186km (115 miles) from Sofia
Once a thriving outpost, Melnik boasted a population of 20,000 predominantly Greek citizens (it's a mere 15km/9 1/3 miles from the border with Greece) before the Second Balkan War of 1913. It's hard to believe when you first turn into the sandstone gorge to see the tiny village that today is home to a mere 270.
Set amid numerous pyramid-shaped sandstone outcroppings that create a jagged mountainous backdrop, Melnik is officially designated as a historical reserve. Semiarid, with a mixed Mediterranean and mountainous climate, is ideal winemaking territory, with a terroir (a group of vineyards or vines from the same region) that nurtures the dusky and robust flavors of the unique Bulgarian red-grape variety known as Melnik Broad Vine. It also has soft sandstone that allows for cool cave cellars.
Populated by a handful of born-and-bred locals, the village admittedly is focused on the tourist buck, with at least half the homes transformed into places to stay or eat. But the townspeople are justifiably proud of their village, and there's no ugly tourist tat. This, together with the fact that Melnik is not en route to any other major attraction, has left the most popular destination in southern Pirin unspoiled.