How can a person describe his or her own country without being prejudiced? Despite it’s next to impossible, I’ll try my best to do so and entice you to come and explore Bulgaria as it is truly a gem.
This short overview will saunter you around things as diverse as history, geography, nature, foreign relations, and many more. But let’s start off with something delicious – food and drinks!
Even though I don’t have any hard evidence, Bulgaria might be the birthplace of wine. Think about that – the ancient Thracians lived in the lands of contemporary Bulgaria. And wine is related to them. Then, does that mean that it might be attributed to Bulgaria? Could be.
Alright, let’s end the didactic hassle about who invented this divine drink and dwell on something which is undeniable.
Not only Bulgaria produces tonnes of wine but it also imports some good amount of that. What’s even more impressive is that its red wine varieties are among the best in the world.
Some of our wines can easily punch above the weight of the finest Italian and French wines – not only in the way the fermented grapes tingle the palate with the titillating taste but also in the way it makes your wallet feel after the reasonable spending.
Now, I can’t blame you for drooling whilst reading this, but I can blame you for not reserving your tickets to Bulgaria yet. I guess you need more convincing – be my dear guest, but let me warn you that if you start dripping, I am not going to wipe you up!
You have not lived if your tongue has not felt this fiery drink made from fermented fruit. Palatable whiskies are at least 12 years old and their cost is nowhere near affordable.
Rakiya, on the other hand, can tickle your palate (or burn it if you are not into strong liqueurs) even when it’s young – a 6-month fermentation easily outshines 3-year old whiskies. But let’s not delve into that too much as many whisky connoisseurs will hunt me down.
The most popular Bulgarian rakiya is the grape variety. However, there are loads of other options. Think about plums, cherries, cherry plums (yeah, that’s a fruit, too), apricots, peaches, figs, and raspberries. Interestingly enough, I have not heard of any other berry varieties, but if you have, please share with me.
Rakiya’s alcohol strength is legendary so anywhere between 40 (the one you can buy at the shop) and 50-60 (home-made variations that are recommended to be consumed with ice or water) ABV will do the magic.
We, Bulgarians, prefer indulging in it while chewing a green salad (in summer) or pickles (in winter). You should definitely try the most famous salad – Shopska (шопска) – with rakiya. This combination is wondrous.
We cannot forget boza when we are on the topic of Bulgarian drinks. It’s this fermented grains beverage that will either leave you wanting more or hate the moment that thick, viscous liquid started descending your oesophagus. But you just cannot get away without savouring it.
Be it einkorn, millet, or rye, it’s going to make your senses explode. It even contains some hints of alcohol so don’t overdo it should you be riding more than 100 horses later.
Boza is usually consumed together with banitsa which brings us to our next point – FOOD.
Food of Bulgaria
My friend Naddya has the most comprehensive article on Bulgarian food on the web, so I am not going to delve very deep into this theme. Yet, there are certain things that cannot be omitted or are worth repeating again and again.
We’ve just mentioned boza. When Bulgarians say boza, they cannot refrain from telling you about banitsa. What you really need to know about banitsa is that it is probably the most scrumptious pastry you have never tasted. Enough said, here’s more.
Lyutenitsa, oh, that wondrous spread (relish or chutney if you fancy) on which books have been written, stories have been told, and articles have been compiled.
Lyutenitsa, dear readers, is so addictive that once your taste receptors are enchanted by its mouth-watering taste, you will be salivating like a little boy over an ice-cream cone.
Spread lyutenitsa on any type of cracker, crisp bread, or toast, and you will be torpedoed into a world of unexplored culinary orgasms.
There shouldn’t be a person on this planet that does not know where yoghurt originally stems from.
Oh, yes, you needn’t more hints. It’s Bulgaria – the Sacred Land of Yoghurt.
Irrespective of its name, this phenomenal probiotic product boasts an impeccable ancestry – it is thought to have been known around for over 4,000 years.
For that matter, it is one of the things that make us, Bulgarians, extremely proud to call ourselves Bulgarians. Our country is not only credited to be the inventor but it also is a producer of probably the healthiest variety of yoghurt on a global scale which is thanks principally to the bacteria Lactobacillus that is native to Bulgaria.
