"It what are you going to do in Bulgaria? " exclaimed my mother as soon as I informed her that I was finally about to again leave alone for the Balkans.
Sofia National Theater
I didn't understand why, and now that I'm back I understand even less, why Bulgaria is still one of those countries where many people think there is nothing special to do or see.
I literally fell in love with it. Mea culpa, I admit it, every time I come back from a trip I say that I have fallen in love with the place I have visited, but the truth is that despite (almost) the whole world I liked it there are places that have a particular place in my heart like L'Iran, Guatemala and, now, the Bulgaria.
The fact is that mainly I tend to have a particular "love" for those places that are not very famous from a tourist point of view, and that maintain an antique flavor that is now rare and practically impossible to find in the countries where the slot machine of tourism has swallowed up the genuineness .
Bulgaria is one of these countries. Although I also did not know exactly what to expect, since I had bought the flight with my eyes closed, when I started looking at the photos on the internet I was absolutely fascinated.
The Bulgarians say that when God created the world he gave some countries the most beautiful sea, others the desert, others pastures and mountains. When Bulgaria's turn came there was nothing more to give and so God took from other countries i more beautiful pieces and put them here.
In spite of the legend, Bulgaria is definitely a country to be re-evaluated and that should be among the top positions of any travel list, especially if you love the adventure travel and authentic contact with nature.
I think I have to thank one person above all, if I loved this country this way: Atanas di Extreme Bulgaria.
He was my guide for the days spent in the middle of the forests, he told me stories about his country, he taught me to recognize plants, he taught me to tie knots for climbing, he helped me overcome mine height fears when I was hanging from the rock face and my legs were shaking, but so much so that if it weren't for him I would probably still be stuck there like a spider now.
And since Atanas is a former air force pilot and I am passionate about airplanes, I asked him so many questions that now I am probably also able to fly a mig21 and he probably needs a week of relaxation instead.
1 - Adventure Travel
Climbing in the Rhodope Mountains, despite the bold air I was terrified
Little to say, Bulgaria is definitely one of the TOP destinations in Europe for those who love theadventure. With 7 mountain ranges, more than 6000 caves to explore far and wide, vertical rock walls, here those who love adrenaline will find bread for their teeth and new stimulating challenges to face.
An example? There Prohodna quarry, one of the most famous destinations for those who loveClimbing with its smooth almost vertical walls, but also i Rhodope Mountains and Rila massif, or again Lakatnik close to Sofia, perfect for the caving in grotta, but also for the surrounding landscape and for those who love photography.
2 - Good, cheap (and sometimes free) food
A vegetarian (a) will have no problem in Bulgaria
One of the things that surprised (and made me very happy) in Bulgaria was the food. As a vegetarian, in fact, I believed that I would only eat boiled cabbage and potatoes, but the choice is varied even for those like me who do not eat meat and fish.
The cuisine is Mediterranean cuisine and the choice of salads is wasted: my favorite was the Shopska salad, very simple to make: it is a salad made with tomatoes and cucumbers, covered with white cheese and dressed with olive oil. olive.
In the last attempt to escape from a drunk and mad Australian, one night I decided to go out for dinner. I was recommended a restaurant that according to the young people from the Sofia hostel:
“It's expensive, but if you want to eat traditional food it's one of the best places in town”.
A traditional restaurant in Sofia
Luckily, in order to escape, I didn't pay too much attention to "it's expensive". I sat in a special setting for the atmosphere, ate a plate with side salad, had the dessert, all washed down with abundant Bulgarian wine and Rakya and spent less than 13 euros.
I was so happy (and drunk) that on the way back I had a taxi called. Price of the ride, 1 euro and 50.
If you want to know traditional food (and for free) you can join one of the Food Tour of Sofia, for example that of Balkan Bites, but there are several to choose from.
3 - Wine
Bulgaria has always had an ancient wine tradition that has even mythological roots: in fact, the cult of that libertine Dionysus, divinity of wine and of the freedom of the senses has its origins in ancient Thrace.
Taste the two varieties the Mavrud and the Melnick which are thought to have already been grown over 5000 years ago and which were Winston Churchill's favorite wines.
All of Bulgaria, especially in the Danube plain, is dotted with wineries offering tastings for tourists and selling local wine.
