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OVERVIEW

Bulgaria is a Balkan nation with diverse terrain encompassing Black Sea coastline, rivers including the Danube, and a mountainous interior. A cultural melting pot with Greek, Slavic, Ottoman and Persian influences, Bulgaria has a rich heritage of traditional dance, music, costumes and crafts. At the foot of domed Vitosha Mountain is its capital, Sofia, dating to the 5th Century B.C.E.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

Ancient Spas

Relax in one of Bulgaria's many mineral water spas. The curative properties of the Bulgarian mineral waters have been known and used for centuries. Ancient mineral complexes were built near the mineral springs and there are now plenty of top hotels with spas, especially around the Black Sea coast.

 

Biking Tours

For mountain biking enthusiasts, the Rhodopi Mountains provide excellent trails. Also, cycling along the Black Sea coast is a popular family activity.

 

Go Hiking

Bulgaria has 35,000km (21,749 miles) of waymarked paths where one- or two-week trips through the wild mountains can be arranged. Guides are provided and accommodation is usually in mountain chalets, guest houses or camps.

 

Melnik Wine Cellars

Enjoy the fruits of the vine in Melnik. The tiny town, with 18th and 19th century houses perched on strangely-shaped limestone and sand pyramids, is famous for its wine cellars. On weekends, Bulgarians flock here for its wonderful mehanas for traditional food and local brew.

 

Saddle Up

Horse riding has traditionally been popular in Bulgaria; possible itineraries include the Danube Valley, the Balkan, Rila and Stara Planina mountains and the Valley of Roses.

 

Ski the Slopes

Quaint Bansko (www.banskoski.com) is the newest ski area, set in a historical town at the foot of the Pirin Mountains; Pamporovo (www.pamporovoresort.com), in the Rhodopi range, is Europe's southernmost ski resort; and Borovets (www.borovets-bg.com), in the Rila Mountains, is Bulgaria's oldest and largest mountain resort.

 

 Swim in the Black Sea

Bulgaria has over 370km (232 miles) of glorious coastline with sandy beaches. Try busy resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, picturesque Albena, historical Nesebar, the cultural and historical city of Varna, or the Mediterranean ambience of port city Bourgas.

 

Trigrad Gorge

Spectacular Trigrad Gorge is in the Rhodope Mountains close to the town of Trigrad in Southern Bulgaria, and is flanked by walls rising to 250m (820ft). One of the most popular sites at the gorge is Devil's Throat Cave which was formed when layers of mountain collapsed. From here, visitors can travel through a manmade tunnel to see the highest underground waterfalls in Europe which cascade 42m (138ft) into the abyss below. Nearby is the famous Haramiiska Cave where archaeologists discovered evidence of human habitation dating back to over 4,000 years. There are over 150 other caves in the region and the area is popular with the rock climbers. The region is also popular with birdwatchers who come to see Pallid swifts, Crag martins, Rock Partridges and the rare Wallcreeper.

 

Enjoy a Lavish Traditional Meal by the Fireplace

Of course, not everyone likes skiing or snowboarding. And even those who do tend to enjoy a delicious après-ski meal after an exhausting day on the slopes. Luckily, traditional Bulgarian restaurants are absolutely perfect for a long lunch or a cozy dinner during winter!

 

Have a Cup of Mulled Wine at a Christmas Market

Although Bulgaria’s Christmas market history may not be as impressive as Germany or even nearby Romania’s, in recent years these events have definitely picked up in popularity. What was until a few years ago just a collection of local shops exhibiting their products is turning into a proper pre-Christmas celebration.

In particular, Sofia’s Weihnachtsmarkt, or German-themed Christmas market, has stood out among the rest. With elaborately-designed stalls offering German sweets and sausages, steaming mulled wine and a variety of presents and Christmas decorations, the Weihnachtsmarkt brings a touch of Vienna or Nuremberg to the snowy December streets of Sofia.

 

 Experience the Spooky Bulgarian Version of Carnival

The months after Christmas are typically the season of carnival all over the world, and Bulgaria is no exception! Starting around New Year, bands of kukeri (кукери) men walk and dance around the country in a bizarre ancient ritual meant to scare away the evil spirits. Dressed entirely in scary animal fur costumes and wearing huge bells around the waist, the kukeri is hard to miss.

The best place to see hundreds of kukeri from all over the country with your own eyes is during the Surva festival in Pernik, just 30 km to the west of Sofia. In 2016, this festival takes place from 29th – 31st January and it will feature traditional Bulgarian performers as well as carnival bands from all over the world.