This is Bulgaria?!?

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I'll admit it — I basically knew nothing about Bulgaria before my trip to Eastern Europe.

All I knew was that it had a few pretty monasteries that I wanted to visit.

And that's it.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

I purposely didn't do too much research into my summer destinations. I did enough to know where I was going, and where those places were located in each country. But I didn't want to over-educate myself, or build up expectations that had no prayer of being met.

So I stayed blissfully ignorant about Bulgaria right up until we crossed the border from Romania.

Well, was I ever in for a surprise!!

Things I loved about Bulgaria

The countryside

Bulgaria has extremely gorgeous countryside, with everything from snow-capped mountains to beaches along the Black Sea coast. I knew Bulgaria was going to be agricultural and all, but I was absolutely not prepared for its stunning landscapes!

Bulgaria

Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria

Really cool cities

While Sofia may not be much of a looker, other Bulgarian cities really wowed me.

Like Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria's medieval capital) with its narrow cobbled streets and old fortress on the hill. Even though it was almost unbearably hot during the summer months, I couldn't get enough of the views here.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

And Bansko, a ski city during the winter months, was also fun. It's quiet and charming during the summer months.

Bansko, Bulgaria

And Plovdiv, with its history and colorful buildings.

Plovdiv

And the villages we visited – like Gorno Draglishte – were also beautiful.

Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria

Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria

The history

Bulgaria has ties to many different empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans. Plovdiv, for example, has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins I've ever seen!

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Ancient Roman theater in Plovdiv.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Half-buried ruins of a Roman stadium in Plovdiv.

Rila Monastery

This was the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Bulgaria was Rila Monastery, the largest and most well-known Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. I first heard about this monastery in a book, and had dreamed for years of visiting myself.

It was even more amazing in person than I could have hoped.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Friendly locals

Even though I could only communicate with most of them through pantomime, I found the locals in Bulgaria to be incredibly kind and welcoming.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Bulgarian pride

And lastly, I loved how much Bulgarians love their country. There's an attitude there that exudes pride for a country that many people have barely even heard of. From guesthouse owners to minibus drivers, I had a sense that everyone we met was really happy to have us there, and to have the chance to show off their country to us.

It was this pride and attitude that helped me forgive Bulgaria it's little failings and fall a little bit in love with it, too.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria definitely isn't on the usual tourist track in Europe. And that's exactly how it should be, really. It's not a place made for mass tourism; it's nowhere near as developed as Romania, even.

But for those curious enough and willing to step off the beaten path, it's a country that's incredibly rewarding to travel through.

Would YOU travel to Bulgaria?

 

 

*Note: I visited Bulgaria as part of a complimentary 18-day “Explore Eastern Europe” tour with Intrepid Travel. But all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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52 Comments on “This is Bulgaria?!?

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  1. Okay, I am sort of visiting Bulgaria out of the blue, but only have Sofia on my itinerary so far! I’m definitely gonna see if I can get to Rila Monastery as it looks amazing! Though I might have to choose between that and Plovdiv… decisions.

      Tough choices! Plovdiv was a cool town with lots of history. But Rila Monastery… just magical!

    Wonderful piece, Amanda, about a part of the world I am currently fascinated with. We are headed to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro shortly, but, unfortunately, Bulgaria did not make the short list… THIS TIME. I am very intrigued. If you ever return and wanted a couple of travel companions, let me know!

      Eastern Europe is super fascinating to me, too! Hopefully you’ll make it to Bulgaria next time. 🙂

    Great post! I just arrived in Sofia and am planning on heading out to the country side soon so this was great for reference. Did you by chance do any hiking around the 7 lakes near the monastery?

      No I didn’t really do any hiking around the monastery, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful!

    I came across your blog by chance and I love it! I am from Bulgaria and it makes me proud that you fell in love with my beautiful country! Keep up the good work!

    Thank you for the beautiful post about my home country Bulgaria! We do really enjoy to show off our country because years ago we didn’t have that chance, everything was closed for foreigners. Now, after so many bad sayings about Bulgaria, we are happy to welcome travellers and to prove media that it’s just wrong. Thank you! And Nessebar and Sozopol are a must, too 🙂

    Hey, I am so happy to see somebody writing for my home country. Next time in Bulgaria visit these places Bozhentsi, Koprivshtica, Kovachevitsa, Melnik, Belogradchishki rocks, Balchik, Nessebar, and even my parent’s hometown Chiprovtsi, in western Bulgaria, forgotten by time and hiding itself in the mountains. 🙂 Alexandra

    I have the privilege to visit this beautiful country many times for work and Rila Monastery is simply amazing. Bulgaria has so much treasure that is not as well presented as the rest of Europe. If only the tourism board will invest into setting up the proper infrastructure, Bulgaria will definitely be one of the place to visit while going Europe. It is a shame to have all these hidden “treasure” buried.

