Varna, also known as The Sea Capital of Bulgaria or The Black Sea Pearl, is the second-largest city in Bulgaria with population of about 500 000 people. It is also one of the most ancient cities in Europe with an extremely rich history and heritage. The oldest gold treasure in the world was discovered near Varna. Continue reading
Should you travel by bus or railway when visiting Bulgarian towns? How about which taxi to take if you don’t want to be charged with the “special” price? What do you need to know about the parking challenges in the Bulgarian capital? Continue reading
If you happen to visit Bulgaria and want to dive into the experience, you simply must try some of the country’s most iconic dishes. If you don’t know what those are, let me show you.
Bulgarian cuisine is generally quite similar to other Balkan cuisines. The close proximity of the people in the region and its history made the tradition in food preparation similar. However, each of the Balkan countries has their own specialties, and in that Bulgaria is not lacking.
A classic breakfast combination is banitsa and boza (баница и боза) or banitsa and ayran (баница и айраян). Banitsa is a traditionally made filo pastry pie. In the most popular version it is filled with white pickled cheese or a combination of cheese, eggs and yogurt. In other variations the banitsa can contain leeks, onions, cabbage, minced meat, pumpkin and sugar or apples with cinnamon. It can be easily be purchased from any street bakery, during the whole day.
The cheesy banitsa fits very well the sweet thick boza drink. Boza is made of rye or wheat and goes into slight fermentation process. If the boza has slight alcoholic taste, it is not fresh and you should not drink it. The alternative to boza – ayran, is basically a deluded with water Bulgarian yogurt. Salt and even pepper can be added to the drink.
Other breakfast options are tutmanik (тутманик) and milinka (милинка). Both are breakfast breads with cheese and eggs but each has a typical taste and different preparation method. Mekitsa (мекица) is a bulgarian sort of donut, usually consumed for breakfast too. It can be eaten both with sweet and savoury additions such as white cheese, confectioner’s sugar or jam.
Shopska salad (шопска салата) is probably one of Bulgaria’s most iconic dishes. It is also a favourite among foreigners. The salad is made of tomato, cucumber and onion. What makes it special, however, is the topping of Bulgarian white pickled cheese (сирене). The symphony of the ingredients and the simple oil and vinegar dressing makes this salad outstanding. You can order Shopska salad in any restaurant (it is that popular) and you best try it as a starter, with Rakiya.
Rakiya (ракия) is Bulgaria’s traditional alcohol beverage. It is usually made of grapes, but it can also be produced from plums, apricots, peaches, apples, pears or cherries. The alcohol content is 40-60%. A lot of Bulgarians produce their own homemade rakiya. But don’t limit your alcohol consumption to rakiya. Try some Bulgarian wine too. The country has a long tradition in wine making. If you are more of a beer person, get a Zagorka, Shumensko or Kamenitsa.
The humble bean soup (боб чорба) is a Bulgarian staple. It is an excellent vegetarian dish, but it can also be spiced up with some sausages. The shkembe chorba (шкамбе чорба) soup is a classic dish for those after-a-party days. It is considered to be a hangover remedy. Shkembe chorba is made of lamb, beef or pork tripe, with added milk, paprika and butter. It is served with minced garlic in vinegar. Not a good dish if you have a business meeting or a date later that day.
Bulgarian bean soup
For a main dish, Bulgarianmoussaka (мусака) is a must-try. It is a casserole with potatoes and minced meat and a pouring of egg and yogurt based sauce. It is served with a spoonful of Bulgarian plain yogurt (кисело мляко).
Stuffed peppers (пълнени чушки) are a good alternative. They can be both vegetarian, stuffed with rice and sometimes walnuts, or stuffed with minced meat and rice. There is a variant, in which peppers are stuffed with white cheese, covered with egg and flour and fried, called pepper biurek (чушки бюрек).
Wine kebab (винен кебап) is a popular dish you can easily find in Bulgarian restaurants. It is made of pork lamb or beef chunks, cooked in wine sauce and served with plain white rice.
For a dessert, try some baklava (баклава) or Garash cake (гараш торта). Baklava, originally Turkish dessert, is prepared in Bulgaria using walnuts and thin filo pastry, soaked in sugar sirup. The Garash cake is basically a thin layered chocolate cake, but it has a typical taste due to the crushed walnuts used in the cake’s layers.
