The Fig House sleeps six people on a self-catering basis and is available for private rental throughout the year.
The house was built in 1926 but, 80 years on, had fallen into near-dereliction. The recent restoration has aimed to create a haven of tranquillity by retaining maximum atmosphere without sacrificing modern comfort.
Reflecting its location in the historical region of Aegean Thrace the interior dĂŠcor of the house has been designed to have one foot in the Balkans and one further south. Exposed beams and hand-made terracotta-tiled floors give a Mediterranean flavour. Ottoman-style banquettes, rugs and light fittings and traditional hand-made Bulgarian revival style furniture add a taste of the near east.
The house has many charming and unusual features such as the romantic spiral staircase to the basement and the stone-built corner open fireplace in the sitting room. The beamed and terracotta-tiled airy main corridor is a particular delight.
The year-'round rate for both main house and annexe (six people) is a flat-rate â‚Ź540 (â‚Ź450 + 9% Bulgarian VAT) per week
Although Bulgaria's future looks relatively rosy it is also steeped in a fascinating past, with extensive remains of various cultures dating back over ten thousand years. Bulgaria's ancient monuments (after 60 years under communism) are not as well excavated or exploited as those of neighbouring Greece. However, many of them are every bit as impressive as their Greek equivalents - and usually free of charge! (General information on the antiquities of the area - in English - can be found at ancient-bulgaria.com).
Local highlights for day trips include the following:
VILLA ARMIRA (The 'White Villa')
Situated just outside the village of Svirachi this is a 2nd to 5th century AD Roman villa probably owned by the family of a local merchant. It was originally faced in the local marble (whose export throughout the empire once made the region rich, but is now exhausted) and must have been an impressive sight in its heyday.
The villa was burned to the ground by Barbarians during the dying gasps of the Roman Empire. One dubious legend has it that the Emperor Valent was recovering here from his wounds suffered during the battle at nearby Adrianoupolis - now Edirne in modern Turkey - in 378 AD and was discovered by barbarians, who burned the villa down in revenge.
The Villa Armira was re-discovered in the 1960's during excavations for a local water plant. Now completely covered by a glass-sided building - and with its mosaics and other original features largely restored - it makes a fascinating visit.
Interestingly the owners of the villa built the first swimming pool in the village 1,500 years ago - the one at The Fig House is only the second. Fingers crossed that the one at the Fig House doesn't leak like theirs!
THE BURIAL TUMULUS AT SVIRACHI
Only discovered and excavated very recently - and actually in the village of Svirachi itself - this appears to be the family tomb of the Villa Armira.
Interestingly there is a similar burial tumulus ten kilometres away in what is now Greece. In a symbolic gesture the Greek tomb now has a spotlight on it that shines a beam of light towards its Bulgarian partner every night.
Now that the Greek border near Ivailovgrad is open for the first time in over 60 years you are able to walk freely between the two tombs for the first time in several generations!
LYUTITSA 'The marble Fortress'
Just a few kilometres toward Ivailovgrad from Svirachi (and well signposted in both English and Bulgarian) is the 14th century fortress of Lyutitsa. It is still in a remarkable state of repair with eight of its twelve white marble-faced towers still standing.
You can drive some of the way to the fortress (visiting the 13th century Monastery of St. Constantin and Elena en route) but have to walk the remaining four kilometres.
There is an additional medieval fortress at Slaveevo just a few kilometres from Svirachi.
THE MONASTERY OF ST. CONSTANTIN & ELENA
Dating from the 13th century - but ruined under Ottoman rule and restored in 1872 - this is the only monastery in the Ivailovgrad region. It is easily accessed by car on the same road that leads to the fortress of Lyutitsa. From the main Svirachi-Ivailovgrad road to the monastery itself is about three kilometres.
in Ivailovgrad include the St. God's Transfiguration Church (1805) , the St. Prophet Ilia church (1820) and the St. Constantin and Elena Church (1806).
23 more 'Artistically or Architecturally Noteworthy' Orthodox churches are present in the Ivailovgrad area. Thanks to the Ottoman invaders of the 14th century few are more than 150 years old. However, their beautifully-executed tempera icons and other artwork does suggest that Bulgarian art was flourishing even in this remote area.
DOLMENS AT PLEVUN & ZHELEZENO
Near the villages of Plevun and Zhelezeno are a series of ancient Thracian dolmens (chamber tombs) in a style unique to this area. They appear to have been in more-or-less constant use throughout the first and second millenia BC prior to Roman annexation of this area.
This is a day-trip as it is a two hour drive from Ivailovgrad.
Located 15 kms to the north-east of the city of Kardjali it is well worth the effort as it is the largest megalithic acropolis and temple structure in the Balkans.
A fortified city since possibly 5,000 BC the views from the top alone are breathtaking.
Although it is a bit of a scramble up to the city itself the dirt road to leading to the site is reasonably good. It is accessible in most weathers without the need for four-wheel drive.
The city was the site of the ancient oracle of Dionysus at which it is reputed that Alexander the Great received his prophecy that he would rule the then-known world.
10 kms off the road back to Ivailovgrad from Kardzhali is also worth a look. A shrine complex to Orpheus it contains the symbolic tomb of the musician himself and is clearly signposted (in English and Bulgarian).
The site is easily accessible from the road and has an on-site car-park.
LOCAL VILLAGES OF NOTE
Due to the legacy of the Ottoman Empire this area contains a remarkable assortment of village houses in the various architectural traditions of Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and even Albania. (The village of Mandritsa is the only Albanian village in Bulgaria and to this day the inhabitants speak a unique dialect of Albanian).
The villages of Dolno Lukovo, Gorno Lukovo, Odrintse, Mandritsa and Plevun are particularly noteworthy for their houses. The whole area has even been referred to as an 'architectural reserve' in one European Union publication.
DAY TRIPS TO GREECE & TURKEY
If you don't have your own car the Fig House has its own comfortable BMW 381 Estate car that can be hired with the house if required. It is quite feasible to make a trip to Greece or Turkey for the day. Alternatively you can stay at The Fig House for a few days on your drive down in your own vehicle.
Until recently getting to Greece from Ivailovgrad involved quite a large 'dog-leg' - north to Lyubimets (one hour) then east to the border crossing at 'Kapitan Andreevo' (half an hour or so) before either heading east for Turkey or hanging a right for Greece. However, the border crossing to Greece at Slaveevo (only 9 kilometres from The Fig House and closed since 1947) opened permanently to light traffic on the 9th of September 2010. It is now possible to get across the border to Greece in under a quarter of an hour. If you turn sharply right immediately after the customs post at the border crossing at Slaveevo a good tarmac road takes you to Didimoticho in Greece in about half an hour. From there to the Aegean coast is about an hour on fast roads.
To get to Turkey you can either cut across the northern tip of Greece if you take the Slaveevo crossing or you can go up the old road to Svilengrad via Lyubimets. The sign at Lyubimets says 'Sofia 285 km - Istanbul 285 Km'. Even with the fast road to Istanbul after Svilengrad a day-trip is probably a bit optimistic as it would take a total of four hours or so. However, the town of Edirne (historical Adrianoupolis) would be quite feasible for a gentle day-trip into Turkey as it is barely 15 kilometres across the border.
A haven of tranquillity in a small village on the Greek border of Bulgaria. Restored sympathetically in the Mediterranean style. Sleeps six and has a swimming pool.