      I’m fine with it remaining “hidden” for at least a little longer! 😉

      But I agree – it’s a special part of Europe!

    Great photos! The charm of Bulgaria is in the little countryside villages and the old towns. Next time you should definitely visit Sozopol and Nesebar (both located at the Black Sea coast).

      I agree – the countryside villages and ancient towns are the must-sees in Bulgaria. Next time I will definitely make my way to the coast!

    I find it very encouraging that everyone is having a great time in Bulgaria, and I would like to go. However… at the risk of sounding unpolitcally correct…I notice that everyone who said that Bulgarians are friendly and that travelers should venture out of the big city to see real Bulgaria are…well, white.
    I was wondering if that is a safe move for non-white people. As a visible minority (tan) woman, I get a little hedgy, wondering what kind of treatment I’d get in Bulgaria… I was told that it would be safer for minorities to stay in the city, where there are more “worldly” people, rather than visit the country-side where there may be ignorance.
    What are your thoughts on this, if I may ask?

      Well, I am a white, female traveler. So unfortunately I can only speak to my own personal experiences. However, I saw no indications in Bulgaria that locals would have an issue with people who look different.

      There are very few “people of color” visitors in Bulgaria. We notice more and more people of color every summer and have never seen anything that would be offensive or challenging. There is a negative view of the Gypsy working class, however like migrant workers in the south west U.S. they seem to be tolerated and not the focus of any trouble. Please do bot be concerned, you might receive stares as my red headed- freckled wife did in China where everyone wanted to tough her hair, but not with malice. Having said all of this I think you would have no concerns about being welcomed or receiving the noted hospitality of Bulgarians. Please enjoy the food–we eat like horses and lose weight as the food is mostly organic, fresh and with none of the additives used in american restaurants. A seven course dinner with wine for three couples in St. Vlas cost under $125 and in Plovdiv under $75.

    Have you visited Nessebar? It is a really nice city on the south Black Sea coast 🙂

      I have not! I sadly didn’t make it to the coast when I was in Bulgaria.

      Nessebar is beautiful… Especially the night view.

    It’s always nice to see the view of an outsider on my country since Bulgarians although opened towards foreigners are kind of stuck in the past and the lack of travelling experience does have a negative impact (usually when a Bulgarian leaves Bulgaria for more than a couple of months he/she leaves the country for good so there is little feedback from their experiences in the outside world). I’m glad you liked it. The hospitality especially in rural areas is a duty. If the host/hostess doesn’t provide the best he/she can, it brings shame on the whole family. Of course there are plenty of example of bad people, who do not follow this rule but they are just…well, bad. 🙂 The sad thing when it comes to tourism is that most tourist agencies provide routes only through some big famous places. In recent years this started to change slowly and there are many foreigners, who enjoy a quiet and pleasant stay in some rural area in a family-house, where they can eat and drink home-made food and drinks, and can hike for many hours in probably on of the most well preserved wild natures in whole Europe. I see however that you like many others decided to visit a foreign country without any preparation. This is bad no matter where you go and it might cause you big trouble. For a long stay in a foreign country (couple of years) it is strongly recommended to learn the language, study the culture, talk to representatives of that foreign culture and also talk to people of your own culture who have been there. Obviously all these do not apply if you want to visit for a couple of days/weeks but still learning a thing or two about the culture you are going to experience and also a couple of basic words can tremendously improve your stay there. For example in most parts of Bulgaria nodding your head means “No” and shaking it sideways means “Yes”, which leads to many misunderstandings (in big cities it is less common mostly because of the influence of the world outside, where in most countries it’s the complete opposite in this case LOL). I hope you return and enjoy your stay even more. Don’t forget to climb a couple of our mountains (Stara Planina, Rila (the seven Rila lakes), Pirin, Rodopi) and to visit towns such as Koprivshtitsa, which have an amazing atmosphere.

      I did really enjoy my time in Bulgaria. And don’t worry – I learned some words in Bulgarian while I was there! I always do that when arriving in a new country. 🙂

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