Megalithic borderlands: 6 reasons to visit Sredets

Megalithic borderlands: 6 reasons to visit Sredets

Sredets municipality is situated between the Burgas Lakes region of coastal wetlands and the northern parts of Strandzha, the vast area of hilly woodlands extending on either side of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. With its Roman heritage, dozens of prehistoric megaliths, sunny climate and unspoiled Balkan nature, this wild corner of southeastern Bulgaria is waiting to be explored!

From “dragon houses” and sacred boulders dating back to prehistory to 20th-century Cold War memories, kashkaval tourist presents 6 reasons to visit Sredets municipality and its megalithic borderlands!

1. Ave Caesar: explore the Roman colony of Deultum

Ave Caesar: explore the Roman colony of Deultum

Ave Caesar: explore the Roman colony of Deultum

Founded by Emperor Vespasian in the 1st century AD as Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium, today Deultum is an extensive archaeological site with a museum. As a Roman colony with Black Sea access via the once-navigable Lake Mandra, ancient Deultum prospered for centuries. It traded precious local Strandzha oak timber for other goods from the Mediterranean world, minted its own coinage, welcomed Roman emperors and honoured imperial customs. In the Middle Ages, Deultum marked the border between the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empire as the Burgas Lakes region often changed hands between the two.

Along with other Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian artefacts, the Museum of Deultum features a rare bronze head of Emperor Septimius Severus. Outside, near the village of Debelt (Дебелт), the ruins of the ancient colony are in part still being excavated and researched, so you can get a first-hand impression of the archaeological team’s work!

2. Dragon houses: step into ancient dolmens on a jeep safari

Dragon houses: step into ancient dolmens on a jeep safari

Dragon houses: step into ancient dolmens on a jeep safari

You have to delve deep into the forested foothills of Strandzha to uncover Sredets municipality’s best-kept secret: the prehistoric dolmens, or megalithic portal tombs. Rather poetically, Bulgarian folklore interprets these Iron Age tombs as “dragon houses”. Supposedly, they’re the homes of shapeshifting dragons who, transformed into handsome young men, would lure local maidens to their dens.

There are dozens of dolmens in western Strandzha, though most of them are extremely remote and barely accessible. Some of the best preserved “dragon houses” can be found near the border villages of Belevren, Granichar, Kirоvo and Dolno Yabalkovo. The dolmen in the Korubata area between Belevren and Kirovo is one of the most remarkable and easiest to access (it’s just off the asphalted village road). However, a sturdy four-wheel drive, a local guide and an adventurous spirit are well recommended in any case.

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7 mouth-watering Bulgarian fish and seafood dishes 

7 mouth-watering Bulgarian fish and seafood dishes 

Fish and seafood play an important part in many national styles of cooking, and Bulgarian cuisine is no exception. Thanks to its vast Black Sea coastline, its extensive access to the Danube and its numerous high-mountain rivers, lakes and reservoirs, Bulgaria has an abundance of freshwater and saltwater delicacies to choose from!

The Bulgarian fish and seafood tradition has a lot in common with how seafood is prepared and eaten in the wider Mediterranean region. However, the peculiarities of the Black Sea, with its relative isolation from the World Ocean, its anoxic depths, lower salinity and variety of marine life, add a unique touch to Bulgarian seafood. You won’t find native calamari, scampi or octopus dishes in Bulgarian restaurants, for instance (as they’re more than likely to stem from the markets in Thessaloniki), but you can feast on freshly-caught mussels, shrimps and rapa whelks!

From Bulgaria’s ubiquitous alternative to fish and chips to the Eastern Balkans’ favourite roe dip, kashkaval tourist presents 7 mouth-watering Bulgarian fish and seafood dishes. And as a bonus, there’s a list of my favourite fish and seafood restaurants at the end!

