“My dear fatherland, how beautiful you are
How wonderful your skies emit the shade of blue,
How your fair landscapes attract the dreamer’s view.
Each gaze reveals surprising, delightful comeliness –
Here merry valleys lie, and giant mountains rise.
The Earth’s replete with flowers, the sky is full of gems
How beautiful you are, my darling fatherland!”
– Ivan Vazov, My Dear Fatherland
When you open a world atlas and look up the southern part of Eastern Europe, you will see a small country and the shape of its map resembles a pillow. To the North it borders Romania, famous for its vampires, but it is naturally separated from it by the river Danube, so no vampire can relocate. To the west lies Serbia with its passion for football, and North Macedonia, famous for the shrew nature and fiery blood of its women. To the south is Greece – well, everybody knows about Greece, it’s ancient and a cultural heaven, and it’s got strong coffee and Greek Salad, and weird wedding traditions. To the southeast is Turkey, with their tea, and baklava, and hamam (Turkish bath), and the infamous Turkish soap operas. To the east – the blueness of the Black Sea – some ancient writers claim that it was the location of the legendary city of Atlantis. Right among these fabulous destinations lies Bulgaria and on the map below it shines in the shade of bright green.
In 681 AD, when Khan Asparuh settled on the Balkan Peninsula and established the First Bulgarian Empire, no one knew the Bulgarians are so much trouble. Our people was too damned stubborn, and we were going to battle the Byzantine empire and other intruders not just once. So let’s delve in various aspects of the abundant Bulgarian heritage, and discover a country’s natural beauty, artistic diversity, intense history, and delightful traditions.
Miracles of Nature
So are you a beach or a mountain lover? Because Bulgaria proudly presents something for every taste. If you want the ultimate coastal experience – blue skies, hot sand and playful waves – we provide you with the crowded shores of the Black Sea. If you are after glorious, panoramic view, which make you feel like you are on “top of the world, looking down on creation” – we will take you closer to the stars – on the peaks of our mountains. Your nostrils will be filled with fresh air, you will get enough of your vitamin D, and you will be happy for to conquer a Bulgarian peak is almost like to graduate from an university – a hard and strenuous task, the completion of which makes you very happy.
“Bulgaria is a fascinating, beautiful, difficult country and I fell in love with it.”
– Garth Greenwell
The climate is temperate, which means we have four seasons. Our birds migrate for the winter – the storks leave in the beginning of September and return in March. On the first of March we welcome spring with a fascinating tradition called Granny Martha (Baba Marta). We spend time crafting bracelets, pendants and other adornments from red and white woolen threads, for everybody – even the animals. This symbolic treasure is called Martenitsa, and it is believed to bring good fortune and luck. When you receive a Martenitsa – you can also make a wish, well there’s no guarantee like with the golden fish, but you can make one – it’s the tradition. If you want your wish to come true, you don’t remove your Martenitsa until you see the first stork for the spring. Look at this lovely Martenitsa – the two woolen figurines, which look like they are making out are called Pizho and Penda. They are a famous Bulgarian enamored couple and according to the legend they fell in love at first sight and invited several villages to their wedding.
We will start with this mountain chain, since the entire peninsula is named after it. In Bulgaria, we like to call it: The Old Mountain (Stara Planina). It is very long – it goes on for over 350 miles. Its highest peak is named Botev after a talented national poet – Hristo Botev – and here’s a feeble attempt to translate one of his most beautiful verses:
The evening triumphs, the crescent rises,
The stars sprinkle the heavenly vault,
The forest whispers, the wind blows,
The Balkan sings an outlaw song.
It splits the map horizontally right through the middle and separates the country into Northern and Southern Bulgaria. Go there if you like hiking and beautiful horizons, or if you want to meet face to face with birds such as Golden Eagle, Eurasian Magpie, Common Nightingale, or Peregrine Falcon.
Speaking of falcons, they always make me think of a certain folksong, about a female stalker.
The Lad is trying to get rid of her:
“Hark back, hark back, lassie Kalino,
You should not walk after me,
For in my court there is a high forest,
You won’t be able to cross it.
But she is insolent:
I will imagine I am a falcon birdie,
But I will come after you,
I will cross the forest,
and come after you.
For I am eternally yours.”
Of course there are not only birds in Stara Planina – it is a home to many animal species – so animal lovers – definitely go there. Magnificent peaks, scary cliffs, ancient breech forests – yes you are into a mountain heaven. Go hiking, skiing or visiting ancient remains from a different era. Diversify your life!
The Rila Mountains are famous as one of the oldest areas in which the first Europeans settled. Go there if you want to meet Yogi bear. Seriously, they are home to the majestic brown bears, and the people there have invented the moussaka – a traditional and most delicious Bulgarian casserole with mince and potatoes. In Rila is the highest peak in Bulgaria – Musala (which means “near God.” The Seven Rila Lakes are a favorite gathering point for the mountain lovers in summer. According to the legend – the lakes formed by the tears of a giant woman, when she was desperate, because she lost her Beloved. People go there, dance barefoot in circles in the damp grass, spend the night in tents, flash from inside the tents with their torches and sing during the entire night.
It has been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983 because it has got impressive architecture and beautiful stories around it some of which are even true. It was founded in the tenth century by Saint Ivan Rilski (of Rila) a hermit and a monk who was considered to be a patron of the Bulgarian people, and they called him: “an earthly angel,” and “a heavenly dweller” for he was a miracle worker. He sought solitude in Rila and ironically founded a religious and a cultural center there.
The Rhodope Mountains
Go there if you want to meet an elf or a fairy. Even if fairies don’t exist, the Rhodope Mountains are certainly inhabited by magical creatures of the Slavic and Greek mythologies – such as talking animals, even dragons (zmey)! Everything is so lush and green! This is a perfect place for meditation and a road trip. It is not hard to imagine that there live forest nymphs with flowing hair and otherworldly beauty, who dance in the night forests, have the power to control the weather and are capricious and unpredictable. Well – what can you expect from an imaginary woman?
Bulgaria, My Sacred Homeland
Bulgaria is not only the sacred place of our people. It occupies one percent of Europe’s area, but it is a home to 94 species of mammals, 383 kinds of birds, 36 reptiles, 16 amphibians, 207 fish, about 27000 insects, about 3700 plants and more than 500 mushrooms. The most inhabited regions are Stara Planina, the Rhodopes, Pirin, Vitosha, Rila, Strandzha and the valley of River Struma. There are very few countries with such stunning landscapes. Unique natural wonders, such as the Rocks of Belogradchik, the Miraculous Bridges, The Caves of Iagodino, the Krushuna Waterfalls, the reserve Srebarna, the Lake of Balchik – to name just a few. Just pack your suitcase and come here – to create lasting memories. One day you will tell about Bulgaria to your grandchildren.
“Bulgaria, I reflected as I walked back to the hotel, is not a country; it is a near-death experience.”
– Bill Bryson