Most importantly, Bulgaria isn't a wealthy country and it's very, very expensive to produce rose otto. A single ounce of high quality oil requires about one hundred and seventy pounds of rose petals - thousands and thousands of flowers. The process is labor intensive, highly agricultural, thorny and nobody else wants to do it. Not exactly romantic work, but the people here are proud of it.
At one of dozens of "Rose of Bulgaria" stores, tourists can buy all kinds of pink skin creams, shampoos and perfumed soaps.
When we were staying in the little town of Bachevo, we made these rose-jam butter cookies using two different Bulgarian preserves - a "jam" made with candied petals and a rose hip "marmalade."
The marmalade (on the left) obviously tasted much fruitier, and it was hard to detect any rose essence at all. The jam was much sweeter and the taste was surprising - it was difficult to distinguish between flavor and fragrance. The scent of a rose is so distinct; it's a shock to have it meet one's tongue. In fact, the first impression it gave was of eating soap, though it doesn't actually taste soapy at all.
On toast, the hip marmalade was better. On cookies, the floral jam stood out in a great way.
At the Queen's Winery House in Balchik, which hawks its wares right inside Queen Marie's seaside gardens, there's a rather syrupy-sounding rose wine. We assumed it would be a cloying, saccharine sip, but it was actually not bad. Or, rather, it was bad - but not as bad as cough-syrup-pink rose wine with honey could be.
But it is Bulgaria, certainly, where the rose smells sweetest - it has come to be a symbol for the nation. There are blossom festivals in the springtime and harvest traditions, roses planted in roundabouts and postcard pictures of baskets of flowers. In the evening, especially as dusk settles in, the gardens and trellises of this nation are as fragrant as any place on earth.