4 - Taste of ancient
Bulgaria is one of the most magical and anachronistic places I have found in all of Europe. It is enough to move away from the city towards the villages of the countryside to notice the houses with the rust-colored roofs, the white facades, the pergolas covered with vines, the firewood in the fireplace stacked in the garden.
In the Rhodope Mountains it is easy to meet herds of horses in freedom, shepherds accompanying their flock, small groups of elderly people sitting and chatting in front of cafes as it once was or on the sidewalks at the side of the roads.
5 - Hospitality and my home in the Rhodope Mountains
When Atanas asked me if during the two days in the Rhodope Mountains, I would have preferred to sleep in a hotel or in a guest house, I without hesitation I chose the second option. This is because I love modest places where I can have a deeper contact with people.
The guest house was a small house in the country of Trigrad, a place with few souls, lost in the mountains, with a very special magic.
Atanas prepares climbing equipment in my home in the Rhodope Mountains
The owners of the house welcome me warmly by elevating the make me feel at home to a higher level: they offer me a tea, light a fire for me in the fireplace and prepare patatnik, a traditional local potato cake, for dinner.
We are able to communicate, of those communications all made up of smiles and few words, but able to pass an entire evening. The next morning, when I leave, they give me a saucer to take with me, so if I get hungry during the day and then during the long way home.
6 - Dancing with the bears (who finally don't dance anymore)
When I heard about this I was horrified, that's why even if I haven't been there I talk about it here, why this is the first reason why I will return to visit Bulgaria: Belitsa Bear Sanctuary.
The practice of making bears dance to collect some change has been practiced for a long time. The puppies were captured and snatched from their mothers and were taught to dance to the rhythm of music by their tormentors. They were placed on an almost incandescent iron plate and they "danced" to take their feet off and feel no more pain.
Thanks be to God, but especially to humans, this practice was banned and outlawed in 1993: many bear torturers at that point got rid of the animals, leaving them alone and unable to fend for themselves.
Finally in 2000 the Belitsa Bear Sanctuary was established, more than 120,000 square meters of park in which the bears found a home and a refuge forever. This park, which can be visited while observing the bears finally free, aims to become one of the largest sustainable attractions in the country.
If you want to have some more information you can read this article on Belitsa Sanctuary.
7 - Rila Monastery
A fairytale area, that of the Rila Massif, made up of forests with large trees that change color according to the season. Here in the folds of these mountains lies themonastery of the same name.
Destroyed, rebuilt, enlarged it is today one of the highlights of this country, although it is very touristy it is still not to be missed.
Better to visit during the week, to escape the crowds that invade it on weekends.
8 – Pub Crawling
Pub Crawling in Sofia. Which would you have chosen?
Of all the tours and organized activities of the hostel I was sleeping in, the Pub Crawling that's what I liked the most. Okay, by now you understand, I like to drink.
The free Pub Crawling leaves every evening from the hostel around 22pm and is a tour of the smoky pubs and clubs of the city center. In total we visited 4 or 5 (sorry but it is clear why I do NOT remember exactly how many there were): ancient, very special and even a little smoky places, where you drink strong alcohol and local beer, hidden by massive wooden doors from which it presents itself to us through a shady peephole: I felt like I had been catupalted in Russia at the time of prohibition.
9 - Tour Gratis di Sofia
Participants in the free Sofia tour… I'm there too!
In Sofia, free tours are wasted, from the food tour, to the guided walking tour, to the communism tour, and in my opinion they are not to be missed: visit Sofia with the explanation of a prepared guide it makes it much more interesting and you understand a lot of things that we would otherwise continue to ignore.
Tours depart on days and at specific times and there is no need to book, just be found at the defined time in the pre-established place, equipped with your own camera and lots of curiosity.
10 - The 7 Rila Lakes
Unfortunately, I was unable to come here too, but this is the second reason why I will be returning to Bulgaria soon.
What could I say? nothing, I think this photo already speaks for itself:
The 7 Rila lakes, photo from wikipedia
Indeed the reasons to visit Bulgaria it would be much more than 10, but here I have summarized those for which I loved this country the most and which in my opinion are much more than enough to make you want to leave immediately.
At least, for me they have been.