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 exciting outdoor activities on the northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast

Dramatic sea cliffs, secluded beaches and a subtropical steppe landscape home to ancient fortresses, cave dwellings and wind turbines: the region of Kavarna on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast is a dream for outdoor enthusiasts!

Still relatively unexplored compared to Bulgaria’s bustling southern coastline, the North remains a hidden gem on the Black Sea coast. And in particular, the region around Kavarna offers so much to do for those looking for something more active than lying on the beach all day.

From breathtaking kayaking tours to refreshing early morning bike rides to catch the sunrise over the sea, kashkaval tourist presents 8 exciting outdoor activities on the northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

1. Rounding the cape: embark on a sea kayaking tour

Rounding the cape: embark on a sea kayaking tour

Rounding the cape: embark on a sea kayaking tour

How does having the sea to yourself, battling the waves and enjoying the epic cliffs north of Kavarna from a different perspective sound to you? If that’s your idea of a day well spent, then Trip Kavarna’s amazing kayaking tours are sure to be the highlight of your holiday.

Whether it’s a half-day tour from the mesmerizing crescent-shaped Bolata cove around the legendary Cape Kaliakra or a full-day adventure along the scenic coastline, this kayaking experience is guaranteed enjoyment for paddling novices and experienced sea wolves alike!

2. Chasing the sunrise: rent a bike and cycle along the cliffs

Chasing the sunrise: rent a bike and cycle along the cliffs

Chasing the sunrise: rent a bike and cycle along the cliffs

With a variety of enjoyable routes to choose from and little traffic on the roads, the Kavarna region is perfect for cycling fans! Hire a bike from Levana Guest House, who also offer accommodation in authentic Dobrudzha village houses in beautiful Balgarevo, and tour the coastline at your own pace.

Distances in the area are no greater than 30 kilometres, the roads are fit for cycling and the diverse landscapes where the Black Sea meets the Dobrudzha steppe are made to be explored on a bike. So take the camera with you and off you go!

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7 magnificent spa resorts in Bulgaria

7 magnificent spa resorts in Bulgaria

With over 700 natural mineral and hot water springs, Bulgaria is a spa paradise famous over Europe ever since Ancient Roman times. In spring, the mountain regions where most spas are located are blossoming and blooming, with the mountain tops still covered by a shining blanket of snow. So what better time to discover one of the continent’s best spa destinations than spring and early summer?

From the site of one of Europe’s only real geysers to the sunniest town in the entire country, kashkaval tourist presents 7 magnificent spa resorts in Bulgaria!

1. Hot water geyser spot: Sapareva Banya

Hot water geyser spot: Sapareva Banya

Hot water geyser spot: Sapareva Banya

With one of continental Europe’s very few hot water geysers bang in the middle of Sapareva Banya (Сапарева баня), you just know the mineral springs in this sleepy mountain town are something to talk about. The hot waters spring forth at a temperature of 103°C and they have proven healthy properties.

The town lies at the foothills of the awe-inspiring Rila Mountains, the Balkans’ highest; in fact, it’s a starting point for the hike to the mesmerizing Seven Rila Lakes. Besides the geyser and a cute Byzantine-style medieval church, Sapareva Banya offers a variety of accommodation options and a modern spa centre.

2. Spa like an ancient Roman: Hisarya

Spa like an ancient Roman: Hisarya

Spa like an ancient Roman: Hisarya. Photo credit: Ramón, Flickr.

A modern destination spa town surrounded by unbelievable Ancient Roman ruins? If you want to combine leisure and history in your vacation, think no further than Hisarya (Хисаря)! Just 40 km north of the lovely Plovdiv in the gentle Sredna Gora Mountains, Hisarya was a major Roman metropolis under the name of Diocletianopolis. Several city gates and extensive fortifications still attest to this memorable period of Hisarya’s ancient history.

Hisarya was a spa tourism hub even in Roman times, and with its 16 natural mineral springs, this is hardly a surprise. Today, you can choose from cosy family-run guesthouses to four-star hotels with their own spa centres.

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Town of the tower: Castra Martis, Kula

8 unknown Ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria you haven’t visited

You may well be aware of Bulgaria’s Ancient Roman history – after all, the Bulgarian lands were ruled by the Roman Empire for centuries. Sites like Plovdiv’s majestic Roman theatre, Varna’s huge Roman baths or Sofia’s antique churches of Hagia Sophia and Saint George are among the highlights of tourism in Bulgaria. However, the rest of the astonishing Roman ruins in Bulgaria appear to be largely forgotten.

