Bulgaria is a successor of ancient civilizations - Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and proto-Bulgarians have left on these lands exceptionally valuable artistic and architectural evidence of their advanced culture. They are scattered throughout the country and make it one of the most attractive destinations for people, interested in history and culture. Besides these treasures, Bulgaria is proud of its rich nature and amazing biodiversity which is preserved in the natural reserves of the country.
The rich cultural and natural heritage of Bulgaria is highly appreciated by UNESCO -the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The UNESCO List of the Global Cultural and Natural Heritage includes sites, which are of great importance to humanity, therefore their conservation and preservation is a priority. This list includes nine Bulgarian sites - seven cultural and two natural.
Bulgaria sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, right in the belly of the Balkans. Any journey of length showcases the country's amazing variety of landforms. Bulgaria simply resembles a continent in miniature because of its very varied relief and miraculous working of nature where measure is paramount. The country with a 1300 years old history lies in the North-eastern part of Balkan Peninsula and during the centuries has been an important crossroad between Europe and Asia. The natural landscape of Bulgaria is diverse, consisting of lowlands, plains, foothills and plateaus, river valleys, basins, and mountains of varying elevations. About 70% of the country’s territory is hilly land and 30% is mountainous. In the central part of the country lies the Balkan Mountain Range, where the highest peak is Botev (2,376 m). From south to north, its western area is crossed by the Iskar River, which forms a picturesque gorge more than 70 km long. To the south of the capital Sofia rises the mountain Vitosha, whose highest peak is Cherni Vrah (2,290 m). The highest Bulgarian mountains are in the Rila and Pirin ranges, situated to the east of the Struma River valley. The highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula, Musala (2,925 m), is located there. The Rhodope Mountains are located to the east of Rila. The highest peak here is Golyam Perelik (2,191 m). The many natural landmarks – caves, waterfalls, and alpine lakes – attract scores of tourists every year.
Bulgaria is located in the temperate continental latitudes, and its climate is favorable for the development of various types of tourism. The average annual amount of sunshine for the territory amounts to about 2,500 hours. The average annual temperature in the country is between 10° and 14°С. This figure is greatly dependent on altitude. In the mountains, at higher elevations thermal conditions are influenced by the thinner atmosphere, so that over 2,300 meters above sea level the average annual temperature is below zero. Along the Black Sea coast, the average monthly temperatures in July and August range from 21 – 24°С.
Called the sleeping beauty of the Balkans by New York Times magazine, Bulgaria has four beautiful and mild seasons and a gorgeous nature. The country’s favorable climate and natural attractions provide the basis for the development of its 142 resorts, of which 26 are marine resorts, 56 mountain resorts, and 58 are balneological resorts, not counting the numerous balneological and spa centers.
Eye-catching mountain lakes, sunny beaches, gorgeous rose valleys, curative hot springs and deep chilly caves coexist in harmony. Bulgaria has a wide outlet on the Black Sea and river Danube and borders with Greece, Serbia, Romania, Turkey and Macedonia. Bulgaria is the second most biologically diverse country in Europe. There are more than 12,360 plant species, 3,700 of which are higher species. Of these, 763 are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria, which lists rare or endangered species. About 750 plant types have been registered as medicinal, and 70% of these are economically valuable. The country exports about 15,000 tons of herbs each year. The forested areas amount to about 37% of the territory of the country. There are 27,000 species of invertebrate fauna in Bulgaria, and more than 750 species of vertebrates.
Three national parks have been established in the country: Pirin National Park (UNESCO natural heritage site), Rila National Park, and the Central Balkans National Park. There are also 11 nature reserves – Belasitsa, Balgarka, Vratsa Balkan, Golden Sands, Persina, Rila Monastery, Rusenski Lom, Sinite Kamani, Strandzha and the Shumen Plateau.
