Bulgaria: The Best Bits with Nova Car Hire
Rent a car in Bulgaria and rediscover the delights of taking life at a slower pace. Spend your days enjoying the pastoral, unspoiled landscapes, eating cheaply at restaurants where you can linger for hours over a meal and sipping wine from the native Mavrud grape. You could spend your time here quite happily doing nothing, but if you’d like some pointers on where to go, here are our suggestions:
Bansko offers contrasting but equally beautiful landscapes, depending on what time of year you visit. A 157km-drive south of Sofia via car hire, the ancient settlement nestles at the foot of 2,743m Pirin Mountains and is home to a passionately independent citizenship who boast that they successfully faced down the Ottomans.
Contemporary Bansko is a major ski resort and home to a stunning golf course. In summer, the blanket of snow disappears to be replaced by carpets of wild flowers. You can hike through the meadows to reach Bulgaria’s second-highest peak, Mount Vihren. In September, Bansko attracts thousands of music lovers to its international jazz festival.
The Thracians, Romans and Ottomans certainly had taste. All of them occupied Plovdiv, leaving some fine examples of architecture for contemporary visitors to admire. Situated in south-central Bulgaria, Plovdiv is one of the loveliest cities in Europe, with an old town of Bulgarian renaissance-style houses and winding cobbled streets lined with great restaurants and art galleries overlooking the Rhodope Mountains.
Just 147km from Sofia via hire car, Plovdiv lies atop a beautifully preserved 1,800-year-old stadium, which runs under the main pedestrian street and is fitted with glass panels to give you a glimpse into history. Wander among ancient mosaics, Renaissance houses and temples representing the Islamic, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish faiths. In a perfect blend of ancient and modern, the ancient amphitheatre is still used for operas and concerts.
The Thracians were an enigmatic race, but they left a spectacular legacy of relics – and Kazanlak, 265km east of Sofia and 207km west of Varna, is one of the best places to see it. They adopted the Egyptian practice of using hieroglyphics and pursuing a cult of death, hence the Kazanlak Tomb, a burial chamber with fresco-embellished walls that will stop you in your tracks.
If you leave the town of Kazanlak and drive to the Valley of the Thracian Kings, you will find yet more Thracian sites stuffed with statuary and paintings in exquisite condition. Try to get here for the Rose Festival, held in the first week of June, which revolves around the dawn harvesting of the Damascene rose – a highly valuable crop for the global perfume trade.
Pick up your hire car from Burgas Airport and you’re just 44km from Sozopol, the most enchanting of Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts. Whatever your age or socialising preferences, Sozopol is a wonderful escape.
It manages to deliver both for Sofia’s young, partying set and for those in search of something a little quieter. In the refined old town, you’ll find excellent restaurants and bars overlooking the sea, where you can watch the sun set over Asia. Head south for miles of sandy beaches reaching all the way to Turkey. Sunny Beach, in the north, is the place to go for lively parties that go on all night.
Koprivshtitsa is a tiny and perfect town tucked into the Sredna Gora mountains, 108km east of Sofia. Nestled among ancient forests and criss-crossed by sparkling streams and rivers, it resonates with the Bulgarian revolutionary spirit.
It was in Koprivshtitsa that the campaign for independence from Turkey began in 1876, and the picturesque little town is still a place of historic significance for Bulgarians. The cobbled streets are lined with beautifully painted, half-timbered houses and the town is an important focus for Bulgarian music and folklore festivals.