When visitors head to Bulgaria's southwest, their prime place of interest is Melnik, the picturesque traditional town located among surreal sand pyramids and famed for its red wine. Near the town, however, one of Bulgaria's most fascinating monasteries, a delightful example of 16th-18th century religious art and architecture, sits hidden in the hills.
The crowd of tourists in flip-flops, faces glowing from sun-burn, is overwhelming. The cries of the touts trying to lure customers into this or that restaurant selling pizza or sweet-sour ducks in small portions at outrageous prices are piercing. Zillions of stalls selling kitschy souvenirs, beach towels, jeans and conveyor-belt-produced marine landscapes cover the walls of the medieval churches and 200-year old houses.
Many tourists are actually wondering what they are doing in Nesebar.
You do not need to be able to read Bulgarian to understand the meaning and to feel the power of a fresco in the Preobrazhenski Monastery, near Veliko Tarnovo. You do not even need to know who the artist, Zahariy Zograf, was.
When God created the earth, the Bulgarian legend goes, He gathered all the nations to divide the world among them. To the British, He gave mastership over the seas, while the Swiss received the mountains, the Russians got the great plains, and the Germans took possession of the thick forests. When God ran out of gifts, He noticed that there was a people who were still empty-handed: the humble Bulgarians, languishing at the end of the queue of nations. Baffled, God soon realised what had happened: the Devil had stolen all the best pieces of the earth. The Almighty took everything back, and gave it to the Bulgarians.
The contrast between the drab town of Devnya and its Museum of Roman Mosaics is shocking – the modernistic concrete museum building preserves some of the best mosaics ever found in Bulgaria. Here they are, astonishing images made of thousands of stone tiles, exhibited in situ in a museum that was purpose built for them in the early 1980s.
Against current backdrop of fresh concrete, decaying pre-fab housing estates it's hard to imagine Burgas used to be quiet, yet urbane
Even before the day trippers have started their descent to Byala Reka, or White River, their uneven melody precedes them. After a while the singers themselves appear, hikers whose tiredness testifies that they have seen much more than just the Byala Reka Eco-Path.
Christ was an alien. Or if He wasn't, then four centuries ago there were UFOs hovering over what is now southwestern Bulgaria.
Travelling in Bulgaria's Northwest, particularly in early summer when the greenery is still fresh, tempts you to explore the outdoors: the magnificence of the Belogradchik Rocks, the might of the mountains around Vratsa, the slow flow of the Danube past the walls of Vidin fortress. However, when travelling in this region, you should not forego the opportunity to peer into the dark, mysterious underground.