HIGH BEAM

ARDA'S MEANDERS

Several large rivers define Bulgaria's geography and historical landscape. The mighty Danube has constituted the northern border of the Bulgarian territories for centuries. The Iskar bypasses Sofia (locals still jokingly declare it to be the deepest river in the world) and then carves its way into the Stara Planina gorge, oft-described in the late-19th century Bulgarian literature. The Maritsa flows through the Thracian Plain: an ancient route used by generations of invaders, merchants, emissaries and empires. Today, the international route E80 runs along much of its course.

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BRIDGE THAT MADE CITY

One of Bulgaria's most impressive off-the-beaten-track treasures lies hidden in plain sight. In the town of Svilengrad, on the borders with Turkey and Greece, cars and pedestrians still cross the River Maritsa by a bride that is six centuries old.

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STARA PLANINA'S FLYING SAUCER

Recently, Bulgaria has become a staple in the Internet lists compiling the oddest abandoned places in the world with a building whose creators hardly imagined, not even in their darkest nightmares, the way it stands now: the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party at Buzludzha.

The complex of an assembly hall and an huge tower of exposed concrete was built on Stara Planina's Mount Buzludzha in 1981. It was meant to be a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the predecessor of the BKP, which had been founded at that mount.

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BULGARIA'S ROMANTIC VILLAGES

Tranquility combined with landscapes untouched by tourism: if you have a longing to visit, Bulgaria will deliver. Here and there isolated and lesser known villages lay scattered over vales and hills, offering the chance to awaken to bird song, spend the long days exploring quiet lanes and traditional houses, and the evenings contemplating the surrounding vistas, preferably with a glass of cold Rakiya.

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HARMAN KAYA THRACIAN SANCTUARY

The rock of the threshing floors. One can easily see why the people from the Bivolyane village gave that name to Harman Kaya. The area's defining features are two large circles in the bedrock, which resemble the threshing floors where people, in the times of pre-supermarket bread, used to separate wheat from chaff.

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PASS OF FREEDOM

There are places in the history of each nation that represent a turning point of events. For the Americans, these are Liberty Bell and Gettysburg. For the British there are Stamford Bridge and Waterloo. For the French there is the Bastille, and for the Germans, the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall. The Greeks have the Thermopylae, and the Italians the Rubicon.

The Bulgarians have the Shipka Pass.

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BURGAS: GEMS OF MARITIME GARDEN INSPIRE MODERN FICTION

This is the biggest town in the Southeast. It is connected to Sofia via one of Bulgaria's two completed motorways and has an airport that usually needs a second wind in summertime. Burgas itself has few particular sites of interest, but bestselling author Elizabeth Kostova singled one out in her latest novel, The Shadow Land (2017). This is the old Maritime Garden casino, or just The Casino, as everyone in Burgas refers to it.

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LAST DAYS OF BOLATA

With the exception of some pockets of overdevelopment, the northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast remains a place of relatively unspoiled nature, picturesque beaches and cliffs, historical sites and landscapes to remember. It is the home of rare ecosystems, like the easternmost edges of the great Eurasian steppes. Its location on the Via Pontica migratory route is why in spring and autumn its skies are full with birds, many of them endangered species.

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BULGARIA'S TOWERS

Bulgaria has a number of forts, both genuine ones as in Cherven and recently constructed "restorations" as in Veliko Tarnovo. The country, however, has several examples of a curious type of fortification: the standalone tower.

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BULGARIA'S LESSER WATERFALLS

Bulgaria claims the highest waterfall in the Balkans, the 124.5-metre Rayskoto Praskalo, or Heavens' Sprinkler, in the Stara Planina mountains. In addition to it, this country has some famous waterfalls: in Boyana, just south of Sofia, the Borov Kamak near Vratsa and the Rilska Skakavitsa in the Rila, to name but a few. However, there are plenty of other less-known waterfalls waiting to be discovered. Finding them is a delight in the heat of summer, and you do not need to hike for hours to reach them.

 

Kapinovski

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GREEN BLACK SEA

The result of centuries of violent storms embedded in the consciousness of seafaring nations, the name of the Black Sea should not be taken literally. Its waters are not black, but mainly dark blue or lead grey, depending on the weather and the season.

Yet in June the Black Sea turns a vivid green, a colour you'd expect to see at an exotic tropical beach. Last year the change was so dramatic that it was visible from space. A NASA composite satellite photo showed the Black Sea's deep blue heart covered with swirls of turquoise.

How does this happen?

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DIMITROVGRAD BEYOND CHALGA

If you have spent more than a couple of days in Bulgaria you should already be familiar with Chalga. This tacky music dominates the mass Bulgarian taste. It blares from your taxi's radio, permeates house parties and low-key restaurants, stuns popular disco clubs and resounds from the open windows of flashy cars driven by chiselled guys or silicone-enhanced fake blondes. Chalga also inevitably pops up several times while you are skipping through your local TV channels.

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MONASTERIES OF VELIKO TARNOVO

It was also the seat of the patriarch, the head of the Bulgarian Church. Surrounded by his staff and underlings, he presided over a vast network of churches, monasteries and scriptoria.

There, icons were painted, books were written and the latest ideas in medieval philosophy were discussed.

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MYSTERY PEAK

A long, long time ago, a group of Egyptian high priests landed on what is now Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast. They headed inland, across the Strandzha mountains, until they reached a pyramid-shaped peak. They buried something there and then they disappeared.

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BULGARIA'S CLOCKTOWERS

With the ubiquity of smartphones and wristwatches the question "What's the time?", coming from a stranger in the street, has become redundant. Yet, until not that long ago people relied on a single source of information for this: clocktowers.

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NYMPHS OF KASNAKOVO

Worn-out streets and strong fortifications, spacious villas and spectacular mosaics: the remains of Bulgaria's Roman heritage are diverse, a multi-layered glimpse into this country's past. And yet, there is a gaping hole in this rich canvas of long-gone life. While hundreds of sculptures, reliefs and mosaics depicting old deities, gods and goddesses have survived, bearing witness to Roman Bulgaria's religious landscape, only a handful of temples can be visited.

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LIONS OF BULGARIA

Australia has the emu, South Africa the springbok. Canada has the beaver, China the panda. In Europe, the countries are almost equally divided between those – Germany, Poland, Albania and so on – which cherish the eagle as its national animal, often putting it on their coats-of-arms. Then there is Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and of course England which venerate the lion. Bulgaria belongs to the second group.

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KRUSHUNA WATERFALLS

However, as so often happens in Bulgaria, appearances are deceiving. Leave the main road and you will discover that the rolling hills hide intriguing natural phenomena.

The Krushuna Waterfalls is one of the best known. Located by the eponymous village, near the town of Letnitsa, the waterfalls started to attract visitors in the 2000s, when an eco trail was built around them.

The Krushuna Waterfalls is a cascade carved by the Proynovska River into the soft travertine rock, the largest formation of this sort in Bulgaria.

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FORGOTTEN GLORY OF RED CHURCH

They do exist, however: forgotten remnants of the time when the Eastern Roman Empire was trying to hold back the invasions of the Barbarians in the Balkans. Most are nothing more than low crumbling walls, almost invisible in the undergrowth and interesting only to archaeologists. Others, however, are still striking, despite time, neglect and the depredations of those seeking second-hand building materials.

One of them is near Perushtitsa, a town at the northern foot of the Rhodope, more famous as the scene of intense fighting and a massacre during the 1876 April Uprising.

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