Those are only some of the typical Bulgarian dishes but I hope you can get a general idea of the typical dishes. So, from what was said so far, do you think you would like the Bulgarian cuisine?
If you plan to visit Bulgaria and stay for a few days in Sofia, don’t miss the Free Sofia Tour. This tour is exactly what it sounds like: it is free and it is in Sofia.
Free Sofia Tour runs twice a day, every day, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Bulgarian time, regardless of the weather and/or holidays. The tour guides are young enthusiasts who will show you around the most beautiful and interesting parts of the city centre, while telling you about Sofia’s history.
The meeting point for the tour is always the same. Here is a map that will help you get there:
If you want to reach the meeting point by subway, get off at Serdika subway station. Then pass by St. Nedelya church down the street until you reach the courthouse with the big iron lions in front of it. The meeting is by the left lion (if you are watching towards the courthouse).
If you go by taxi, simply tell them to drive you to “Sveta Nedelya” church (Tsuhrkvata Sveta Nedelia). Then all you need to do is cross the street and walk towards the lions.
I hope these instructions will be helpful. If you happen to be visiting Varna or Plovdiv, there are similar free tours there as well.
So if you have already seen Sofia’s centre, do tell: How did you like it?
In our previous article about Bulgarian sea resorts we presented you with some of the largest and most popular Black sea vacation places in Bulgaria. In this article we will show you some smaller sea resorts which, however, have a big history. All of those settlements have been founded in ancient times and have some of their former glory preserved. Those are towns where you can find both golden sand beach holiday and a cultural trip to the past.
View of the town Photo by PL Przemek
Sozopol is one of the oldest Bulgarian towns, its first settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. The current town was founded by Greek colonists in the 7th century BC and was initially called Antheia. Soon the town was renamed Apollonia, because the city temple dedicated to Apollo used to contain a famous colossal statue of the Greek god.
Apollonia was located on an islet which is now connected to the mainland with a narrow piece of land. Its inhabitants, mostly Greek, lived by fishing and agriculture. The town soon established itself as a trade and cultural center, having strong relations with the ancient Greek cities. During the 1st century AD, the name Sozopolis began to appear in written documents and coins.
Houses in the old town of Sozopol Photo by Martyr
During the centuries, Sozopol was part of the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman empires. After the Bulgarian independence war in the 19th century, Sozopol became part of the new Bulgarian kingdom.
Sozopol is located 53km south of Burgas. It is a major seaside resort famous with its golden beaches and the Apollonia art festival which takes place every September. The buildings of the old town are preserved in 18th-19th century Bulgarian style but there are also some remains from the ancient Greek era. In fusion with the ancient atmosphere, Sozopol offers a lot of modern and comfortable hotels.
Fortification in front of Nesebar
Until the Middle Ages, Nesebar was known as Menebria (by the Thracians) and Mesembria (by the Greeks). It was originally a Thracian settlement which later became a Greek colony. Mesembria became an important trading center and a rival to Apollonia. At the 1st century BC, the town fell under Roman rule, but managed to keep its autonomy.
Church of John the Baptist, Nesebar Photo by Gérard Janot
During the Middle Ages Nesebar was often fought over by the Byzantine and Bulgarian empires. The Bulgarian variant of the name, Nesebar or Mesebar, was first attested in the 11th century. The Turks captured the town in the 15th century. Nesebar reunited with new Bulgarian kingdom in 1885, after the independence war.
Nesebar, or “The Pearl of the Black Sea” contains many historic sites such as an ancient acropolis, temple of Apollo and part of the defensive ancient wall. There are over 40 churches in Nesebar, wholly or partly preserved. The town’s rich history and abundance of historic buildings made it part of the Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.
The Black Sea (or Cherno more; Черно море) is the natural Eastern Bulgarian border. Some say it was called “black” because in ancient times it was very inhospitable and difficult to navigate in. If sailors were caught in a storm, they usually died because of the absence of islands in the sea at which to harbor. The sea waters also appear very black during a storm or when there is a fog over it. The reason for this “black” appearance is that the deep waters do not mix with the upper layers of water. As a result the deeper layers of water do not receive any oxygen, making over 90% of the deeper Black Sea volume anoxic water. This lessens the amount of living microorganisms in the sea, making it appear black.
