Most of the people think of Sunny Beach immediately when it comes to Bulgaria – beautiful seaside, cheap food & accommodation and crazy parties. I wish they’d know there is so much more to explore than this. Actually my local friends – when I asked them years ago to take me there for a party – were downright refused to do so. It’s for tourists who only want to have fun, drinking cocktails next to the pool and enjoy crowd and loud pounding music 24/7.
But if you want to explore something authentic & learn something about the culture, interested in historical monuments and buildings, or enjoy wandering in nature, here it comes some suggestions where to find those quite magical places.
You don’t even have to leave Sunny Beach far behind to visit the Old Nessebar, this picturesque ancient city, situated on a rocky peninsula on the coast of the Black Sea. With its rich historical background and tangible reminiscence of different centuries and cultures, it is not a surprise to be on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. With all the lovely restaurants, antiquities and souvenir shops right along the narrow winding streets, it’s the perfect place to get wonderfully lost for a while.
#The Rila Mountains
My first ever experience of mountaineering was at this beautiful place and since that my love for the mountains is undiminished.
With a guide first, we climbed the Musala, the highest peak in the Balkan Peninsula (9,596 ft), which took around 6 hours of walking through clouds and stones. As we were getting closer to the top, the more deserted the scenery becomes. There was no sign of life just the mere land of stones at the end. For me, it was a little bit Mordorish, but my Dad, who is a real rock-garden enthusiast was enjoying this route much. I didn’t mind this bug until the point when halfway on the road I’ve come to realize our backpack was filled with more boulder than food and water.
Our next destination was the Seven Rila Lakes, with this one, I fell in love immediately. I’ve never felt such peace in my life when I was hiking there, under the sun, surrounded by greenery downhills and cliffs, breathing the fresh air. Getting higher and higher step by step banished all the worries which I was going through back then in my life. All the lakes on the way were pure beauty in themselves, and from the top, I could amaze six of them at the same time. Standing alone on the highest peak, looking around and seeing nothing else but the surrounding hilltops makes you truly feel alive.
I spent three days in this amazing territory, but I wish I could have stayed more. It’s not enough time to explore all the beauty and take all the adventures which this place offers. First, we visited the Rozhen Observatory – even though I usually do not have fear of heights, walking on the narrow panoramic terrace raised the level of adrenaline in my body, mainly because I could see the height through the grid under my feet.
My favorite part of the day was when we were hiking through a nature conservation area in Smoljan. The few km long path was diverse in sights and at the end, you could choose the option to zip-line down, above the valley and the crown of the pinewood.
The next day we took a jeep trip up to a mountain – by the end I was covered by dust from tip to toe, but it was fun, so totally worth it – where there was a bridge ending in the air. It was crazy to observe how small the main road is under our feet, it was literally just a line, breaking the continuance of the otherwise unspoiled nature.
From the top, our next journey led into two caves deep inside the mountain – one of them was a beautiful dripstone cave with a Christmas tree and an altar inside (let me explain: the first one is for the stuff celebrating New Year together – they said the tree lives 5 years under those circumstances -, the other is for nuptial ceremonies, since many couples want to get married under those wonderful natural formations). The other one we explored was the Devil’s throat cave – countless myths and superstitions have been told about this mysterious cave, from what I heard my favorite was the legend of Orpheus.
There’s a tiny little fountain which is according to the story at the exact same place where Orpheus started to cry after losing his love again. If you wash your face with that water coming out, while thinking of the one thing your heart desires the most, it will surely come true.
After making that one special wish, I could see the Shadow of the Devil – one of the rock’s shade looks like that when it’s lightened.
To get to the surface, we had to climb long and sheer steps of stairs in almost complete darkness. After escaping from the Devil’s throat, a peaceful valley and waterfalls were awaiting of us.
On our way back home we stopped for an hour at Shiroka Laka, which is a little village lurking in the mountains. This place is famous for its authentic architectural style of the Rhodopes – some of the houses are around 500 years old.
On the last day, we were hiking at the Canyon of Waterfalls – we had 4 hours to explore this 6 km long part of the Rhodopes. Our path was along a clean and cold torrent, from time to time crossed by wooden bridges. Even though we couldn’t see much of the sights when we arrived on the top, the footpath and the fairytale-like surroundings made it up for us.
I truly hope to have a chance to come back to Rhodopes again and explore the rest of the miraculous places this mountain keeps as a secret.
After climbing a few hundreds of tumbledown steps through the woods, I arrived at this iconic monument which commemorates the ones who died for the liberation of Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish war (1877-78). The massive tower with the huge bronze lion above the gate is impressive on its own, but the little museum inside, with paintings and remembrances of the battle and the long desired enfranchisement just makes it even more interesting. From the top, you have a panoramic view of the Shipka Peak, where there are only hilltops around, and some wind turbines on the distant horizon. I’ve been here once before, and since that I’ve always wanted to come back again. I just love the atmosphere of this whole region, it actually reminds me one of the ‘wandering sunlit fields’ scenes from the Lord of the Rings.
With my boyfriend we had this urge to climb up the highest, farthest reaching cliffs whenever we are up in the mountains.
Lying in each other’s arms with my loved one on the top of a towering stone, taking few moments being completely silent, sunbathing while the whole valley unfolding under our feet – well, that’s one of my favorite moments of our holiday.
Buzludzha is one of the most surrealistic places I’ve ever been to. This abandoned monument on the hilltop was originally built and used by the Bulgarian communist party but for only 8 years.
Since the collapse of the communist regime the building is empty and had been fated – there is no money to rebuild nor to demolish it.
When I saw it my first impression was that it’s like a UFO has landed on the mountaintop and decided to stay there. I can understand why this uncommon vision is drawing other visitors as well, even though I was a little bit surprised when realized there is a whole German tour bus beside us. With my boyfriend we would have liked to sneak in and take a peek inside, but the main entrance was closed and we had no time to search for alternative entering option since the sunset was coming fast. Anyway, we took a walk around the building which is now covered with graffiti and Cyrillic signs. The wind was unbearably strong, and all the way I had to be very careful not to step into a horseshit – it was everywhere around. It had good points though – the horses were nearby. When we were driving back home we saw the whole herd. We pulled over and then I was going closer to the peacefully grazing animals. One foal slowly started to approach me, so I was standing still with my arm extended – I was hoping to pet that beautiful wild creature. He didn’t really like me touching him, so he trotted away in just a few seconds – but those short moments were enough for me to keep this experience and this whole particular place in my good memories.