Stop Calling Bulgaria Cheap Travel Destination!
If you have heard of Bulgaria before, there is a great possibility that the only thing you know about this Balkan gem is that it is a cheap travel destination. I even have friends who promote our country as a cheap travel destination and believe that this makes it justice for foreigners to visit.
That’s a totally wrong way to make outsiders see and understand what Bulgaria truly is. Bulgaria is everything else but cheap. Here’s why.
Bansko and Pirin Mountains
BULGARIA IS ONE OF THE OLDEST COUNTRIES IN EUROPE
How a country can be cheap if it has such rich history?! The first Bulgarian Kingdom dates back to 681 AD. Since then, the country has never changed its name. During the reign of Tsar Simeon the Great, Bulgaria covered the lands amid three seas – the Adriatic, the Aegean and the Black Sea. This was the period when the Cyrillic Alphabet was created in the Preslav Literary School.
During the 1336 years of its existence, Bulgaria was a home (and it is still to some of these groups) to Bulgarians, Thracians, Slavs, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Gypsies and other smaller ethnic groups. Today, more than ever, the country is becoming a cosmopolitan hub for people from all over the world.
Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo
In the past 15 years, Brits have been actively investing in properties and spending much of their time in their Bulgarian houses. The same is happening to many Russian people. But they are not the only ones who come to Bulgaria to experience a simpler, less stressful lifestyle and good weather conditions at bargain prices.
Detail from the Thracian Tomb in Alexandrovo
Bulgaria is a home to the oldest still-inhabited city in Europe. Might you have believed it is either Rome or Athens? Nope, it’s Plovdiv. Plovdiv is one of the most interesting places you can visit in Bulgaria because it is a multicultural city, has a lively nightlife and a perfect location for day-trips. Here are some of the reasons to visit Plovdiv if you haven’t yet.
I won’t go deeper into the historical part because history is often a subject of manipulation and preconception. But facts are facts and date of Bulgaria’s formation speaks clearly.
Villa Armira, Ivaylovgrad
One way to feel the history of Bulgaria is to visit some of its countless monasteries. They are some of the oldest witnesses of the Bulgarian history. The monasteries have been always very important because they were the places where religion, culture and literacy were preserved during the Ottoman Rule. To a large extent, thanks to the monasteries Bulgarian people could preserve their ethnic and Christian identity during these difficult and dark five centuries.
Here are some monasteries around Sofia you can visit on a day trips.
Bulgaria has one of the most fertile soils in Europe. There is a trend in the past years (that no one speaks about officially) of big international joint ventures buying lands and exporting all they can grow here to the foreign markets.
Fortunately, a large part of Bulgarians has their small gardens and parents or grandparents who still keep the knowledge of growing their own veggies and fruits. Call me poor because I’m Bulgarian? I don’t think so! If I can eat juicy tomatoes, sweet watermelons and have a stock of potatoes, all produced in my own garden, I believe I’m richer than many of those who have to rely on supermarkets and have to accept to eat tasteless food grown on the other side of the world.
In Bulgaria, we grow a large variety of vegetables and fruits (including some citruses due to the climate changes in the past years). Traditionally, Bulgaria is the biggest producer of rose oil used in the perfume industry worldwide. In the past years, Bulgaria is also the top producer of lavender oil. (Nope, it’s not France anymore).
But if you come to Bulgaria, don’t think twice and taste some of our best wines, because Bulgaria has a perfect climate and ancient traditions for producing wines of all sorts. There is a wide range of larger and boutique wineries in Bulgaria you can choose from for a visit.
SIMPLE BUT FLAVORFUL FOOD
There are no fancy names and exotic spices in the Bulgarian cuisine. It’s all about luscious veggies, barbecued meat, and a savoury cheese that is much better than the feta you know. (Yeah, you guess it right. All Balkan countries claim to have the best cheese, yoghurt, rakia, or moussaka.)
As a result of the five centuries of Ottoman Rule, in the Bulgarian cuisine, you will find also some typical for the Turkish traditions dishes, especially pastries like baklava and kadaif. There are also fragrant stuffed peppers, fish or lamb, vegetarian delights like patatnik and kachamak, and a simple but satiating dish with the exotic name Mish Mash.
Learn more about the richness of our traditional cuisine in this guide about Bulgarian food.
Bulgarian people (like all Balkan countries) have suffered a lot during the past centuries. Because of its crossroad location, many came to invade, rule and take a piece of it.
I always tell my foreign friends that people from Eastern Europe may seem unfriendly and hostile at first but this is because of their natural inclination to not trust a person they don’t know. Why?
Because they were betrayed by their neighbours, brothers, and friends, and as a result of these betrayals sent to forced labour camps and political jails; because they had been surviving in systems that had changed their lives in an instant, without common ground to show them the way.
So, they had to be careful and adjust quickly to the new circumstances. As much as this made Bulgarian people a bit distant at first, it also made them very welcoming and friendly once they know you are a person they can trust.
Many Bulgarians are multilingual. As a small country, our school education has always emphasized learning at least two foreign languages. Now, many people speak English.
And when speaking about education, I can tell you, you don’t want to come here ONLY for tourism! You can get so much more done!
Can’t afford a proper dental care in your country? Bulgaria is the place to get a world-level medical and dental care as well as esthetic procedures.
Our doctors and specialists of all kinds are well-educated, specialize in Western countries all the time and are appreciated as experts in top medical centres around the world. (Interested? Send me an email and I will give you the contacts of my dentist.)
NATURE IN BULGARIA
If you ask any Bulgarian what is the biggest wealth of his/her country, the instant answer will be – the Bulgarian nature.