Despite its hostility to sailors, 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. In the next section, you can get to know the best Bulgarian sea resorts and what they can offer.
(Zlatni Piasuhtsi; Златни пясъци)
Golden Sands is the oldest of the three biggest Bulgarian sea resorts (Golden Sands, Sunny Beach and Albena). It is located just 17 km away from the city of Varna, in a natural park with the same name, in which you can see some unique costal plant species.
Golden Sands is famous with its golden-like fine sand and its wide and long beach. At times, the beach reaches 100 m width and is 3.5 km long. Sunbathing is possible from May to October, as the calm and clear water stays warm even during the night in the summer season, sometimes reaching up to 25 degrees C.
According to the local legend, the lovely beach was created when pirates dug their treasure there. The land decided to take the gold and turn it into fine sand.
Golden Sands also has some thermal mineral water sources which are used for medical purposes. As a result the resort offers medical and fitness centers in which you can use the healing thermal waters all year round. In those centers over 100 kinds of medical services are offered, such as healing of arthritis, osteoarthritis, stress, chronic pharyngitis, bronchitis, asthma, etc.
(Sluhnchev briag; Слънчев бряг)
Sunny Beach is the biggest and most popular sea resort in Bulgaria. It is located in a bay in a half-moon form, turned towards East. It is situated 30 km away from the city of Burgas and 3km away from Nesebar, south from the last uplands of the Balkan mountain.
The shore line is 8 km long, with fine golden-yellow sand, clear water and fresh air from the mountain. There is an abundance of popular night clubs and bars and other kinds of entertainment such as concerts, music festivals, sports, beach competitions as well as the high tech Aqua Park. The sunbathing season is from May to September.
The fast development of the resort in the past few decades made it the biggest in Bulgaria, being able to accommodate over 300 000 people. The overdevelopment creates some infrastructure problems. Sunny Beach is no longer good for a quiet family vacation, however, the people who prefer more dynamic atmosphere and night life will love the resort.
Albena is located in the northern Bulgarian sea cost, 30 km away from Varna. The resort was purpose-built in the early 70s. There are a lot of modern hotels there, built in a way that gives them a good prospect of the sea and enough sunshine. Albena offers almost 15 000 beds and over 100 restaurants.
Albena is extremely popular with foreign tourists, approximately 90% of the visitors are foreigners. It is friendly for all age groups and offers diverse entertainment options. From the cultural tourism, Balchik palace and its gardens, to the variety or sports and tournaments, Albena offers dynamic and yet calm holidays.
Albena’s beach is covered with fine sand with velvety feel and is 3.5 km long. The resort has won a prize for the ecological purity of the whole territory. The air has a high amount of oxygen due to the nearby natural resort Baltata.
All of the mentioned resorts are reachable by car or bus. There are buses from any major Bulgarian city. The closest airports are in Varna and Burgas.
Sofia is one of the most ancient capitals in Europe. As a result, it contains historical evidence from all epochs which makes it a unique cultural experience. Take a short journey in Sofia with the following video:
If you like to ski and snowboard, here are some great destinations in Bulgaria in which you can spend your winter holidays.
Photo by aneye4apicture via Flickr
Borovets (a.k.a. Chamkoria) is a first class resort situated in the north flank of Rila mount. At the end of 19th century it was established as a hunting residence for the Bulgarian king. Since then, it has grown into the biggest winter sports resort in Bulgaria. Borovets has even hosted World Cup Alpine Skiing twice.
The town of Borovets has very good ski facilities. The ski runs are supplied with number of chair lifts and drag lifts. The resort has a snow making system, covering an area of above 20 hectares. The runs are sound-tracked and lit up by modern lighting systems, allowing night skiing. Variety of many different inclines and types of snow offer the best opportunities for ski enthusiasts of all levels, from the absolute beginner to the extreme high performer.
Pamporovo is located in the heart of Rodopi mountain, at 1650 meters above sea level. The climate is very mild during the winter (annual average temperature 5.5 C). The resort has the biggest number of sunny days per year in comparison with all other mountain resorts in Bulgaria. The tourist season starts at December and continues until the end of April. Pamporovo is mainly winter resort, because it has been adapted mostly for ski sports.
Almost all ski-tracks start from the near Snejanka peak. The mountain peak is one of the One hundred national tourist sites of the Bulgarian Tourist Union.
