The last country on my list in the Balkans was Bulgaria. To be very honest, I never thought of it as a Balkan country, but, as it is in the Balkan Mountains, it definitely qualifies. Bulgaria has a rich history dating back to ancient times, but in modern history, it has seen significant changes and struggles.
In 1878, Bulgaria gained independence from the Ottoman Empire after over 500 years of occupation. In the following years, the country went through a period of political instability and economic turmoil. During World War II, Bulgaria was allied with Nazi Germany, which led to significant political and economic repercussions.
After the war, Bulgaria became a communist state, which lasted until 1989. The democratic changes in Eastern Europe prompted a series of protests that ultimately led to free elections and a multi-party system. Since then, Bulgaria has joined the European Union and NATO, but still faces challenges with corruption and economic development.
I entered the country from the north, and my first stop was the picturesque city of Veliko Tarnovo. It is a stunning city, known for its rich history and beautiful scenery. Nestled in the Balkan Mountains, this city offers a perfect blend of ancient history and modernity.
The city center of Veliko Tarnovo is a remarkable sight. The Tsarevets Fortress, located on the hilltop, gives a magnificent view of the city. The castle dates back to the Second Bulgarian Empire and served as the residence of Bulgarian kings. A light and sound show that illuminates the fortress is worth watching, as it provides an experience of the rich and powerful Bulgarian history.
After a long day at the castle, a visit to the vibrant old town of Veliko Tarnovo, is an excellent way to unwind. The narrow streets, lined with colourful houses, provide a pleasant walk. The unique architecture is bound to leave one awestruck. There are plenty of shops selling traditional Bulgarian crafts, and it is an ideal spot to purchase unique souvenirs.
One of the must-visits is the Holy Forty Martyrs Church. The church, built in the 13th century, has a blend of Byzantine and Bulgarian architectural styles. The interior is adorned with frescoes, making it a wonderland for art lovers.
A visit to Veliko Tarnovo is incomplete without a trip to the nearby town of Arbanassi. The town, famous for its stunning houses, is a preserved spot of Bulgarian heritage. A visit to the Konstantsalieva House, a 17th-century architectural marvel, is highly recommended.
Most places I visit, leave me wanting to stay longer, and that was certainly the case here. Unfortunately, I had to move on, and continued my adventure to Bulgaria’s second largest city.
Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe, is a hidden gem located in the heart of Bulgaria. It is a city full of historical and cultural significance, that offers visitors an unforgettable experience.
One of the most prominent landmarks of the city is the Roman Amphitheatre, which dates back to the 2nd century CE. The structure is so well preserved visitors can almost feel the presence of the ancient spectators. Plovdiv also boasts a well-preserved, Old Town, which is dotted with beautiful Bulgarian revival houses and cobblestone streets. Walking through Old Town, feels like taking a step back in time to the 19th century.
The city is home to many museums and galleries, including the Ethnographic Museum, and the Regional History Museum. These museums provide a wealth of information on the local culture and history. One of the most intriguing exhibits is the ancient Thracian treasures, which are on display at the Regional Archaeological Museum.
Plovdiv is known for its vibrant arts scene, and there are plenty of opportunities to catch a show or concert. The Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis, which dates back to the 4th century BCE, is still used for performances today.
The food in Plovdiv is something to write home about. Bulgarian cuisine is a unique blend of influences from Greek, Ottoman, and Slavic cultures. Some of the must-try dishes include banitsa, a savory pastry filled with cheese and eggs, and kavarma, a dish made with pork, vegetables, and spices.
My next stop was Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, and a city that is sure to leave any traveller spellbound. Steeped in history and culture, Sofia is a city that has something to offer everyone, from history buffs to foodies, to outdoor enthusiasts.
One of the first things that will strike you about Sofia is its vibrant street art. Walking through the streets, you will see creative and colourful murals adorning the walls, depicting local legends, political statements, and pop culture references. The city also boasts several museums, including the National History Museum and the National Art Gallery, which provide a glimpse into Bulgaria's rich cultural heritage.
For those looking to explore the great outdoors, Vitosha Mountain National Park is a must. The park is located on the outskirts of the city, and boasts stunning views and ample opportunities for hiking and skiing.
The city is also home to several impressive landmarks, such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. The St. George Rotunda, and the ruins of the ancient Serdica, are also worth a visit.
Overall, Sofia is a city that will leave you with unforgettable memories. From the vibrant art scene, to the stunning natural landscapes, delicious cuisine, and rich history, there is something for every kind of traveller in this beautiful city.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com