This huge monastery, now home to only nine monks, has a very special feel about it. Although I have never been to Tibet it felt like it could have belonged there, set in the mountains as it is - only the prayer flags were missing. Our group was privileged to see more than the average visitor as we were with a tour guide who has a close relationship with the Abbot, with whom we had an audience at the end of our visit. We were able to go up on to the higher balconies of the residential blocks, visiting the wonderfully decorated rooms devoted to different regions within Bulgaria where people would come to meet, exchange news and do business. We also saw a vacated monks dwelling; less spartan than one would imagine with kelims and a stove for winter. Those remaining now apparently have en-suite bathrooms and micro-wave ovens. The church is typical of many Orthodox places of worship with many icons and candles but notable for the large central chandelier with vast ornate gold 'crown' encircling it. The monks were much in evidence in the church and contrary to our experience at other monasteries, seemed relaxed and happy, chatting to each other and smiling at visitors. The monastery employs about 80 people working in the fields and grounds, runs it's own restaurant with wonderful food (chicken soup to die for) and from a separate building makes and sells the most delicious doughnuts in the world. There is a real sense of peace in this lovely place. Let us hope that tourists, whom the Abbot said were his biggest challenge, do not despoil this precious jewel of Bulgaria.
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