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The one that I have called “Rila ghostly spa ” it is located a few kilometers from two of the biggest tourist attractions in Bulgaria, I am talking about the Rila Monastery and the natural phenomenon of the Seven Rila Lakes. He “Rila's ghostly spa ”is located in the Belchinski Bani neighborhood, belonging to the municipality of Belchin, near the Rila mountains (that are declared a National Park). The general road that thousands of tourists pass every year to go up to see the famous Seven Rila Lakes or a little later to get to it Rila monastery, passes very close to this spa, Nevertheless, no tourist knows of its existence and therefore no one deviates from the road the few 2 km that are necessary to know it, Although perhaps even if they knew it, they would not visit it either, since people in general deny the old and the old and the Belchin spa is both, very old and very, too old. But therein lies the charm and authenticity that some like me find in these kinds of places that have been anchored in the past.. This spa is used only by the inhabitants of the neighboring town of Belchin, a town of officially only 344 population, that apart from having a magnificent thermal spring in its subsoil, it has magnificent views of the Rila mountain that rises defiantly and with snow almost all year round, a few kilometers from town.

Belchin Village

Belchin Village

Bayrakli Mosque in the neighboring city of Samokov.

Bayrakli Mosque in the neighboring city of Samokov (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bulgaria has in its subsoil an impressive amount of hot springs that emerge in many places throughout the country, one of them in Belchin… The Romans who occupied Bulgaria have already realized the healing and revitalizing properties of its thermal waters, building numerous spas across the country, An example is Belchin, where there are remains of the 4th century Roman spa that used this same spring.

Ruins of the Roman Baths of Belchin, 4th century

Ruins of the Roman Baths of Belchin, 4th century

But the origin of the current Belchin spa dates back to the decade of the years 40-50 When the townspeople wanted to build a spa but since they lacked the materials or money to buy them, they took advantage of the stones from a mosque in the neighboring town that was under demolition to build their spa, and they did it at night, taking the stones little by little, which forced to put guards to the neighboring town, but it was too late, Belchin people had already taken the materials… Just comment that in many towns in Bulgaria there are mosques because a small part of Bulgarians currently follow the Muslim religion (tradition of 500 years of Ottoman occupation until 1878), although the most followed religion in the country is the Christian-Orthodox.

 

From the years 60-70 going to him was an exclusive luxury for the elites of the ruling communist party in those years, later its use began to become popular among employees of large companies in the country. In Bulgaria it was common during the communist period for employees of the country's large state-owned companies to, kind, mining companies, electrical, nuclear power plants, crowd of officials, etc. were rewarded for their work with a vacation at one of these spas. The government built these spas, sometimes with an attached hotel, with the idea that employees who had hard jobs and long hours could rest and revitalize taking advantage of the natural properties of hot springs. Sure this vacation had its dark side, only the bosses could choose the dates in which to go to the spas, The rest of the employees were assigned certain dates without the ability to choose and as the movements within the country were limited by the government, Let's say it was a mandatory vacation on the date and place that the company decided, yes, at very low prices since salaries were not enough for anything else.

 

El "balneario fantasmal" de Rila en Belchin

He “ghostly spa” de Rila and Belchin (Bulgaria)

 

But without getting into politics let's go back to the current Belchin Spa. I found it by chance, I had accompanied some travelers who decided to stay in a luxury hotel 4 stars in Belchinski Bani, the hotel is outside the town of Belchin, in the Belchinski Bani neighborhood, isolated with no houses around, and has all the comforts of a new and modern hotel that also takes advantage of the town's hot springs. One morning when I went to pick up these travelers to leave for the Rila Monastery, I arrived early and decided then to know the surroundings of the Hotel, I went through the door of the hotel without stopping and following the road 300 meters I find an old white building with a diaphanous square in front where weeds roam freely between the cement tiles of the floor, I glimpsed someone moving inside the building behind a glass door, Was it a ghost maybe?, I still did not know that the building was a spa, I parked in a field because there was no other place, I got out of the car and went to find out what that place was, I had in mind the building of Buzludzha, an abandoned building in the mountains of Bulgaria's Central Balkan range that he had previously visited.

Entrance to the ancient Spa of Belchin in Bulgaria

Entrance to the ancient Spa of Belchin in Bulgaria

But it was not the case, that old building was not abandoned, When I was near the door, I could guess from the Cyrillic letters on the façade that it was a spa, the ghost that could be, it was nothing other than the receptionist at the spa. It was early, I decided to go in and went to the receptionist's table, the woman of some 55 years working as a cashier to collect the entrance fee, although I found her preparing 8 slices of bread that he spread with some pasta that I did not know what it was, but the image of a cashier on her desk, what is your job, is preparing 8 big breakfast slices, it is not known for whom, it has no waste. At the same reception there was 4 armchairs covered in dark brown leather that must have been the same age as the cashier, they piqued my interest to know the rest of the building, What other retro objects could you find there? I had already realized that there the townspeople had to pay a small entrance fee, 4 levas, Bulgarian currency, some 2 euros to change, to access the spa. I had little time and even at the risk of disturbing the cashier in her work spreading bread slices, I presented myself to the cashier as a tour operator and asked her if I could see the spa facilities for just a couple of minutes ... the cashier stopped spread the slices, left the knife on the table before getting up (thank goodness or it kills me with fright) and with an expressionless face, as many Bulgarians are used to, he told me okay, to follow the corridor to the left and pass the door at the end of it, I did it like that, she stayed at the reception continuing with “their work” And I walked through the door at the end of the hall.

