Bulgaria is full of surprises. For U.S.
travelers, the country is still largely unknown or must overcome a
grey reputation as a dour, communist state, although it is nearly
20 years since it threw off that yoke.
The country joined
the European Union in January and has spent a fortune to improve
its tourism infrastructure to make it easier for visitors to get
around and explore.
While the first
stop is usually capital city Sofia -- packed with historical sights
and the usual urbane urban delights, such as shopping and dining --
sunny Bulgaria's real draw even in socialist times has always been
its Black Sea coast and countryside.
South of Sofia, the
Rila Mountains offer excellent skiing at the winter resort of
Borovets. The exquisite Rila Monastery, deep in a mountain valley,
draws visitors from around the world to its colorful buildings and
East of Sofia, the
village of Koprivshtitsa contains examples of traditional 18th and
19th century architecture. The houses are constructed of stone and
wood, brightly colored and ornamented; carpets and wall hangings
are especially noteworthy.
Farther on, near
Kazanlik on the Thracian plain, lie vast fields of small roses,
white and pink, from which rose oil is recovered. The area is
called the Valley of the Roses and is a blaze of color in early
second city, lies on the Maritsa River. Its many archaeological
finds include an old mosque, a Roman forum and a restored Roman
amphitheater where open-air operas are held.
The country's Black
Sea resorts, stretching from Varna to Sozopol, have been popular
with sun lovers for years, initially catering to tourists from the
old Eastern Bloc.
Varna has some old
Roman baths, the lovely Assumption Cathedral and a wonderful Museum
of History and Art that's home to a dazzling display of artifacts,
including ancient gold jewelry in designs so modern you'd swear
they were made recently.
Vast blocks of
apartments and hotels crowd the country's Black Sea shores,
especially at Sunny Beach, near Nesebar. In summer, Bulgarian
beaches are jam-packed.
Nesebar, on a tiny
island, boasts many ruins, including a second century Roman
theater. Unfortunately, its charm is being eroded by rampant
commercialism, the shops along its narrow, cobbled streets being
packed with overpriced tourist junk.
A highlight of any
visit to Bulgaria is the native food, a mix of Slavonic, Greek and
Turkish cuisines, and excellent wines.
For more on
Bulgaria, contact the Bulgarian Tourist Authority at
www.bulgariatravel.org or (011) 359-2 933-5845.
Bulgaria tours include Quest Tours and Adventures (800-621-8687; www.romtour.com)
and General Tours (800-221-2216; www.generaltours.com).
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].