Bulgaria? Why visit Bulgaria? Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with majestic mountains, sandy beaches, picturesque villages, good food, and hospitable people. And, it’s incredibly affordable.
If you don’t know anything about Bulgaria, here are ten reasons you should visit.
1. Roses – Bulgarian roses are not only stunningly beautiful, but a major export item as well. The petals reportedly produce as much as 85% of the world’s rose oil, an essential ingredient in the production of perfumes. Gathering the roses is very labor intensive. Visit the country in May and June to see the colorful harvest.
2. Yogurt – The yogurt in Bulgaria is reportedly the best in the world, with a unique taste because the bacteria used to make it, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, is only found naturally in Bulgarian air. Try the thick sheep yogurt made in the mountains with honey or fruit jam dripped on top.
3. Nod – When asking a Bulgarian a question, you might be confused with his reply. In the country, nodding one’s head up and down indicates a negative response, while shaking your head horizontally actually means ‘no’. To confuse things even further, when locals speak with foreigners, they often accommodate them by reversing the motions. It is primarily the older generation that continues the nodding tradition, which dates back to Ottoman days.
4. Shopska – Considered the country’s national dish, this simple salad is composed of diced garden tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, raw or roasted peppers, and topped with a sprinkling of Bulgarian white brine cheese. The dish is often decorated with parsley and a light dressing of sunflower oil and red wine vinegar. Shopska became popular during the communist era when it was promoted by Balkantourist, the state tourism agency.
5. Cyrillic – Bulgarians read and write using the Cyrillic alphabet, and the country actually is the origin of the alphabet, having adopted its use before Russia. Credit can be given to Saints Cyril and Methodius, born in the 9th century. The two brothers were Christian missionaries who used their alphabet in efforts to improve literacy among the Slavic pagans in the First Bulgarian Empire. The two brothers are the most celebrated saints in the Bulgarian Orthodox church.
6. Bulgarian Jews – Bulgaria sided with the Nazis in World War Two, yet its entire Jewish population, constituting over 40,000 citizens, was spared the horrors of the Holocaust. The Bulgarian Orthodox church, politicians and ordinary citizens took a stand against possible deportation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for over 11,000 Jews deported to the concentration camps from Macedonia, an area under Bulgaria’s control during the war.
7. Gold – The oldest gold treasure in the world was discovered at a burial site west of Varna, not far from the Black Sea. Unearthed in 1972 by a tractor crew digging a ditch, the site proved to be a vast necropolis with nearly 300 graves dated to 4560-4450 BC. Some three thousand gold artifacts were found, proving that the settlement had trade relations with distant lands and that the community had a strong belief in the afterlife. Some of Bulgaria’s gold has been on exhibition tours around the world.
8. Rakia – This alcoholic beverage can be considered the country’s national drink. Made from fermented fruit, rakia constitutes anywhere between 40% alcoholic content (when produced by a distillery) to 80% or more (when homemade). The drink can be made from pears, plums, grapes, peaches, apricots, or even from mixed fruits. Typically rakia is served at the start of a meal along with shopska. When drinking rakia, Bulgarians toast each other by clinking their glasses and saying ‘Nazdrave‘ (To your health!). Make sure to make direct eye contact when doing this!
9. Bagpipes – Bulgarians take pride in their gaida, a bag typically made of sheep or goat hide connected to a three-section pipe, a shorter pipe, and a blowpipe. The Bulgarian bagpipe is called the kaba gaida, which is larger and with a lower pitch than the gaidas of other southeastern European countries. In May 2012, 333 Bulgarian bagpipe players played a 9-minute medley of folk songs, setting a world record in bagpipe performance recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.
10. Martenitsa – If you happen to be in Bulgaria on March 1st, join in the celebrations of Baba Marta (Grandmother March). On this holiday welcoming the upcoming spring, Bulgarians exchange small tassels and bracelets of white and red yarn called martenitsa. These adornments are pinned to clothing or worn around the wrist until the person sees a stork or blooms on tree, both harbingers of spring’s arrival.
If these are not amazing enough reasons to visit Bulgaria, come to ski the slopes in winter or to relax on the sandy beaches in summer.
By Ellis Shuman