A thorn in the side of the Byzantine Empire, became a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire. Despite the Bulgarian Empire being snuffed out twice, once by those nasty Byzantines, and once by the nasty Ottomans, and despite 500 years of Ottoman occupation, the Bulgarian entity somehow managed to survive and re-emerged slightly worn and battered at the end of the 19th century. More wars followed, and a fifty year stint as a Soviet vassal during the Cold War before Bulgaria finally settled down into the mundane democracy it is now.
It wasn’t all bad though, the Byzantines brought them Eastern Orthodoxy, the art of iconography and monasteries, the Ottomans Islam, kebabs and mosques, the Soviets heavy industry and concrete monstrosities, and the West corruption and unbridled capitalism. What more could you want?
As a result of all this back and forth tugging throughout the ages, the country is endowed with a plethora of ancient sites, from Greek, to Roman, to Byzantine, to Ottoman, to… ahm Soviet. It is endowed with beautiful monasteries, and beautiful mosques, with age old Slavic villages, and age old Turkish villages. It is endowed with hardy mountain folk, able to withstand ages of occupation and come out none the worse for wear. It is endowed with folk who call themselves Bulgars, or Gypsy’s, or Turks. It is endowed with beaches that rival their Mediterranean counterparts, with wild mountains, deep gorges, snowcapped peaks, ragging rivers, glacial lakes, and vast forests where bears, wolves and lynxes still roam free. It is endowed with good wine, and big plastic bottles of beer at ridiculously low prices. It is endowed with food which is like Greek, but not quite, which is like Turkish but not quite, it is in other words uniquely Bulgarian.
Come and see for yourself what Bulgaria is all about!
Highlights from Bulgaria
- Start of in Sofia (aka София), the capital, and visit the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the World Heritage listed Boyana Church, Hagia Sophia Church and the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church. Churched out? Then go to the Banya Bashi Mosque, the Sofia Synagogue, the National Museum of History, or take a stroll in one of the many parks and when you are tired have some traditional Bulgarian fare in a mehana (tavern)
- Take a bus up to Rila Monastery (aka Рилски манастир), and after that go hiking in Rila National Park (aka Национален парк „Рила“)
- Go skiing in Bansko (aka Банско) or in summer trekking in Pirin National Park (aka Национален парк Пирин)
- Get tanned at one of the many Black Sea beach resorts from bustling Varna (aka Варна) to over-the-top Sunny Beach (aka Слънчев бряг), to historic and beautiful Sozopol (aka Созопол), to UNESCO heritage Nesebar (aka Несебър, to remote Silistar Beach, to quaint Ahtopol (aka Ахтопол)
- Visit the bizarre UFO-like communist Buzludzha Monument (aka Бузлуджа) on top of the mountain that gave it its name
- Stroll around Veliko Târnovo (aka Велико Търново) ancient capital of the Bulgars
- Admire beautiful little Koprivshtitsa (aka Копривщица) with its traditional Bulgarian architecture
- Sit in the ancient Roman amphitheatre of Plovdiv (aka Пловдив), sip wine in one of its Bohemian cafés, or visit one of the many historic house museums and art galleries
- Take in Kaleto Fortress in Belogradchik (aka Белоградчик), then take a look at the weird rock formations just outside town
- Taste some wine in Melnik (aka Мелник), but perhaps do so after you have toured around this historical town and the many outlying sights
Hints and Tips for Bulgaria
- Bulgaria is part of the EU and nominally part of the Schengen zone, so no need to worry about getting a visa.
- It’s a good destination for skiing on the cheap!
- As a whole Bulgaria is probably one of the cheapest countries in Europe to visit.
- English isn’t widely spoken, a Bulgarian phrasebook will help, or speaking Russian, and maybe German (with the older generation).