During my time at University, I met two international students from Sofia, Bulgaria. As I spent more time with them trying Bulgarian food, learning about the culture and growing evermore curious about their magical country, when I was invited to visit Doroteya and Kaloyan's homeland, I could not refuse! Not only did I fall head-over-heels in love with Bulgaria, but being shown around by two locals made for the perfect trip.
Thus, this summer, I embarked on an epic two week adventure to the beautiful country of Bulgaria. Here are just some reasons why you should add Bulgaria to the top of your bucket list! With jaw-dropping mountains, idyllic seaside towns and historical cities, Bulgaria is unquestionably special.
The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, is relaxed, charming and absolutely steeped in history. Although I had heard much about the diverse, historic city prior to visiting, I was not quite prepared for how quirky and youthful it also was. Picture Catholic churches, Ottoman mosques, Orthodox churches, gritty Soviet architecture and Roman ruins alongside cobbled streets, hip bars, funky street art, bustling parks and markets and you have Sofia. Seriously underrated, this city is a MUST if you visit Bulgaria.
-Explore Alexander Nevski Cathedral
-Hang out, drink and relax in City Garden right by the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
-Watch the sun set and the city lights turn on from a viewpoint of Sofia, such as Kopitoto where the locals hang out!
Bulgaria is blessed with good food and it's no secret that Bulgarian's love to eat and they LOVE to feed guests. As a vegan, I was hesitant about what I would be eating when I arrived as I knew Bulgaria is a big fan of meat and cheese. I was pleasantly surprised by the options available. Whilst staying at Doroteya's in Sofia, I was fed extremely well. My favourites were the incredible tomato and cucumber salads and stuffed peppers courtesy of her generous parents. I also got to try different alcohol, including Rakia (a very strong drink!) and Menta (a GORGEOUS mint liqueur). I had the chance to visit Doroteya's summer villa and whilst we were there she explained that many people who live in the villages grow their own produce. This was evident by the amount of grapevines decorating the houses. Apparently there are markets where locals go to swap and sell produce. I may have tried the sweetest raspberries ever grown in the garden of Doroteya's villa.
TOP FOODS & DRINKS TO TRY:
Shopska salad, full of the freshest vegetables & Bulgarian cheese
Tarator, a yoghurt and cucumber soup
Tomatoes (so damn good)
Mekitsi, a deep fried dough served with anything sweet
Boza, a fermented breakfast drink
I love the fact Bulgarians are so proud of their country and their history. There was not a Bulgarian met that did not tell me facts about Bulgaria, share the history or try to feed me! I felt so honored to be given an insider tour of beautiful Bulgaria and it made the trip all the more special. If you do not have Bulgarians in your life... you. are. missing. out!
FUNNY FACT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BULGARIANS:
Bulgarians nod differently... Shaking your head means yes and nodding your head means no!
THE JAW-DROPPING SCENERY
Most people when visiting Bulgaria tend to flock to the cities or to the beaches, but Bulgaria also has breath-taking mountains and forests. You are missing out if you do not experience the mountains. Just driving up and through them, you get a sense of why Bulgarians are so fond of their homeland. Bulgarian nature is stunning and so if you ever visit, make sure to pack your hiking boots! During my stay, we took a drive from Sofia to the Shipka monument, which lies at the top of the very scenic Shipka mountain pass. Not only was the three hour drive absolutely beautiful, but when you reach the top of the mountain where Shipka stands, the view is sure to leave you gobsmacked. Standing on top of that mountain hearing about the history of Shipka Monument (which commemorates the 7500 Bulgarian and Russian soldiers who successfully fought against 40,000 Ottoman troops during the Russo-Turkish War!) was one of the highlights of my trip.
TOP SPOTS FOR VIEWS:
Buzludzha, an old Communist building up in the Balkan mountains
Veliko Tarnovo, a scenic city on the Yantra River, surrounded by hills
Rila Monastery, which lies in the Rila Mountain
On the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List and a short drive from the Capital, it is no wonder that largest monastery in Bulgaria is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. With its peaceful surroundings, vibrant colours and interesting religious art, Rila Monastery was undoubtedly a favourite of the trip and not to be missed when travelling to Bulgaria.
A few miles away from Rila Monastery, hidden in the woods is the Chapel of St. Ivan of Rila
Stop at Blagoevgrad and visit the Varosha Quarter with its cobblestones and white houses
THE ANCIENT CITY OF NESSEBAR
During this ultimate Bulgarian adventure, we took five days out to relax and enjoy the summer weather in the old city of Nessebar. I was promised that although close to Sunny Beach, Nessebar was pretty special. A UNESCO world heritage centre, sat on the Black Sea, this 3000-year old site was a historical wonder and I am so glad we spent time here. In the day we would hang at the beach and then in the evening we would walk through the ancient city with the cobbled streets, wooden houses and seriously old churches, enjoying dinner with a sunset view. Minus the loud megaphone advertising a boat ride to Sunny Beach, you would not be able to tell the infamous party beach was a near 10-minutes away!
THINGS TO DO:
Eat at Dionis, a lovely Greek restaurant with a stunning sea-view
Roam around the Church of St Sophia and marvel at the ruins
Wander the shops and grab yourself a Bulgarian souvenir (they have the cutest souvenirs!)
Sit by the boats and watch the sunset
Bulgaria was truly beautiful and I have been told by my wonderful hosts that I have only experienced a smidgen of what the country has to offer. I will be back, so watch this space!