By Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva
Art historian, curator and critic Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva is artistic director of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation, which is overseeing the city’s reign as European Capital of Culture in 2019. Bulgaria’s second-largest city is sharing the title with Matera in Italy.
My favourite view in Plovdiv is of the railway tracks to the west, Youth Hill and the beautiful central railway station. I find myself emotionally attached to this view.
I see it every time I cross the bridge that connects my current neighbourhood to the city centre. It is the symbolic boundary between my personal space and my work, and is an image of many possibilities and paths ahead.
Where to live — Little Paris
I live in the Little Paris neighbourhood (better known by its Turkish name Küçük Paris) in the southern district of the city. It is so named because of the chimney — which no longer exists — of the former pellet factory that reminded people of the Eiffel Tower.
In contrast to its name, the quarter looks pretty modest. Its eclectic architecture reflects a rich and picturesque history. Next to socialist period apartment blocks and mansions from the past 30 years, you suddenly find 100-year-old small houses built by refugees from Western Thrace and Macedonia after the first world war. They turned the former Roma ghetto into what is now Little Paris.
The area is very close to the city centre, but once you cross the railway tracks, you enter a world that has a character and identity all of its own: grocery stores, bakeries, hair salons, lower prices for everything, and people who address each other by their grandparents’ nicknames.
Where to discover culture
If you want to enjoy the really special Plovdivian mixture of history, contemporary art and culture, you need to go to the centre.
There, you can listen to opera at the preserved Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis dating from the Roman period, enjoy live music among the excavations of the Roman stadium, see contemporary art at the Chifte Ottoman Baths or 1960s art on building façades, and explore typical early 20th-century urban architecture. And this is just the shortlist.
Where to eat lunch
Best are Paça and Sofra, the Turkish restaurants near the Dzhumaya mosque in the city centre. Close to Kapana, Plovdiv’s hipster area, they always have freshly cooked meals, including soups and salads, at quite reasonable prices. The tea they serve is much more refreshing than the coffee you get anywhere in the city.
Where to relax
The rowing canal, venue of the World Rowing Championships in 2018, is my favourite place, especially in the summer. The Maritsa river is very close and I recommend taking the path between the river and the canal.
You can cycle, play tennis, jog or do yoga. Or you can just sit, idly watching the rowers. There is a rock festival there in June called Hills of Rock, and playgrounds and cosy restaurants nearby.
Where to hike
Plovdiv still has six of its original seven hills (one was destroyed between the 19th and 20th centuries as rock was extracted for building materials) and all are suitable for hiking. It is an energising experience in every season and at every time of day. There are monuments and garden sculptures from the socialist period, as well as wild nature and lovely city views.
Where to discover the Seventh Hill
Plovdiv is literally built from its hills, so you need to be very careful and mind your step. My favourite monument is the Seventh Hill, a simple “golden” block created by local artist Atanas Hranov and writer Alexander Sekulov to commemorate the missing hill of Markovo Tepe.
The pavement on Otets Paisiy is the only remnant of the hill, which provided the paving stones. The street itself is one of Plovdiv’s most active cultural hubs and a meeting point for art lovers.
Photographs: Vesselina Nikolaeva Dreamstime; Paul Kennedy/Alamy Stock Photo Clemet Peiffer/Getty Images Peter Ptschelinzew/Getty Images