From the (lost) longest bridge of the ancient world to a gate nowadays resembling two camels, kashkaval tourist presents 8 unknown Ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria you haven’t visited!

1. Brick masterpiece: The Red Church, Perushtitsa

Brick masterpiece: The Red Church, Perushtitsa

Brick masterpiece: The Red Church, Perushtitsa. Photo credit: Raggatt2000, Wikipedia.

A ruin standing proudly out in the open field near Perushtitsa, the Red Church (Червената църква Chervenata tsarkva) impresses with its rare solid brickwork and grand proportions – the dome of the church reached more than 14 metres in height! It is curious that the floor of this ancient basilica was decorated with mosaics, while the walls were painted. Some of the frescoes from the 5th-6th century AD were discovered during the Red Church’s restoration as recently as 2013!

2. Gorgon Medusa on the floor: Villa Armira, Ivaylovgrad

Gorgon Medusa on the floor: Villa Armira, Ivaylovgrad

Gorgon Medusa on the floor: Villa Armira, Ivaylovgrad Photo credit: Bin im Garten, Wikipedia.

Villa Armira (Вила Армира) is perhaps the best-preserved villa of a Roman aristocrat to be found in Bulgaria. Named after the little river near the town of Ivaylovgrad by it lies, Villa Armira was built as a suburban palace of a Roman noble in the 1st century AD.

The villa is most famous for its striking mosaic decoration – its floor is filled to the brim with incredible geometric, floral and animal motifs! A regular trend on Villa Armira’s mosaics is the depiction of the gorgon Medusa, so be careful and watch out not to be caught in its stare or you may turn into stone!

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8 magical cultural attractions in the Rhodopes

8 magical cultural attractions in the Rhodopes

The Rhodopes (Родопи, Rodopi), a forested mountain chain in Bulgaria’s southern reaches, are a land that has preserved its age-old traditions to this day. A serene place of legendary natural beauty, the Rhodope Mountains were reportedly the home of Orpheus in Ancient Greek myth. Today, these verdant and extensive mountains remain a magnetic destination where visitors find peace and tranquility.

Thracian sanctuaries, scenic villages, medieval castles and enigmatic bridges: read on to find out more about 8 magical cultural attractions in the Rhodopes. And the Rhodopes’ natural attractions – its stunning gorges, caves and rock arches – undoubtedly deserve a whole future article of their own!

1. Arched wonder of architecture: Devil’s Bridge

Spanning the Arda River not far from Ardino and linking the Aegean coast of Greece with the Upper Thracian Lowland of Bulgaria, the Devil’s Bridge (Дяволски мост, Dyavolski most) has fascinated tourists and researchers for many years. This picturesque arched stone bridge was constructed in the early 16th century by the Ottomans and numerous legends attempt to explain its curious name.

According to one of the most popular tales, the violent currents of the river long prevented the locals from building a bridge at the place. Only when a young master builder made a deal with the devil (involving cryptically depicting the face of Satan on the bridge) under the danger of losing his and his wife’s lives was the bridge able to survive at the cursed location. And so it has continued to stand, for 500 years.

  • How to get there: There are daily buses from Sofia’s Central station to Kardzhali, where you can catch a local bus to Ardino. A couple of the afternoon buses from Sofia go directly to Ardino too.

2. 8000 year-old sanctuary: Perperikon

Archaeologists were looking for the lost Thracian sanctuary of Perperikon for decades until they discovered it in 2000. Nested on a rocky ridge above the village of Gorna Krepost in the Eastern Rhodopes, this ancient compound is regarded as the largest megalith complex in Southeastern Europe.

Reportedly, Perperikon was the site of a famous Temple of Dionysus, the god of wine, whose oracle rivaled the one at Delphi. Modified and expanded in Roman times with fortress walls and an imposing palace, Perperikon survived until the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, when it was destroyed… and forgotten.

  • How to get there: Perperikon is not far from Kardzhali, which is connected to Sofia and Plovdiv by bus. It may be possible to arrange a taxi from Kardzhali to Gorna Krepost, the site of Perperikon.

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6 places you would not believe are in Bulgaria

6 places you would not believe are in Bulgaria

For its relatively small size and population, Bulgaria has a lot of cultural diversity. And while you may expect to find mystical Thracian burial sites, medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine castles or lavishly decorated Ottoman mosques, there are many places which look nothing like what you would think.

From a French-style summer palace to a former Czech village, here’s 6 places you would not believe are in Bulgaria. With tips to help you get there and see them yourself, of course!

1. French château?

No, it’s a Bulgarian seaside palace!

