VIBRANT COMMUNITIES

stara planina

FROM START TO FINISH

Bulgaria has plenty of mountains and peaks that challenge even experienced mountaineers, yet one of its greatest outdoor adventures is not just conquering some 2,900-metre-high summit. It is trekking along the ridge of the Stara Planina, the mountain range that divides Bulgaria from west to east, known also by its more poetic name, the Balkans.

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 11:29
0 comments
The mansion of the wealthy Kordopoulov family looms over the rest of Melnik, surrounded by the town's emblematic sandstone cliffs

(RE)DISCOVERING MELNIK

What is Bulgaria's smallest town? Bulgarian children learn the answer early in school. However, the reason both local and foreign tourists visit Melnik, population 194, is not its size. They cherish Melnik, in southwest Bulgaria, for its well-preserved Revival Period architecture, strong local wine and surreal surroundings of white limestone pyramids. Its location is just off the E79 route from Sofia to Greece, a short drive from Bansko.

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 11:18
0 comments
The restored Radetzky

BANKS OF KOZLODUY

On 28 May 1876, the passengers of the Radetzky, a steamer headed on the Danube to Vienna, were in for a surprise. As the ship was heading upstream, three men in strange military uniforms, swords and guns in their hands, appeared on the deck. Their leader, a handsome bearded man, cried something and suddenly young men, that until then had looked like ordinary gardeners heading for seasonal work in Austria-Hungary, gathered around the band. Dozens of them. They took off their clothes and put on uniforms. More weapons were seen onboard.

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 10:52
0 comments
fireflies magic in bulgaria

FIREFLIES MAGIC

Much has been said and written about the beauties of Bulgarian nature and the abundance of its wildlife. Birdwatching, for example, has become a mainstream tourism activity that many travel agents organise for Western visitors. Yet little if anything has been promulgated about another remarkable if not so obvious (for obvious reasons, pun unintended) treasure that Bulgarian forests, meadows and riversides have: the abundance of fireflies.

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 10:44
0 comments
strange rocks belogradchik

NATURE MEETS CULTURE AT BELOGRADCHIK ROCKS & MAGURATA CAVE

Abandoned villages, depopulated towns, potholed roads: signs that things have gone horribly wrong in the recent past define the Bulgarian northwest, officially the poorest region in the EU. Vegetation engulfs abandoned factories built during Communism when the economy was subsidised – and left to rot during the turbulent transition to democracy and the open market. As industries failed, locals departed for Sofia and the West. What remained was an ageing population, crumbling infrastructure, crime and despair.

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 17:58
0 comments
whitewater rafting bulgaria

WHITE WATER RIDES IN BULGARIA

City fatigue is one of the most acute consequences of the Covid-19 travel restrictions. For the weary Sofianite, there is somewhere in Bulgaria that offers rapid relief. An hour and a half drive out of town, the jagged and winding Struma Gorge is hell for motorists and heaven for nature lovers. At this part of its course, the Struma squeezes through narrow bends, flings itself from rocks and creates whirlpools.

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 17:13
0 comments
abandoned hospital bulgaria

BULGARIAN HORROR

As you drive up the progressively deteriorating road through the Balkan mountains the scenery changes. From the flats of the Lower Balkan fields northwards you enter an increasingly menacing landscape of steep hills and rocks, with what is known as the Trans-Balkan Railway line (cutting the Balkan mountain range from Stara Zagora in the south to Gorna Oryahovitsa in the north) meandering alongside a tiny river. Then, about 10 miles north of Dabovo, you take a steep road that was once asphalt.

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 11:31
0 comments
sofia at night

BULGARIA'S MANY CAPITALS

Over the centuries after Bulgarians settled in the Balkans, they moved capital more than once – sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for strategy, sometimes out of despair. Some of these places became the beating heart of a state commanding vast territories. Others were the seats of ambitious lords trying to carve their own place out of a contested political map. Here is a list of the most important and interesting official and alternative Bulgarian capitals, in chronological order. They cover, in broad strokes, some 13 centuries of Bulgarian history.

