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 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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7 things to do in the regal Vidin in the Bulgarian Northwest

Tucked away in the top left corner of the map of Bulgaria, Vidin is the country’s northwestern-most town. Situated on a bend of the majestic Danube River opposite Romania and not far from Serbia, Vidin, “The Danube’s Eternal Guardian”, lies at the centre of a Balkan region that is often undeservedly underestimated by travellers.

With its long history as a stronghold of the Bulgarian Northwest, its impressive vistas of Central Europe’s longest river and its eclectic architectural and cultural heritage, Vidin is a wonderful destination off the beaten path. From entering Bulgaria’s best-preserved medieval castle to exploring the imposing ruins of the former synagogue, kashkaval tourist presents 7 things to do in the regal Vidin in the Bulgarian Northwest

1. Have a medieval experience in Bulgaria’s truest castle: Baba Vida

Have a medieval experience in Bulgaria’s truest castle: Baba Vida

Have a medieval experience in Bulgaria’s truest castle: Baba Vida

Standing proudly by the southern bank of the Danube, the impressive Baba Vida castle is perhaps Vidin’s best claim to fame. Baba Vida was constructed in the 10th century, establishing Vidin as the key fortress of this often rebellious and separatist northwestern region of the Bulgarian Empire. Though it was briefly conquered by the Hungarians and the Austrians, it was the Ottomans that last used the castle as a fortification up until the late 18th century.

Remarkably, Baba Vida has been preserved in its entirety, including a moat, two curtain walls and numerous defensive towers for you to see and tour. Cross the draw bridge into the main courtyard, see the medieval prison and torture chambers and then climb up the tunnel to the higher level complete with Ottoman-era cannons… and mesmerizing river views!

2. Pay your respects to the Northwest’s biggest church: the Cathedral of St Demetrius

Pay your respects to the Northwest’s biggest church: the Cathedral of St Demetrius

Pay your respects to the Northwest’s biggest church: the Cathedral of St Demetrius

The construction of Vidin’s cathedral church commenced in 1885, and with its elaborate architecture it remains one of the biggest and most beautiful Bulgarian Orthodox cathedrals. Designed by Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian architects and Italian engineers, the Cathedral of St Demetrius mixes Orthodox and Western influences. And its turret clock, built by the Munich clockmaker Johann Mannhardt, has been working without a fault since 1900!

Inside the church, you can see some impressive (and rather unusual) Art Nouveau frescoes from the 1920s. On one of the walls, the artist painted 19th-century Bulgarian National Revival heroes like Vasil Levski, Hristo Botev and Georgi Rakovski… in medieval attire! And what’s more, they’re all depicted as being blessed by Bulgaria’s national saint, John of Rila, who lived in the 10th century. For the interior of a religious site, the painting is truly bizarre and quite unorthodox indeed!

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8 unforgettable places in Georgia, the pearl of the Caucasus

Nested south of the magnificent Caucasus – Europe’s highest mountain chain – and on the opposite shore of the Black Sea from Bulgaria, Georgia is by all means one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Whether it’s fertile valleys, antique towns, secluded monasteries, coastal jungles, arid semi-desert plains or mind-boggling glaciated mountain peaks, Georgia has it all!

Sure, Georgia may not be a Balkan country, but I instantly felt at home in this Caucasian heaven during my two-week vacation. The warmth of the people, the dynamic landscapes, the secluded monasteries and the wonderful cuisine are but a few features Georgia and Bulgaria have in common. And there was no lack of excellent wine and rakia (or chacha, as they call it beyond the Black Sea) to keep me happy during my holiday!

From the region’s most romantic capital to the highest villages in Europe, kashkaval tourist presents 8 unforgettable places in Georgia, the pearl of the Caucasus!

1. Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Tbilisi, the romantic Georgian capital, is an excellent introduction to the culture, history, cuisine and nature of this incredible country and indeed, to the entire region. Tbilisi mixes East with West, tradition with modernity and old-town serenity with the hustle and bustle of a capital metropolis… and it does it all remarkably well!