If you are taking my word with a grain of salt, just listen to this.
Bulgarian Yoghurt has already taken over Asia and the United States.
In Japan, over 45% of the yoghurt hails from Bulgaria. Over 30% of Bulgarian yoghurt exports were designated for China in 2016 and the first Chinese reality show took part in the Bulgarian mountains. Chinese people learnt why Bulgarians in a village there were mostly centenarians. Atanas Valev, a Bulgarian agriculture engineer and an avid yoghurt enthusiast, has made the organic Bulgarian yoghurt “Trimona” penetrate into the vast American market and nowadays, it is found in more than 300 shops in New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, among others.
Imagine a valley dotted with roses. Their mystical fragrance seeps into your senses slowly. You start breathing deeply and feeling every petal.
Now imagine a purple field. Does it have a smell? Lavender is an aromatic flower. It is usually attributed to France. However, recently Bulgaria superseded the French republic to become world’s largest producer. Rose-lavender is a marvellous combination, isn’t it!?
In this regard, Bulgaria is teeming with essential oil-bearing herbs that are seen as nature’s healer. Thanks to the wondrous Bulgarian nature, there are at least 20 different varieties, so if you happen to explore Bulgaria’s mountains in summer, pick some to prepare a wonderful herbal tea.
Speaking of mountains, Bulgaria is home to several staggeringly beautiful ones. First of all, there’s the Balkan range (Stara Planina) that separates the country in two.
Then come the stupefying Pirin Mountains, the astonishingly vast Rhodope Mountains (the best yoghurt is produced there), and the stupendous Rila Mountains (the highest peak on the Balkans – Moussala is there).
The Bulgarian mountains are an excellent city getaway in summer for hikes and in winter for skiing. The most popular winter resorts are Bansko (in Pirin), Borovets (in Rila), and Pamporovo (in the Rhodopes). Stara Planina also hosts a couple of ski slopes, but it’s better for a summer trek, especially the famous Kom-Emine that ends at the seaside, which teleports us to the next thing – the seaside.
The Black Sea
Bulgaria’s shores – around 380 km (236 mi) of which 130 km (80 mi) golden and white sandy beaches – are washed by the Black Sea. Between May and October, the Black Sea Coast is a very important tourism spot.
Summer’s average air and water temperatures are respectively 28 °C (82 °F) and 26 °C (~79 °F) which makes up for a magical stay. If you add to that the fact that there are over 300 hours of sunshine in July and August, then you will come up with your tour radar’s next destination.
Warning: Unless you are a party animal and you love cheap alcohol, I’d recommend you stay away from the notorious Sunny Beach and visit Nesebar whose old town is a UNESCO heritage site.
Hot Mineral Waters
What do Bulgaria and Iceland have in common? No, Bulgaria is not an island.
Alright, I will give you a hint – hot water.
Yes, Iceland has countless geysers, but a geyser in Sapareva Banya, southwestern Bulgaria, is the hottest in Europe. Its temperature is a jaw-dropping 103 °C (217 °F).
But that’s not all. Bulgaria is the runner-up (behind Iceland, obviously) when it comes to abundance and diversity of hot mineral springs.
Not satisfied enough? Here’s one more thing. Velingrad in Southern Bulgaria is known as “The Spa Capital of the Balkans”.
I bet you a $20 bill that it will be “The Spa Capital of Europe” in the near future.
Velingrad is positioned at an altitude which is between 750 and 830 metres (2,461-2723 ft). This altitude is believed to be the best one for our bodies to acclimatise themselves to the surrounding environment, to relax, and then to revitalise.
What’s even more impressive about this amazing town is that it is the only European Spa region that neither has harmful substances in the air, nor in the water. Throw in the fact that there is a negative air ionisation every day for at least 8 years (helpful for rejuvenating our body cells much faster) and you will start googling Velingrad.
I am serious – go Google or read my article to get convinced, as there are plenty of other things to do there besides dipping your hiney in the hot water.
We have myriads of traditions in Bulgaria, but two are really must-mentioning – Kukeri and nestinarstvo.