Old changing rooms, still in use.

Old changing rooms, still in use.

I found myself then in the locker room, some wooden benches in the center and some wooden wardrobe cabinets on the walls, both had to be there since the inauguration of the building, old wood, muted colors, cupboard doors that some closed and others did not, some off the hook, but to my surprise that was not an archaeological museum, It was the changing rooms of a working spa because there was a man getting dressed and getting ready to go out after I suppose he had used the spa. In order not to bother him and because I was in a hurry, I quickly crossed the changing room to the next door where I could already hear the noise of the water taps on the other side of the door.

When I opened it, I found the "ghostly" spa in its splendor, a room where the shower taps were running although no one was using them unless they were ghosts…, and hot water gushed out of them that heated the air in the entire room while filling it with steam, it was the thermal water from the spring, the same water in which the rich tourists bathed in the luxury hotel next door ... quite a paradox .... To the right of the hot showers was a swimming pool, not too big, with capacity for 10 persons, but it was empty, only occupied by the hot natural thermal water waiting for the next bathers…, the pool was in the style of roman baths, square and in which you have to go down 4 steps using a railing, but in this case the railing was rather terrifying than a help, the rust that had caused so many years of humidity could be seen throughout, it was better to risk a slip than touch that railing. And it wasn't the only thing rusty since the shower taps were too.

The room was all tiled with white tiles, old hospital type, that was also scary, here and there were tiles that were missing or cracked, nobody had to worry about replacing or fixing them. The room had a considerable height, in fact in a corner I found another indelible image, there was a man, also of some 55-60 years climbed on an old wooden ladder that seemed to be cleaning the upper windows and tiles, tiles could be broken but clean too, that's what this operator was in charge of…, but the surprise was that he was working up on the ladder totally naked, when I entered the room he was turning his back to me and what is under his back… when he heard me he turned and said something in Bulgarian that I did not understand, but he did it with a smile so I didn't care, and as he saw that I was a foreigner, he continued with his work.

Then i understood it all, it was a spa that separates men and women, so that everyone can bathe and use the showers in that room being naked all the time. Surely the women's part was on the right side of the building and that is why the cashier directed me to the left wing of the spa. He had discovered the mystery of the ghost spa, that it was not such, but a fully functioning spa with an extended schedule of 8:00 a 18:00 hours, that he separated by sex for the comfort of the clients and that he used the thermal waters for rehabilitation and relaxation like so many others in Bulgaria, but this was a picturesque seaside resort like none, by the staff who work there, for your clients, for its totally retro style facilities, soviet style i would say, and by its environment, in front of the mighty Rila mountain. I thanked the cashier for letting me go inside and I left the building shocked by what I had seen, those people so diverse, a place so different from the known, ancient and old, but still in full operation, practically unchanged since it was built and who knows how many more years it would function.

 

hotel spa de Belchin

New Hotel 4**** and Belchin, with outdoor and indoor pool, both hot thermal water.

Hotel thermal water pool 4****

Roman bath style pool with spring water in the Hotel 4****.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went through the 300 meters back to the luxury hotel and the change was radical obviously, the hotel 4 stars was a hotel like the ones we already know in Spain, with all amenities, your sparkling SPA, outdoor thermal water pool to bathe in the middle of winter outdoors, another indoor pool, saunas, massages, etc.,…even a square indoor pool decorated in the Roman style, very similar to the old spa, but yes, this one had the gleaming railing… Go through those 300 meters between the old and the modern spa was like taking a trip back in time, at the same time as observing how you can enjoy the same hot springs but in a very different way according to social class or economic power, something to think about… Who knows if on some other occasion, with more time, I may try the natural Bulgarian hot springs myself at Belchin "ghost spa" for 2 €, the same waters that 300 meters beyond, in the luxury hotel they cost you much more and surely the experience of trying the facilities of the old spa is something you will not forget, worth telling friends as a funny anecdote from the trip to Bulgaria .... one more of the many that this country holds ...

Later researching I discovered that the ancient Belchin Spa includes on the first floor the pool mentioned above and 22 showers for individual use. In addition to relaxation and bathing activities, In parallel, the treatment of the musculoskeletal system is carried out for those who request it, peripheral nervous system and skin diseases (psoriasis). The second floor has saunas, steam shower, massage room, beauty treatments and more.

If you go to travel to Bulgaria and you plan to visit the Rila Monastery or the Seven Rila Lakes, remember this article, you can also visit the “ghostly Rila spa”, You may be the first foreign tourist to visit the place and who knows for how long it will hold open, so don't pass by ...

And if you like this type of experience we can offer you thematic trips such as the Travel in the footsteps of Communism in Bulgaria.

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