1. Bulgaria’s own fish and chips: deep fried sprats (tsatsa)

Bulgaria’s own fish and chips: deep fried sprats (tsatsa)

Bulgaria’s own fish and chips: deep fried sprats (tsatsa)

Walk by any little park or beach eatery in Bulgaria at the height of summer and you’re almost guaranteed to sense the smell of fried sprats. A national obsession with the funny-sounding name tsatsa (цаца), this crispy seafood snack is the perfect companion to a cold beer on a hot day. It’s essentially a meal of dozens of small herring-like fish (Sprattus sprattus), salted, coated in flour and deep fried, heads still on on and all.

Serve fried sprats with a slice of lemon, some French fries and an ice-cold Bulgarian draught beer and you’ve created a legendary dish with minimum effort. In summer days, fried sprats are so popular out in the open that they even rival the ever-present kebapche. Locally, their cult status is only comparable to the institution that is fish and chips in the United Kingdom!

2. Black pearls of the sea: Mediterranean mussels

Black pearls of the sea: Mediterranean mussels

Black pearls of the sea: Mediterranean mussels

Dark Mediterranean mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) are one of the most widespread molluscs in the Black Sea and a favourite Bulgarian seafood. These days, over 40 mussel farms produce them in ecologically pristine areas of the Bulgarian coast, so they’re a regular feature in restaurants.

In Bulgarian cuisine, Mediterranean mussels, called simply midi (миди), are cooked in countless variations. These tasty and quite nutrient molluscs can be the chief ingredient of a mussel soup or a mussel salad. And as a main course, they’re usually stewed (often in white wine) and served with the shells. In that case, they’re accompanied by a vegetable sauce as midi plakia (миди плакия) or simply seasoned with fresh lovage.

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Book review: 203 Travel Challenges

Book review: 203 Travel Challenges

Book review: 203 Travel Challenges

Book review: 203 Travel Challenges

Feeling unmotivated, uninspired, stuck in a repetitive daily routine? It’s okay, happens to the best of us! Everyone needs a new challenge from time to time to get their positive energy back on track, be it a concrete goal, a big dream or… a long-coveted travel destination!

This is exactly what Maria Angelova and Ivalina Nenova’s project 203 Travel Challenges is there for. The book inspires you to change the way you travel, to go out of your comfort zone and to regularly make time to enjoy the small things in life. The challenges are suitable for experienced travellers as well as newbies and there’s a special section for couples who’d like to adventure together. In a nutshell, the message is one of progressive change: “Do at least one thing you have never done before in your life – and you won’t be able to stop.“

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Taking on the waves: Black Sea kayaking in Kavarna

Taking on the waves: Black Sea kayaking in Kavarna

When you return to the same place at the same time the very next year, you know there has to be a special reason. And in my case, the reason was that I fell in love with kayaking in the Black Sea. Touring the stunning red cliffs and marvelling at the maritime vistas of Bulgaria’s jagged northern coast is an unforgettable endeavour. Especially when you’re on your own in your kayak, taking on the waves and feeling like a true adventurer!

The guide and the gear

Trip Kavarna's Epic fibreglass kayaks are the cream of the crop

Trip Kavarna’s Epic fibreglass kayaks are the cream of the crop

I went on both sea kayaking tours together with Trip Kavarna, a licensed tour agent, an experienced kayaker and an incredibly calm and friendly guide who speaks English, Russian and Bulgarian. Both times I paddled one of Trip Kavarna’s five high-grade Epic GPX single kayaks with Epic carbon touring paddles. At just 15 kg, this fibreglass boat was easy to carry in and out of the water and a joy to navigate. When paddling, it almost didn’t feel like I was moving any extra weight but my own body.

At the same time, the boat was stable and robust. Keeping my balance wasn’t a challenge in one of the Epic GPX, so no, I never even came close to turning over… and I’ll admit I’ve been able to capsize in an actual full-sized boat in a city lake on another occasion! This time I was equipped with a life jacket and instructed on how to act in such a situation though, so it wouldn’t have been much of an issue anyway.

Getting ready: What to bring

Sportswear and an action camera are highly recommended for your kayaking adventure!

Sportswear and an action camera are highly recommended for your kayaking adventure!