Kukeri in Pernik is a real must-see if you find yourself in Bulgaria in winter. I just got off the phone with an American friend and she told me that she knew about them for some time now. This video on Kukeri and Surva will explain the next paragraph and the image after it.
It’s not only about myriads of people making unbearable noise. It’s about team spirit, it’s about traditional costumes, it’s about strength and resilience to dance and jump for 5-6 hours in below-freezing temperatures. It’s about courage and audacity to chase away evil spirits!
Nestinarstvo can be defined as a fire ritual that is originally performed in some Bulgarian villages in the Strandzha Mountains which find their place in the south-east of the country near the Black Sea coast.
The ritual includes barefoot dancing on smouldering embers which is done by nestinari. This ritual is generously accompanied by the sound of a bagpipe or the beat of a sacred drum. While listening to the goosebumps-giving musical accompaniment, the dancers, it is believed, reach a religious trance state which is a good explanation why their feet are not burnt by the embers.
Here’s a bonus to those two – horo or Bulgarian folk dances. It is usually a line dance in which the performers join hands and go around in circles, listening to the upbeat music. The unique thing about the dance is that the beats do not follow or stick to any exact rational proportions.
As we are on the topic of horo, let’s shed some light on Bulgarian music. Its most remarkable feature is its uniqueness when it comes to the beat. As I just said, they do not follow any rational proportions but are rather characterised by an irregular metre.
Sometimes, it is referred to as the “Eight Wonder”. Never was there a person who had experienced Bulgarian music and he had returned home without being utterly impressed!
Kaba Gajda or crafts Kaba Gajda is a variety of pipes which is so hypnotising that people are capable of dropping their jaws at least a couple of times while listening to it. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below provided by Traveler-Diary.
I know history can be boring when presented in an inappropriate way, so I will try to keep it short yet interesting.
First of all, a peculiar fact is that Bulgaria is the only country in Europe that has not changed its name ever since it saw its inception in 681 AD.
Preto Bulgarians have come to the fertile lands on which contemporary Bulgaria thrives today from Central Asia. Then, they mixed with Slavic people and Thracians. This is why Bulgarian women are so gorgeous.
Let me give you a hint of politics and foreign affairs here. And some geographical facts, to start with, too.
Bulgaria is situated in Eastern Europe. Her (she is a female for having that many roses and lavender fields) shores are washed by the Black Sea. Its position is very beneficial because many commercial routes pass through it.
It has always been an important part of history, having been involved in both World Wars. In this regard, it is the only country that saved all its Jews during the Second World War genocide, which brings us to why I wanted to compile this section.
Having successfully saved all its Jewish population, Bulgaria has impeccable relations with Israel.
I am not going to delve deeper into every foreign relationship we maintain, but there’s one that is worth mentioning – China.
Bulgaria was the second country to recognise the People’s Republic of China and for this reason, the Eastern European country enjoys stupendous relations with the Asian Titan that recently surpassed U.S.’ economy.
In recent times, Bulgaria has not been doing its best in the field of sports, but two of them should be mentioned.
First of all, the Bulgarian volleyball team is among the top 8 in the world. And secondly, have you heard of Grigor Dimitrov? Yes, he is the guy dating Nicole Scherzinger, and he is Bulgarian!
If we take into account that the government has almost completely neglected investments in sports, then even these two facts are a huge success.
Sofia, the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe
Bulgaria’s capital – Sofia – is an ancient city. Its old Roman name is Serdica and further to being surrounded by the Vitosha Mountains, recently it has won the title of the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe. Lately, the Bulgarian capital has seen an influx of foreigners, flocking to Sofia to look for a job in the IT industry.
In this regard, a company worth mentioning is Telerik which was sold to the American giant Progress for around $250 million – the largest deal of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe. Swarms of other foreign and Bulgarian companies focus their business.
This was a very brief overview of why Bulgaria should definitely be on your travel radar.
PIN the image below to come back as I am going to expand it further.
Should you like to testify our acquired knowledge, check out my quiz on Bulgaria. I promise you that you will be put to the ultimate challenge.
Have you been to Bulgaria? What made your senses orgasm?