If you meet Bulgaria think, many people quickly think of Sunny beach. But this country has a lot more to offer than just sunny beaches and hopping revelers. We made a roadtrip by Bulgaria with our DIY bus camper and know for sure; Bulgaria is an undiscovered gem.
Bulgaria is about the same size as Portugal and knows poorly 7 million inhabitants† This ensures that there is a lot of space for beautiful nature and small villages are more the rule than the exception; ideal ingredients for a unique roadtrip.
Table of contents
Roadtrip by Bulgaria | All highlights
1. The Black Sea
Our roadtrip through Bulgaria, because we came from Romania, at the black Sea† Varna is the first big city you will find in the north. The city is known as a port and party city. The nice thing about the city is that you can walk straight onto the beach from the center, so you quickly get that holiday feeling. The center is old and bursting with terraces, so it's nice to spend a day.
Just outside Varna is a special nature reserve, called Pobiti Kamani (or the stone forest). This is next to the Tabernas in Spain, the only desert in Europe. You really feel like you are in another world.
Above Varna is a coastal area consisting of extensive cliffs where you can spend the night with a camper (or a tent).
We drove inland from Varna. The Black Sea coast has much more to offer, unfortunately we did not get to that and chose to discover more of the interior.
Close to the border with Romania is the town of Ivanovo, which is known for its churches in the rocks. Between the 13th and 17th century, the rocks in the area were inhabited by monks, who in turn built as many as 40 churches in the rocks. One of these can be visited today in Ivanovo. We thought it was a special experience to enter the colorful cave, knowing that people made it hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, the other churches cannot be visited at the moment “due to safety reasons”.
From Ivanovo we continued our roadtrip through Bulgaria to Veliko Tarnovo. This place is known for its large fortress and the fact that it is built on several hills. Since this is one of the main tourist attractions in Bulgaria, it can sometimes be quite busy here. From the village you can walk to the fort via a number of touristic streets. If you do not want to visit the fortress but still want to have a nice view of the whole, then the city park is worth a visit. By walking up the 347 steps you get a nice view over the different hills on which the city is built.
4. Balkan National Park
The mountain range known as the Balkan National Park runs right through Bulgaria. The area is characterized by its high mountains, waterfalls and gorges. We visited the Emen gorge for a nice walk, we also visited the waterfall of Krushuna and the highlight was literally and figuratively our overnight stay at the top of Beli Osam. We chose to drive the Troyan pass to cross the mountains. Beli Osan is the highlight of this pass and you can spend the night here in the parking lot towards the war memorial. From here you can take beautiful walks through the mountain area in the summer (just follow the mountain peaks) and in the winter you can ski here.
If you want to exchange the mountains for a lively city full of cozy terraces, Plovdiv is highly recommended to add to your roadtrip by Bulgaria. This second city of Bulgaria is bursting with nice eateries and is a special mix between east and west. In the center you will find beautiful churches, a richly decorated mosque and a real fountain spectacle in the largest city park. The medley is also reflected in the various cuisines on offer. We ate at Veggic, highly recommended for a delicious vegan meal.
From Plovdiv we drove on to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria which of course cannot be missing from your roadtrip† The center of the city is compact and most of the life can be found on and around the Vitosha boulevard. Sofia is known for its many parks, whichever way you walk, you will always end up in a park. In addition, just like Plovdiv, it is known for its mix of cultures due to its rich history. There are several beautiful churches, mosques, an impressive parliament building and a real Arc de Triomf.
We also visited Mount Vitosha just outside Sofia. We parked the car in Bojana and from there we followed a hiking trail that led us up the mountain to the waterfall of Bojana. There are also ski lifts that take you to higher places on the mountain.
Rila Monastry is one of the other tourist highlights of Bulgaria after Veliko Tarnovo. The monastery is located approximately 1,5 hours drive from Sofia at an altitude of more than 1100 meters in the Rila Mountains and is especially popular on weekends. The richly decorated monastery is a place of pilgrimage for pilgrims, who can even spend the night there if they wish. Around the monastery you will find a busy monastery bakery where they sell “oliebol”-like sandwiches and you can take a walk to the church of Ivan. On the way to the church you will come across a cave where legend has it that your sins disappear when you crawl into the cave. To be honest we got through the monastery quickly and found the walk a good way to see some more of the Rila Mountains.
Unfortunately we were not able to explore the mountains further. If you have more time, it is well worth considering the hike to the 7 mountain lakes of Rila. A ski lift takes you to the top from where you can visit the various mountain lakes within a few hours.
From Rila it is again about 1,5 hours to the Pirin Mountains. Bansko is one of the most famous places around the mountains and a great base for visiting the mountains. We took a walk from Bansko, over the ski slopes, through the forest back to the town. In addition, we took a walk from the Vihren hut (easy to reach by car). From there you can visit several mountain lakes and wander along rivers.
Our last stop in Bulgaria was Melnik. After visiting a lot of mountains, we thought it was time for a festive closing and we visited the wine farm Villa Melnik for a tour and a well-deserved wine tasting. After the tasting we were allowed to sleep in the yard with our camper. So highly recommended!
Melnik is known as a wine region, but it also has more to offer, because it has “Piramides”, or sandstone rock formations, carved by the wind. The best view is from the eco path which starts at the monastery of Rozhen.
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