5 Reasons You Should Put Bulgaria On Your Bucketlist

Bulgaria, Buzludzha Monument

Reason One: Stunning Landscapes

Bulgaria is a landscape photographer’s paradise.

Bulgaria, St. Ioan Letni Chapel
St. Ioan Letni Chapel on Pchelina Dam is one of many abandoned chapels in Bulgaria. It perches picturesquely above the dam looking serene and lovely, but the road getting there is virtually a track filled with pot-holes. Somehow though, arriving at the dam over such a rough road is very rewarding, you feel like you have made a discovery that others aren’t likely to find. To get there you will need to pass through the village of Potsurnentsi and then use GPS coordinates from there (42°31’18.0″N 22°51’48.0″E).

With four striking mountain ranges to choose from there is just no end to the variety and beauty:

Cascading waterfalls…

Bulgaria, Canyon of Waterfalls
One of the 46 waterfalls in the Canyon of Waterfalls near Smolyan. This is a great hike in the Rhodope mountains that ultimately culminates in a wide-open panoramic viewpoint from the peak. Take the road out of Smolyan towards Mugla and watch for the small sign on the right side of the road by a small right turn. It looks like a gravel road going nowhere, but park the car and start walking and you will soon hear the first falls tumbling below a lovely stone bridge.

Jaw-dropping panoramas…

Bulgaria, Eagles Eye
Orlovo Oko (or the Eagle’s Eye) is a steel observation platform atop St. Ilia peak and offers stunning views over the Pirin, Rila and Rhodope mountain ranges. To get there you drive into the village of Yagodina where you can either hike up the trail behind Hotel Mursal (about a 45min climb straight up) or hire a 4×4 for an exhilarating ride there, which also takes about 40min.

Pristine mountain lakes…

Bulgaria, Rila Lakes
For me, the 7 Rila Lakes are THE thing to see in Bulgaria. The easiest way to get to them is to take a chairlift from Panachishte up to the mountain hut and then the trail is easily marked from there. The round trip hike can take a couple of hours if you are very fit and don’t stop for pictures…or all day if you are like us (slow photographers). You need good footwear and trekking poles wouldn’t hurt. Do not make the mistake of thinking the trail to the lakes starts at Rila Monastery, which is on the other side of the mountain. You can get there from the monastery…but it is a couple of days hiking!

And exquisite caves…

Bulgaria, Devetashka Cave
Devetashka Cave is a huge karst cave located about 15 km northeast of the town of Lovech. It is well signposted and also less than a half hours drive from the stunning Krushuna Falls. The cave is currently home to approximately 30,000 bats, but has also been regularly occupied by humans over many centuries. The most recent human occupation being that of the film crew for the movie “The Expendibles 2”, the bridge accessing the cave was actually built for the movie but now is very convenient for tourists. There are many, many caves in Bulgaria, each one very different and unique in its own right.

And when you come down from the mountains there is the stunning Black Sea coast line…

Bulgaria, Black Sea sunrise orange Phil July 2016
Sunrise at Ahtopol on the south coast. There are many tourist areas, big hotels and sandy beaches on the Black Sea coast. It is very popular with tourists. It is also possible to take river boat trips and go kayaking.

Better yet, the distances are close. Unlike the sprawling grandeur of Canada (where I am from), where you may travel for hours and hours through similar stunning terrain until your mind is numb and your eyes no longer appreciative, Bulgarian distances are short. Don’t fall asleep, you will miss something new and wonderful and altogether different from what you were seeing an hour ago. The terrain is diverse and interesting and ever-changing in Bulgaria, a short drive and you are suddenly in a whole new setting.

Bulgaria, St. Ivan Rilski Chapel on Zhrebchevo Dam.
“The Sunken Church”, St. Ivan Rilski Chapel on Zrebchevo Dam. This is a popular camping and fishing area and also great for photography. Submerged beneath the waters of the dam lies the village of Zapalnya, only its church remains eerily surrounded by water (unless you go in August…the water was too low this last August when we went. Still nice, just different). It is easy to get to straight from the highway taking the turning signposted for Zbrebchevo Dam to the south and Elena to the north.

Reason Two: Fascinating History

Over the last 1.4 million years civilizations have come and gone leaving their indelible stamp upon the lands now known as Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, Nicopolis ad Istrum
Nicopolis ad Istrum, just north of Veliko Tarnovo is an incredible experience. A once thriving Roman city only just now being excavated…it is the Acropolis or Ephesus of Bulgaria, but only just being revealed.

