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Bulgaria's most obvious urban attractions are Sofia, a set-piece capital city whose centre was laid out by successive regimes as an expression of political power; and the second city Plovdiv, home to what is arguably the finest collection of nineteenth-century architecture in the Balkans. Both are increasingly cosmopolitan places, offering a range of street cafs and nightlife opportunities in short supply elsewhere in the country. They each form important cultural centres, being well endowed with museums and galleries, and are good bases from which to visit the rest of the interior.
However it's in the countryside rather than the cities that the real rewards of inland travel are to be found. You'll come across some of Europe's finest highland scenery in the Rila, Pirin, Balkan, Sredna Gora and Rhodope mountain ranges, whose valleys harbour the kind of bucolic villages which have all but disappeared in Western Europe. Many of them are time-consuming to reach by public transport, but if traditional architecture and goat-thronged, cobbled alleys appeal, any effort will be rewarded. While the villages of Bansko, Koprivshtitsa - a living memorial to the 1876 April Rising - and Melnik have the best tourist facilities, more rustic out-of-the-way spots such as Brshlyan, Kovachevitsa and Zheravna are also well worth seeking out. In addition, the highland regions display Bulgaria's rich spiritual traditions in the shape of its many monasteries: Bachkovo, Rila, Rozhen and Troyan are the big four, although any number of smaller foundations make worthwhile destinations. Also in the mountains, a burgeoning winter tourist industry is taking shape in resorts such as Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo, although the latter two are purpose-built package resorts which lack the charm of the former. Snow is thick on the ground from late November through to mid-March, and in summer the mountain resorts are taken over by climbers and ramblers.
However, most foreign visitors still make a beeline for the Black Sea, formerly the summer playground of the entire Eastern bloc. That said, big purpose-built resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands tend to be rather characterless and isolating: though package tours based at these resorts present a cheap and easy way of getting to Bulgaria, it's best to steer clear of them once you arrive. The main resort-city of Varna is the liveliest place along the coast, while small peninsula settlements like Nesebr and Sozopol, though crowded in August, provide traditional fishing-village architecture as well as enticing stretches of sand. Indeed, beaches are on the whole magnificent, especially in the south, and private enterprise is more developed here than anywhere else in the country, ensuring a plentiful supply of private rooms and good seafood restaurants. Although the climate remains mild all the year round, the Black Sea becomes deserted outside the main tourist season (July-Sept).
Elsewhere, few places are geared up to cater to Western-style, consumer-oriented tourism, although the rugged highlands that cut across the centre of the country are the best places to explore the heartlands of Bulgarian history and culture. The crafts towns and monasteries of the central Balkan Range were the places where Bulgarian culture recovered during the nineteenth-century National Revival, and are easily explored from the dramatically situated, citadel-encrusted town of Veliko Trnovo, medieval capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Shumen, main town of the northwest, is dour in comparison, but allows access to the remains of the Bulgarian state's first two capitals, Pliska and Preslav. Between the Balkan Range and the Sredna Gora, with its countless reminders of Bulgaria's nineteenth-century struggles against Turkish oppression, lies the Valley of the Roses, lined by a string of historic market towns and home to Bulgaria's renowned rose harvest in late May.
