Have you ever been to often-forgotten Bulgaria? If not, I highly recommend a trip.
It’s a beautiful country, with pretty much everything on offer you could ask for: long golden Black Sea beaches, interesting cobbled towns, peaceful monastery retreats, rugged mountains for climbing, Thracian and Classical ruins for exploring, great food, places to swim, welcoming people – and what’s more, it’s Europe’s cheapest destination…
I went for a month in August 2012, but below is our round itinerary for a 3-week trip. Why not consider it for your next travel to Europe?
3 weeks in Bulgaria
A) Sophia – the capital. Quite Eastern European-y with lots of drab concrete blocks and not somewhere to stay for more than a couple of days (though it does have some nice orthodox churches and a lovely cathedral) – but this is where you’ll fly into. You can also get some Bulgarian lessons here pretty easily if you like languages like us.
B) Rila Monastery – most popular place of pilgrimage in Bulgaria (with good reason), nestled away in the Rila mountains. Perfect for getting away from the world for a few days. I’ll probably write more about it in a future post…
C) Borovets – in the winter, this is a ski resort. In the summer, the town mostly shuts up apart from a few hotels which stay open for hikers. This means you can get excellent deals on luxury accommodation: we got a lovely room with use of sauna/pool/jacuzzi included for about £10 each. Nearby is Mount Musala, the highest peak in the Balkans, and perfect for climbing – you can use the ski cable lifts to get half way up, and the views from the top are indescribable.
D) Plovdiv – beautiful old town, with Roman remains and this absolutely delish ice cream. Has some fascinating houses preserved from the 18th century for you to wander round, and also don’t miss out on the great walking tour.
E) Stara Zagora – the main attraction is a museum with the remains of Neolithic houses from 6000 BC. If that’s the sort of thing that interests you, make a stop-off – we couldn’t quite believe quite how old they were. Incredible.
F) Burgas – bustling harbour town, a useful connection point for other places along the coast.
G) Nessebar – absolutely amazing, a beautiful walled town on a rocky peninsula, connected to the mainland only by a thin causeway. The old town is a UNESCO site, and has 26 miniature super-cute Byzantine churches somehow packed into its tiny streets. Also in walking distance of Sunny Beach, a rather trashy clubbing resort – but fun for an evening’s visit!
H) Varna – another harbour city, perhaps most famous for its hoard of Thracian gold, which is in fact the oldest hoard of gold in the world (4700-4200BC). For some pictures, click here. You’re probably getting the picture now that Bulgaria has a long rich and varied history, going back a long time!
I) Golden Sands – we only stopped here for an afternoon, but it’s one of the best beaches I’ve been to, with great waves. Note the tacky English name!
J) Aladzha Monastery – another monastery, from the 10th century, close to Golden Sands, and carved out of the rock face, complete with catacombs.
K) Balchik – small fishing town, much less touristy than the larger resorts with English names! A good way to enjoy the Bulgarian coast in a slightly different setting. While we were there they had an amazing folk dance festival where all the children from local schools were competing to win prizes in colourful costumes, also a beautiful botanical garden built for Queen Marie of Romania.
L) Veliko Tarnovo – now a thriving university town, this was formerly the capital of the Bulgarian Empire and has a suitably impressive castle to match. What we really liked though were all the cats and the lazy afternoon atmosphere of the place.
In short, Bulgaria is a wonderful country! The above is only a small taste of what’s on offer, and if you’ve enjoyed other more well-known destinations like Hungary or the Czech Republic, you’ll be certain to fall in love with it just as we did!