Odrintsi: Life off the grid

If you ever thought life off the grid is merely fiction, the tiny village of Odrintsi is the place, which will prove you wrong. Situated in the southeastern part of Bulgaria, in the vicinity of the Bulgarian-Greek border, Odrintsi used to be a desolate ghost village up until a few years ago. Hidden among the hills of the Rhodope Mountains, the village enjoys a soft and warm climate in a fertile region famous for its wine production. The closest town, Ivaylovgrad, is lying just about a twenty minute drive.
During a vacation of mine, which I was planning to spend drinking wine in Ivaylovgrad, my hosts told me stories about a “weird German settlement” in the village, so the next day I hopped on the car and went there to check it out myself.

Getting there

Ivaylovgrad is not the easiest destination to get to. A long part of the road goes through a dizzying mountain pass. The landscape provides beautiful scenery, but we had only a weekend, so we needed to act fast. Therefore, we prefer to go through Greece. Yes, it’s faster to leave Bulgaria from one border control point and re-enter from another, than go through the mountain. Once we reached the town, the road got better.
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VillaArmira – an ancient Roman site
Our first stop on the way from Ivaylovgrad to Odrintsi was Villa Armira – the remnants of the richest Roman Villa found on the Bulgarian territory, lying just about four kilometers from Ivaylovgrad. The complex dates back to the first century, and it was excavated in the 60s. It has been well restored since then. There is a showroom at the entrance, where we watched a fifteen-minute documentary about the site, learning the history and the legends related to the place. Then we entered the actual villa itself to enjoy the mosaics and columns of what once looked like a palace. The tour inside is not long, so we had enough time to stroll in the yard and go down to the nearby river, Armira, which gives the name to the villa itself.
After about an hour, we were ready to depart.
The next village on the road is Svirachi – the largest in the province, with a population of a few hundred. One of our hosts lived there, so we had a lunch at his place. There’s practically nothing to see there, so you can simply pass by. But at our friend’s house we were tempted by home-made goat cheese and domestically-produced red wine -nearly everyone in the region is making those two at home. The greatest attraction in places like this is the local people. They are always hospitable, open to people, and full of stories about local traditions and customs. Spending time with those people makes you feel like you are visiting a different planet. After the lunch we finally set off to our destination.
Odrinsti: Where time has stopped
After Svirachi we headed towards the Mandritsa village. A few kilometers before the village we took the exit for Odrintsi. A tiny narrow road with bushes and short trees on both sides ran for another ten minutes, making us wonder how we would pass each other with a car going in the oppposite direction if we come across one. Luckily, we didn’t, and soon we spotted the first house in Odrintsi. We parked along the street, determined to have a walk through the village. As the weather was warm enough to drive with the windows down, the very first thing that stroke us as soon as we turned the engine off, was how quiet the area was.
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The remnants
A century ago the local people made their living by silk farming, called sericulture. This is why they built spacious two- and three-storey buildings out of adobe. Due to the limitations posed by the regulations of border areas during Communist rule, the village was gradually abandoned. Today, all that remains is empty houses – some are well preserved, while others have almost fully collapsed. When walking down the two main streets even today one can  tell which houses used to be rich. Sadly, the village has turned into a ghost town.
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The new settlers
Just about two years ago, a group of 22 people, the majority of them coming originally from Germany, bought a few properties in the village and moved in. It was an act that drew the attention of Bulgarian media. There I was, skeptical about what I’ve read in on-line magazines, standing in front of one of those houses. Soon after, a man appeared. I approached him, filled with doubts whether he will answer my greeting or push me away. I was astonished to find out that he was speaking perfect English, and he was willing to have a nice little conversation about the history of his followers. It turned out his name was Stepan, and that he was the spiritual leader of the community. Stepan told me that their whole group was founded by Germans, whose main idea was to live closer to nature, outside the economical model of the Western society. They were all high-qualified professionals – IT specialists, physicians, engineers, who decided to abandon their lifestyle and moved to Togo. They used to live there for some years, but the poor healthcare services in the country pushed them away. They sought another place, and they came across the abandoned Bulgarian village. Since they settled in, they have lived without any amenities, such as electricity, water supply, technology or money. They only trade services with people from the nearby towns. They grow their own food. They managed to raise some cattle and by the time of my visit, they have been working on building an electrical fence to protect the herds. They do not adhere to any specific religion, but they are highly spiritual, strongly believing we are one with nature. Listening to Stepan’s story, I was torn between feeling deep respect for their courage and determination and at the same time feeling pitiful for the children, who were growing up in such a manner – isolated, home-schooled by the adults in the community, lacking proper social contacts.
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The encounter made me think about the way I live and the aspirations I have. An intense wave of gratitude flowed into my whole being. And yet, a part of me jealously repeated, “So, it is possible”.
To discover other destinations in Bulgaria check out my Plovdiv gallery.

2 Comment

  1. Well-writtent blog post Thanks sharing it.

    1. Thanks for the feedback!

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