The Euxinograde palace near Varna was built in an 18th-century French château style for the Bulgarian royal family. With its mansard roof, intricate façade brickwork and charming clock tower, Euxinograde looks like it belongs in the UNESCO World Heritage Loire Valley of central France rather than on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. Add the gorgeous park designed by the noted landscape architect Édouard André and the respected winery that’s part of the palace complex and you have a true piece of France in the Balkans.

  • How to get there: The Euxinograde palace is a government property and can be visited after a prior booking via this e-mail. The complex lies just east of the seaside capital Varna and is accessible from there.

2. Italy?

Italy? No, this is not an Italian town, but Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv!

The Cathedral of Saint Louis in Plovdiv

No, this is not an Italian town, but Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv!

Founded some 6,000 years ago, Plovdiv shares an uncanny amount of similarities with Italy’s capital, Rome, with which it is twinned. Both cities are famously located on seven hills, though in Plovdiv’s case, one of those was destroyed and used as building material to pave the streets. Just like Rome, Plovdiv features copious heritage from the Roman Empire, including a well-preserved Ancient Roman theatre, a forum with an odeon, an antique stadium and an ancient aqueduct, among others.

Plovdiv, a captivating Balkan town, also remains an important centre of Roman Catholicism in Bulgaria, and the elegant Cathedral of Saint Louis impresses with its Italianate Baroque and Classicist design.

  • How to get there: Plovdiv is on the Trakia motorway which links it with Sofia and Burgas. There’s an international airport serviced by Ryanair as well as extensive railway links to the rest of Bulgaria.

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High in the mountains, the Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian culture treasure trove

9 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are among the most attractive hotspots for tourists in Bulgaria. While some of them are well-known and appreciated by thousands of people each year, a few of the sites are surprisingly somewhat off-the-beaten-track and away from traditional tourism regions. A rare chance to see another side of Bulgaria and amaze yourself!

For its relatively compact territory, Bulgaria has a large number of World Heritage Sites protected by UNESCO. Seven of these are cultural, showcasing Bulgaria’s history from the time of the Thracians through the Middle Ages to the Ottoman period, and two of them are nature reserves conserving two very different natural habitats.

Check out Bulgaria’s 9 breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites below!

1. Nesebar: an ancient city-state with mesmerizingly elaborate architecture

Ancient Nesebar's unique architecture and seaside location make it a tourist favourite

Ancient Nesebar’s unique architecture and seaside location make it a tourist favourite

Nesebar’s old town is a near-island in the Black Sea, connected to the Bulgarian mainland only via a narrow isthmus. Founded by the Thracians in time immemorial, Nesebar (Messembria) was an influential colony of the Ancient Greeks and a wealthy port that changed hands between Bulgarians and Byzantines in the Middle Ages.

Nesebar’s valuable ancient heritage is very much alive. The old town is a stunning collection of antique towers and fortifications, intricately designed medieval churches in a unique style and even a curious wooden windmill.

Unfortunately, Nesebar’s proximity to the huge summer resort Sunny Beach means the ancient city is crowded in summer. Avoid the lines and pay a visit out of season for a serene and mysterious cultural experience.

  • How to get there: Nesebar is not far north of Burgas, the terminus of the Trakia motorway from Sofia. There are regular direct buses from Sofia both in and out of season.

2. Rila Monastery: the beacon of Bulgarian spirit

High in the mountains, the Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian culture treasure trove

High in the mountains, the Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian culture treasure trove

High in the foothills of the Rila Mountains lies the legendary Rila Monastery. Surrounded by thick stone walls, the monastery has survived for more than a millennium since its foundation by the hermit John of Rila, Bulgaria’s national saint, in the early 10th century. Ever since, the monastery has been one of the most influential centres of Bulgarian culture and art.

The Rila Monastery’s elegant main church and living quarters mostly date from the 19th century. With their unmistakable striped decoration and gentle arches they are lauded as a masterpiece of the Bulgarian National Revival style. The oldest building in the complex is the monumental stone Tower of Hrelyo (Hrelja), built by a local lord of Serbian origin in the 14th century.

The monastery’s surrounding forest is a protected area worth a hike and many trails lead from it into the higher parts of Rila, including the sharp pyramids of Malyovitsa.

  • How to get there: There’s a direct bus line from Sofia to the Rila Monastery leaving every day at 10:20 from Ovcha Kupel bus station (take the 5 tram from behind the Sofia Court House near Serdika metro station to get there). Alternatively, you can catch the more regular buses to the town of Dupnitsa and hop on another one to the monastery from there.

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