Lifestyle & Culture

Andriana Boyrikova: Why Bulgaria should be on your bucket list, Pt. 2 – the best in culture and cuisine

Blessed with centuries of culture, sea, mountains, and parks, Bulgaria has all the ingredients for an affordable, yet memorable, holiday getaway. Make some room on your travel bucket list because Bulgaria has it all.

In Part 1, I told you about Bulgaria’s nearly limitless outdoor adventure opportunities. In Part 2, I’m going to explore its food and culture.

Bulgaria is a melting pot of ancient traditions, a rich historical and cultural heritage and mouth-watering cuisine, which surely makes it one of Europe’s hidden gems.

Let’s start with Plovdiv.

Plovdiv, European Capital of Culture 2019

When you have had enough exploring Bulgaria’s great outdoors including the beaches, ski resorts and spas, set off to Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. Friends of mine from across the world who have been to Plovdiv tell me they want to go back one day and this doesn’t come as a surprise.

Plovdiv has an historical center – The Old Town – and a modern buzzing creative district.

Plovdiv is considered one of the oldest cities in Europe: remains of Neolithic settlements suggest a history spanning back to 6th century B.C.

The city houses a number of must-see historic landmarks including:

• the Roman amphitheater constructed in 1st century A.D. It can accommodate between 5,000 and 7,000 spectator. The amphitheater is currently used for live concerts and opera performances in the summer;

• the Roman Stadium built in 2nd century A.D. with a seating capacity of 30,000. It is among the largest and best preserved buildings from Roman times on the Balkan peninsula;

• the Odeon of Philippopolis housed the city council of ancient Plovdiv and research shows that it had also been used as a theatre;

• the Old Town, an architectural and historical reserve, is peppered with museums and emblematic houses from the Revival period in Bulgaria.

Make sure you visit the Kapana District – the beating creative heart of the city with art galleries, shops, bars, and laid-back atmosphere. Top it all off with a hike up into one of the six the hills perched around the city and enjoy the sunset from there.

FOR THE ULTIMATE BULGARIAN EXPERIENCES

Visit Kazanlak for the Rose Festival

This annual festival in central Bulgaria celebrates Bulgarians’ deep connection to the Bulgarian oil-bearing rose. It takes place from the beginning of May through the beginning of June in the Rose Valley which, – as a matter of fact – produces close to half of the world’s rose oil, used in perfumes, cosmetics and fragrances.

You can also participate in a special rose-picking ritual with traditional folklore dancing, customs, and crafts.

• Attend the Zheravna Festival of the National Costume

Zheravna Festival of the National Costume aims to revive the authentic atmosphere of the Bulgarian way of life 150 years ago. Anyone who wants to attend the Festival must be dressed in a traditional national costume.

Contemporary objects are prohibited during the Festival: e.g. modern clothes, bags, electronic gadgets as well as any plastic items.

The use of mobile phones is allowed only in a designated
area.

If you want to take a leap back to the Revival period in Bulgaria, you can join the festivities in the village of Zheravna, an architectural reserve of national importance consisting of more than 200 wooden houses from the Bulgarian National Revival period.

Attend a Kukeri festival

The annual Kukeri festival is a sort of a carnival during which a Kuker – a man or woman attired in a costume made of sheep or goat pelt and wearing a horned mask – dances to scare the evil spirits away and invite a good harvest, health, and happiness.

During the biggest Kukeri festival, the Surva Festival, thousands of people from every folklore region of Bulgaria flock together. Around the ski resorts of Bansko or Razlog, people celebrate the Kukeri festival on 1 January.

• Visit Rila Monastery

In the mountains of western Bulgaria south of Sofia, this is undoubtedly one of Bulgaria’s most notable cultural, religious, and architectural icons, visited by thousands of tourists every year. The biggest Eastern Orthodox monastery in the country and part of UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, Rila Monastery is said to have been built in the middle of 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila.

The monastery compound includes a church, medieval defense tower – Hreliov’s tower – two museums, a library which stores manuscript records dating from the 11th to mid-19th century, monastic cells, and a monastery kitchen.

When he completed it after 12 years, he lost his sight.

The centrepiece of Rila Monastery’s museum is Rafail’s Cross: a monk named Rafail carved the cross from a single piece of wood, depicting 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. The monastery represents “a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Bulgarian people”, according to UNESCO.

BANITSA WITH BULGARIAN YOGURT ON THE SIDE

Fuel yourself with Bulgarian delicacies
Visiting Bulgaria and not tasting some of its delicacies would be a real bummer. You should definitely try banitsa – a traditional dough pastry filled with layers of egg, Bulgarian cheese, and yoghurt, perfect for breakfast or just a snack.

MEKITSA WITH JAM

You should also savour mekitsa topped with forest fruit jam and powdered with Bulgarian cheese: a palate delight any foodie will appreciate.

Did you know that a Bulgarian – Dr Stamen Grigorov – identified the essential bacterium that caused milk to ferment and turn into yoghurt, now called “lactobacillus bulgaricus”? Perhaps because of that, or because Bulgarian yoghurt is so delicious – dense, with a creamy top
and grainy texture – it is an inseparable part of the Bulgarian cuisine.

Bear in mind, though, that if you want to try authentic Bulgarian yoghurt, you should buy it from a local maker in a small village or on the roadside.

Even if you are not a fan of strong alcoholic beverages, Bulgarian rakia is a must. it is similar to a brandy made of fermented grapes, plums, pears, apricots, or other fruits. You should drink it ice cold, preferably without rocks, next to a Shopska salad, lukanka or a few pickles.

However, remember that Bulgarians are used to drinking a lot of rakia so you shouldn’t try to keep pace with them.

In the end, no matter in which time of the year you decide to travel to Bulgaria, there will always be spots worth seeing and things worth doing. “Priatno izkarvane!” (“Have a nice time!”)

About the author:

Andriana Boyrikova was born and raised in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. Later, her adventure-seeking spirit brought her to Groningen, Netherlands, where she completed a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Groningen.

Following her graduation, Andriana decided to pursue her passion for telling stories and now she is working as a freelance content marketer, contributor, and writer in Groningen. Andriana is interested in high-tech innovations, sustainability, and women’s empowerment.

Read more about Bulgaria here on Dispatches.

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