Journey Through Bulgaria

Discovering the thousand-year old nation through the eyes its Ambassador to Canada Ms. Svetlana Stoycheva-Etropolski.

Travelling the world and discovering new cultures and civilizations have certainly enriched my life, but time and time again, I just can’t help falling captive to Bulgaria’s special charm. Every spot in my small home country has its own beauty that can enchant the human heart.

Along South-Eastern Europe, in the North-Eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula lies the treasures of Bulgaria.

With an outlet to the Black Sea and the Danube river, Bulgaria’s geographic location in the transitional region between two climate zones provides for an exceptionally diverse climate, soil, vegetation, and animal life. Nature has given the biggest treasure to the country – the magical sources of health and beauty.

Discover Bulgaria: Picturesque landscapes

There are many magical areas to discover in Bulgaria. However, a favorite place of mine is Sandanski, located at the South-Western side of Pirin mountain.

Many travelers don’t realize how picturesque the natural environment is in Bulgaria until they see the Pirin National Park. Its vicinity is abundant in cultural, historical, and natural landmarks. The town is famous for its unique climate and mineral springs with a temperature of up to 83°C. It is acknowledged to be the best natural hospital for treatment of bronchial asthma in Europe. The resort is also recommended for treatment of skin allergies. Twenty-four km South-East of Sandanski is the museum town of Melnik; the smallest city in Bulgaria and home to some of the best wineries in the country, and wines with rich taste and aroma.

The Bulgarian Black Sea resorts also have their natural resources that will offer you a perfect holiday. Their recreational compounds have a range of healing, rehabilitation and relaxation services. Amongst them is Pomorie. The city is a sanatorium resort based on the healing properties of the famous Pomorie mud. My husband and I thoroughly enjoy the wide beaches and modern mud therapy procedures which always promise the ideal getaway.

Immerse in Bulgaria: A natural spa haven

Bulgaria is among the most abundant European countries in thermal water wealth and diversity. The number of thermal deposits in the country is the second biggest in Europe, with more than 600 mineral springs, 80% of which contain healing properties.

Though undiscovered, the wonders of these natural springs are not new to civilization. Thracians who inhabited these lands millennia ago knew about the secrets of the healing power of mineral springs; and later in Roman times, some of the most famous balneotherapy facilities were established in Bulgaria.

Whenever I am home, I try to enjoy the local natural resources and always have an unforgettable and truly beneficial stay. From Bankya, near Sofia, to Sandanski, and Velingrad, Devin, Sapareva Banya, and Hisar, all regions house mineral springs that are famous for their healing properties. The modern spa centers that have been built around the hot springs attract visitors from all over the world, offering an array of treatments, including mud therapy, chromotherapy, thalasso-therapy, aromatherapy, and massages.

Explore Bulgaria: Monumental cities and charming villages

I like cosmopolitan and vibrant cites. Sofia is not only the capital, but also the heart of Bulgaria, with a 7000-year long history. The city is surrounded by enchanting mountains and has become an important crossroad on the Balkan Peninsula, gaining the status of a vital crafts and trade center.

Today, cultural life and arts in Sofia is influenced by worldwide trends. A number of new churches were built, including the Boyana Church – a UNESCO site located on the outskirts of Sofia, being among the most famous and impressive buildings. According to UNESCO this site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

I am also mesmerized by the beauty of Bulgarian museum villages and towns. Arbanasi is one of the most picturesque old villages in Bulgaria. It is located on a rocky plateau and presents a magnificent view towards the medieval part of the old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo. Arbanasi is famous for its distinctive residential architecture and churches abounding in murals. The houses, more than 1000, are astounding with their rough exterior view and high stone fences. The churches, with their high solid outer walls, small windows and unbreakable iron-clad oak doors, are in harmony with the general architectural appearance of the village.

