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Greatest appeal to Venturers and Mid-Venturers, and some Centric-Venturers

Did You Know … ?

  • Bulgaria’s King Simeon II, in exile during communism, returned and served a stint as prime minister.
  • The Cyrillic alphabet was created by a Bulgarian monk in the ninth century.
  • Bulgaria produces about 30% to 40% of the world’s attar of rose, which is used in perfumes.
  • Gold objects from the Varna Chalcolithic archaeological site are said to be the world’s oldest processed gold.
  • In Bulgaria, a nod of the head means “no,” and shaking the head means “yes.”

Smell the roses

The annual Rose Festival is perhaps the best-known Bulgarian attraction among prospective North American visitors. Bulgarians stage other festive events that also appeal to tourists, including a monster-sized folklore festival generally held every five years in Koprivshtitsa and featuring thousands of performers.

The country deserves to be well known, as well, for its numerous museum towns, meaning the living communities that have preserved the architectural appearance of an earlier era, generally the 19th century National Revival period.

Some museum towns have more than that. Arbanassi and Nessebar boast several old and fascinating churches and, in the case of Nessebar, fortifications from several eras beginning with the ancient Greeks. Plovdiv has a Roman theater, Koprivshtitsa has its festival of thousands and Veliko Turnovo claims ruins — but mostly the memories — of Bulgarian empire. Such highlights are in addition to the historic architecture at these five museum towns.

These towns are scattered across the country. The same can be said of important Orthodox monasteries, including prominently the medieval Rila and Backovo sites.

About 3,000 years ago, Thracians settled in Bulgaria, to be followed by Greeks, Romans, Slavs and Bulgars. The modern language is Slavic and the written script Cyrillic, but the Bulgars gave the country its name. The Slav-Bulgar state built two empires that encompassed much of the Balkans before the area fell to the Ottoman Turks. Bulgarians won their freedom from Turkish rule more than 500 years later, in 1878. After World War II, they spent nearly half a century under communism but shed that yoke in 1990.

North Americans come for the culture, but Europeans have made Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast with its numerous beach resorts the country’s most popular tourist area. It also is mostly Europeans who patronize the ski resorts in this very mountainous country. With the Danube as its northern frontier, Bulgaria welcomes visitors of many nationalities who come on river cruises.

In its post-Communist era, Bulgaria has problems with criminal gangs, problems which are manifested in auto theft, price gouging and con games involving credit cards, ATMs and/or the Internet. Visitors should be alert to pickpockets and purse snatchers, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • The Rila Mountains are described as the cradle of mountaineering and rock climbing in Bulgaria. Try them out. Or, choose another option: Hike to the top of Mount Vihren (9,560 feet) in the Pirin Mountains.
  • Bulgaria has museum towns and historical churches in abundance. Get yourself to several. One outstanding choice is Arbanassi for its great houses built of stone on the first level and wood for the upper floors where families lived. Its Nativity Church is called the Sistine of the Balkans for all the frescoes inside its small space.
  • This requires careful timing: Attend the national folklore festival, called the National Koprivshtitsa Gathering, at the museum town of Koprivshtitsa. The event, at which thousands of performers appear, occurs roughly every five years.
  • On the Black Sea, choose your water sports. Dive to see caves, reefs, shipwrecks or sunken military aircraft. Or, stay on the water in a yacht.
  • Drive a dogsled at the Pamporovo ski resort.
  • Go caving in the area of Ledenika within the Vrachanski Balkan National Park. Or, head for Duhlata Cave in the Vitosha Mountains; it is Bulgaria’s longest cave, at a little more than 11 miles.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Tour the Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site striking for its mountainous backdrop, multiple domes, exterior arcades in black-and-white horizontal stripes and the church’s colorful frescoes found inside and lining exterior walls under the arcades. Or, choose one of several other attractive monasteries.
  • Go skiing at Pamporovo resort in the Rhodopes Mountains or at Borovets in the Rila Mountains.
  • Drink the Bulgarian red wine made from the country’s own Melnik grape. Also, visit the architectural museum in the town called Melnik; the town — itself another of Bulgaria’s museum towns — is known for its large timber and stone houses.
  • Time your visit right at the unspoiled 17th century village of Shiroka Laka and you will see the Koukeri Festival which includes a procession of dancers and musicians in animal costumes, part of an old fertility rite. The event occurs in early March, just in advance of spring.
  • Hike in the foothills of the central Stara Planina range. Start from the town of Teteven.
  • In spring, collect a kayak for some paddling in the Danube or on the Strouma, Vit or Yantra river.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Attend an opera performance at Plovdiv’s outdoor Roman theater.
  • Shop for rose-scented souvenirs. They may include rose water, rose liqueur, rose brandy, rose jam, rose shampoo, plus a kind of Turkish Delight.
  • See a folk dance program at one of several restaurants that cater to tourists by staging such shows. Join the folk dancers if that is an option, and it may be.
  • Try the spa facilities in such small inland places as Chiflik and Shipkovo, or wait until you are on the Black Sea at Varna and try spa facilities in that popular resort area.
  • Book a tour that takes you to the Rose Festival and snap lots of photos of harvesters and dancers in traditional garb.
  • Devote a day to the charms of Nessebar, a town on a peninsula on the Black Sea, noted for its numerous medieval churches and ramparts, plus houses of the 19th century National Revival period. It is a photographer’s delight.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Official Tourism Portal of Bulgaria at