Tbilisi’s Old Town with is quaint alleys and antique architecture will be your best bet for a leisurely walk or a casual Georgian wine dinner. Further away, the Dry Bridge flea market is a great place to buy antique souvenirs, especially if you’re curious about communist memorabilia.

Above the Old Town, the ancient Narikala Fortress on top of a steep hill will reveal vistas of the winding Mtkvari River and the ultramodern Peace Bridge crossing it – as well as the huge Holy Trinity Cathedral in traditional Caucasian style. If you’d rather spare the short but vertical walk to the fortress, you can always take the chairlift from the other side of the Peace Bridge. You’ll be rewarded with a short but exhilarating ride above the entire city!

2. Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Drive just a few hours north of Tbilisi along the legendary Georgian Military Road and you’ll end up in the heartland of the Central Caucasus, surrounded by peaks more than 4,000 metres high. Above the quaint medieval church of Tsminda Sameba and even further above the mountain town of Stepantsminda you’ll find the 5,047-metre-high Mount Kazbek, the mythical stratovolcano that Prometheus was allegedly chained on.

With its grassy slopes, dramatic glaciers and unmistakable volcanic shape, Mount Kazbek is one of Georgia’s prime hiking destinations. A steep two-hour walk will take you to the Tsminda Sameba Church above the village, which is perhaps the country’s most photographed location.

Add another four hours and you’ll end up at the foot of the massive Gergeti Glacier. And if you’re into some relatively light ice hiking, then you can overnight at the former weather station on the other side of the glacier, a further two hours away. Conditions at the hut are basic to say the least, but at 3,670 metres above sea level, you’ll take anything!

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7 things to do in the verdant Strandzha Mountains by the Black Sea

7 things to do in the verdant Strandzha Mountains by the Black Sea

Situated in Bulgaria’s southeast corner, adjacent to the seaside and extending beyond the border into Turkey, the lush Strandzha Mountains have preserved a unique local culture and timber architecture. What’s more, Strandzha’s endless humid old-growth forests resemble those of the Caucasus more than anywhere in Europe!

Sparsely populated and away from the big cities, Strandzha is the perfect getaway for those seeking tranquillity and enriching cultural and natural experiences. From mind-boggling sand spit beaches to quaint villages with antique wooden houses, kashkaval tourist presents 7 things to do in the verdant Strandzha Mountains by the Black Sea!

1. Tour an authentic Strandzha village: Brashlyan

Tour an authentic Strandzha village: Brashlyan

Tour an authentic Strandzha village: Brashlyan

A historic Bulgarian village in the western part of the region, Brashlyan boasts possibly the best-preserved collection of traditional Strandzha houses. Constructed out of timber with stone foundations and unmistakable thick chimneys, Brashlyan’s houses are an absolute wonder of vernacular architecture!

Rent one of the traditional houses for a weekend to fully immerse yourself in the authentic surroundings and use Brashlyan (Бръшлян) as a base to explore the rest of Strandzha. Or visit the village on a day tour and take a look inside the 17th-century wooden church with a bell tower to learn more about Brashlyan’s turbulent history as a rebel hub.

2. Explore the lush old-growth forests: the Rhododendron eco-trail

Explore the lush old-growth forests: the Rhododendron eco-trail

Explore the lush old-growth forests: the Rhododendron eco-trail

In the eastern part of Strandzha near the Black Sea, the mild and humid local climate has preserved a belt of vegetation more typical of northern Turkey and the coast of Georgia than of Europe. Strandzha’s thick forests of oriental beech trees hide an understory of Caucasian evergreen shrubs, including Pontic rhododendrons.

And with all this natural beauty, it’s no coincidence that Strandzha Nature Park is by far the largest in Bulgaria! Walk the “In the Realm of the Rhododendron” eco-trail starting in the village of Kondolovo (Кондолово) in May and June, when the rhododendrons bloom in violet-purple, and you’ll feel like you’ve uncovered a humid Asian tropical forest hidden inside the Balkans!