Balkan Mountains (or Stara Planina, The Old Mountains) are stretched as a line throughout the whole country from the west border to the seaside on the east. Although not the highest in Bulgaria, the Balkan Mountains are notorious with the most fierce weather among the mountains in the country. This is determined of its role of a natural barrier between the cold continental climate of the north and the milder climate of south Bulgaria, affected by the Mediterranean air masses. The result is strong winds, storms and rainfalls in summer and snow blizzards in winter. But when the weather is good everyone can enjoy an amazing views walking along its high ridge. The name of the Balkan Peninsula originates from this mountain chain which highest point (mount Botev, 2376 m.) is named to a famous Bulgarian poet – Hristo Botev. One of the three national parks in Bulgaria, Central Balkan National Park, is placed here. The Central Balkan is one of the most pleasant places for walking tourism in Bulgaria. Places for relaxation, options for observation of beautiful views and sites are constructed for tourist attraction. Specialized routes are developed – 10 routes for horse tourism, 4 for bicycle tourism, routes for observation of birds, plants, large mammals, general acquaintance, cultural and historical tourism, speleology, photo-safari and alpine routes. With their steep slopes and gentle ridge tops, many rock walls and Bulgaria's biggest and highest waterfalls, the Balkan mountains are an amazing destination for all kind of adventure activities: Hiking and Biking on the numerous well marked trails, rock climbing, canyoning, horse riding, ski and snowshoeing, etc...
Rila Mountains are the highest not only in Bulgaria but in the whole Balkans. National Park Rila is situated in the southwest part of the country, in Rila mountain. The park managers aim to preserve and maintain the biological diversity, to protect the wild nature and provide opportunities for scientific and educational activities, development of tourism and ecological way of the population’s life. There are more than 200 peaks on the territory of the mountain, with an attitude of over 2000 meters; the highest peak in the country and on the Balkan Peninsula is among them - the Musala peak (2,925 meters high). There are more than 120 permanent and 30 temporary glacial lakes in the high parts of Rila. They are mainly located on deep bottoms of cirques. The spring of some of the deepest and longest rivers on the Balkan Peninsula are here – Iskar, Maritsa and Mesta. The water supplies, which form within the boundaries of National Park Rila are the most important resources of pure drinking water for the nearby municipalities, for the capital Sofia and for people from Greece and Turkey. The park territory is covered by forest ecosystems such as spruce (Picea), fir (Abies), white pine (Pinus peuce) and dwarf pine (Pinus mugo). About 95% are natural, with an average age of 90 years. The biodiversity of the park is extremely diverse. There are about 1,400 vascular plants, 105 relict and 57 endemic plant species, such as Rila primrose (Primula deorum), Pawlowski lady’s mantle (Alchemilla pawlowskii) and Ornamental rhubarb (Rheum palmatum L.). The park is home to 282 moss species, 130 algae species and 233 fungi species.
The mountain fauna is presented by 172 vertebrate species, 5 of which are fishes, 20 are reptiles and amphibians, 99 are birds and the mammals are 48. Here lives the largest chamois population in Bulgaria, the largest alpine European ground squirrel population, one of the four alpine newt populations and one of the two Bulgarian nesting sites of the pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum). The invertebrate fauna is unique. 2,934 species have been discovered up until the present moment.
There are 4 reserves in National Park Rila – Parangalitsa, Skakavitsa, Ibar and Central Rila reserve. The reserves and the park are included in the UN list of national parks and reserves equivalent to them. Skakavitsa reserve is one of the smallest Bulgarian reserves. It has an area of 70.8 hectares. It is a typical forest reserve for ancient white fir forest preservation. Parangalitsa has been a reserve since 1933. It is situated on part of the southwestern slopes of Rila mountain, covering 1,509 hectares. It contains some of the oldest pine tree forests in Europe with an average age of over 200 years. It was included in the list of biosphere reserves under the program “Man and Biosphere” of UNESCO in March 1977. Central reserve Rila is the largest one in Bulgaria and one of the largest in Europe. It was established to preserve the forest, sub alpine and alpine ecosystems. The area of the reserve is 12,393.7 hectares and covers a large territory around Musala peak. Ibar reserve protects bush forests of dwarf pine, as well as relict plant fields and rare animal species. Its area is 2,248 hectares. The reserve covers the northern slopes of the mountain ridge between the peaks of Ibar and Belmeken.
