Health Travel Magazine - Digest 2024

Spotlight on: Zornitza Family Estate

Our marketing executive Sophie shares her experience of a trip to Zornitza Family Estate in Bulgaria. This boutique wellness hideaway is the perfect place to enjoy all the delights of the untouched countryside, with home-grown food and wine, a relaxing spa, and beautiful views, ideal for anyone looking for a short break away from the stresses of everyday life.

Zornitza Family Estate

Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to spend three days at the charming Zornitza Family Estate in Melnik, a family-owned hotel and wine producer set among the rustic, rolling vineyards of southern Bulgaria. Part of the renowned Relais & Châteaux group, this boutique hotel blends wine and wellness for a truly indulgent getaway. In the rush of December, it was the perfect break I needed to unwind and de-stress.

Travelling to Zornitza

After picking us up from Thessaloniki airport in Greece, our friendly and knowledgeable local drivers drove us across the border, where main roads soon melted away into winding country lanes, flanked on all sides by plentiful vineyards, as we approached Zornitza’s secluded setting, just 12km from the Greek border.

We entered to an enthusiastic welcome from the estate’s highly attentive staff, and the warming embrace of a welcome drink and a crackling fire, its flames casting a twinkling glow over the reception area’s Christmas tree. While the atmosphere was cheeringly festive, it was easy to see how Zornitza’s pastoral charm is evergreen, as our hosts painted a picture of leafy, sun-kissed vineyards, fruit picking at harvest time, and balmy evenings spent enjoying cheese and wine by the lake.

Terroir Cuisine at Zornitza

Zornitza prides itself on its terroir cuisine – almost everything you eat and drink here is locally sourced, with the vast majority of it being produced on the estate itself. The soil, climate, culture, and local traditions all combine to produce delicious food that uniquely reflects the region, served only at its seasonal best for maximum flavour and freshness.

Zornitza has two restaurants, the light-filled, laidback Bistro 55, open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the decadent aEstivum, a fine dining restaurant open from Thursday-Sunday. It was at the latter where we dined on our first evening, enjoying a tasting menu expertly designed by the hotel’s chef Vesselin Kalev. Each course was an explosion of taste and colour, highlighting the rich variety of the region’s produce. Every plate was paired with a delicious wine, chosen by the hotel’s sommelier to complete the experience. With floor to ceiling windows that allowed us to look out over the expansive grounds as we sampled each enticing dish, it was truly the perfect introduction to the stay.

More relaxed, but equally enjoyable, were the meals at Bistro 55. Breakfast presented me with a delicious offering of pastries, savoury dishes, and vibrant fruits, yoghurts and jams – a tempting display of the bounties of Zornitza’s grounds. Lunches and dinners here again left me spoilt for choice as I sampled succulent meats and rich pasta dishes, and even a twist on crème brulée.

World-Class Wine at Zornitza

On a continent dominated by wine producing nations, it takes a lot to stand out, but, having sampled enough of it, I can safely say Bulgaria has proved it can hold its own when it comes to high quality wines. Boasting over 280 sunny days a year, hilly landscapes and a rich soil, the Melnik region has the perfect conditions required for growing grapes, and the Zornitza estate has been growing its own since 2011. Our private wine tasting showcased their specialties; deep red Syrah and indigenous varieties including Melnik 55 and broad-leaved Melnik.

As if Zornitza’s delicious selection isn’t enough to convince you of the region’s quality, a trip to the nearby Melnik vineyard will certainly persuade you. A guided tour of the carefully perfected wine making process was followed by a tasting of their award-winning wines, including an unusual yet flavoursome orange wine.

Suites and Villas at Zornitza

Boutique and intimate, Zornitza’s selection of suites and villas are charmingly rustic, featuring open fires, warm stone interiors, and a sound system to set the vibe as you relax on your own private terrace, taking in the glorious views of the surrounding countryside with wine in hand. Breathing in the clean, crisp air as golden hour bathed the snow dusted vineyards in deep, winter sunlight, I felt truly refreshed and peaceful.

The Spa Experience at Zornitza

Offering a variety of treatments, plus a sauna, steam room, and thermal, salt water, and cold plunge pools, the Zoma Body & Soul spa is the perfect way to detox after indulging in all that wine. Taking advantage of the natural thermal springs, I braved the unseasonal cold and unusual snowfall for an enchanting night swim in the outdoor thermal pool, enjoying the deliciously warm, healing waters.

Guests can build up an itinerary of treatments as they please; I opted for a full body massage using local oils which left me feeling truly regenerated. My therapist sensed exactly which parts of my body needed special attention, providing welcome relief to a recent leg injury as I relaxed in the calm environment.

Those who prefer a little more guidance can request a more curated itinerary to suit their individual needs, including recommendations for treatments and nutrition.

Exploring the Melnik Region

Aside from its plentiful vineyards, the Melnik region holds a wealth of activities to complement your stay. The estate itself is home to a 9-hole golf course, complete with lessons for novices like myself, a farm and a petting zoo.

Once again transported by our friendly drivers, we took a trip to the nearby village of Rupite to get a taste of the local culture. This extinct volcano is a site of both physical and spiritual healing, with nourishing mud and thermal springs said to heal all manner of ailments, and the home of the blind prophet Vanga, which became a pilgrimage site for those wanting to experience her visions and feel the healing energy which drew her to the area.

In the warmer months, bike rides are a great option for exploring the spectacular scenery – the hotel can arrange this for you and recommend the best routes.

My Top Recommendations

  1. Opt to stay in a villa rather than a suite in order to enjoy your own open fire. These are the most popular option, so remember to book well in advance!
  2. Zornitza takes a lot of pride in the local area, and rightfully so! The hotel may provide plenty to keep you occupied for a few days, but it’s worth rounding out your stay with some trips to nearby attractions such as Rupite and the Melnik vineyard to get a feel for what makes the region truly unique.
  3. Zornitza’s wines are only produced in small quantities so they remain exclusive to the estate, but they are available to buy in small amounts. You’ll want to leave room in your suitcase to take a couple of bottles home with you.

If you are interested in a stay at Zornitza or any of our other hotels, contact our travel specialists via the enquiry form or on Whatsapp for more information.