‘Liquid Gold’ from the Valley of the Roses

This scenic valley, about 100 kilometres long and up to 15 kilometres wide, in the centre of Bulgaria, provides the world with more rose otto (rose essential oil) than any other nation. The huge perfume industries of France, the United States and Japan absorb the majority of the oil which is of the highest quality.

One type of rose is the ‘queen’ in this story; the beautiful pink damask rose R. damascena trigintipelata. Virtually alone, row upon row, she fills the hectares of land between the mountains of Stora Planina which hold back the cold North winds and Sredna Gora which check the hot and dry air from the Aegean in the South. The tonnes of petals from this ideal landscape fill the stills which conjure this amazing ‘liquid gold’ as if by magic.

The Valley of the Rose, Bulgaria
The Valley of the Roses – Bulgaria. The famous rose fields in the Tracian Valley near Kazanlak, Bulgaria

The towns of Kazanlak and Kordova provide the nuclei around which the fields have steadily extended and continue to extend. The town of Kazanlak has given its name to the region, to the valley and to the rose. The R. damascena which in Bulgaria has become R. damascena ‘Kazanlik’ was introduced to the region in the 17th century from the Middle East. As a result of the favourable soils and drainage, the ideal climate of moisture and warmth and the enterprise of the local people, with their unique propagating methods, the roses introduced have become an independent type of their own. R. damascena ‘kazanlik’ produces the high quality, fragrant oil which has made the area world renowned.

Damask Rose
A beautiful damask rose similar to ‘Kazanlik’.

There are over 7000 varieties of rose worldwide yet only a few are recognised as oil producing. These can be found in quantity in Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, France and Iran. There are only a handful of regions in just the two countries, Bulgaria and Turkey that provide the ideal conditions to grow roses in quantities large enough to produce rose otto on a commercial scale.

Rose otto is acquired by the distilling process and requires three kilograms of rose petals to make just one millilitre or twenty drops of rose oil. A second method of obtaining oil is used in other countries by liquid solvent extraction of the oil from the rose petals. This results in a rose absolute rather than in rose otto and is not of such high quality although it too is used in the perfume industry.

Postcard of rose harvest, Bulgaria
Roses have been harvested in Bulgaria for many years.

For a period of about three weeks around the beginning of June the roses are gathered from 4am through to 9am before the sun becomes hot as the oil in the petals decreases as the temperature rises. The roses have to be processed in the stills almost immediately to prevent any oil evaporation from the petals. Regular checks are kept on all the rose oil, its quality and quantity, by the Research Institute in Kazanlak so that Bulgaria can remain the leading producer of the best rose otto in the world. It is of extremely high quality and it is important to Bulgaria that it remain so.

Since 1990, after a long period of state ownership, there are now independent land owners and distillery owners who are keen to improve their methods, increase their production and extend their fields. Rose production is thriving. The perfume houses of Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Jean Patou, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gucci and the like have little to fear if they continue to use natural and organic rose oil in their perfumes.

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