From prehistoric cave dwellings to ancient ruins and tombs, from the excavated remains of once-thriving Roman cities to crumbling old fortresses, and from remarkable monasteries and cathedrals to the austere architecture of communist times, the richness and depth of Bulgaria’s history is undeniable!

Bulgaria, Arch of Freedom
The Arch of Freedom on Beklemeto Pass in the Balkan Mountains. An enormous communist monument to the freeing of the Bulgarian people from Ottoman rule (only then to come under communist rule for the next 50 years). Bulgaria is dotted with many massive, concrete memorials from the communist era; some blocky, imposing and austere, but others, like this one, impressive and striking in their sheer enormity.

Reason Three: The Food and Drink

There really is no chronological order to this list, but if there were, I think my husband would argue the food and drink should be placed higher than in the top three reasons to come to Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, Market Plums
Fresh plums at the market in Yakaruda.

The food is fresh, it is wholesome and tasty and quite simply wonderful! By fresh, I mean villagers tending stands outside their fields selling their goods and popping back over the fence into the field when running low on supplies. Sadly, a tomato will never taste as flavourful again, or a pepper as sweet when you return home. And this fresh produce suffuses their cuisine. It is not uncommon for menus to have at least two pages of only salads.

Bulgaria, Market Peppers
The peppers in Bulgaria are so sweet it makes it difficult to go back to the supermarket peppers at home… And the tomatoes!

Then there are the hearty pots of sizzling meats, the cheese and more cheese in every dish—even the French fries–and the fresh baked flat breads. There is something for every kind of foodie. And of course the home-grown wines to accompany the meals and the famous home-brewed Brandy, known as Rakia, to finish everything off. If you aren’t feeling hungry now, it is the fault of my writing and not any lack on the part of Bulgarian cuisine.

Reason Four: It is Affordable

A meal for two including starters and dessert and a few drinks will likely cost you less than 20 dollars American.

Bulgaria, Melnik Wine Tasting
Wineries are everywhere in Bulgaria and the wine is delicious. Melnik is a popular area for wine, which is where we enjoyed this wine. Probably the favourite drink of Bulgarians though is “Rakia”, a type of fruit brandy that can be very strong in alcohol content especially if it is home-brewed.

And if you are watching your pennies, you should be able to feed two of you in a restaurant for as little as 10 dollars American. A night in a guesthouse is around 20-30 dollars. You can do a hostel for less and a fancy hotel in Sofia for a lot more, but really the prices are exceptionally reasonable.

Reason Five: It is still relatively undiscovered

Maybe not undiscovered, as Bulgaria has a long and exciting history, but she seems to have been forgotten and grown a bit dusty as she waits to be rediscovered.

Bulgaria, Melnik
Melnik is Bulgaria’s smallest town and lies nestled among striking rock formations known as the Melnik Pyramids. It is a charming little town and is well known for its wineries and definitely worth a visit.

For the traveller, this means few tourists, yet all the amenities at affordable prices. It also means access into beautiful areas that will likely become closed off once more and more people start to go there.

Bulgaria, Krushuna Falls
The Krushuna Falls tumble gently into emerald green pools hidden among the trees like a little fairyland. Located just north of Lovech, they are definitely worth spending a few hours at. The trail is easy and well marked, but sadly a landslide last year resulted in the closing of the upper portion of the trail. Still plenty of beauty there to warrant a visit though.

And then there is the excitement of feeling like you are getting there first, before tourists discover the area, before things are dug up and reconstructed and put on display as tourist attractions. It is a truly authentic and soul-fulfilling experience.

Bulgaria, Gods Eye Caves
God’s Eyes Cave is located in north central Bulgaria in the Iskar Gorge near the village of Karlukovo. The 2 oval-shaped openings in the ceiling look exactly like a giant set of eyes staring down at you. It is incredibly popular with climbers especially on the weekends.

It really is a surprising country and well worth an extended visit. It is easy to get around by rental car, wifi is readily available everywhere, restaurants and charming guesthouses for every budget are plentiful and many people have at least rudimentary English (especially the younger generations).

Bulgaria, Zaburdo village

So you have all the amenities and conveniences you can want and yet can easily immerse yourself in a the quaint village life of horse drawn carts and pack mules. Our Bulgarian friend describes Bulgaria as a country for all the senses and I think that pretty much sums it up!

Happy Travels!

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