Five centuries of Ottoman rule and subjugated most recently ended four decades firmly behind the Iron Curtain came to Bulgaria in a distant, enigmatic in the eyes of much of the rest of the world. Images of cheap wine overthrown in student parties, ski holidays and umbrella handle murderers budget of the Cold War were once among the popular stereotypes, but Bulgaria today is a very different country than it was 10 years ago.
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For most foreign visitors, Bulgaria’s main attraction is its long, sandy Black Sea Coast – which still has stretches of beaches and picturesque bays despite the expansive construction work – but there’s more to this country , so much of it remains largely untouched and unvisited by foreign tourists. The networks of well maintained trails and horse riding to discover lush mountain scenery and forest Bulgaria, especially around the Rila and Pirin, inhabited by bears, lynx, exotic birds and other wildlife now becoming scarcer elsewhere in Europe . Move around the country is easy, cheap public transport and efficient transport between the cities and in the most remote, rural corners, where the traditional rhythm, slow life goes on as it has for centuries. Here you will find multicolored monasteries filled with fabulous icons and watched over by priests beard, and incredibly beautiful half-timbered villages with spirals of smoke lazily over the stone roofs and donkeys complaining about the distance, where the old ladies headscarfed and grandchildren are curious look in amazement at the arrival of outsiders. Cities also often overlooked highlights, from the dynamic, cosmopolitan Sofia with its lovely parks, sociable open-air bars and fascinating museums, the National Revival architectural treasures and Roman remains of Plovdiv, and the young maritime cockiness of Varna.
A full member of NATO and paid (since 2007) the EU, Bulgaria has the feel of a nation in a very important crossroads. Foreign investment has created a massive construction boom, not just around the largest beach and ski tourism but also in cities. More tourists than ever are discovering this country and an ever increasing number of foreigners who are investing in property here. Also, the Bulgarian population is declining faster than elsewhere in Europe, wages are the lowest on the continent – which triggered the attacks increasingly long and bitter, and the old problems of bureaucratic incompetence and bubble organized crime away in the background. Environmental damage caused by overfishing has been a particular cause for public alarm in recent years, and several national and international organizations that fight for some of these issues to the attention of a wider world. As much as I complain, however, the Bulgarians are a patriot, if modest lot, – when asked, as often, if you love your country, you really worry that you will leave with good impressions.
Prices have certainly risen since Bulgaria became an EU member, but compared to Western European countries, travelers are generally a destination pleasantly inexpensive, and easy and pleasant to travel once you have mastered the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria and enough to buy a bus ticket. Bring your own transportation and the whole country is yours to explore.