Rila is one of the mountains, where tourism is well developed. The park offers a special zone, called Intensive Tourism Zone, which includes a network of paths and shelters, as well as accommodation options in the facilities, located in the park. There is a wide range of activities for tourists – horse riding, cycling, skiing on specified routes, camping, mountaineering, etc. A botanical trail was built for the wild nature lovers. It is called Plant Lovers. Other specialized routes were also designed – such as eco paths Beli Iskar, Path of the Balkan Chamois, etc. Two major European tourist routes pass through the area – E4 and E8. 17 tourist huts with about 1,500 beds were built on the park territory. They are mainly maintained by the Bulgarian Tourist Union. In addition, 4 tourist shelters were built in case of bad weather.
Rila Monastery is the largest monastery in Bulgaria and is located in the heart of the Rila mountains. It was founded in the X century and is one of the symbols of Bulgaria.
Pirin National Park is located in the Pirin Mountains, in southwest Bulgaria. Since 1983, the park has been protected as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The park includes one of the oldest reserves in Bulgaria – Bayuvi Dupki – Dzhindzhiritsa. The area was granted this status in 1934 so as to protect the endangered black and white fir (Pinum peuce) and the habitats of many other plants and animals. In 1977, this reserve was included by UNESCO on its list of reserves as part of the “Man and Biosphere” program, as was the park’s Yulen Reserve, in 1994.
Within the park there are more than 182 species of medicinal plants and 1,315 other plant species – roughly 1/3 of Bulgaria’s total. The park also is home to roughly 320 kinds of moss and lichen and 165 varieties of algae. The wide variety of plant life supports many kinds of animals – more than 2,000 invertebrate species and more than 200 vertebrate species. Among them are the European tree frog (Hila arborea) and the Eastern Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni), both of which are included in The Red Book, an international list of endangered species. Within the boundaries of the park 159 species of birds have been recorded, amounting to some 40% of all bird species in Bulgaria.
The international hikers’ route E4, which goes from the Pyrennees through the Alps before crossing Bulgaria’s Rila Pirin ranges and ending in the Peloponnese, traverses the park’s Bayuvi Dupki reserve. At 2,914 meters, Vihren Peak is the highest point in the Pirin Mountains, second only to Musala in the Rila Range. The peak is included among Bulgaria’s prime tourist destinations. It is in this region of the park where Bulgaria’s oldest tree grows – the Baykusheva Fir, which is more than 1,300 years old. This region of the park is served by a tourist information office located in Bansko.
Pirin is the range, that requires more experience, as it is more alpine and narrow. Still, the mountain is a paradise for the admirers of adventures and alternative sports. There are many hiking routes in the park, which give access to numerous tourist sights, many opportunities for rock and ice climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, paragliding and much more. Pirin also keeps some of Bulgaria's greatest cultural – historical sites, such as the old towns of Melnik and Bansko, the Rojen monastery.
Some of the most beautiful and picturesque places in Bulgaria are located in the Rhodope Mountain. Lush meadows in unbelievable nuances of green alternate with dark coniferous forests, steep cliffs and picturesque canyons. If there is a destination, which is worth visiting by every tourist in every season of the year, then this is certainly the Rhodope mountain. The mountain spreads on a vast territory and occupies a large part of Central South Bulgaria.