Bozhentsi is also a small village, a monument of Bulgarian architecture from the Revival period. The craftsmen of Bozhentsi have shaped one of the prettiest architectural compositions. The high stone fences, the forged oak gates, the narrow cobblestone streets, the stone taps and bridges and the small shops all have the unique feel of this Bulgarian heavenly spot. It is an ideal location for a quiet vacation, with good food and clear mountain air.

I always try to find time to visit Plovdiv – the second largest city in Bulgaria, selected as the 2019 EU Capital of Culture. It has unique cultural and historical heritage, which includes three main periods – the Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Revival. The Old Plovdiv is a special city structure comprising of archeological sites, galleries with valuable exhibits, ancient buildings, functioning temples with rich paint and wood-carving decorations, cozy cafes and excellent restaurants, beautiful art galleries, old and new houses with romantic yards and picturesque cobblestone streets.

I love the sea and the oldest town along the Bulgarian Black Sea, is Sozopol; a popular fishermen’s village with a big seaside resort. Numerous stone anchors and stocks dating from the 2nd-1st millennium BC have been discovered in the Sozopol bay. There is evidence of active maritime traffic since deepest antiquity. I usually visit in September when the town hosts the Apollonia Arts Festival, during which time visitors may enjoy many events – plays, open-air concerts, chamber music, jazz concerts, and films.

The Ancient city of Nessebar, which has been inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, is another popular Bulgarian resort I treasure. The coastal town has a beautiful sandy beach and a rich historical and cultural heritage. Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, the 3,000+ year-old site of Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement. It is a location where numerous civilizations have left tangible traces.

There are also many Holy monasteries and masterpieces of Bulgarian Architecture, Art and Culture. One that I often go back to lies in the Rila mountain, which is the highest Balkan Peninsula Mountain. The Rila Monastery, a characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and was built at its present location in the 14th century. The monastery library houses thousands of manuscripts and old printed books, the oldest dating back to the 10th century. An object of outstanding interest is the central wooden iconostasis, displayed in the main monastery church.

Taste Bulgaria: The epitome of Balkan cuisine

Old city street view with colorful buildings in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Bulgaria is notoriously known for its delicious cuisine, which is colorful and rich in spices. In some places, recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The recipes include a large number of vegetables and herbs and spices, among which are garlic, black pepper, thyme, spearmint, savory, bay leaf, paprika, basil, oregano. Almost all Bulgarian dishes include parsley.

Tarator (Cold Cucumber Soup) Recipe

As summer is finally on the horizon in Ottawa, the blossoms and crisp air signal the taste buds for this quick and easy Bulgarian recipe; Tarator.
Ingredients: 2 cucumbers, 400 g yoghurt, crushed walnuts (to taste), 1 clove of garlic, vegetable (olive) oil, dill.
Preparation: Peel the cucumbers and cut them into small cubes. Stir the yoghurt while still in the pot. Add the cucumbers and continue stirring. Add ½ L of cold water. Add water depending on the desired density. Use a pestle and a mortar to crush the clove of garlic with some salt and add to the soup with the ground walnuts and finely chopped dill. Season with a little vegetable oil.

Only in Bulgaria one can experience the taste of the world-famous Bulgarian yoghurt. Bulgaria produces the rich flavored white cheese, rich tasting herbal honey, as well as very high quality propolis with proven healing powers. Wine is an integral part of the history of Bulgaria, it is also very much a part of Bulgarian culture, customs and spirit. Bulgarian wines are into the hearts of the wine lover. The country is divided into five wine regions, each with its own specifics and peculiarities. Alas, for any palette, the tasteful discoveries in Bulgaria will surely leave a lasting impression!

Relive Bulgaria: Local finds and unique gifts

Finally, there is no better way to memorialize newly discovered emotions than a carefully chosen souvenir. Although abundant in the most unique products, bring the wonders of Bulgaria back to your loved ones with local gems, including Rose Oil products (with extract from the local variety Rosa Damascena), items with handmade embroidery, piece of pottery from clay, hand woven lace, and charming dolls in national folk costumes.