Bringing a waterproofed action camera on board is highly recommended, but I wouldn’t take a phone or a DSLR with me. There’s dry bags to store your gear, but given that your kayak is covered by your sprayskirt at all times, you won’t be really able to easily access your camera. And you should be busy paddling and having fun anyway! Your guide will have an action camera on, so don’t worry, you’re guaranteed to have photographic proof of your kayaking adventure.

Needless to say, this is a serious physical activity so you’d better slip into your activewear or swimsuit. On a sunny day, you’re unlikely to be cold and you won’t get too much water on you thanks to the sprayskirt. But you don’t want cotton clothes keeping you wet in any case! On longer tours, it would be wise to bring a bottle of drinking water (the action and those sea views might quickly make you thirsty), but on my shorter tours in spring, I was just fine without one.

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8 Bulgarian spices that define the local cuisine

8 Bulgarian spices that define the local cuisine

The specific assortment of spices and the way they are used plays a huge part in shaping the general flavour of a national style of cooking. In Bulgarian cuisine, which is a trademark representative of Balkan cooking, spices serve the important task of bringing out flavours and hold the key to making a dish taste quintessentially Bulgarian.

Needless to say, preparing authentic Bulgarian food would be unthinkable without the local variety of seasonings. After all, Bulgarian cuisine is not just what we eat or drink, it’s also how we flavour it!

From the nation’s all-time favourite spice mix to the most appropriate spices to use for Bulgarian-style beans, meat or fish, kashkaval tourist will introduce you to the world of 8 Bulgarian spices that define the local cuisine.

1. Colourful cornerstone of Bulgarian cooking: sharena sol

Colourful cornerstone of Bulgarian cooking: sharena sol

Colourful cornerstone of Bulgarian cooking: sharena sol

Sharena sol (шарена сол), meaning “colourful salt”, is without a doubt the most popular spice mix in Bulgaria and a feature in practically every Bulgarian spice rack. Ingredients and proportions tend to vary a bit, depending on the preferences of whoever prepared it. Sharena sol just can’t go without the holy trinity of salt, dried summer savoury (chubritsa) and sweet paprika, but fenugreek is a popular fourth ingredient, and thyme or roasted maize are common additions too.

Sharena sol tastes great on freshly baked bread or any other kind of savoury pastry, but it can also be applied to eggs, soups and almost every other dish, as long as you want an unmistakably Bulgarian flavour.

2. Perfect companion to beans: spearmint (dzhodzhen)

Perfect companion to beans: spearmint (dzhodzhen)

Perfect companion to beans: spearmint (dzhodzhen)

Legumes like beans and lentils are the basis of many Bulgarian soups and main courses, particularly in the mountainous regions where they are most often grown. And the seasoning Bulgarians most often use in bean recipes has to be the aromatic spearmint (Mentha spicata), locally called dzhodzhen (джоджен) or less often gyozum (гьозум).

The leaves of this Mediterranean perennial plant can be used fresh or dried. In any case spearmint brings a strong fresh aroma to the table that is a perfect match for those delicious Smilyan beans from the Rhodopes. In Bulgarian cuisine, spearmint is also used in lamb and rice dishes. It tends to be a very dominant taste, so it should be carefully paired with other spices, which it can easily overpower.

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Horses near Devin

5 things to do on a getaway in Devin

History Fangirl

Stephanie Craig is a amateur historian and travel blogger. She writes at historyfangirl.com

I first came to Bulgaria in the fall of last year, and I was immediately wowed by this wonderful country. Sofia charmed me right away, and I fell in love with the capital for its vibrancy, gorgeous architecture, and urban core. After bouncing from country to country for eight months, I came back in February to settle down in what I consider to be my new Balkan home.

But occasionally, even a city girl needs to escape, which is a great excuse to get out and explore the country’s quieter towns and villages. Desperate to get out of Sofia for the long Easter weekend, I decided to take Todor up on some of his advice from his post “7 magnificent spa resorts in Bulgaria” and booked a quick getaway to the spa town of Devin. I’m so glad I did! The weekend was peaceful, beautiful, and relaxing – everything I needed it to be.

