Secrets of Bulgaria: from Mountaintops to the Sea
Let’s imagine that you want to go on a holiday (such an unexpected thing!). You want to see some historical sites, relax on a beach and climb a couple of mountains. And you, of course, don’t want to spend too much money on this trip. Sounds like mission impossible? Wrong! Sound like Bulgaria – a country that has everything for affordable prices. Strangely enough, not everyone realizes it and not many people put Bulgaria on their travel plan. Let’s remedy that and introduce you to a couple of things that you can do when you are on a holiday in this sunny place!
Note: we do not include the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia, in this guide. Because, well, it’s clear that you should have a look at it, right?
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. However, this is not what makes it worth checking out. It’s an important cultural center of the country, with ancient buildings scattered here and there – there is evidence that this region was already inhabited as early as the 6th century BC! So what is there to see in and around Plovdiv? My personal favorites are the Ancient theater (Antichen teatur), Houses of the Bulgarian Revival Period and Rhodope Mountains.
The Ancient theater was built at the beginning of the 2nd century during the Roman reign and is incredibly well preserved. Although it’s a bit smaller, it resembles the Colosseum in Rome a lot! Many cultural events are held here, such as International Folklore festival.
Houses of the Bulgarian Revival Period are quite unique buildings too, found all around Plovdiv. They show the development of the Bulgarian architectural style, demonstrating how it changed over time. You can find the full list of these houses here. Some of them are really fancy, like the building that is home to the Ethnographic museum – a beautiful symmetric house with colorful, lively pattern covering the walls.
And finally, Rhodope Mountains – the hidden treasure of Balkans. I cannot overstate how awesome they are! It’s an area located just several minutes away by car from the South of Plovdiv. If you feel like seeing some wonders of nature – head there and you’ll be more than satisfied! The Rhodopes are full of caverns, caves, small lakes with completely transparent water, rivers, and waterfalls. Legends say that this is the where Orpheus himself trod. No surprise of his musical success then – this is a really inspiring place! Suitable for eco-tourism too.
Buzludzha is a mountain peak in Central Balkan Mountains, 1441 meters high that has long been a sacred place for Bulgarian communists. In 1981 a gigantic soviet style monument was built here. It is UFO-shaped and it’s simply enormous! Now the monument is, sadly, abandoned – the decay began right after the USSR collapsed, in 1989. Since then some of the internal decorations have been stolen, some – destroyed by vandals. The insides are adorned with half-visible mosaics on the walls and are full of corridors which make you feel like you are inside a spaceship. Lately, the monument is protected against vandals, so you may not be able to enter, but the view from the outside alone is an experience that you will hardly forget!
Buzludzha is impossible to reach by public transport, so rent a car (or bring your own!) and drive there! It’s best to visit it in summer because winter snowstorms are a thing in this area and you and your car risk getting stuck if the weather is rough. But do go if you have a chance – this is a truly alien beauty worth checking out!
Seven Rila Lakes
Seven Rila lakes form probably the most beautiful area in the Balkans. These lakes are of glacial origin and are located in the north-east of Rila mountains. They are surrounded by three peaks and lie between 2,100 and 2,500 meters elevation above sea level.
Each of the seven lakes has its own name, inspired by its appearance. For example, the highest one is called Salzata, which means “the tear”, as its water is so crystal clear that you can see through it even into considerable depths. Another one is named Okoto – “the Eye” – because of its perfect oval form. Besides, when the weather is sunny and calm and the lake surface is perfectly still, you can enjoy its amazing blue color. The other lakes also have telling names – such as Trilistnika (“The Trefoil”), Ribnoto Ezero (“The Fish Lake”), Dolnoto Ezero (“The Lower Lake”) and Bliznaka (“The Twin Lake”).
The lake area is perfect for swimming, climbing, sunbathing or just wandering around. And once a year you can witness a truly unique event here. On August 19th the lakes become a gathering place for followers of Peter Deunov, the founder of one of the religious New Age-oriented movements. They come together to welcome the sunrise, which, as they believe, will recharge their life power for the coming year. Thousands of people dressed in white, dancing ritual dances at the sunrise among mountains and lakes – sounds like a thing to see, huh?
The Black Sea Coast
If you prefer relaxing on a beach to any other kind of holiday, Bulgaria is great for you too! Everything is reasonably cheap, nature is beautiful, and the food is gorgeous! Be sure to come in summer, as spring or autumn can be a bit chilly to swim in the Black Sea. The best beaches are to be found in the Varna region, including the famous Golden Sands. Varna has an airport and a busy port so getting there is no problem at all. Before disappearing in the calm bliss of you hotel’s beach, take a look around Varna and enjoy its beautiful churches and antique sites.
A nice one-day trip along the coast may include a visit to Nessebar. It’s a picturesque town often referred to as Pearl of the Black Sea. It’s an old fortress off the shore, a massive gate guarding the only narrow stretch of land connecting it to the mainland. Strolling along its narrow streets, you’ll really feel the Middle Ages surrounding you!
The Western shore of the Black Sea has been an important strategic region for a lot of years, so no wonder there are a lot of strongholds left there. Another one is Fortress of Kaliakra, on the cape of the same name. The cliffs of Cape Kaliakra are very impressive in their own right, but with the imposing fortress crowning them they look simply amazing! Over the ages, it has been the site of many battles, the most prominent one happening during the Russo-Turkish war in the 18th century. Now it’s a nature resort where a lot of unique birds stop during their yearly migrations.