Saturday, February 5, 2011

Top 15 Favorite Bulgarian Places

At a distance of one month, it's sometimes hard to believe that we spent two wonderful years living in Bulgaria. We look back with fond memories at the many places we visited, the many people we met, and the many things we learned about Bulgaria, its culture and history. This started as a Top Ten list, but there were too many places to list, so it became a Top 15 list, and still, some of the colorful destinations we visited are not included. The list is presented in alphabetical order.

Balchik. On the Black Sea coast, this town was the summer home of Queen Marie of Romania. We enjoyed walking around the botanical gardens, seeing the old style houses and the simple palace that captured the heart of the Romanian queen.

Belogradchik. Belogradchik is a town in northwestern Bulgaria and also the name of a fortress and nature reserve of bizarrely shaped sandstone, limestone and other rock formations. The Belogradchik Rocks were Bulgaria's candidate in the campaign for New Seven Wonders of Nature.

Kaliakra. Cape Kaliakra, on a rocky, narrow peninsula jutting into the Black Sea north of Varna, is highly revered by the locals for its beautiful scenery more than its history serving as a fortress in both Roman and Byzantine times.

Koprivshtitsa. We made two visits to this historic town east of Sofia, the first being during a heavy snowstorm. The second time we returned we enjoyed more favorable weather, giving us a better opportunity to visit the house museums where much of Bulgaria's modern history in its revolt against the Ottomans was launched.

Melnik. Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria, known for its robust red wine, impressive old-style houses, and beautiful natural surroundings. We had a tasty lunch and the red wine set our heads spinning.

Nessebar. Nessebar is not only one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria, but also one of the oldest towns in Europe. Its brick churches date back to the Middle Ages and before, and its wooden homes are from Bulgaria's Revival period in the 1800s. The town is recognized as a World Heritage City and we enjoyed walking through its picturesque streets.

Perperikon. The ancient Thracian city of Perperikon is located at the top of a high, rocky hill in the Eastern Rhodopes. It was quite a climb to reach the top, but going down we found an easier path.

Plovdiv. Plovdiv's beautiful Old Town has many homes from the 1880s which have been carefully restored, and many of them now serve as museums and art galleries. We walked up and down the cobblestone streets. The most beautiful house in the Old Town has now become the Ethnographic Museum. The Old Town is also home to a Roman ampitheater. We visited Plovdiv twice and easily could have come back a third time.

Rila Monastery. We made 5 visits to the Rila Monastery, first built in the 10th Century and rebuilt a few times since. The monastery is considered the Jerusalem of Bulgaria, probably due to the fact that it attracts both pilgrims and tourists. On each visit we were able to appreciate different aspects of the artwork, so it was always enjoyable.

Seven Lakes. While Jodie went to a village for a Bulgarian folk festival, I bravely set out with 4 Bulgarian friends on a trek into the Rila Mountains and the Sedmete Ezera, or Seven Lakes. The hiking was alternatively through meadows of purple flowers and snow drifts. Some of the lakes were still frozen solid. The scenery was absolutely amazing.

Shipka. Historic Shipka Pass was where, in the years 1877-1878, Russian and Bulgarian troops were able to fight off the might of the Ottoman Empire and liberate the country. This is one of the most important sites to Bulgarians, and the views from on top the mountain are amazing.

Sofia. For the two years of our Bulgarian adventure we lived in Sofia, the country's capital. While the city is far from being considered beautiful when compared to the rest of the country, we grew to appreciate its charm. We walked its streets, visited its museums, and ate in its restaurants. Highlights of the city included its stunning synagogue, its spacious parks, and the old world feeling of its houses.

Sozopol. Located 34 kilometers south of Burgas on a small peninsula, Sozopol is one of the oldest towns in Bulgaria. The town is known for its resorts and beaches, fishing boats and wooden houses dating back to the 18th Century. Our visit, on the Saint Day for Fisherman, also coincided with the visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister.

Tryavna. We fell in love with this charming small town in central Bulgaria, as it offered authentic restored houses and buildings without being pretentious at all. We enjoyed walking its streets and visiting the artists' quarter.

Veliko Turnovo. We visited the historical city of Veliko Turnovo in central Bulgaria twice. Veliko Turnovo is famous for serving as capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire during the Middle Ages. The Tsarevets fortress is one of the main tourist destinations in Bulgaria.