Kozloduy: Serene white Danube and the power of the peaceful atom

Vratsa Mountain
23 March 2020
Andrey Nikolov The sculptor who found Bulgaria too small
23 March 2020

A city lit by the sunlight from all sides. This is where the first and only nuclear power plant in Bulgaria was built back in 1972. Less than 100 years earlier, Khristo Botev and his Chetniks landed on Bulgarian soil here. Kozloduy has undergone a great deal of changes between the two events.

Kozloduy: Serene white Danube and the power of the peaceful atom

A city lit by the sunlight from all sides. This is where the first and only nuclear power plant in Bulgaria was built back in 1972. Less than 100 years earlier, Hristo Botev and his Chetniks landed on Bulgarian soil here. Kozloduy has undergone a great deal of changes between the two events. First Atomic turned life in the former farming village upside down: it has been a draw for highly qualified workforce for almost half a century. The local high living standard is immediately made apparent by the presentable restaurants and cafes, the luxury goods across retail outlets and the well maintained parks and gardens. This bodes well for reawakening the area's tourist attraction, which has seen a downturn in recent years. Cycling is in its budding stage, with the EuroVelo 6 route passing nearby, trailing for its most part the Danubian shoreline.


The Kozloduy Shoreline

In the spring of 1876, Botev's rebel company set foot on Kozloduy bank and the rest is the history that we all know. Perhaps still the majority of Bulgarians know by heart the Serene White Danube march by the national poet, Ivan Vazov, glorifying the short-lived capturing of the Radetski ship and the Kozloduy revolutionary landing. It is a little sad that the years of democracy in Bulgaria have seen a steadily waning interest towards Kozloduy's Memorial Park. The park is a continuation of a street, which is easily among the most scenic and well-kept ones in Bulgaria. It is skirted by tall, well-groomed old plane trees and quaint houses with flower gardens. The park surrounds the shore descended by the mutineers, with the exact spot recently marked by three tall flag poles.

They are also visible from the Romanian Danube bank. Donated by three employees of the nuclear power plant, the flagpoles were installed for the late 2017 Kozloduy town fest. They rise above the monument of Botev's Company, the museum dedicated to its feat, the Radetsky museum ship and the hotel with a boat quay. This is where the Kozloduy-Okolchitsa trek starts each year. At the museum you will be greeted by its curator, who captivatingly recounts the whole story from embarking the ship to the revolutionaries' tragic end, as well as Kozloduy's history. the museum's collection displays plentiful Chetnik-related documents, memorabilia, and photographs, maps of their quest and of battles during the Russo-Turkish War. A bunch of other old photographs and evidence of the changes in Kozloduy over the last hundred years – many of them related to the nuclear power plant – contribute to the place's attraction.

The Radetsky Museum Ship is moored at the shore, preserving the authentic atmosphere of the April Uprising. The ship is a branch of the National History Museum. It displays the rebels' flag, uniforms, the last letters of Botev and his companions, books, newspapers and documents mentioning their act. The ship can be rented from April to October for events, short trips or even overnight stays during the warm months. It is a replica of the original Radetsky and was built in the 1960s with funds raised by 1,200,000 Bulgarian children at the initiative of journalist Liliana Lozanova. Donations were made by others as well, but most of the funds came from the little ones, which is why a child figure in a 1960's school uniform greets visitors at the ship's entrance. Unfortunately, the original Radetsky was destroyed in the 1920s, after multiple offers by Austria that the Bulgarian state either take it as donation or pay a symbolic price for it. No Bulgarian official of that time, however, took interest in the offers, and this is how one of the most valuable relics of the April Uprising was lost. What we are left with is the lesson to not forget our history and keep its memorabilia as local museums do.


