[:en]Regular readers will know that Bulgaria features at the top of nearly every survey into the cheapest destinations in Europe. But there’s more to the eastern European country than its price tag. Allow us to introduce you to the reasons Bulgaria really should be your next holiday.
1. It’s cheap as chips
First things first, let’s address the cost. Sunny Beach, one of the country’s most popular beach resorts on the Black Sea, has been named the cheapest beach getaway in Europe for the fourth time in four years by the Post Office. Using a basket of holiday essentials, including a three-course meal for two with a bottle of wine (just £19.53 here), as a barometer, Sunny Beach was way out in front of second place, the Algarve. This came as no surprise to us.
2. Its beaches are more than Sunny
But what of the beaches? Sunny Beach sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? “It’s cheap and cheerful, with some fairly rough and ready communist-era constructions,” said Telegraph Travel’s Adrian Bridge, following a visit to the resort of Varna, just north of Sunny beach. “But there are some nice cafes and restaurants. We drank a couple of beers (£1.30 for two) and ordered fresh fish from the Black Sea.”
3. It has cute, coastal towns
Approximately a third of Bulgaria’s 378km Black Sea coast is made up of golden, sandy beaches. Along it you will find some charming coastal outcrops, such as Nessebar, the “Pearl of the Black Sea” and a Unesco World Heritage site.
4. And surprisingly epic mountains
Bulgaria’s beauty does not stop at beaches. Indeed, it barely starts, given the country’s remarkably picturesque mountains. Take the Rila range, Bulgaria’s highest and rife with tempting hikes. Its ancient Thracian name means “well-watered mountain”, which would explain why it’s peppered with glistening lakes.
5. Not quite heaven on earth, but close
Mount Musala is the highest summit, at 2,925m. As Paul Bloomfield, writing for Telegraph Travel last year commented: “OK, heaven isn’t a place on earth. But if it were, you might reasonably place it about 40 miles south of Sofia. Because the peak of Musala is as close to the abode of angels as you will find between the Alps and the Caucasus.”
6. The Pirin National Park is alright, too
Protected by Unesco, Pirin is a mecca for hikers.
Pirin attracts plenty of hikers on guided and self-guided walks
Pirin attracts plenty of hikers on guided and self-guided walks CREDIT: CREDIT: ROBERTHARDING / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO/ROBERTHARDING / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
7. There are more than 120 monasteries
One of the most popular is the Rila Monastery, which resides in the Rila mountains. Founded in the 10th century, the Unesco-protected site was destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, after which it was rebuilt and now represents “a masterpeice of the creative genius of the Bulgarian people”, according to Unesco.
8. It has relics of its Communist past
It’s not all glitz and glamour though, Bulgaria, as a former member of the Eastern Bloc, also boasts a healthy dose of Stalinist architecture. Sofia, the nation’s capital, is home to the Largo, a gloriously communist ensemble of three Socialist Classicism buildings, commissioned in 1951 and finished in 1957. A statue of Vladimir Lenin was replaced in 2000 by one of St Sophia.
The Largo trio in Sofia
The Largo trio in Sofia CREDIT: CREDIT: FRANCESCO LORENZETTI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO/FRANCESCO LORENZETTI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
9. Including this remarkable mural
The House Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party, built on the peak of Buzludzha, a mountain in the Central Balkan Mountains, is another doozy. Opened in 1981, it commemorates the early beginnings of the Bulgarian Communist Party on a hillside in 1891. The interior of the now-derelict building is truly a sight to behold.
The decaying interior of the Buzludzha monument
The decaying interior of the Buzludzha monument CREDIT: CREDIT: HORIZON IMAGES/MOTION / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO/HORIZON IMAGES/MOTION / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
10. It also boasts stunning cathedrals
Beyond the brutalism of the Communist-era, how about the serenely imposing domes of the St Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia? The building is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, the second largest on the Balkan Peninsula and it can hold 10,000 people. A rib of St Aleksander is displayed in a case to the left of the altar.
11. Bulgaria goes way back
As evidenced by its two prominent Roman amphitheatres, Bulgaria has a Roman past (post-Thracian and Persian). The theatre at Plovdiv, built in the second century AD is one of the world’s best preserved and is still today used for shows, accommodating up to 3,500 spectators.
12. You need to try its fully wholesome dishes
With so much to see you’re going to need some Bulgarian fuel. Behold kyufte, Bulgarian meatballs. Residents are also fond of fresh fish, especially along the Black Sea coast, gyuvech, a spicy vegetable stew, and ritual breads such as pogacha or kravai.
13. And drink its firewater
The country’s national drink is raika, a fruit brandy made most commonly from fermented grapes or plums. Though shop-bought offerings are likely to be around 40 per cent ABV, watch out for home-made bathtub brews that could stretch to 80 per cent ABV and knock you on your proverbial.
14. There is skiing to be done
Bulgaria is also home to some of eastern Europe’s finest – and cheapest – ski resorts. Bansko is most popular (and often features at the top of surveys considering the continent’s cheapest ski breaks). “Bansko is an old town, set on a flat valley floor in the scenic Pirin National Park, that has been catapulted into the 21st century by installation of modern lifts on its slopes and construction of a lot of new lodgings, many near the base of the new access gondola to the slopes,” says Chris Gill and Dave Watts for Telegraph Ski and Snowboard.