Indeed, Bulgaria is a very wealthy country for its small territory. We like to say that we have it all. There are different mountains ranges that offer different types of activities. For an out of the beaten path hiking in Bulgaria, go to the Rila Mountain; for a more culture-oriented exploration make a visit to the Rhodopes. If you come just for a few days to the capital city, Sofia is built at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain.
There are several ski resorts and a long coastline, but what I can wholeheartedly recommend is to go north and visit the region of Kavarna.
There are also lakes where you can go fishing, forest paths where you can go hiking, and plenty of space for camping in the woods without having to worry if you are an intruder because most of the lands in Bulgaria are state-owned.
Ahtopol Beach, Black Sea, Bulgaria
The natural environment in Bulgaria offers many options for active holidays and outdoors adventures. Rafting, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking are just some of them.
KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE EAST AND THE WEST
But do you know what our biggest advantage is?
We are in the middle. We have always been, since the beginning; a country on a crossroad between the East and the West, the North and the South, Christianity and Islam; a land amid three seas (at one historical moment); a territory that has seen a lot – Crusader Wars, Ottoman Rule, Communist Era …
The Russian Church in Sofia
This made us develop a deeper knowledge of the world around us. It gave us a chance to know more about the different cultures, political systems and to gain insights into the world we live in.
As citizens of a small country, we needed to learn other languages to make connections, to construct careers and live abroad, if we wanted to. All these factors helped us to open our eyes and to see the world from all its sides, with the bad and the good, and to be less subjected to media manipulations and misbeliefs.
This brings us to another very important aspect of the Bulgarian wealth – the tolerance towards different religions.
There are several regions in Bulgaria inhabited by Bulgarian Muslims as a result of the five centuries-long rule of the Ottomans here. Many of these people are Bulgarians converted to Islam, others are Turkish people brought to the Bulgarian lands by the Ottomans. In both cases, the Bulgarian Muslims have a strong work ethic, traditions that are still very much alive and live peacefully with their Christian neighbours.
The Mosque in Sofia
Many Christian Bulgarians have great respect for the Bulgarian Muslims because they are honest, hardworking people, honestly earning their livelihood. How many countries can say that these two religions live together peacefully and respect each other, without fear and suspicion? Not so many.
Muslim village in the mountains
And it is not only about the Muslims. Ask the Jews what they know and think of Bulgaria? You will learn that Bulgaria is the only country that didn’t allow its Jews to be transported to the Nazis camps during World War II.
TOURISM IN BULGARIA
Why travel to Bulgaria? Isn’t it a dangerous, grey, and sad country? You will be surprised, as many people do when they come here without knowing much about Bulgaria.
Plovdiv, The Old Town
But I won’t lie to you. Yes, we have plenty of the grey, uniform and built without imagination buildings from the Socialist times. But they are built to last forever (that was the slogan of the Socialists) and now you can see more and more of them refurbished and painted in joyful colours. We also have bad taxi drivers and one of the worst tourist services in the all-inclusive tourism sector (please, don’t go to Sunny Beach, please!).
Sofia, National Teater Ivan Vazov
But! If you come to Sofia, you will be surprised by its European, easy going lifestyle, safe environment and very good choices of AirBnb -s. If you want to experience our culture and traditions – go to Plovdiv or Koprivshtitsa! Fancy a bit of luxury? No problem, one of the best places is Riu Pravets, just an hour drive from Sofia.
Bulgaria also has a good collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites among which the Rila Monastery is the pearl. Bulgaria might not be a fancy-styling, artsy-trending tourist destination like France, Italy or Spain but it has its unique features that go beyond the facade and far back many centuries. The one thing you need to do – give it a chance, give it a time to get to know it.
BULGARIAN CULTURE & TRADITIONS
Corresponding to its long history, my country has a rich culture and traditions. The most obvious way to experience it is by going to a traditional restaurant. However, it is much better if you can visit a concert of Bulgarian traditional folklore. The Bulgarian folk dances can be described with two words – upbeat rhythms and dazzling costumes.
Thanks to the presence of many civilizations during the centuries, a lot of different sub-cultures and traditions can be found here. Among them, there are some unusual Bulgarian traditions inherited from pagan times.
Celebrating Baba Marta on March 1st
If you are not into the folklore experience, you might like to visit a ballet or opera performance. Why in Bulgaria? Because we have strong traditions and some of the best opera singers in the world (most of them built their careers in the top opera houses around the world). The most notable are the names of Nikolay Gyaurov and Raina Kabaivanska.
As for the ballet, The National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria have traditions closely connected with the classic Russian style in these arts. That’s why the beauty of the decors and the performance, the finesse and the magic are still here and you can see it without needing to know a word from the local language. The ballet experience in Sofia is something you should include in your bucket list!
DON’T CALL BULGARIA A CHEAP TRAVEL DESTINATION!
That’s why, please, don’t call my country cheap.
Call it affordable.
Call it authentic.
Call it true and interesting.
Because, if you are curious enough and if you respect the cultures you visit, you will see beyond the popular marketing slogans, and will understand that countries like Bulgaria are the ones that can teach you the most and show you the other way of life; the other face of the world.
A life where people have a social life and find time to see their friends and family often, share experiences and difficulties, and feel as a part of a community.
People without a lot of money to go on cruise trips or buy expensive cars, but people who will share with you the little they have and humbly but proudly tell you the other stories. These are the stories that you will never hear on the news stations and read in the newspapers or magazines in your countries.
Don’t call Bulgaria a cheap destination. Come and enjoy its wealth, we will be happy to share it with you!
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