Think Bulgaria and you think of the roses and gold, wine and rakia, folklore and legends, the sea and the mountains, monasteries, and cathedrals and of course, the Balkans and the Black Sea. Legends say that God bestowed paradise on Bulgaria because he ran out of other natural elements when he was creating the world. But that is just one of the many reasons why you must visit Bulgaria. It is the home of the Thracians and the Romans but every dynasty from the Byzantine to the Turkish have left their footprints in this country, which is a melting pot of different cultures. You can even get a glimpse of the remnants of the Communist Era in the country. However, the Proto Bulgarians were the early nomadic tribes to enter Bulgaria but the Bulgarians eventually established empires of their own, and the First and Second Bulgarian Empires were separated only in between by the Byzantine invasion. I stayed in Bulgaria for about eight days and I was hosted by The Historical Park located near Varna, the Black Sea Capital of the country. Although some of the places to visit in Bulgaria include cities like Sofia, Varna, Burgas, and Plovdiv and the tourist attractions in Bulgaria include old towns like Sozopol to Nessebar, Veliko Tarnovo to Koprivshtitsa, I had to miss quite a few of these destinations because of a paucity of time. A typical Bulgaria itinerary would last for at least ten days but I had little more than a week in this beautiful Balkan country. Here is my Bulgaria itinerary and as the Historical Park was the nucleus of our trip, our trip was planned around Varna. Sharath and I are slow travelers and we had a great time exploring the country with our hosts, Ivan Stoyanov, Ralitsa Petrova, and Slavy Dyakovski.
Landing in Varna, Bulgaria
My Bulgaria itinerary started with Varna on the Black Sea Coast. Most travelers fly into Sofia, but our Bulgarian itinerary was centred around Varna. We initially toyed with the idea of flying Turkish Airlines, as the duration of the flight from Istanbul to Varna was little more than an hour. However Turkish Airlines does not fly from Bangalore, where we live and hence we opted for Qatar Airways. We flew from Bangalore to Doha and from there to Sofia and after a brief transit, we were in Varna. Ivan and Ralitza met us at the airport and we drove to the lovely village of Neofit Rilski to our quaint guest house. Neofit Rilski is the home of The Historical Park and barely 30 km from Varna and it is one of the main tourist attractions in Bulgaria. We had a sumptuous vegetarian lunch with local dishes and downed them with wine. The dishes were prepared in the kitchens of the Historical Park and we were served breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with wine and it was delicious. It was early autumn in Bulgaria and I was so lost in the fields surrounding our guest house. Come summer, and they would be blooming with lavender. We relaxed and wandered around the village and took time off to soak in the charm of the village and the architecture of the houses here.
Places to see in and around Varna
Our day began after breakfast as we decided to explore the Black Sea capital and visit some of the destinations in and around Varna. The Black Sea Capital also has a unique distinction. It is the home of the world’s oldest gold treasure which was founded over 6000 years old, around 4200-4600 BC in a tomb in Varna Necropolis.
The gold is now housed safely in the Archaeological Museum, which is one of the tourist attractions of Bulgaria. There are many places to visit in Varna from the Sea Garden to the Varna Cathedral, but we took some time off after lunch to visit the ancient Aladzha Monastery and the Stone Forest. Golden Sands is one of the most famous resort towns here but it is more popular during summer. However no Bulgaria itinerary is complete without a visit to the Black Sea Coastal resort towns. We had a long but an amazing day and you can read all about the experiences in this post on Varna.
Day 3 and Day 4
We packed our bags for a one night stay in Veliko Tarnovo , the City of Tsars , which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and one of the must-see places to see in Bulgaria. While the formidable Tsarevets Castle dominates the city, there are several churches, cathedrals, and monasteries here, notably the Holy Forty Martyrs Church, the Transfiguration Monastery among others. There are several towns around Veliko Tarnovo and we spent half a day at Arbanassi, another charming ancient town with churches and cathedrals as well. I was also fascinated by the architecture of the houses in Arbanassi and spent a few hours roaming around the cobbled streets. Finally we returned to Varna after a detour to the Etar Ethnographic Open Air Museum near Gabrovo , one of the tourist attractions in Bulgaria.
The Historical Park
We spent almost an entire day at The Historical Park, one of the must-see sites in a typical Bulgaria itinerary. It was a weekend and was teeming with travellers. The Historical Park takes you into a world of fantasy and adventure. I was transported to an era that is over 10000 years ago to the prehistoric world and then we entered the realms of the Thracians and Proto Bulgarians and become time travellers. Post a rather sumptuous and delicious lunch, we went to see the UNESCO Heritage Site of the Madara Rider and spent some time exploring the ruins of Pliska and Preslav, the capital towns of the First Bulgarian Empire. In the evening, we had a glimpse of falcons being trained as it was one of the traditions of the Proto Bulgarians and this experience was organised by The Historical Park for us.
UNESCO Heritage Site – Nessebar
Our last day in Varna, actually Neofit Rilski was spent exploring the UNESCO Heritage Site of Nessebar along the Black Sea Coast. The historic town is a farrago of architectural influences from different eras and dynasties – from the Romans to the Turks and there are stories everywhere from crumbling ruins to broken bricks. I would have loved to linger here, but your Bulgaria itinerary is not complete if you don’t experience the wines from the Balkans. So we spent some time wandering around the vineyards of Pomorie and downing traditional Bulgarian wines at wineries before returning to Varna.
City tour of Sofia
We flew into Sofia and settled in rather quickly and explored the city – sights and sounds especially the monuments along the Yellow Brick Road. We had just 48 hours in Sofia and hence we did a rather extensive city tour and the highlight however was to discover a hidden bar – it was Sharath who actually found it. It is so hidden that it does not have an address or even a name board and it is still reminiscent of hidden bars during the Communist era. The monuments in Sofia tell a story of the historic path and you can read about these tourist attractions in Bulgaria in this post.
Rila Monastery and Seven Rila Lakes
Our last day in Bulgaria started with an ambitious plan of visiting the Rila Monastery and attempting the Seven Rila Lakes Trek on the same day. Not a good idea and I definitely won’t recommend it, even if you are like me with just a day left in your Bulgaria itinerary. So choose between the two. I would definitely suggest that you do the trek only if you are fit and if you have an entire day. However, we had the experience of our lifetime.
The entire trip to Bulgaria was a trip of our lifetime and am grateful to my hosts at The Historical Park for inviting me over. I hope to get another chance as I would love to explore more of this Balkan country, especially visit Plovdiv and also go to Rose Valley, see Thraciar en Tombs, visit… among other experiences. What are the other tourist attractions in Bulgaria that you would like to add ?