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Summer Escape | Gela and Rural (Folklore) Traditions

Posted on: Friday, July 24, 2015

Hiking artifact crafted in Gela, Bulgaria

Time and time again, I am deeply inspired by the rural environs of Gela, Bulgaria. As the professed birth place of Orpheus, the stunning landscape surrounding Gela is resonant with the mysterious and primordial overtones of the Rhodope Mountains' agrarian history.





I had traveled to Gela once before as a springtime guest at Villa Gella (spelled differently than the mountaintop hamlet's name). This time around I traveled with my family in order to attend the weekend long, Rozhen Folklore Festival. 

A fresh new day with breakfast at Villa Gella, prior to setting off for a day of exploration

This visit was also a welcome opportunity to savor local recipes, crisp mountain air, and in turn slow the pace of my days as an artist | mother living between NYC and Sofia (for a few months of the year).

The serene spa and lap pool overlooking the mountains at Villa Gella

Traditional details, art work, and soothing textures in the quiet zone at Villa Gella

Our hosts at Villa Gella always make returning to their exquisite and resourcefully designed chalet an occasion to reflect on life as it could be, perhaps should be, or at least might be in a modern world that measures 'progress' in ways that do not always promise genuine health and true productivity. 

A late day hike on a mountain path in Gela offers up this serene beauty

I also wanted my active twin boys to experience the richness of the land near Gela – that is, the expansive vistas, the organic local food, the diversity of regional customs, the alluring gaida (bagpipe) music, and restorative hikes on ancient shepherd footpaths.

On a personal note, with all of the talk about slow textiles, traditional craft, and cultural preservation often swirling around me, I have come to feel that falling in love with a place, returning from time to time to see how things have changed (or not), and listening to the stories of those who live there full-time (as stewards), is an integral part of finding ways to dream about solutions, both local and global.

Traditional turlitsi slippers with regional folklore costume details

Kopriva (Коприва) | locally foraged nettle delicacies prepared by the chef at Villa Gella

It is often the innate details – the way that an embroidered hemline mimics the edges of nettle leaves displayed as garnish on a dinner plate –  that help me to better interpret the true meaning of life.

Rozhen Folklore Festival 2015 featuring a 'каракачаните' nomadic hut

'каракачаните' dancers and musicians preparing to perform at the Rozhen Festival

This year's Rozhen Festival demonstrated that folks, young and old, will still travel great distances to perform traditional village songs and dances – together, for the simple act of doing so in the open air where their spirits might co-mingle with mountain air, ancient tales, and the scent of Bulgarian food cooking on an open grill or over a campfire. 


This sort of gathering offers unexpected freedoms (even with the crowds) and does not have a measurable price by other standards. It all feels uniquely like home.

Rhodope Mountain villagers prepare to perform at the Rozhen Folklore Festival 

Villa Gella remains in my mind as an exquisite and luxurious crossroad for those in need of re-connecting with what is both grounding (sustainable) and otherworldly. During our recent stay one of my seven year old sons encouraged me to simply relax into the symphony of grasshoppers and crickets during our pre-dinner stroll. He advised me that the insects were playing 'their instruments' loudly for us because we loved nature, and they knew this.

Late afternoon siesta in the wildflowers of Gela

At moments like this, I feel as if I might have done a few things right in this lifetime of mine. If we do not take time to set the stage for these reflections, noise will always just be noise and not a concert or unexpected gathering that we recognize as something deeper than an invasion of our precious goals and tightly wound schedules.

Thank you, dear friends at Villa Gella and folklore artists at the Rozhen Festival, for creating this unique opportunity to overlap with the past, present, and future – all in a natural manner that speaks to cultural, ecological, and handmade traditions that extend beyond our borders.

All photos by Abigail Doan | July 2015 | Bulgaria

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