Nature

AMAZING PLANTS & ANIMALS OF BULGARIA

In Bulgaria, nature has created a number of little wonders. They might not be spectacular or grandiose, but they constitute a vital part of the local wildlife, create a feeling of uniqueness and are sometimes the sole survivors of bygone geological epochs. Many of these are plants, and some are animals. Here is a list of our favourite little Bulgarian wonders of nature.

Haberlea rhodopensis

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SHIPS OF ROCK

Sinemorets, at Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast, remains one of the most idyllic and calmly beautiful spots around. Overdevelopment has not completely destroyed the pleasure of walking around the little village, once off limits because of its proximity to Turkey, or sunbathing on its popular southern beach. As for Sinemorets's northern beach, its setting is unbeatable: a sand spit, created by the mouth of the Veleka River and backed by rising rocky hills.

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HISTORY, ROSES, AND WATER BUFFALOES

Years ago, if you'd asked me what I know about Bulgaria, I'd have said, "Not much. It's in Eastern Europe, behind the Iron Curtain, I think." Indeed, it was behind the Iron Curtain when that dark metaphor described a very real feature of the World Order. But what once was, often no longer is – especially in Bulgaria, a country which, during its long history, has seen multiple conquerors and empires come and go. Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Ottomans and, more recently, Russians are among the foreign forces that have overrun Bulgaria.

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WHERE IS GOD'S BRIDGE?

Lilyashka Bara, the brook that flows near the village of Lilyache, a few kilometres from Vratsa, is a quiet and peaceful stream. It would be no different from dozens of other rivulets that flow past dozens of other villages, if it wasn't for a quirk of nature. Lilyashka Bara may look mild and gentle, but sometimes it overflows suddenly, surging in an unstoppable tide, sweeping away everything in its way – from mills to bridges.

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ON A HUNT IN BULGARIA

Hunting provokes the most profound instincts embedded in our human nature. Today, people hunt not to survive, but for sport, to test their skills and to maintain populations of game and wildfowl in numbers that do not affect people's life and work. With its diverse landscapes, thick forests and clean rivers, and its location on the European bird migratory route Via Pontica, Bulgaria is understandably one of the best places for hunting on the continent. The reasons for this are not only in its nature.

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BULGARIA'S BEST BEACHES: SOUTH

The beaches on Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast are under threat: every year developers take new ground to build hotels and bars on. Sand dunes, which are protected by law, overnight turn into plots ready for the diggers to arrive, and new buildings rise right by the sea on the site of former cliffs, marshes and wetlands.

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BULGARIA'S BEST BEACHES, PART 1

Until the 2000s, the sandy beaches that dot the Bulgarian coast were among the best places around the entire Black Sea to stretch your towel. Covered in golden sands, they spread in long straight strips and form crescents along coves sheltered from the open sea by steep cliffs. Untamed vegetation and wildlife called them home, from thick floodplain forests to gentle sand lilies and migrating birds. There were beachgoers, but even in big resorts one could find a spot to bathe in relative calm.

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10 PLACES NOT TO MISS IN 2023

Discovering Bulgaria's landscapes, people and events is rewarding all year round, especially when you leave the beaten track and explore some of the lesser sites. Of course, in high season you can scarcely find anywhere in Bulgaria completely devoid of other visitors, but many places still preserve an atmosphere of novelty for the curious traveller. We have selected some of these on the following pages.

Belogradchik Rocks

Where: Northwestern Bulgaria

What: Bulgaria's own version of the US southwest, plus a fortress

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MOUNTAIN OF (NO) GOD

Gods and mountains go together. Zeus resided on the Olympus and a Tibetan Buddhist goddess – on the Everest, while God notoriously chose Mount Sinai as the place to give Moses the Ten Commandments.

One of Bulgaria's most spectacular mountains is also connected to a god – or to the lack of him. Pirin, in the southwest, was named after the Slavic thunder god, Perun, yet one of its summits is called Bezbog, or Godless.

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THE TREE AND OTHER STORIES

Unlike the other visual languages, photography retains the "effect of reality." The photographic image verifies that what has been photographed is "really like that." At the same time, it arises "technically," through the effect of light on light-sensitive material. What, then, is the role of the photographer, where is the creativity in the creation of the photographic image, and to what extent is photography’s claim of being an art justified?

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ALL AROUND KARDZHALI

When you have a long weekend ahead and the weather looks good for a trip, heading to Kardzhali is a great option. The Rhodope mountains are beautiful – pleasant and refreshing in all seasons – and this city is the perfect base to explore some interesting sites.

Kardzhali itself is hardly an attraction. It is a relatively new city dominated by faceless Communist and post-Communist architecture. Besides its Regional History Museum, located in a beautiful building initially constructed in the 1920s for a Muslim religious school, there is nothing more to see.

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DISCOVERING STRANDZHA'S COAST

The Strandzha mountains coast, roughly everything along the Black Sea south of Burgas, is about 100 km long as the crow flies. Yet it is very varied. You will discover smaller and bigger bays, old towns and purpose-built modern resorts, a campsite or two, a number of picturesque rivers, inlets and... islands. In fact all of Bulgaria's islands are along the Strandzha coast. You will probably be underwhelmed, however. There are just four of them, not counting the St Kirik Isle north of Sozopol which was appended to the mainland, in the 20th century, with a quay.

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BULGARIA'S REDWOODS

Bulgaria may be famous for many things but sequoias is apparently not one of them. Think again. If you know where to look you will discover a number of wonderful redwoods that will make your head swirl: Am I in the Sierra Nevadas, the natural habitat of the world's largest and tallest trees, or am I in the eastern Balkans?

The curious case of Bulgaria's sequoias started in the late 19th century when a few enthusiasts imported redwood seeds and planted them in various locations, mainly for aesthetic purposes.

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QUIRKY ROCKS OF BULGARIA

The ability to spot visual patterns in seemingly chaotic landscapes, preferring false positives to false negatives, has been cruciвal for the survival of the human race. For thousands of years, those who lived long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation were the ones able to spot a lion hidden in a bush. Even when there was no lion at all.

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PINNACLES OF LEGEND

We often take landscapes for granted: the mountains and the river valleys we love to look at and explore seem immune to the passage of time, eternal and unchanging, even though we know this is not true. The landscapes that we inhabit are in a constant state of reshaping, albeit happening so slowly that our human eyes cannot mark the changes – incomparably long compared to not only our short lives, but also to human civilisation.

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FINDING GOD'S BRIDGЕ

It is easy to say that the Bulgarian Northwest has been forgotten by God. Economically depressed and depopulated, it has for years consistently topped the EU's least developed regions list. Yet, when you visit the Vratsa region you will find yourself surrounded by stunning, and even sublime, landscapes and natural wonders. Here, the mighty peaks of the Stara Planina mountains hang over the town, enfolding delights for visitors of any shade and persuasion. The undulations of the plain that start from there also hide another treasure: two rock bridges carved by nature.

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BULGARIA'S SPECTACULAR MANMADE LAKES

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial development has taken its toll on communities and landscapes. Polluted air, water and soil, the destruction of nature and a decimated biodiversity are all its consequences. However, in some cases industrial development has created beautiful and even stunning landscapes. Most often this is the case with artificial bodies of water, resulting from the construction of dams.

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