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 11:11
0 comments
In Bulgaria, no Easter is for real without coloured eggs and aromatic kozunak

BULGARIAN EASTER EATING

In 1956, Chudomir, one of Bulgaria's finest satirists, wrote in his diary: "Sunday, 6 May. Both Easter and St George's Day, but there are neither roast lamb nor red eggs at home. Traditions are fading away, the nice old feasts are being forgotten, disappearing with our generation." Just a few days before this entry, a young and seemingly harmless politician, Todor Zhivkov, had replaced Stalinist dictator Valko Chervenkov as the head of the Communist Party. The years of Stalinism, with its disregard for traditions and religion, were over, but people had yet to feel the change.

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 11:01
0 comments
buzludzha.jpg

MESSAGE FROM THE TOP

Visual propaganda was key to promoting the Communist regime in Bulgaria between 1944 and 1989, and large-scale monuments on prominent heights played a crucial role. Massive, expensive and impressive they sent a clear message to the citizens of the People's Republic of Bulgaria about the inevitability of Communism, the eternal nature of the Bulgarian nation and its gratitude to Grandfather Ivan, a misnomer used, usually affectionately, for both Russia and the USSR.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 19:06
0 comments
291219-24381-Edit.jpg

THE GIRLS OF RIBNOVO

They call it the Valley of Pink Pants. But this affectionate nickname of a toponym refers to just one village, set inside a pocket of the western Rhodope: Ribnovo. Ribnovo sits at 1,152 metres above sea level, but this is not the only reason for its image as a bit of a fortress and a destination for the culturally curious. As a friend put it before we visited: Ribnovo is another planet. He was from Breznitsa, a toned-down version of Ribnovo, right across the Mesta Valley, so he should know.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 18:45
0 comments
sofia central synagogue.jpg

WITNESS OF TIME

The largest Sephardic temple in Europe is situated in a central Sofia street, in an area where a mosque and several churches of various denominations "rub shoulders" with each other.

The story of how Sofia Central Synagogue appeared is a fascinating one, as it encapsulates the history of Bulgaria in the past century.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 18:35
0 comments
mishkova niva tomb.jpg

TOP 10 SPIRITUAL VORTEXES IN BULGARIA

"This place has a special aura." Sooner rather than later you will hear this sentence applied to somewhere in Bulgaria: an old monastery, an ancient shrine – or an ugly post-Communist church. There, locals and visitors claim to have felt the presence of "cosmic energy" or a supernatural "entity." Those who have an ailment seek healing. Pure-blooded Bulgarians "connect" to their true ancestors, the ancient Thracians, the wisest people ever to walk the earth. UFO sightings may also be reported.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:52
0 comments
Do I dare to change? Bloke's best known piece of art

SEARCHING FOR BLOKE

Splendid saints, bosomy beauties in "traditional" costumes, saccharine angels: in the past decade, large scale wall paintings on concrete apartment blocks, business and public buildings in Sofia have flourished. The unveiling of the largest ones, particularly when Boyko Borisov's Sofia Municipality is involved, attracts media attention and results in an avalanche of posts, photos and shares.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:37
0 comments
st kirik island.jpg

FROM GHOST TO LOUVRE

Whenever the Louvre is mentioned, most people think of tourists elbowing their way for a selfie with the Mona Lisa, the once controversial glass pyramid and the protagonist of a thriller searching for (spoiler alert) Jesus Christ's bloodline. In 2017, the number of Louvres in the world doubled with the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, an UAE-French partnership with ambitious architecture and an even more ambitious, multimillion-dollar programme for purchasing and loaning items of art.

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 12:01
0 comments
radetzky steamer.jpg

THE DANUBE

Hiding in plain sight is one of the best ways to avoid attention. There is a region in Bulgaria that has achieved that, although not quite intentionally. The Danube region is a treasure trove for visitors, yet few travellers venture along the 470-kilometre stretch from Vidin to Silistra that defines the greater part of Bulgaria's border with Romania. This is in sharp contrast to the popularity of the Danube as a tourist destination in Central Europe.

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 11:45
0 comments