For over a thousand years, Stara Planina – known to foreigners as the Balkan range – has been the cradle of the Bulgarian nation. It was here that the Khans established the First Kingdom, and here, too, after a period of Byzantine control, that the Boyars proclaimed the Second Kingdom and created a magnificent capital at Veliko Tarnovo. The nearby Sredna Gora (Central Mountains) were inhabited as early as the fifth millennium BC, but for Bulgarians this forested region is best known as the Land of the April Rising, the nineteenth-century rebellion for which the picturesque town of Koprivshtitsa will always be remembered.
Although they lie a little way off the main rail lines from Sofia, neither Veliko Tarnovo nor Koprivshtitsa is difficult to reach. The former lies just south of Gorna Oryahovitsa, a major rail junction midway between Varna and Sofia, from where you can pick up a local train or bus; the latter is served by a stop on the Sofia–Burgas line, where six daily trains in each direction are met by local buses to ferry you the 12km to the village itself.