Crowds have ruined Sozopol, we have told you time and again, as recently as our previous issue. This, however, does not mean you have to avoid this former fishing settlement and current tourist trap. You just have to plan your visit wisely, avoiding the high summer season. September is the perfect time to enjoy Sozopol for the first or the tenth time. Most of the crowds have gone, and the old town with its meandering lanes, traditional wooden houses and rocks pounded by the sea is calmer. The other visitors are mainly actors, musicians, authors and the like who are here for their annual gathering, the Apollonia Arts Festival.
Kalofer is one of those places that all who'd rather avoid Bulgaria's highway pass en route between Sofia and Burgas, yet few bother to stop, and even fewer stay on. From a certain standpoint, this is positive. It keeps mass tourism confined to the highway, away form the town huddled in the foothills of Mount Botev, once known as Ümrükçal, which means Fist Mount – Stara Planina’s tallest summit at 2,376 metres. Kalofer is a pearl you will fall in love with. But to discover it, you need to make an effort.
Revival Period monasteries, traditional towns, mountain peaks, beaches: you may think you have seen it all in Bulgaria, but you would be mistaken. This country has a number of eccentric places to visit, a delight for the connoisseur of the strange and the odd.
A short drive north of Primorsko, a resort town on the southern Bulgaria Black Sea coast, you will find a site that challenges the imagination.
The ancient Thracian sanctuary known with the Turkish word Begliktash stands in a meadow that opens up dramatically before you after a 40-minute walk along an overgrown path through the oak forest of the Strandzha. Anticipation builds even before you start on the path because just where it begins is the Dragon's Houses, a Thracian dolmen hidden by a canopy of tree branches.
Ah, Sozopol, it used to be so quiet/picturesque/authentic/artistic!... If you are fed up with Bulgarian friends mourning the over-touristification of this southern Black Sea (former) gem, there is an answer. Anyone tired of the madding crowds in summertime Sozopol should go farther south, to Ahtopol.
Travelling is not just about seeing new places. It is also about experiencing their atmosphere and their food, their people and their stories. Elena, in the central Stara Planina near Veliko Tarnovo, is a destination that has all this, and more. There, you will find yourself deep amid green forests, old churches and traditional houses, complete with the feeling of a place still stuck in the early 1990s. As a bonus, the town is the home of one of Bulgaria's renowned delicacies: the Elenski but ham.
Bulgaria was born, according to the most commonly accepted theory, in 681 when, after a humiliating defeat, the Byzantine emperor Constantine IV signed a peace treaty with Khan Asparuh, the man who had led the proto-Bulgarians south of the Danube. What happened next is still a keenly debated part of early Bulgarian history, but one thing is certain: the first centuries of Bulgaria's existence were turbulent.