We’ve decided that we spent 8 days this September with roadtrip trying see the best Bulgaria has to offer. See how it goes, what we loved and what we loathed
Sofia is okay. Nothing particularly bad about it, but it just does not have this intensive vibrant feeling and buzz in the streets like other Balkan cities. Belgrade, being one really good example. It’s better to spend there a half day or a day at max and off you go for bigger adventures. Ve very recommend a day trip to the famous and picturesque Rila Monastery.
Borovets and Musala
Borovets is a bit of low-key ski resort. One thing is for sure, there would be a hell good après-ski and it won’t cost you your trousers. We’ve liked it so much even out of the season, so we seriously consider going there for New Year 2019 ski holidays. Place definitely not to miss is Bobby’s Bar, especially super cool and friendly owner, Bobby. If you go along with him, beware, there would be a lot of shots on the house :-). They have quite good food too, if all that alcohol will make you hungry. Borovets seems to be a favourite place for British expats too, so people there speak English mostly.
It is also the base for a summer trek to the highest peak in not only Bulgaria, but whole Balkan, Musala peak standing at 2,925 m. In the heart of Rila National Park, the views from are truly amazing. However to have at least a bit of peace to enjoy those truly bucolic settings, don’t go over the weekend. Lots of Sofia town people go up, shouting and with no respect to the mountains and nature at all, which may spoil a bit the whole experience, like it did for us. You can either go all the way up, or ease a bit of climb using the Yastrebets ski-lift. I’ve gone up the gondola, but walked all the way down to town, which was good whole day hike. Be prepared that this lift is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays in summer.
Plovdiv is a city bit more than half the way from Sofia to the Black Sea. Ancient city. Not much people know that Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe. There was a proven settlement as far as 7th millennium BC. Conquered and ruled by various rulers and civilisations, including Thracians, Phillip II of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great), Romans, and for long centuries the Ottoman Empire. The city was captured from the Ottomans during the Battle of Philippopolis in 1878. All of those make a mark still visible in nowadays city.
There is nicely preserved Roman amphitheatre, old Ottoman baths, nice old town, a Mosque and a monument from the Soviet era which is quite interesting to visit.
Alyosha Soviet Army Memorial
This is a huge Russian army soldier statue at the top of the small hill near city center. It is a bit of climb with little to no shade, especially in summer, but you will get a bonus of nice views along Plovdid too. Beware, most of the paths are derelict and with no maintenance now, so better watch your steps.
Black Sea coast
As a whole, not overly good or interesting. The sea has usually some waves, and there are too active beach watch, who don’t allow to you to go more than 5 meters from the shore. Lot of the times the water is full of seaweed too. My tip is to find a secluded undeveloped place and enjoy Black sea from there.
With some research we found arguably best place on the Bulgarian Coast. It is off the grid, basically small shack, where old fisherman and his wife live. He goes fishing every morning and she cooks whatever he catches that day. It is all fresh, cheap and dead good. Plus, you can swim and have a whole small rocky beach almost just for yourself to rest after you got stuffed by all those sea goodies.
Nesebar is an ancient small city, at the small peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. During the day and high season it can be packed by day trip tourists from opposite Golden Coast, but early in the morning or late at night is quite romantic and full of lovely ancient Byzantine churches, same from 5th Century AD. It is part of UNESCO World Heritage from 1983.
Burgas and Golden Coast
Just don’t bother. Period.
Monument “1300 Years of Bulgaria”
This is really interesting Bulgarian twist on Soviet style monumental monuments. Located at hill above Shumen, it can be reasonably easily reached by a car. Bulgarians sneakily built it in 1981 in the way their East Block overlords from Russia liked, but in fact it is monument of old Bulgarian state, its founding and history and it has nothing in common with communism. It is an interesting twist of Cubism and Brutalisme styles.
A real surprise for us, and a real gem of middle of Bulgaria. Great friendly atmosphere, good pubs and places full of young people. Huge and beautiful Castle near city center and church down bellow, where the modern Bulgarian state was establish are definitely worth a visit.
The most bizarre of our series of visits of these communist era huge monuments. This one is visible from tens of kilometres above, sitting at top of the hill which is more than 1400 meters high. It reminds a huge UFO spaceship, just like from X-Files, which just landed there to watch us.
The construction works lasted from 1974 till 1981 and a number of workers allegedly died during the construction project and the Party nevertheless took care to bury the bad news. Meanwhile, new roads were built to transport building materials up the mountain: including 70,000 tons of concrete, 3,000 tons of steel, and 40 tons of glass. The Monument was in real use only till 1990, and with the fall of the regime is in state of slow decline.
Now it is closed and there is usually a security guy there. You are okay to explore the outside, but to go inside is now off limits and dangerous, because years of zero maintenance caused lot of structural problems and collapses of parts of the construction. You can drive all the way up, and the road is quite bumpy, but you will have no problems in normal car, if there is no snow.
Tip. There is quite nice hotel with good restaurant hidden in forest nearby.