Since Todor has explained why Devin is a great option for a weekend (or more), I thought I’d report back and share with the kashkaval tourist community some of the highlights I enjoyed on my trip so you can prepare your own weekend away.

Devin sits high in the Rhodope Mountains, near Bulgaria’s southern border with Greece. The small town of about 7,000 looks like many other towns from afar: lots of traditional rust-red roofs, taverns, and the local Orthodox church. It is famous for its mineral hot springs. The largest bottled water company in Bulgaria is also called Devin, named for and bottled in the town.

1. Go for a stroll

Go for a stroll: Walking through Devin in the afternoon

Go for a stroll: Walking through Devin in the afternoon

The town is small, charming, and easily walkable. Centered around the Devinska River (as well as a few other streams and waterways), there are multiple picturesque bridges and parks nearby. Cottages and houses climb halfway up the mountain peaks.

2. Hit the spa

Hit the spa: Spa Hotel Persenk

Hit the spa: Spa Hotel Persenk

Why go to a spa town and not enjoy the spa? I swam in the mineral pool at my hotel, enjoyed the sauna and steam room, got a full body massage, and capped off the day with a Bulgarian rose oil infused body scrub. I was so relaxed that by the end that I couldn’t feel my face.

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6 things you must do around the Drina Valley in Bosnia and Serbia

6 things you must do around the Drina Valley in Bosnia and Serbia

The Drina, nested between the most rugged regions of Bosnia and Serbia, is one of the Balkans’ most legendary border rivers. In the Upper Drina Valley (Podrinje), steep forested slopes meet winding karst canyons, Serbian Orthodox churches coexist with Bosniak mosques and whitewater rapids interchange with calm turquoise river stretches.

The Drina’s main headwater, the Tara, is lauded as one of the world’s top rafting destinations, and the Ottoman-era bridge at Višegrad has been central to the opus of a Nobel Prize-winner. To introduce you to this stunning region of the Balkans, kashkaval tourist presents 6 things you must do around the Drina Valley in Bosnia and Serbia.

1. Take on the rapids in Europe’s deepest canyon: Rafting on the Tara

Take on the rapids in Europe’s deepest canyon: Rafting on the Tara River

Take on the rapids in Europe’s deepest canyon: Rafting on the Tara River. Photo credit: Elena Ivanova, Drumivdumi.com

The Tara, which merges with the Piva to form the Drina, is without a doubt one of the best places to try rafting worldwide. Its sections of whitewater range from absolutely wild to suitable for beginners. And all this under the dramatic ridges of Europe’s deepest river gorge, with Montenegro to the left, Bosnia to the right and you battling the rapids in the middle.

For a top-notch rafting experience, book a rafting holiday with Rafting Tara at the Rafting Centar Drina-Tara near Foča. The instructors are well-trained to take you through the treacherous rapids of the Tara while cracking jokes in between the stretches of whitewater. And there’s nothing like a well-deserved evening by the fire at the cozy rafting camp after a satisfying afternoon of hardcore rafting!

2. Step into the Balkans’ last primeval temperate rainforests: Sutjeska National Park

Step into the Balkans’ last primeval temperate rainforests: Sutjeska National Park

Step into the Balkans’ last primeval temperate rainforests: Sutjeska National Park

Because of their downwind location along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, the vast Dinaric Alps are one of Europe’s most humid and rainiest regions. As a result, old-growth temperate rainforests can still be found in isolated pockets of the Dinarides. The Perućica forest in Bosnia’s Sutjeska National Park is a perfect example of this rare biome, where lichens grow on centenarian black pine trees within sight of a majestic waterfall. Hopping on a jeep safari tour from Foča is probably the easiest way to reach these otherwise secluded woods.