Photo by ifot via Flickr
The resort is suitable for ski and snowboard, hiking, spa. Pamporovo provides activities for the children too – ski school and kindergarten.
The picturesque town is located in the north slope of Pirin mountain. As the climat is mountain-like there is abundance of snow from December till April.
Photo by Nacho y Adriana via Flickr
The archeological traces date back to 100 BC and the period of the Roman Empire. However, what is most interesting for the tourists is the old town and its 18th century traditional Bulgarian style. The town was part of the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed a self-rule autonomy which made it prosperous. It is also famous with the first Protestant church in Bulgaria which was founded in 1868.
Today Bansko is an attractive resort for both summer and winter tourism. A new gondola lift starts from the town itself and rides up to the ski slopes of Todorka peak. The ski-tracks are suitable for all level skiers. Since the 2008-2009 season Bansko has been hosting the ladies’ races from the Alpine Skiing World Cup.
As the legend has it, when God created the Earth He gave a gift to every country. The nice sea shores to Spain, the mighty Alps to Austria, the Seine river to France. When He finished his work, there was nothing left for the small Bulgaria. Therefor, He took a small piece of every gift, and gave it to Bulgaria.
There are a lot of different kinds of resorts in Bulgaria. For summer – the beaches on the Black sea or some of the old fashioned villages in the mountains. For winter – the ski resorts or visiting some of the bigger cities. A summer (or spring) in Bulgaria:
Sozopol – It is a very nice sea resort and is also an ancient village. There are a lot of nice hotels, good restaurants and lovely beaches. Also, the old part of the town is from the 19th century and presents the typical houses for that period. There are some amazing restaurants there, with view to the sea and the beach.
Golden Sands (Zlatni Piasatsi) – This is one of the biggest resorts. There are a lot of luxurious hotels and golden sand beaches (as you can see from the name).
Nesebar – This town is one of the most ancient in Europe and as you can expect, there is an old town as well as sunny beaches. If you are interested in archeology you can find some interesting buildings there. Don’t forget to see the old mill of the town.
Balchik – A nice sea resort. What you can see there is a small castle build by the Romanian queen, when the lands were occupied by Romania. There is also a botanical garden.
Primorsko – This resort is in the most south parts of the Bulgarian seashore. What is interesting there is the Ropotamo river which goes into the sea. Around the river the lands are protected because of some unique animals. If you go there do take the little boat and float a bit on the Ropotamo river.
Rodopi mountain – This is the perfect place for summer if you can’t stand the heat. The Rodopi mount has some of the nicest old villages with wonderful clear air and friendly people. There you can visit Smolian or Chepelare or Bachkovo.
Veliko Tarnovo – This is a town build on a hill. What is interesting there is the medieval castle. If you go there, do check if the light show will be in the time when you’re visiting. It’s worth to see it. It is a show of light and music in the old castle which is performed at night. If you go there do visit also Etara. This is an ethnological museum which is an actual old fashioned Bulgarian village. There you can see how the old Bulgarians have worked, you can try Turkish coffee with white jam and see how the people back in age have performed their crafts.
A winter (or autumn) in Bulgaria:
Sofia – The capital of the country is also its biggest city. There are various entertainment there – theater, cinema, musical fests, exhibitions, disco clubs and nightlife. There are also some museums and interesting sights such as the church Aleksander Nevsky, The National Palace of Culture, Sveta Nedelia church, The Park of Liberty, etc. During winter season there is a ski path in the nearby mount Vitosha which is enlightened even at night. There are a lot of bars, pubs and restaurants which have very attractive prices.
Plovdiv – This town is actually lovely at every season. There is an old part of the town which is very romantic, as well as a new modern part. Plovdiv is lately a town of culture, and there are usually a lot of interesting events. If you go there during warmer time do go to the old Roman amphitheater where they act and perform operas.
Bansko – If you are more keen on winter sports, you can visit Bansko. This is a nice town between two of the highes mountains in Bulgaria – Rila and Pirin. There are several ski paths there and a lot of good hotels.
Pamporovo – This is another ski resort. There are a lot of hotels and this place is especially good for ski.
This, of course, is not a full list of good Bulgarian resorts. However I do hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions and/or you want more information, please feel free to leave a comment.