Friday, April 8, 2011

Best of Bulgaria

I am hosting this week’s State Department Blog RoundUp, so I thought I’d write something. We have yet to go to our first overseas post, so I can’t write about that but I can write about Bulgaria, which is where I am from originally. Because it’s been almost 14 years since I moved to the US and I visit only every couple of years or so, it doesn’t make sense to write about restaurants and services. However, I can write about travel and generally about food and drink, so without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite Bulgarian places and things:

1. Veliko Turnovo – of course, my hometown is #1, not just because I was born there but because it’s a really cool place. It’s old and charming and a wonderful place go back to. It was the capital of Bulgaria for 200 years in the Middle Ages and has it’s own Medieval fort/castle named Tzarevetz, which looks like this


It has a lovely old town with narrow cobblestone streets and craftsmen that still make neat stuff by hand. There are many churches and monasteries in the area as well. Arbanassi and Etura are two villages not too far from Veliko Turnovo, where one can see typical architecture and crafts.


2. Rila Monastery – I am not religious but this place, tucked way up in the tallest mountain in Bulgaria,Rila, is just so spiritual that it has a special place in my hart. It’s more than a thousand years old and the frescos in it’s church are just stunning. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are two types of accommodations there – regular hotel rooms or monks’ rooms (hard cot, toilet down the hall), if you are so inclined.


3. Plovdiv – Bulgaria’s second largest city, beautiful downtown, cobblestone streets, old houses, an amphitheater from Roman times as well as some statues from communist times.


4. Rose Valley – if you are in Bulgaria in early summer you can visit this area of the country located just south of the Balkan range. Walking through the rose fields early in the morning will fill your being with the overwhelming aroma of the roses. Bulgaria is a top producer of high-quality rose oil for the perfume industry. Rose oil makes perfumes last and has a number of other cosmetic applications. It takes about 60,000 roses to make one ounce of rose oil, so it is very expensive. You may also see lavender fields, which look like purple hedgehogs and also smell wonderful.


5. Black Sea Coast – my favorite place there is Nessebar (another UNESCO World Heritage site) because of its old town charm, Roman ruins, and beautiful beaches nearby. Other nice areas along the Black sea coast include Balchik, Albena, Golden Sands, Varna and Sozopol.




6. Skiing – My personal favorite is Bansko because the town has a lot of character and a pub on every corner but you can enjoy decent skiing at Borovetz, Pamporovo, Vitosha (just outside Sofia) as well.



7. Sofia – I personally am not a big fan of Sofia because it’s crowded and lacks the charm of the above but since it’s the capital most of the country's institutions and opportunities are concentrated there. It also has some nice museums, churches and ruins. The best thing about Sofia, as far as I am concerned, is that Vitosha (4400+ foot high mountain) is right at the edge of town and you can go hiking or skiing in no time, if you live there.


8. Bulgarian food – if you like Greek and/or Turkish food, you are going to like Bulgarian. What’s it like? Grilled meats (mostly chicken and pork), stews and salads. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are to die for.


9. Bulgarian wine – I guess it’s Bulgaria’s best kept secret. It’s the land of Dionysus (Ancient Greek god of wine). Both red and white wines are wonderful, plentiful and inexpensive.

10. Bulgarian rakia – traditional Bulgarian fruit brandy (shown below with another Bulgarian favorite, Shopska salad). It’s strong and usually served with salad. It’s ordinarily made from grapes but depending on the region you may find plum, peach, apricot, cherry and other varieties as well. It’s not sweet, just has a fruit aroma.

There are a lot of other places and things that I love about Bulgaria but I better stop before I lose you…


  1. Great pictures to compliment your top recommendations! Makes me wish Sofia was on the bid list for us!

  2. What lovely pictures! It looks like an incredible place. This is fantastic even if we just have a chance to visit. Thanks!

  3. Beautiful!! I want to go ...and taste! :) btw... sorry I did not write anything for your roundup. My net has been terrible this week and I haven't been blogging. (Going through withdrawals.. shake... twitch...)

  4. Ooooh! I your "Best of" is so appealing!


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