Pernik vs. Venice! There’s no joke about it! I will give you 5 reasons why you should visit Surva, the International Festival of the Masquerade Games in Pernik, instead of… well, the Carnival in Venice! Ready to go on an adventure? We are!
Surva was recently inscribed by UNESCO on the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity
Surva is the oldest festival of masquerade games in Bulgaria and one of the biggest events of this type not just in Europe, but in the world! It promotes variations of ancient Bulgarian customs that are still alive today.
The masked men and women, called kukeri, perform traditional rituals intended to scare away evil spirits. Around New Year and before Lent, the kukeri visit peoples’ houses at night, so that “the sun would not catch them on the road.” They usually wear wooden masks and large bells attached to their belts, whose sound is meant to scare away the evil spirits. They are also believed to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.
The kukeri are an important part of the Bulgarian folklore tradition and are meant to be performed by single men and women.
The Surva folk feast is the fourth element of traditional Bulgarian culture to be inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity after the Bistritsa Babi dancing and polyphonic singing, the Nestinarstvo fire-dancing ritual and the tradition of carpet-making in Chiprovtsi.
3 days of unique celebrations
The International Festival of the Masquerade Games in Pernik takes place during the last weekend of January. The official resolution to hold it for the first time was made in 1965 and the first edition was opened on January 16, 1966. During the first years of Surva, the participants were not more than 500-600, whereas nowadays the festival gathers more than 6000 people, or about 100 groups from different folklore regions of Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Romania. There are even groups coming from Asia and Africa!
The most attractive feature of Surva is its two-day parade of the masked groups from Bulgaria and abroad, which show their unique traditions, masks and costumes in the town square and the streets of Pernik.
The Festival is accompanied by series of other events, such as ritual dances around bonfires, culinary shows, firework display and many other.
If you are traveling with kids, Surva is a great event for you to attend. The kukeri are meant to be scary, so you might be surprised to hear that, but kids love them! Many of the participants in the festival are actually kids! In this year’s edition (2016), the youngest “kuker” was a one-year-old!
During Surva the spectators become part of the magic of the Festival. Even though the kukeri are meant to look as frightening as possible, they are actually quite friendly and humorous. The visitors often want to see the masks in person, touch them for good luck and health, take photographs with them, and the kukeri are always glad to interact with everyone!
Well stocked gift shops allow you not only to admire the traditional Bulgarian arts and crafts, but you can also go back home with one-of-a-kind souvenir (aside from the great memories).
There are also balloons and delicious sweets at affordable prices at literally every corner.
Named among the 15 best winter destinations by Nat Geo
In 2014 the International Festival of the Masquerade Games in Pernik was listed among the best winter trips in a global collection of 15 editor-recommended destinations by National Geographic.
I already mentioned how amazing Surva is, so let me tell you a little bit about the town of Pernik and Bulgaria in general.
Pernik is situated just 18 miles from the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. The city is easily accessible by the Lyulin and Struma Motorway. It will take you only 30-40 minutes to get there by car from Sofia. You can also travel by train, or by bus, leaving from the Central Railway and Bus Station in Sofia.
If you decide to visit Surva, I would recommend that you find an accommodation in Sofia. You’ll have plenty of options – hotels, hostels, AirBnb, couchsurfing, guest houses, etc. Another advantage is that you will have a chance to explore the capital and that is a must!
As in regards to your budget, don’t worry about it! Bulgaria is a little heaven for most of the foreign tourists, as we don’t have the Euro and prices are really low. What is more, in Pernik, where the Festival is held, prices are even lower!
Hipster’s best choice for their next trip
If you are a traveling hipster, visiting The Festival of the Masquerade Games in Pernik, instead of well, for example the worldwide famous Carnival in Venice, will make you a reeeal tripster. 😉
Joking aside, seriously, why always visit the same destinations? Europe is not just France and Italy. And don’t understand me wrong, I love Italy, and I’m sure that France is absolutely gorgeous, but there is a great number of undiscovered gems in Europe, which deserve not any less attention.
If I think about it, I haven’t visited France yet, but in fact, I feel as if I already have! Do you know why is that? It’s because of all the movies, books, TV Series, documentaries, articles, etc. But let me ask you – what do you know about Bulgaria? How many movies have you seen about it? Do you know what language is spoken there?
You may be surprised by just how many people have no idea where Bulgaria is on the map and what language Bulgarians speak… and actually, there is nothing wrong about that! But, why don’t you find out? Opt for the unknown. Go “off the beaten path” and discover the undiscovered wonders of the world!
If you’re the type of traveler who likes to go to new places, to get a better understanding of new cultures and people, if you always want to expand your knowledge of the world, then next year – why not visit The Festival of the Masquerade Games in Pernik, instead of the Carnival in Venice? 😛
In 2017 the festival will take place January 27 (Friday) – January 29 (Sunday).
The Event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1088325627881596/
If you have no idea what Bulgaria looks like and you are now curious about it, you can follow the link below. It’s an article which includes a variety of facts about the country, provided by us, the locals! Plus some cool photos!