Think Bulgaria and you think of 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 gave paradise to Bulgaria because he had run out of other natural elements in creating the world. However, this is just one of the many reasons why you need to visit Bulgaria. It is home to the Thracians and Romans, but every dynasty from Byzantine to Turkish has left its mark on this country, which is a melting pot of different cultures. You can even take a look at the remains of the communist era in the country. The Proto-Bulgarians, however, were the early nomadic tribes that came to Bulgaria, but the Bulgarians eventually founded their own empires, and the first and second Bulgarian empires were only separated between them by the Byzantine invasion. I stayed in Bulgaria for about eight days and was hosted by The Historical Park near Varna, the country’s Black Sea capital. Although some of the places in Bulgaria include cities like Sofia, Varna, Burgas and Plovdiv and the tourist attractions in Bulgaria include old cities like Sozopol to Nessebar, Veliko Tarnovo to Koprivshtitsa, I had to miss some of these destinations because of a lack of time. A typical Bulgarian itinerary would take at least ten days, but I had little more than a week in this beautiful Balkan country. Here is my Bulgaria itinerary and since the historical park was the core of our trip, our trip around Varna was planned. 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 travel route started with Varna on the Black Sea coast. Most travelers fly to Sofia, but our Bulgarian itinerary focused on Varna. We initially played with the idea of flying Turkish Airlines, as the flight time from Istanbul to Varna was little more than an hour. However, Turkish Airlines does not fly from Bangalore, where we live, so we chose Qatar Airways. We flew from Bangalore to Doha and from there to Sofia and were in Varna after a short transit. Ivan and Ralitza met us at the airport and we drove to the beautiful village of Neofit Rilski to our picturesque guest house. Neofit Rilski is the home of the Historical Park and barely 30 km from Varna. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Bulgaria. We had a hearty vegetarian lunch of local dishes and drank them with wine. The dishes were prepared in the kitchens of the Historical Park and we got breakfast, lunch and dinner with wine every day and it was delicious. It was early autumn in Bulgaria and I was so lost in the fields around our guest house. Come in the summer and they would bloom with lavender. We relaxed and walked around the village, taking our time to enjoy the charm of the village and the architecture of the houses here.
Attractions in and around Varna
Our day started after breakfast when we decided to explore the Black Sea capital and visit some of the destinations in and around Varna. The capital of the Black Sea also has a unique distinction. It is home to the world’s oldest gold treasure, which dates back to around 4200-4600 BC. It was founded in a tomb in the necropolis of Varna over 6000 years old.
The gold is now safely housed in the Archaeological Museum, which is one of Bulgaria’s tourist attractions. There are many places in Varna, from the sea garden to Varna cathedral, but after lunch we took a break to visit the old Aladzha monastery and the stone forest. Golden Sands is one of the most famous vacation spots here, but more popular in summer. Without a visit to the resorts on the Black Sea coast, however, no Bulgarian travel route is complete. We had a long but 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 one night in Veliko Tarnovo, the city of the tsars, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and one of the most important places in Bulgaria. While the impressive Zarevets Castle dominates the city, there are several churches, cathedrals and monasteries here, especially the Holy Forty Martyrs Church and the Transfiguration Monastery. There are several cities around Veliko Tarnovo and we spent half a day in Arbanassi, another charming ancient city with churches and cathedrals. I was also fascinated by the architecture of the houses in Arbanassi and spent a few hours wandering the cobbled streets. Finally, after a detour to the Etar Ethnographic Open Air Museum near Gabrovo, one of the tourist attractions in Bulgaria, we returned to Varna.
The historical park
We spent almost a full day at The Historical Park, one of the most important places in a typical Bulgarian itinerary. It was a weekend and full of travelers. The Historical Park takes you into a world full of fantasy and adventure. I was transferred to the prehistoric world over 10,000 years ago, and then we entered the areas of the Thracians and Protobulgarians and became time travelers. After a fairly sumptuous and delicious lunch, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Madara Rider and spent some time exploring the ruins of Pliska and Preslav, the capitals of the First Bulgarian Empire. In the evening we got an insight into the training of falcons, as this was one of the traditions of the Proto-Bulgarians and this experience was organized for us by the Historical Park.
UNESCO World Heritage Site – Nessebar
On our last day in Varna, Neofit Rilski spent the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nessebar on the Black Sea coast. The historic city is a farrago of architectural influences from different eras and dynasties – from the Romans to the Turks. There are stories everywhere, from crumbling ruins to broken bricks. I would have liked to stay here, but your Bulgaria itinerary is not complete if you do not experience the Balkan wines. So we hiked through the Pomorie vineyards for a while and drank traditional Bulgarian wines in wineries before returning to Varna.
City tour of Sofia
We flew to Sofia and settled down pretty quickly and explored the city – sights and sounds, especially the monuments along Yellow Brick Road. We only had 48 hours in Sofia, so we went on a pretty extensive city tour. The highlight, however, was discovering a hidden bar – it was Sharath who actually found it. It is so hidden that it has neither an address nor a name tag and is still reminiscent of hidden bars during the communist era. The monuments in Sofia tell a story of the historical 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 to visit the Rila Monastery and try the Seven Rila Lakes Trek the same day. Not a good idea and I will definitely not recommend it, even if, like me, you only have one day left in your Bulgaria itinerary. So choose between the two. I would definitely suggest that you only do the hike if you are fit and if you have a full day. However, we had the experience of our lives.
The entire trip to Bulgaria was a trip of a lifetime and I am grateful to my hosts in the Historical Park for inviting me. I hope to get another chance as I would like to explore more of this Balkan country, especially visit Plovdiv and also go to the Rosental, see Thraciar en Tombs, … visit among others. What are the other tourist attractions in Bulgaria you would like to add?
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