratio of 1 to 4 with water, and heatedin distillation cahmbers, To obtain 1 litre of rose oil, 3 – 3 1/2 tons of red blossoms or 5 – 6 tons of white blossoms are double distilled. Not surprisingly on the world market, rose oil is worth more than gold. It is in great demand and is kept in the vaults of the National Bank. The sub-Balkan valley is sandwiched between the Stara Planina Mountain to the North and the Sredna Gora mountain to the South. It has favourable growing conditions for the oil bearing rose and as such it is one of the biggest rose gardens in the world.
Geologically, it consists of two river valleys, those of the Stryama to the west and the Tundzha to the east. The Rose Valley of Kazanlak stretches for 10-12 kilometers and is 95 kilometers long with an average height of 350 meters and an area of 1895 square kilometers. Respectively, the Kalofer Valley of Roses covers an area of 1387 square kilometers with a length of 55 kilometers and 16 kilometers width. The centre of the rose oil industry is Kazanlak, while other towns of importance include Karlovo, Sopot, Kalofer and Pavel banya. Each year, festivals are held celebrating roses and rose oil.
The picking season lasts from May to June. During this period, the area gives off a pleasant scent and is covered with multi-coloured flowers. The gathering process, traditionally a woman’s task, requires great dexterity and patience. The flowers are carefully cut one by one and laid in willow-baskets which are then sent to the distilleries. Tourists are welcome to join the rose-picking process, usually on weekend mornings when special ritual reenactments are organized in villages around Kazanlak.
In September 2014 the European Commission approved Bulgarian rose oil as a new Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).