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Guest Feature by Oliver Segal:
Most travellers like to say how going to a place challenged their stereotypes, Bulgaria doesn’t. It is clearly a post-soviet state. That is not a criticism, my dad had told me of the surrealness of 70s East Berlin and Moscow – and I was curious. Bulgaria is a melding of traditional slavic culture and soviet communism with tiny bit of western modernity dolloped on top by the EU.
Emerging into a Sofia riven by peaceful protests you see the contrasting architectural styles, grey soviet apartment blocks on the outside, while the centre has some of the grandest public buildings in Europe as well as spectacular religious buildings. Including two icon filled cathedrals, a synagogue and a mosque.
Outside the major cities is a different Bulgaria, a traditional but sovietised society spread over the great Rhodopi Mountains. The mountain range which covers much of south east is bewitchingly beautiful, with giant peaks draped in a blaze of autumnal colours. In the winter the region has one of Europe’s cheapest Ski seasons .The rivers that flow through the hills create stunning gorges and the water that goes on to form these streams carves out some of the largest caves I have ever seen . We were lucky enough to get a tour of Yagodinska and the “devil’s throat” caves. Giant stalactites and bats filled both of them.
The Bulgarians are obsessed with dairy. Everything is layered with cheese or yoghurt. Even their salads are coated in sheep’s cheese. We even got a delightful cold yoghurt soup called Tarator which tastes a lot like tzatziki . Which is an interesting change for a Brit. As you would expect the diet is heavy in meat and potatoes. For breakfast they have a delightful and very healthy fried potato cake along with the hordes of yoghurt. The traditional desert is a super sickly dish of pumpkin saturated with syrup whether you enjoy it very much depends on how sweet your tooth is.
The local red wines are very drinkable and light, perfect for sipping in large quantities. The national spirit a brandy called Rakia (very different from Turkish Raki) is strong and tastes that way. As a place to drink it is to be recommended a beer in a bar will set you back only 2.50 lev (£1.07).
Plovdiv the second city is more beautiful than Sofia, it is ancient, one of the world’s oldest settlements, a vast Greco-Roman stadium sits below the centre, while on top of the hill is a revived Roman theatre that still operates. It has everything one can want from a town including fantastic nightlife. While joining in the local folk dancing at one of Plovdiv’s hotspots my beautiful blond government guide whispered in my ear “don’t touch me, don’t kiss me”, which worried me till I realised she was just translating the folk song.
Bulgaria offers the full eastern European experience , indulging a sense of culture and beauty .I would recommend it for every type of traveller, from students looking for drink to pensioners looking for culture – and everyone in-between.
- Oliver flew from Heathrow with Bulgaria Air
- Lev the Bulgarian currency fixed at 1.956 to the euro which is about 2.3 lev to pound
- Bulgaria is an EU member state so no visa is necessary from the UK
- Megdana the centre of night life in Plovdiv
- For more information see the official tourism portal for Bulgaria