If it’s a clear day and you’re longing for a more Alpine vista, head up the trail to the Prijevor lookout (1,668 m) at the very foot of Maglić (2,386 m), Bosnia and Herzegovina’s highest summit. The panorama towards the neighbouring peaks is truly breathtaking, and in summer the shepherds’ huts in the area serve homemade cheese to tourists. Be aware that the patches of snow on the trail and the frequent rainfall can make the trek unpleasant and unrewarding in other seasons though.

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7 places to visit near Ivaylovgrad in Bulgaria's Mediterranean Southeast

7 places to visit near Ivaylovgrad in Bulgaria’s Mediterranean Southeast

Situated where the meandering Arda River carves through the last spurs of the Eastern Rhodopes, the Ivaylovgrad region boasts a mild southern climate, a Mediterranean natural environment and a remarkable variety of cultural attractions.

Though Ivaylovgrad is by all means off the beaten track, its direct proximity to Greece and Turkey and the new Maritsa highway makes it quite accessible. And with its quaint adobe villages, Byzantine castles and stunning Roman mosaics, the region is absolutely worth exploring!

From the best place to observe rare birds of prey to a church built in seven days, kashkaval tourist presents 7 places to visit near Ivaylovgrad in Bulgaria’s Mediterranean Southeast.

1. Silk farming and Albanian hospitality: Mandritsa

Silk farming and Albanian hospitality: Mandritsa

Silk farming and Albanian hospitality: Mandritsa

Mandritsa might be a tranquil village just west of the Greek border, but it impresses with its unique Albanian history and rarely-seen adobe architecture. Founded in the 17th century by three Albanian brothers, nowadays Mandritsa (Мандрица) is famous as the only Albanian village in Bulgaria – indeed, some of the locals have still preserved their peculiar Tosk Albanian dialect.

While only a handful of imposing three-storey houses remind of the village’s former prosperity as a silk farming centre, the cozy little hotel Bukor Shtepi attracts visitors to this serene location once again. What’s more, the hotel’s restaurant serves truly sensational interpretations of Albanian and Mediterranean cuisine which go perfectly with the homemade rakia!

2. Vultures above the meanders of the Arda: Madzharovo

Vultures above the meanders of the Arda: Madzharovo

Vultures above the meanders of the Arda: Madzharovo

A former mining town separated from Ivaylovgrad by the picturesque Ivaylovgrad Reservoir, Madzharovo has reimagined itself as the top place to see vultures in Bulgaria. Situated among the sharp rocks of an ancient volcanic crater, the bends of the Arda River near Madzharovo (Маджарово) host three vulture species and many other rare birds of prey.

The Eastern Rhodopes vulture conservation centre in town provides insights into the local flora and fauna as well as guided tours and rental kayaks. And if you’re thinking of spending the night under the stars, the camping site by the river is just about the perfect location to pitch a tent and prepare a bonfire!

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6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains

6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains

The Rhodopes, a vast chain of forested mountains, scenic towns and mystical villages, dominate Bulgaria’s south near the border with Greece. With its mix of pristine coniferous forests, high-quality ski resorts and unique local culture, this secluded region attracts Bulgarians and foreigners alike.

From working online out of a geodesic dome igloo to trying out the Rhodopes’ unusual local cuisine, kashkaval tourist presents 6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains.

1. Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo

Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo

Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo

Surrounded on all sides by endless hills covered by coniferous forests, the vast Pamporovo ski area is one of Bulgaria’s top winter resorts. Pamporovo’s location not far from Greece makes it one of Europe’s southernmost ski resorts, and as a result it boasts reliable snowfall as well as an unusually large number of sunny days in winter.

Almost all ski runs in Pamporovo descend from the unmistakeable Snezhanka TV Tower, which stands at an elevation of over 1900 metres. So as you can probably imagine, the tower’s panoramic café is the perfect place for a lunch with a view before another action-packed afternoon of skiing or snowboarding!

2. Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare

Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare

Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare

Chepelare is a charming mountain town just 15 minutes away from the ski runs at Pamporovo. And believe it or not, the local factory, which manufactures ski equipment for Atomic and Salomon, is the world’s largest ski producer! Chepelare’s scenic location and ties to business are probably why it hosts Bulgaria’s first Office in the Woods, a community for co-working and co-living.