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Bulgaria celebrates 130 years since its Unification!

Nikolay Pavlovich's lithography "United Bulgaria" has come to symbolize the Unification

Nikolay Pavlovich’s lithography “United Bulgaria” has come to symbolize the Unification

On 6 September each year, Bulgaria celebrates its Unification Day. 130 years ago on that day, two Bulgarian-majority entities joined together to form a united Bulgarian state.

The vassal Principality of Bulgaria, which before the Unification included more or less modern northern Bulgaria and the Sofia region, merged with the Ottoman autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia, roughly corresponding to Northern Thrace, or most of modern Southern Bulgaria.

The Unification of Bulgaria was a daring political act that defied the separation of the Bulgarian lands as per the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, which had formally restored Bulgarian statehood. And while the revolution itself was peaceful and cause for celebration among the majority of the population, it had to be successfully defended against the Serbs in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of the same year.

Traditionally, the biggest Unification celebrations take place in Plovdiv. As the former capital of Eastern Rumelia, Plovdiv was the site of the most important events associated with the act. Tonight, the city will host a formal ceremony attended by the president and a fireworks show.

Happy Unification Day to everyone!

7 reasons to live in Bulgaria

7 reasons to live in Bulgaria

Historically, Bulgaria has been a country of emigration more than immigration, and this is a trend that mostly continues today. Each year, thousands of Bulgarians seek their fortune in Western Europe and North America, mostly due to economic dissatisfaction.

However, after living abroad for two years, first in Chilean Patagonia and then in north Germany, I’m moving back to Bulgaria in about a month and I intend to live there for the foreseeable future. So what reasons might there be for people to make Bulgaria their new home?

From the delicious local cuisine to the lowest income tax in the European Union, kashkaval tourist presents 7 reasons to live in Bulgaria!

1. Mountains and beaches: Bulgaria’s nature is diverse and attractive

Mountains and beaches: Bulgaria’s nature is diverse and attractive

Mountains and beaches: Bulgaria’s nature is diverse and attractive

Switzerland is world-famous for its breathtaking mountains and Portugal is undeniably a great beach destination. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a decent beach in Switzerland and Portugal isn’t exactly a top hiking place either.

Bulgaria is one of very few countries in Europe (and indeed the world) which offer awe-inspiring mountain sceneries next to a sunny and sandy seaside in a very compact area. You can be leaving the lush Alpine forests of Borovets after lunch and still make it in time for a late afternoon Black Sea swim in historic Sozopol on the very same day!

2. Local gourmet: Bulgaria’s cuisine is fresh and delicious

Local gourmet: Bulgaria’s cuisine is fresh and delicious

Local gourmet: Bulgaria’s cuisine is fresh and delicious

With outstanding regional vegetables, fragrant spices and quality barbecued meats, Bulgarian cuisine is an absolute Balkan jewel. Add a glass of aromatic rakia (or why not some well-aged Bulgarian wine?) and you’re in for a memorable Bulgarian meal.

Now imagine having this variety of tasty local food and drink available to you every day. Freshly baked pastries and the world’s best yoghurt for breakfast, a rich salad with white cheese for lunch and a nicely seasoned Bulgarian mixed grill for dinner. Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

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What’s the weather in Bulgaria like?

The weather in Bulgaria: an all-year guide

For travelers and tourists who intend to visit the country, the weather in Bulgaria is perhaps one of the most important factors. How could you plan when to go and what part of the country to visit without having the slightest idea of Bulgarian weather?

To locals like me, weather may be mostly a matter of small talk (and regular complaints because believe it or not, we like to complain about the weather too), but I’ve noticed that during my travels, weather information is one of the first things I check before I depart or even plan a journey. To help fellow visitors, kashkaval tourist prepared this all-year guide to the weather in Bulgaria.

