Summary of Content
Very often we chose to travel to known and well-explored destinations or, in other words, “safe destinations.” The “well- known is safe” presumption can be quite a limiting factor for our travel adventures. Keep reading if you are interested in the “unknown.”
Today we will present, perhaps, an “exotic” country to you. Saying exotic because if you are from the States, for example, most likely you’ve never heard of this piece of land. It is just so far.
With a territory just a little over 110 000 sq km, It is Europe’s 16th largest countries. Being the country of roses and also my place of birth, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Bulgaria– The Jewel of Eastern Europe. Writing this blog post with a hint of patriotism and eagerness to provide you with a glimpse of what has been my home for 24 years.
Have you ever heard of Bulgaria? You don’t need to hide it if you don’t. There are many countries I haven’t heard of. Reading this blog means that you are eager to learn something new and exciting.
“Unity Makes Strength” is the motto of this picturesque jewel in Eastern Europe that shares a border with the Black Sea, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. It is bigger than Serbia and Macedonia and just slightly smaller than Greece.
Bulgaria sits comfortably on the Balkan peninsula and what was once known as the silk road, an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and the West. Everything passing through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus to the West went through Bulgaria. This made it a very “wanted” country, and thus many battles have taken place here.
The first Bulgarian Empire was established in 681 AD by Bulgar tribes. Their leader was Khan Asparukh, who defeated the Byzantine army led by Constantine IV and secured the right to settle south of the Danube River. Since then, the Empire dominated most of the Balkans. During the Middle Ages it served as a central hub or a gathering point for the Slavs. At the height of its power, Bulgaria was vast spreading from the Danube and Dnieper river to the Black and Adriatic seas.
Succeeding rulers like Khan Krum and Boris I strengthened the Bulgarian state throughout the 8th and 9th centuries. Eastern Orthodox Christianity under Boris I was adopted, and paganism abolished in the 9th century. The Cyrillic alphabet was developed which helped fuse the Slavs and Bulgars into a unified people. A 34 year long cultural golden age followed under Tzar Simeon the Great. After his death, some local wars weakened Bulgaria, and it was not long after the battle at Klyutch in 1014 that the Byzantines put an end to the First Bulgarian Empire.
The second Bulgarian Empire was established with Tarnovo as the capital after a significant uprising led by Ivan Asen I and Peter IV in 1185. During the next monarch, Ivan Asen II Tarnovo flourished with its commerce and culture. Later on due to constant Byzantine, Hungarian and Mongol attacks the empire split into three tsardoms- Vidin, Tarnovo, and Karvuna.
The darkest hours of Bulgarian history began at the end of 14th century when the Ottoman Turks had started their conquest of Bulgaria and had taken most of the towns and fortresses south of the Balkan mountain (a mountain range that spreads across Bulgaria from West to East).
Sadly, under the Ottoman system, Christians were considered an inferior class of people. Thus, Bulgarians, like other Christians, were heavily taxed and a small portion of the Bulgarian populace experienced partial or complete forceful Islamization. Bulgarian culture was suppressed and in danger. Bulgarian well-educated clergymen who fled in remote areas remained with their national consciousness which was crucial when most of the population was losing their faith during the five centuries of Ottoman rule.
In 1876 the April uprising was put down by the Ottomans, resulting in 30,000 Bulgarians killed. The massacres prompted the Great powers to take action. This allowed the Russian Empire to declare war on the Ottoman Empire and defeated its forces with the help of Bulgarian Volunteers. The treaty of San Stefano was signed on March 3, 1878, by Russia and the Ottoman Empire giving Bulgaria autonomy and roughly its borders from the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Does hearing about the ancient and more recent history of this mysterious country make you want to travel to Bulgaria?
Have You Ever Struggled with . Airfare?
Mountain ranges, rivers, waterfalls, rich culture and dark history are just a few of Bulgaria’s most striking characteristics.
