Situated strategically in the very heart of the Balkans, Bulgaria’s history and culture are a mesh of Slavic, Mediterranean and Central Asian influences. Having survived 500 years of Ottoman yoke and nearly 50 years of communist rule, Bulgarians are now rediscovering their country’s historic and natural treasures.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, has been announced the European capital of culture in 2019. The discovery of ancient archaeological sites, such as the Rock City of Perperikon, Roman remains in Plovdiv, and the millennia-old tombs of Thracian kings, has made Bulgaria an interesting and surprising site for history buffs.
Bulgaria has a landmass of 111,000 square kilo meters and boarders Romania to the North, Serbia to the West, Macedonia to the south West, Greece to the South and Turkey to the South East. The Bulgarian terrain is a mix of white sandy beaches, rugged mountain outcrops and sweeting plains. ‘Stara Planina’ is a mountain range that divides Bulgaria in two almost equal parts and acts as a natural barrier that protects the southern part from the cold northern currents. The Danube Plain spreads to the north, while the Valley of Roses and the Thracian lowland are to the south. As of 2014, the total population of Bulgaria was 7.2 million people, with the capital Sofia hosting 1.2 million people.
Along with the rich archeologically sites, nature lovers won’t be disappointed either. Whilst much of the Black Sea Coast has been overdeveloped, (attracting the mass tourism market with all-inclusive resorts such as Sunny Beach), there are still a couple of hidden pockets along the coast which retain their original natural beauty – check out Ahtopol on the far South East coast.
The countryside is rich in wildlife and natural attractions and is yours to explore. From river wetlands to Alpine heights, there are numerous opportunities for birdwatching, hiking, mountain biking, caving, rafting and wine tasting. If you are lucky enough to visit Bulgaria in the early summer, you must spend some time in the famous Rose Valley where roses are grown and distilled for Bulgaria’s most famous product – rose oil.
Real party folk, Bulgarians are very fond of a local beverage, music and dance. Local bands will play folk songs in the pubs using typical instruments such as the accordion, the clarinet, the tambura, the gaida and the tupan drums. For a real challenge, try following the irregular rhythms of the different types of horo, or line dance.
Bulgarians enjoy and value their own cuisine and readily ignore mainstream fast-food chains if banitsa (a feta-cheese filled pastry) and kebapcheta (grilled mince sausages) are being sold around the corner. The fresh fruit and vegetables are arguably Europe’s best and Shopska salad is a must with every meal.
In 2013, Bulgaria welcomed 6.9 million international tourist arrivals. This figure has been steadily climbing over the past decade and with it the tourism industry is continuing to develop. Make sure you explore the ancient streets of Plovdiv, the Rose valley for the famous rose oil and the south eastern pocket of Bulgaria on the Black sea where Strandja national park kisses white sand beaches. [/wptab]
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of the friendly people of Bulgaria is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.