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A Bulgaria country guide – superb skiing, traditional villages and fiery rituals

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Whether you visit the Black Sea Coast, enjoy a weekend break in the capital of Sofia or explore further into the rugged peaks and glacial lakes of the Bulgarian Mountains, prepare to be amazed. This quiet Balkan country hides sparkling stretches of golden sand, architectural wonders aplenty, and a scattering of villages that transport you back to the 19th century. Don’t underestimate Bulgaria’s ski resorts either – they offer a very affordable winter destination.

Milena Raikova

My Destination local expert on

Bulgaria

Sofia

 

The capital of Sofia is an essential stop when visiting Bulgaria, and its wide boulevards and rural surrounds are great starting points for exploring the rest of the country. The expansive Alexander Nevski Square in central Sofia is a highlight, surrounded by magnificent buildings including the golden-domed Alexander Nevski Cathedral and the red brick basilica of St. Sofia Church. Also worth a peek is the art-soaked Boyana Church on the outskirts of the city, and Shishman Street – a tiny yet iconic stretch of the city, home to friendly cafes, street art and creative festivals. To top it off, Mount Vitosha is part of a national park right on the city limits and host to plenty of ski slopes and hike paths.

 

Bulgarian countryside

 

One charming thing about Bulgaria is that life in its rural villages and hamlets is still authentically Balkan, with its defining traditions, crafts and culture preserved over the centuries. The tiny town of Melnik, near Sofia, is famed for its traditional taverns and wine cellars stocking local vintages, plus the dramatic rock pyramids that hang over the valley. The nearby villages of Kovachevitsa and Leshten feature the wooden houses and paved alleys of 19th century Bulgaria, while the town of Kazanlak to the east grows the finest roses around, producing the world-famous Bulgarian rose oil.

 

Bulgarian mountains

 

Bulgaria’s mountainous nature is visible right from the start, with the slopes of Mount Vitosha watching over the capital city Sofia. Here avid explorers can find the powder-white Boyana Falls and the longest cave in the country: the many chambered Duhlata Cave. Outside the capital, the two most famous – and largest – mountains in the country are Rila and Pirin, which are also national parks, home to crystalline glacier lakes, rugged peaks and an unrivalled network of hiking and ski trails. Skiing enthusiasts love the stylish ski resort of Borovets on Rila, and the most famous resort of Bansko on Pirin.

 

Black Sea Coast

 

Bulgaria’s entire eastern border traces the Black Sea Coast, from the lush greenery and deserted shores of Durankulak in the north, to the aquamarine cove at Silistar in the south. Camping is a very affordable and readily available option – find most campsites to the south of the country – while history and culture fans will delight in the ancient town of Nesebar, the botanical garden and royal palace at Balchik and the preserved relics of St. John the Baptist in Sozopol. The Black Sea Coast also delivers buzzing nightlife and all-inclusive luxury; party people head to famed holiday resorts of Sunny Beach and Golden Sands.