In a nutshell: the key Bulgarian weather facts

In general, you can expect a lot of sunshine and dry conditions throughout the year in Bulgaria

In general, you can expect a lot of sunshine and dry conditions throughout the year in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is not a huge country even by European standards, so weather variations between the different regions are usually no more than 6-7 °C. That is if you exclude the high reaches of the mountains, where the altitude makes it dramatically colder.

Bulgaria’s climate is a combination of continental and Mediterranean influences, which means the country has four quite well-defined seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and temperatures vary dramatically in different times of the year. In general, you can expect summers to be quite hot and dry and winters to be snowy and freezing, with spring and autumn providing a transition between the two.

The warmest parts of Bulgaria are in the southwest, where the Mediterranean climate effects in the valleys are particularly strong. The seaside has a mild subtropical climate heavily influenced by the Black Sea’s presence. The plains and lowlands in the north and south experience continental weather (with the south usually a bit warmer) and the mountains are known for their Alpine climate conditions.

To give you an idea: the highest temperature ever recorded in Bulgaria is 45.2 °C, while the lowest record stands at −38.3 °C. That’s a staggering difference of 83.5 degrees!

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7 incredible Bulgarian sports achievements

7 incredible Bulgarian sports achievements

With the FIFA World Cup in Brazil now just around the corner (unfortunately yet again without Bulgarian participation) and the summer months finally rolling in, it’s a good time to get some sports inspiration from Bulgaria’s surprisingly rich sports history. For a country of its size (and I like to emphasize that often enough), Bulgaria has achieved some remarkable sports achievements.

From the first modern Olympics to world chess domination, kashkaval tourist presents 7 incredible Bulgarian sports achievements.

1. Overlords of chess: Veselin Topalov and Antoaneta Stefanova, 2005-2006

Overlords of chess: Veselin Topalov and Antoaneta Stefanova, 2005-2006

Overlords of chess: Veselin Topalov and Antoaneta Stefanova, 2005-2006. Photo credit: Karpidis and Frank Hoppe, Wikipedia.

Chess is seen by many as the ultimate mind sport and the title of FIDE World Chess Champion is the most prestigious trophy one can hold in the world of chess. Astonishingly, Bulgarians held both the men’s and women’s world chess titles for about a year, between 2005 and 2006. Bulgarian grandmaster Veselin Topalov won the World Chess Championship a year after fellow chess wizard Antoaneta Stefanova had clinched the women’s title in 2004.

Though both Topalov and Stefanova lost their titles in 2006, they have remained at the top of the game, consistently ranking among the top chess players in the world.

2. Fastest English Channel swim: Petar Stoychev, 2007

Bulgarian swimmer Petar Stoychev is deservedly counted among the legends of long-distance (marathon) swimming. He boasts numerous titles in prestigious extreme long-distance swimming competitions, including the World Cup (of which he’s a seven-time winner) and the Grand Prix.

In 2007, Stoychev became the first person to swim the treacherous waters of the English Channel in less than seven hours. His time of 6 hours and less than 58 minutes set a new record for the fastest English Channel swim. Stoychev’s amazing feat was the record for 5 years, until Australian Trent Grimsey beat his time by about 3 minutes in 2012.

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Celebrating Saints Cyril and Methodius

Sofia University is named after Saint Clement of Ohrid, one of Cyril and Methodius' disciples and the traditionally accepted inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet

Sofia University is named after Saint Clement of Ohrid, one of Cyril and Methodius’ disciples and the traditionally accepted inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet

Every 24 May, Bulgaria honours Saints Cyril and Methodius’ Day, officially known under the rather lengthy name “Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavic Literature”. Cyril and Methodius are celeberated for their efforts in christianizing the Slavs in the 9th century and for inventing the Glagolithic alphabet, the oldest Slavic alphabet.

Cyril and Methodius’ disciples (particularly Saint Clement of Ohrid and Saint Naum of Preslav) played an important part in the foundation of Bulgarian literature and created the Cyrillic alphabet, now used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.