Two significant plains- the Danubian and Thracian are vast, full of life regions settled in between the four major mountain ranges. The Balkan mountains literally run through the middle of Bulgaria. They include the so cold Old Mountain and Middle Forest.
The southwest lands of the country are also proud home to few mountain ranges. The alpine ridges of Rila and Pirin border with the Rhodope Mountain to the east. The highest peak on the Balkan peninsula is Musala and located in the beautiful Rila mountain. The country is mountainous which creates very favorable ski conditions, and Bulgaria has some great ski resorts. One of the newest and best in Bansko Ski Resort.
The country is mountainous which creates very favorable ski conditions, and Bulgaria has some great ski resorts. One of the newest and best in Bansko Ski Resort.
Other Bulgarian topography wonders worth mentioning here are the group of 7 glacial lakes in the Rila. They have beautiful names like The Tear, The Eye and the Kidney usually named after the shape of the lake.
Weather in Bulgaria is very welcoming which makes it a great destination to visit year round. Summers in the plains can be warm but in the evenings and up in the mountains is nice and breezy. Winters are not very harsh, especially for the past 4-5 years. The best time to visit in my opinion is late spring and mid-Autumn if you are visiting the major cities because “the blood (the people)” are back from vacations and you can experience bustling with a lively atmosphere.
Many factors would shape your perception of a country. All of them or at least the most vibrant ones influence your inspiration and desire to put that new entry on your bucket list. Is Bulgaria going to become your next bucket list destination? Let’s find out!
Bulgaria’s history is present everywhere you go, and you can feel it. If you walk on the streets of Plovdiv, the second biggest city, you can be at a modern shopping mall and an ancient Roman theater within 5 minutes walk. Yes, Plovdiv is very old, in fact, its the World’s 8th oldest city, dating back to 4000 BC.
Head to the old capital of Bulgaria- Veliko (Great) Turnovo where you can find the remnants of the Tsarevets Fortress. Once this was the citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire as we mentioned above.
The small mountain town of Panagurishte is also another historical monument. Vasil Levski, the leading Bulgarian revolutionist during the times of Ottoman ruling. In the autumn of 1870, he starts a revolutionist committee right here in Panagurishte. In 1876 during the April uprising the town is completely destroyed and build again after the liberation from the Ottoman Empire that why there are not so many Renascence buildings. On the other hand, Koprivshtitza is another beautiful town where a lot of those houses are well preserved and turned into museums.
The Romans, Ancient Greeks, Thracians, Slavs and Bulgars are some of the ancient civilizations that left a mark and shaped the culture and heritage of Bulgaria. That makes this beautiful land home for one of the richest folk heritages in the world that we know today.
Beautiful Roman stadiums and theaters in Plovdiv were once used for entertaining the crowds with art performances and gladiator fights. More and more artifacts are discovered everyday as the archeologists are continually working.
Thracians left numerous tombs and golden treasures like the worldwide famous Panagursko Golden Treasure while the traces of the Bulgars can be found in the folk music and early architecture. Some of the Thracian rituals like Zarezan, Kukeri, and Marteniza are still alive and celebrated today and really shapes the cultural identity of the Bulgarian people.
Bulgaria functioned as the hub for Slavic Europe during the middle ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic World. Bulgarian brothers, Cyrill and Metodii, developed the second most widely used alphabet in the world- The Cyrillic.
The country’s native cuisine is one of great diversity with a lot of different seasonal fruits, vegetable and herbs, thanks to the the geography of the country and its moderate climate. Quality dairy products is one of the country’s treasures.
The more commonly known as Feta cheese is absolutely delicious and a must try. The same goes for the Bulgarian yogurt since its made with a unique bacteria that are native to the country, the taste is to die for.
Bulgarians like their alcoholic drinks as well and they are very good at preparing them relying only on the best sorts of grapes to make high-quality wine and a special drink called Rakia, usually made from grapes or plums. Another must-try is banitsa. This puff pastry filled with feta cheese and sometimes spinach or leeks is so delicious that you will ask for more after the first bite.