The West part of the Rhodope mountain is higher, and the higher peaks, gorges and caves are concentrated in this area. The East Rhodope mountain is characterized by lower relief. The Rhodope mountain lacks the high pinnacle and alpine reliefs which are typical for Rila and Pirin mountains. It is also well known that the mountain had not been frozen during the Ice Age. In the western part of the Rhodope mountain the climate is mountainous, but on the eastern part it is softened by the warm air currents of the Mediterranean, brought by the river valleys.
The vegetation in the West Rhodope Mountain is preliminarily central European, and in the East part – Mediterranean and sub-Mediterranean. Over 2,000 species of higher plants have been registered in the mountain. There are a lot of protected species, many herbs, and field flowers. One of the most interesting vegetation species is the Rhodope haberlea (Haberlea rhodopensis), which only grows here. A legend says that it appeared from the blood of Orpheus. Haberlea has the unique ability to return to life after it had been dried.
The favorable climate and the diverse vegetation are the reason for the great diversity of animal species. 291 bird species had been registered, as 4 of them are of global importance – royal eagle (Aquila heliaca), white falcon (Falco naumanni), landrail (Crex crex) and small cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus). Many birds of prey are concentrated in the Eastern Rhodope Mountain. Here you can see Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), white-headed vulture (Gyps fulvus), etc. The following species has also been registered in the mountain: 27 bat species, 40 small and large mammal species (European wolf, brown bear, common otter, etc.), 13 amphibian species and 30 reptile species.
According to the most famous legend, the mythical singer Orpheus was born in the Rhodope mountain. He was enchanting people and animals with his magical music. Another ancient saying tells about the Thracian king Hem and the queen Rhodope, who loved each other so much that they were calling each other with the godly names – Zeus and Hera. Gods got so angry at their insolence that they separated them and transformed them into distantly located mountains (the Balkan Mountain and the Rhodope mountain). These and other legends turned the Rhodope mountain into a place with special mysticism. The rock complex Perperikon is situated in the eastern part of the mountain. The temple of God Dionysus was situated at this exact place. It is also related to many legends. According to two of them, two prophecies which had come true had been said at the altar of this temple – one of them foretold the glory of Alexander of Macedonia as a world ruler, and the other one foretold the might of the first Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus.
The Rhodope mountain is one of the most preferred destinations for winter tourism – two ski resorts – Pamporovo and Chepelare - are situated here at a distance of only 10 km.
During the summer season the Rhodope mountain is an exceptionally pleasant place for hiking, biking and all kind of adventure activities. The natural landmark and The Wonderful Bridges are situated in close proximity to Chepelare. It had turned into one of the symbols of the mountain.
The tour of the Rhodope landmarks includes passing through the magnificent Trigrad Gorge and Buynovo Gorge. Three unique caves are located in the region of the two gorges – the Devil’s Cave, Haramyiska Cave and Yagodinska Cave, which are accessible for visits.
The vast territory of the Rhodope mountain offers options for various experiences. The combination of natural and historical landmarks with the diverse accommodation options and the delicious local cuisine turn the Rhodope mountain into a place which, leaves a deep imprint and offers unforgettable memories.
The well developed country and rural tourism in Bulgaria is a very good option for acquaintance with the local culture, lifestyle, traditions and cuisine. All of the destinations for rural tourism offer various outdoor activities, such as horse riding, active participation in the farm life, biking, wine and food degustations and picnics. People in these regions are hospitable, and when accommodated in some of the country houses, guests will certainly have the option to taste various dishes. Some of the villages which are the most preferred by tourists are Shiroka Laka, Gela, Mogilitsa, Kovachevitsa, Leshten, Trigrad, Yagodina, Momchilovtsi, Orehovo, Smilyan, Oreshaka, Skandaloto, Osam, Shipkovo, Raduil and many others.
Bulgaria is a country, which leaves all it's guests with great impressions, amazing memories and a smile. A breathtaking mixture of ancient history, unique culture, modern entertainment, delicious cuisine, sophisticated wine and beautiful traditions. The incoming touroperator “Adventure Trails” offers you to take this opportunity and reach hand to this magnificent destination.