“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller.
Maybe Bulgaria seldom pops up as the ideal holiday destination. For sure, our small country is not in most people’s “bucket list” of places to visit before they die. It is never featured on their ‘vision board’, or fantasized about in their daydreams…which tilted more toward love affairs with a Spanish macho in Barcelona, or (let’s face it) meeting Angelina Jolie at the top of le tour Eiffel in Paris…In fact, many people cannot even recognize Sofia on the European map. For them our small country is just a mystery.
So let me try to introduce to you this sweet, fantastical, (and occasionally dangerous) unknown.
The land of roses, Bulgaria, is a small country of ancient culture, scenic beauty, friendly people, hospitality and warmth. It has always been a crossroad between the East and the West, between the oriental and the modern. Although Bulgaria occupies only 2% of the territory of Europe it is generously gifted with natural landmarks and diversity of landscape, mild moderate climate, rich variety of flora and fauna, and abundance of curative mineral springs. Bulgaria is by no means a wealthy place in terms of money but what it lacks in finance it makes up for with a huge amount of beauty and culture!
Bulgaria is a country with a long, tumultuous and fascinating history. It has been invaded, conquered and settled by Greeks, Scythians, Romans, Byzantines and Turks, all of whom left their marks on the country’s cultural heritage. Bulgaria’s medieval ‘Golden Age’, when the Bulgar Khans ruled over one of the largest empires in Europe, was bright but brief, while 500 years of subsequent, brutal Turkish domination isolated the country from the rest of Europe. More recently, Bulgaria spent four decades as a totalitarian Soviet satellite, again leaving this small Balkan nation in the shadows as far as the Western world was concerned. It’s no wonder, then, that we, Bulgarians, are so passionate about preserving our history and our culture, which has survived so often against the odds. In the last years of the 20th century Bulgaria began opening up, and is one of the newest members of the EU.
If you choose to visit Bulgaria you will find a land of wonder where ancient tombs lie almost untouched amongst rolling hills and craggy mountains. With very warm and pleasant dry summers and extremely cold and snowy winters Bulgaria is a country that has something for everybody- from a relaxing beach holiday on the Black Sea coast or a skiing holiday in the mountains to cultural, ecological and rural tourism.
Here are just a few of the enormous number of tourist destinations:
Sofia– the place where I have been living and studying for 3 years- is the largerst city in Bulgaria and one of the most visited tourist destinations alongside coastal and mountain resorts. I can say many nice things about it but there isn’t much point in just restating boring facts.
What I want to tell you is that Sofia may seem like a classic town full of churches and museums but its innumerable cosy cafes and bars in the city centre as well as the lovely city parks make it a perfect place to relax or to have a night out! Sofia’s geographic location, in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city’s specific atmosphere. For sure you are going to need more than just a few days to capture the true magic of the country’s capital.
Bulgaria is famous for its sea resorts. Despite its hostility to sailors(from where the name “black” comes), the Black Sea is very hospitable for tourists, providing perfect sand beaches and an abundance of sea resorts. There you can find both modern and luxury resorts as well as small historic villages and charming little towns. From the photos below, you can get to know my favourite Bulgarian sea resorts:
Sunny Beach and Golden Sands are perfect for those of you who like partying a lot. Every summer I am spending at least one week with my friends in Sunny Beach. This place never sleeps! It is full of restaurants, luxurious hotels, bars and pubs, and a fantastic selection of sports and leisure facilities. Every year the world’s most famous DJs are performing on Cacao Beach for house music lovers.
Another positive thing about Sunny Beach is that it is very close to Nessebar, a small picturesque spot included in the UNSECO Heritage List. Imagine-having a lunch in one of the small charming restaurants on the coastline, while admiring the sea with the sun drenched fishing boats floating lazily in it and hearing the sound of seagulls. Later, lying on the golden sandy beach (unfortunately without the coconuts) and enjoying your drink. In the evening-taking a stroll around the Old Town and its well preserved Ancient architecture that makes you feel you are back in time! Once being in Nessebar, you will never forget its magic! This is what makes me going back again and again!
And so on and so on….
And finally I cannot forget to mention the most amazing Bulgarian city- Plovdiv!!! Of course I cannot me objective when talking about my home town because for me this place is much more than seven hills, beautiful gardens and parks, museums and ancient archaeological monuments. Being older than most of the oldest towns like Rome, Athens, Carthage or Constantinople, an almost contemporary of Troy, Plovdiv is a town built upon layers of towns and a culture developed upon layers of cultures!