Bulgaria is the largest producer of high quality rose oil. The rose valley near the town of Kazanlak is one of the countries treasures which you can smell from miles away when the flowers bloom. The leading importer of our oil is the United States where it is used for high-quality cosmetic products.
For the past three years, Bulgaria has overtaken France as the world’s biggest producer of lavender oil as well. Some of the most significant fields are located in the village of Tarnichene at the foothills of the Balkan Old mountain at an approximate altitude of 500 meters. They are well maintained using Organic methods of agriculture. Once the flowers bloom its a spectacle for the eyes, nose and your camera lens.
Hospitality is on the greatest traits of Bulgarians. They are very welcoming, friendly and caring. I believe this might be due to dark moments in the history of the country. Only united the Bulgarian people were able to survive and fight the Ottoman suppressors and preserve their identity. If you visit a Bulgarian home you will be fed and given water and drinks even if the household is poor, they will share what they have with their guests. All Bulgarian women are excellent cooks, so if you are invited for a meal, make sure you go hungry! It will be delicious.
P.S. Bulgarian women are also very beautiful !
We already mentioned nature almost everywhere in this article since its such an inseparable part of Bulgaria’s identity. The country is well known to be an excellent location for sea and ski holidays. But there are so many other places to be explored and many different types of tourism to be enjoyed here. Since most of the countries territories (2/3) is mountain ranges, trekking and hiking are among the most affordable activities that will not only keep you healthy but will leave you utterly breathless.
There are 3 National Parks- Rila, Central Balkan and the Unesco World Heritage Site- Pirin. All of them have they own unique beauty and a unique mix of mountain peaks, green pastures, rivers, and waterfalls.
The country is home to a significant number of nature parks and reserves, one of which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site- Srebarna Nature Reserve.
No matter where you go in Bulgaria, you will be given a chance to observe rich flora and fauna preserved in their natural habitat. And this is not something many countries can be proud of.
Mountaineering in Pirin and Rila mountains is just as typical as skiing. About 50,000 people take on the quest of climbing the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula- Musala (2925 m.) every year. Sometimes they refer to the summit as the Everest of the Balkans. Not all of them succeed.
Or maybe, you feel like a dip in the Black Sea? If you are in the capital and want to go to Nessebar, it will take you a there in about 4 hours. Nesebar is an ancient city that used to be one of the most important centers of seaborne trade in the Black Sea. Once there, you will be captivated by the beauty of the little coastal town, the locals, and its excellent seafood.
Whatever activity you chose, you will be close to nature, and you will feel reborn as you are one with it.
Surva is an international Kukeri Festival that was recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. The festival held in Pernik is the oldest festival of the masquerade games in Bulgaria. Kukeri ( masked and dressed man) from all over Bulgaria and other countries gather for a 3-day “mummery” celebrations. It is indeed a stunning view. It reminds me a lot of the Huli People in Papua New Guinea.
Rozhen Folklore Festival- this is a traditional fold festival that I feel a close connection to. I have been exposed to it from my childhood almost every year. We had a summer house in one of the villages nearby and used to visit with my grandparents every year. It takes places on the fields (or poliani) close to Rozhen pass In the Rhodope mountains. Mount Rozhen is nearby too. It is a celebration of Bulgarian folk music, dancing, and traditions. An impressive part of the festival is the playing on the traditional instrument made out of sheepskin- Gaida. Thousands of them sound at the same time, carrying the sound in the forests around. It is 3 days long. The tradition dates back to 1898.
Bulgaria is undoubtedly a fantastic country to visit. It a green, white, and red glory and highlight of Eastern Europe regardless fo its size. Feel the rose and lavender smell of the air gently touching your cheeks, put yourself to the test and climb the highest summit on the Balkan Peninsula or quickly dip in the Black Sea, it is your choice. The only thing we can promise is that you will like it. Oh! And also your belly would thank you too! The food is a vibrant festival for your body and soul.