Between new and old

The new city centre cuts a somewhat strange figure against the backdrop of beautiful early 20th century buildings. Daily life seems to be running at two speeds down here, and it is left to people to tell the two realities apart. Locals still find it hard to embrace newcomers from the rest of the country. It's been so many years since the First Atomic's history began, but demarcation lines are still felt among the population. This probably affects tourism as well, with visitors being an odd mix of Botev and history aficionados and visitors or seconded experts to Kozloduy plant. With Kozloduy offering plentiful opportunities for overnight stays, our advice is that you accommodate in town during any kind of journey round the Oryahovo area. We also recommend a visit to the riverside restaurant and beach midway between downtown and Memorial Park. The restaurant offers fish cuisine in a stylish but no less relaxed setting overlooking the river. Try tarama caviar and fish soup, a local specialty. Kozloduy has plenty of places, well-stocked and boasting diverse menus, for coffee and dining.

At the market in the new town centre you can buy salted river bream representing a traditional way the local population preserved Danubian fish. Salted bream is most often cooked with rice, with its local name, "parzhitura" unequivocally conveying to native Bulgarians it is a matter of a fried dish. All sorts of fruit and veggies are sold here in the fall, and if you want your pumpkin to be really delicious, go for the "fiddle" variety. Across Northwest villages fiddle-shaped pumpkins are also nicknamed 'banycharka' (great for pumpkin pie), 'mikokorka', 'sakharinka' (sugary), 'medenka' (honey-like), with the names abundantly suggesting how sweet they are.

Kozloduy seems to have been a wealthy county since times immemorial, first for its farming and in latter days for its First Atomic. The centre of what used to be a rich agricultural village was the launchpad of one of the first riots in Central and Eastern Europe against forced collectivization of land, with women being at its forefront. First the nearby Berdarski Geran, then Stavertsi near Pleven, and then Kozloduy rose against the kolkhoz-type collectivisation. So we can take a break at the town's centre and pay tribute to the courage of Kozloduy farmers who stood against the imposition of the Soviet model on local farming. The region's old prosperity can also be seen in the old two- and three-storey houses of the 1920s and 1930s that are still standing across local villages.


Energy tourism

Farming in the area is still doing well – at the end of day, it is the fertile Zlatiya ('golden valley') – although it is quite different from what it used to be. Kozloduy NPP remains the mainstay of the local economy; it is also one of the most extravagant tourist attractions in Bulgaria. The plant is under stringent security: taking pictures or even stopping in the vicinity is forbidden. Outside group visits can be booked in advance within so called 'open days'. You can look up the NPP website and plan a truly original experience. Don't worry about radiation: it is closely monitored throughout the region; the data is public, this likely being the most heavily controlled area in the country. There are plenty of places to stay overnight, but earlier booking is well-advised since vacancies might be hard to come by round holidays or energy expert visits or trainings.

Booking might be even tougher in late May, when the traditional hike along the footsteps of Botev's Company to the Okolchitsa peak starts from the Kozloduy shore. But hitching a tent in the Memorial Park might already be an opportunity during that season, but don't forget your mosquito repellents. Contrary to jokes, the Peace Atom has neither destroyed the mosquitoes around the area nor made them any different from the rest of their ferocious Danubian species.

The trek gathers hundreds of participants each year, but locals still remember the years thousands flocked in. The peak was 1976, when 8600 signed up. The distance to Vratsa Mountain takes three days, and the finale coincides with Vratsa's fest day on June 2, with its commemorative fireworks and roll call in the evening. The trek's route passes through places like Bhutan with the largest village cinema in the country, which reopened after many years of shutdown. The Kozloduy region is a beautiful magic between the Danube waters and the golden Zlatiya.

Ways to get there: The asphalt road to Kozloduy from Vratsa (64 km) is well maintained and for the most part follows the route to Oryahovo ferry port. The last few kilometres after Mizia are under par. There is a road connection with Lom, but the road is in poor state of repair.

Places to stay: Hotels and other places to stay abound in Kozloduy. Value for money is above par.

Not to be missed: Radetsky Museum Ship with Memorial Park, Kozloduy-Okolchitsa trek, lunch on the Danube bank, visit to Kozloduy NPP.

In the vicinity: Oryakhovo, Berdarski Geran, Bhutan village cinema.

Well-suited for: culture and history tourism, cycling, culinary tourism, Kozloduy-Okolchitsa trek.

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