PART ONE BASICS
Getting there from Britain and Ireland
Getting there from North America
Getting there from Australia and New Zealand
Visas and red tape
Health and insurance
Costs, money and banks
Information and maps
Eating and drinking
Mail, phones and the media
Holidays, festivals and entertainment
Outdoor activities and eco-tourism
Museums, churches and mosques
Police, trouble and sexual harassment
PART TWO THE GUIDE
CHAPTER 1 SOFIA
Around pl. Sveta Nedelya and bul. Knyaginya Mariya Luiza
Bul. Vitosha and the National History Museum
Bul. Tsar Osvooboditel
Ulitsa G S Rakovski
Inner ring road
CHAPTER 2 THE SOUTHWEST
CHAPTER 3 THE BALKAN RANGE AND THE DANUBIAN PLAIN
The Iskr Gorge
The Rusenski Lom
CHAPTER 4 THE SREDNA GORA AND THE VALLEY OF THE ROSES
The Shipka Pass
CHAPTER 5 THE RHODOPES AND THE PLAIN OF THRACE
CHAPTER 6 THE BLACK SEA COAST
PART THREE CONTEXTS
The historical framework
The Macedonian question
LIST OF MAPS
Dragalevtsi and Simeonovo
THE BALKAN RANGE
AND THE DANUBIAN PLAIN
THE SREDNA GORA AND
THE VALLEY OF THE ROSES
THE RHODOPES AND THE PLAIN OF THRACE
The Black Sea Coast
Bulgarians are frustrated by their country's lack of a clearly defined image abroad. Heirs to one of Europe's great civilizations, and guardians of Balkan Christian traditions, they have a keen sense of national identity distilled by centuries of turbulent history. In a constantly repeating cycle of grandeur, decline and national rebirth, successive Bulgarian states have striven to dominate the Balkan peninsula before succumbing to defeat and foreign tutelage, only to be regenerated by patriotic resistance to outside control.
The Bulgarian nation was formed in the seventh and eighth centuries when the Bulgars, warlike nomads from central Asia, assumed the leadership of Slav tribes in the lower Danube basin and took them on a spree of conquest in southeastern Europe. The resulting First Bulgarian Kingdom, after accepting Orthodox Christianity as the state religion, became the centre of Slavonic culture and spirituality before falling victim to a resurgent Byzantine Empire in the eleventh century. Recovery came a century later when the local aristocracy broke free from Constantinople and restored past glories in the shape of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. However, the rise of Ottoman power in the fourteenth century ushered in the 500-year-long period of Tursko robstvo or "Turkish bondage" when the achievements of the medieval era were extinguished. Bulgarian art and culture recovered during the nineteenth-century National Revival, and the emergence of a potent revolutionary movement prepared the ground for Bulgaria's eventual Liberation in 1878, achieved with the help of Russian arms. However, Europe's other Great Powers conspired to limit the size of the infant state at the Berlin Congress of 1878, the first of a series of betrayals which denied Bulgarian claims to a territory which had long been considered an integral part of the historical Bulgarian state, Macedonia. In this century alone, Bulgaria has been to war three times (in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, World War I, and World War II) to try and recover Macedonia, only to be defeated on each occasion. By 1945 it seemed like a country which had somehow missed out on its destiny, and rapidly turned in on itself during the subsequent deep sleep of Communism.
BULGARIA INTO THE MILLENNIUM
While undoubtedly more open to the outside world and more visitor-friendly than ever before, Bulgaria remains a country in transition. Back in the momentous winter of 1989, it looked as if it was dragging its feet on the road to democracy while others forged ahead. The Communist Party ditched a few of the old guard, changed its name to the Socialist Party and promptly won the first multi-party elections for more than forty years, remaining the country's most coherent political force, until the elections of April 1997, when the SDS took over. Since 1989, market economics have been introduced more cautiously than in the more developed former Communist states, but the steady growth of private enterprise is making its mark nonetheless. Locals are quick to point out that the move towards capitalism has meant poor conditions for many. Full employment and job security are things of the past, and the new business culture is riddled with corruption and organized crime. That said, while it's a good idea to remain sensitive towards such problems, they shouldn't affect your enjoyment of an invigorating and little-experienced culture.
Posted September 18, 2002
i got the book 3 month before i traveled to this amasing country ,i studied it thoroughly.it gave me good ideas and important information which i used later. i took the book with me and traveled for 40 days all around bulgaria .i've been in beautiful places ,3 folklor festivals (i got the dates and places in the basics chapter), i climbed up to the 7 rila lakes a -maz-ing !!! don t miss theme ! and do not miss bansko ,so full with atmospher. i agree; bulgaria is -an hidden pearl ! since then i came back to bulgaria and again i will...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 31, 2002
From the pristine city of Sofia to the ancient capital of Veliko Tornovo, Bulgaria is an incredibly beautiful country at currently bargain prices. The ancient Black Sea Riviera town of Nessebar offers a step back into the Greek and Roman empires with beautiful beaches also. Having spent over 4 years in Europe, I am extremely impressed with this American friendly country where a lot of people speak English.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.