Many travelers would be hard-pressed to locate Bulgaria on a map and probably would not include a trip there on their bucket list of destinations. This surprises me because the country is one of the most beautiful in Europe, very affordable, and well worth a visit. While it may be currently off the beaten path, I am sure that one day Bulgaria’s secrets will be revealed, securing it a central place on any travel map.
I recommend staying in the city center as all the main sites are within walking distance. You don’t have to win the Mega Millions lottery to be able to afford luxury accommodations as even the fanciest hotels are inexpensive compared to those in Western European cities. The iconic symbol of Sofia is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an impressive gold-domed edifice with darkened interiors. Also worth a quick visit is the Rotunda of St. George, one of the oldest buildings in the city located in the courtyard of the Hotel Balkan.
THE BLACK SEA
If you’re looking for a place to relax on golden sand beaches, try the resorts on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. The top two mega-resorts are Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, but they can be crowded and a bit too lively for true relaxation. Head to the smaller towns instead. Make sure to take a side trip to the picturesque towns of Sozopol and Nessebar, the latter a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a history that dates back more than 3,000 years to the days of the Thracians.
Many visitors come to Bulgaria in the winter months for a quality ski holiday at a reasonable price. I am not much of a skier myself but I do enjoy hiking. One of my favorite destinations is high in the mountains – the pristine Rila Lakes. Even if you visit in May or June you could still end up making your way through knee-high snow drifts to see these seven glacial lakes still caked in ice. Not far from the lakes is Musala, the highest peak in the entire Balkan Peninsula. I’ll leave that climb for more experienced hikers.
Just an hour and a half’s drive south from Sofia is Bulgaria’s most important cultural and historical attraction – the Rila Monastery. I highly recommend making a pilgrimage to this stunning landmark nestled in a serene mountain setting. Worth a visit as well is Koprivshtitsa, a historic town not far from Sofia marked by beautiful colorful houses dating to the mid-1800s, when Bulgaria was fighting for its independence from the Turks.
No visit to Bulgaria would be complete without indulging on the local cuisine. Shopska Salata, a variation of a Greek salad topped with grated white brine cheese, can be found in nearly every restaurant. A perfect accompaniment is a stiff glass of rakia – fruit brandy with extremely high alcoholic content. Other Bulgarian food specialties to try are the Tarator cold yoghurt soup, the crisp Banitsa pastries, and the delicious varieties of grilled pork.
There are many reasons to visit Bulgaria, but probably the main one is its affordability. I recommend visiting the country while it’s still an undiscovered, off-the-beaten path beauty.