Office in the Woods is a great way to escape from your urban office environment to a space where you can work comfortably as well as enjoy the natural environment of the central Rhodopes. A stunning view from your office window is guaranteed, and the list of outdoor activities in all seasons is practically endless. You can also pick out different accommodation and office options, from camping to luxury and from a traditional office space to a wood-and-glass geodesic dome igloo!

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8 amazing hikes in Rila, the highest mountains of Bulgaria and the Balkans

8 amazing hikes in Rila, the highest mountains of Bulgaria and the Balkans

The massive Rila Mountains in southwestern Bulgaria are not only the highest between the Alps and the Caucasus, but also a prime destination for hiking in Bulgaria. Covered in part by the Rila National Park, Rila is a magnificent collection of jagged peaks, maiden forests and endless pastures topped by Musala, the 2,925-metre-high top of the Balkans.

With an ancient Thracian name that likely means “well-watered mountain”, it can’t be a coincidence that water is one of the wonders of Rila. The mountains are abundant in glacial lakes, waterfalls and hot mineral springs and the depths of Rila give birth to some of the Balkans’ longest rivers.

From the iconic cirque of the Seven Rila Lakes to the Alpine ridges of Malyovitsa, kashkaval tourist presents 8 amazing hikes in Rila, the highest mountains of Bulgaria and the Balkans.

If it’s your first time trekking in Bulgaria, then why not make your life easier with a certified mountain guide from Hiking Guide Bulgaria?

And if you’re looking for a tailor-made experience in small groups, book a Rila hiking holiday with Adventif. Use the promo code KASHKAVAL and get a 20€ discount!

1. The Magnificent Seven: the Seven Rila Lakes

The Magnificent Seven: the Seven Rila Lakes

The Magnificent Seven: the Seven Rila Lakes

When you’ve seen the Seven Rila Lakes, you’ll have no doubts as to why they’re perhaps the most famous natural site in Bulgaria. They’re a group of seven glacial lakes above the treeline, each with a characteristic shape and an unforgettable name like The Kidney, The Tear or the Eye. When viewed all together from the Lake Peak above them, the Seven Rila Lakes (Седемте рилски езера, Sedemte rilski ezera) make up one of the Balkans’ iconic panoramas.

In late summer, the followers of esoteric spiritual teacher Peter Deunov gather on the shores of the lakes. They’re all dressed in white and form huge dancing circles, quite the sight to behold. On a regular summer weekend, though, you’re more likely to encounter lots and lots of casual tourists, so better go during the week or off-season if you’re prepared.

You can get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sapareva Banya near Dupnitsa, where a paved road to the trail and the chairlift starts. Accommodation and food are available at both the new (“Rila Lakes”) and the old (“Seven Lakes”) hut. A full tour of the Seven Rila Lakes is likely to take you some three or four hours there and back. A daytrip from Sofia is possible if you schedule your time well.

2. Top of the Balkans: Musala

Top of the Balkans: Musala

Top of the Balkans: Musala

At 2,925 metres, Mount Musala is Rila’s highest summit, which makes it the highest point of Bulgaria, the Balkans and all of Europe between the Alps and the Caucasus. It’s also Europe’s 7th most prominent peak and the coldest place in the Balkans, covered by snow for more than half of the year.

For such a high and extreme location, Musala (Мусала) can actually be a less challenging hike than other Bulgarian summits. It stands above one of Bulgaria’s most popular ski resorts, Borovets, so the cabin lift to Yastrebets can comfortably take you to 2,369 m, where you can start your hike. You can get to the top in only three hours, passing by Musala Hut and the Icy Lake Shelter. Both of these are good places for a short break and some refreshments.

Sure, the final hour of climbing Mount Musala is somewhat demanding and possibly vertigo-inducing, but it’s worth it because of the gorgeous views towards the lakes below. And when you get to the summit of the Balkans, you can kindly ask the meteorologists in the weather station for a cup of steaming tea!

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