10 Reasons Why Bulgaria Is Our Eastern European Pick for 2014
What’s on your must-have list when it comes to the dream holiday destination? Gorgeous beaches, warm weather, picturesque historic towns, hospitable locals, and cheap prices? You’re in luck: Bulgaria has all that and more. Even better, it’s not half as touristy as some of the other Black Sea holiday havens. Read on to discover why Bulgaria should top your list of car hire destinations this summer:
There are many reasons to visit Bulgaria’s charming capital, but the most striking one is the cathedral, a dominant symbol, not just of Sofia, but of the nation itself. Built between 1882 and 1912 to honour the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria’s independence during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78), this weighty spectacle has a Byzantine-Muscovite design and is embellished with mosaics and gold-covered domes. Inside, you’ll find murals, chandeliers, and imposing thrones, as well as Bulgaria’s biggest and most impressive collection of religious icons.
Bulgaria’s biggest and most famous monastery rises in spectacular style from the forests among the Rila Mountains. Though thronged with tourists and pilgrims at summer weekends, it can be quite a solitary space at other times. You can even stay at the monastery itself to witness the ethereally beautiful dawns and twilights that are a feature of this part of Bulgaria. This is also a wonderful location for hiking.
Pivotal in the April Rising of 1876, Koprivshtitsa is a meticulously preserved village set among forested hills between Karlovo and Sofia. Almost 400 protected Bulgarian National Revival buildings line the cobbled streets, with some of the traditional houses functioning as guesthouses or restaurants.
The Rose Valley
Things smell sweeter in Bulgaria, particularly in the Rose Valley where the famous Bulgarian oil-bearing rose grows. The valley can be roughly defined as the rose fields around the central Bulgarian cities of Kazanlak and Karlovo. Try to visit in the first week in June, when the city of Kazanlak celebrates the Festival of Roses.
Although Plovdiv is on a par with Sofia when it comes to its bohemian artistic vibe and vibrant nightlife (this is a university town), its true appeal lies in the old quarter. Largely restored to its mid-19th-century grandeur, it brims with picturesque museums and art galleries, but unlike many other “old towns,” it is home to many working artists. It also has some stunning Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and Bulgarian artefacts – particularly the Roman amphitheatre, which still hosts live performances.
Traditional Bulgarian Taverns
You won’t find it difficult to make time for the typical taverns (mehana) that are a wonderful feature of Bulgaria’s culture. The country’s tradition of winemaking dates back to the Thracians, and the local cuisine is characterised by its diversity, ranging from delicious breads and pastries to succulent stews and salads. If you’re in luck, you’ll get to hear some Balkan gypsy folk music.
The Thracians lived in Bulgaria during the Bronze Age, leaving behind an extraordinarily rich collection of exquisite gold and silver treasures. To date, more than 80 Thracian treasures have been discovered in Bulgaria, including the Panagyurishte Treasure in Plovdiv and the Rogozen and Valchitran Treasure – both of which you’ll find in the National Historical Museum in Sofia.
Bulgaria’s grandest city, Ruse (pronounced roo-seh and sometimes called Rousse) evokes the elegance of Vienna in its graceful Belle Epoque architecture and spacious, leafy squares. It has several excellent museums and an imposing Roman fortress. All the streets radiate from Ploshtad Svoboda, which is dominated by the massive Monument to Freedom.
Whether you want to go skiing in winter or hiking and mountain biking in summer, Bulgaria offers an abundance of options. Make for the mountain massif of Vitosha outside Sofia, the southern Rhodope Mountains that ring the picturesque Vacha Lake, or the lofty granite peaks of the Rila.
And finally, to Bulgaria’s beaches. It’s easy to see why the beautifully maintained white sands of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast are what everybody thinks of when Bulgaria is mentioned as a holiday destination. We’ve left them until last, but we certainly could not leave them out. Whether you just want to lounge on the sand, have a go at watersports, or find somewhere tranquil for a family escape, you will find a Bulgarian beach for you. One of the most popular is Cacao Beach in Sunny Beach (Slanchev Bryag) Resort, an 8km strip of fine sand with hot mineral springs.
Located in central Bulgaria, about a three hour drive from Sofia, the Buzludzha Monument was built by the Communist regime in honour of the 1891 Bulgarian socialist movement. Opened in 1981, the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of the state of Bulgaria, the building was abandoned after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. From a distance, it bears a striking resemblance to a giant concrete spaceship perched on a hill.
Wherever you plan to visit in Bulgaria, car rental with Nova Car Hire makes it easier and cheaper to get around.