It is the second largest city in Bulgaria characterized with its innumerable art galleries, winding cobbled streets and bohemian cafés. If you visit my city, you definitely have to spend some time in its old part, called the Old Town, with houses from the National Revival period (18-19th century), which is an imposing open-air museum situated on the three hills of the ancient Trimontium. One of the most remarkable sights of the town, the Ancient Theater (a well-preserved Roman theater), is located there and is still used for open-air performances.
Bulgaria is not a destination…it is an experience……..
For me, personally, it is much more than a place. This is the country where I was born, raised and where probably I will spend most of my life. Or just in one word- this is my HOME. A small country but with such a breathtaking scenery and traditions! Bulgarian villages add another layer to the country’s cultural and historical magnificence. They preserve all the ancient national customs and traditions, including the folk songs and dances, the crafts and dresses, the amazing nestinar (fire dancing) and kuker rituals.
Of course, I cannot miss my favourite Bulgarian springtime tradition! During March, you can feel the red and white delight that is everywhere around you. Everything is colored in red and white! It’s an incredible phenomenon to witness. And why is this for?!
The weather during the spring can be very unpredictable. And while you are just checking the meteorological source to discover why this is so, we- Bulgarians- have our own explanation. We blame the fluctuations in weather on a little old lady called Baba Marta (Grandma March). In Bulgarian folklore Baba Marta is a grumpy lady whose mood changes very quickly. It is believed she is responsible for those lovely sunny rays, but also those icy sub-zero blasts. When she is happy she showers the country with warmth and when she is angry she blankets everything in snow.
Something, then, must be done to please her. The answer for Bulgarians is on 1 March to exchange “martenitsi”, which are made from entwined red and white threads. The white represents strength, purity and happiness, while the red is associated with health, fertility, blood and conception. Wearing this symbol is a centuries-old tradition and gives Bulgarians hope that Grandma March will bring a joyful and sunny spring.
If someone gives you a “martenitsa” this means that he or she wishes you well, so do not hesitate to pin it on your clothes or wear it as an accessory. One of the most interesting rules with this tradition is that if you happen to see a stork, you will have to tie your “martenitsa” on a nearby tree. This is how the “martenitsa” works its magic, giving life and fertility to your chosen tree! If you do not see a stork over the period, just tie it on a tree at the end of March when Grandma March is usually in a better mood, allowing the trees to blossom.
It makes me really sad when it comes to the current fragile economic and political situation in Bulgaria-government corruption, net population losses because of job seekers heading elsewhere, and not nearly enough jobs to go around. But we managed to do three things quite well though: preserve our heritage, preserve our green space, and produce amazing food. AMAZING FOOD! Have I mentioned the Bulgarian “kiselo mlayko”? This is a special mildly sour-tasting yogurt, produced only in Bulgaria. It is so thick that if you put a fork in it, the fork stands up by itself. Moreover, you have to try homemade Bulgarian wine and “lukanka”. They are too good to miss them!
You know you are Bulgarian when:
1. You have at least one relative called Ivan or Maria.
2. You think “liutenitsa” goes with everything.
3. Nobody understands when you nod.
4. Your grandma will never accept that you are not hungry.
5. You can hear your parents talking from across the street.
6. No foreigner has said your name correctly.
7. You know the meaning of “laid-down” policeman.
8. Your 15-year-old sister can out-drink every American.
9. Older people tell you you have gained weight with joy.
10. Calling older people “aunt” and “uncle” is perfectly normal.
I love the spirit; hospitality, the folklore traditions, the rich gold treasures and the beautiful scenery of my country. They are the jewels of Bulgaria. A famous legend about Bulgaria says that when God gave land to all the nations, He forgot about the Bulgarians. So, not knowing what to do, He broke a piece of Heaven and gave it to them!
For one thing, our country packs an astonishing mixture of fun and excitement on a territory that, globally speaking, is comparable to a grain of sand. It can be labelled as a truly exotic destination lying at the very heart of the Old Continent where culture, history, architecture, nature and entertainment come together to create one perfect whole. And it is waiting for you to explore it!
I would love to answer all your questions concerning Bulgaria. Feel free to ask! For further information you can also visit: http://bulgariatravel.org/ or http://mydestination.com/bulgaria/