Category Archives: Travel

Melnik & Rila Monastery

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Melnik & Rila Monastery

After approximately a three hour drive, we arrived in the beautiful small town of Melnik. Letter F on Map. We had booked two nights here, so it would give us a full day to explore this quaint little town. Apart from its beauty, another reason we visited is that it is situated near the amazing Rila Monastery. More on that later.

The town is an architectural reserve and 96 of its buildings are cultural monuments, which is quite amazing for such a small place, and with only 385 inhabitants. It is also the smallest town in Bulgaria. The town is situated having the backdrop of the Pirin mountain range. Also closer to the town are the Melnik Earth Pyramids, which surround the town. These limestone rock formations known as Hoodoos are a spectacular sight, I suggest you walk up to the highest point of the town to get the best view of them.

 After checking into our hotel, Hotel Despot Slav, a really lovely hotel built in keeping with the traditional Bulgarian architecture around it. We decided to explore the town. We found a really nice Meyhane (Bar/Restaurant) and settled down for a drink. Not only that, but we were greeted by the lovely owners, an elderly Bulgarian couple called Sophia and Tom. And had a lovely afternoon and early evening chatting with them, over plenty of glasses of lovely Bulgarian wine. We enjoyed their company so much we went back the next day. Tom and his wife Sophia showed us around their lovely restaurant and wine cellar, when we left they even gave us a bottle of wine to take with us. A lovely gesture. On our trip around the country, we had many encounters with some really lovely Bulgarian people, they are such friendly and helpful people.

Sights

There are a couple of sights to see in the town, these are:-

Kordopulov House

Wine Museum

Earth Pyramids

Even though there are not many sights in the town, it is a must-see on any Bulgarian road trip. The quaintness and the architecture are enough on its own, and the people are so welcoming.

We left Melnik early the next morning for our drive to the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, better known as the Rila Monastery, which was about a two-hour drive from Melnik towards our final destination, Sophia. Letter H on the map. Founded in the 10th century, and also regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments, and attracts some 1 million visitors a year. It’s also depicted on the back of the 1 lev note. Words cannot describe this amazing place, its architecture, the people and the overall ambiance of the town, all I will say that it is a must-visit.

Top Tips

                Arrive early before the coaches. We got there around 10am, as you can imagine the place gets very busy indeed. Entrance at the time of our visit was free, car parking was 5 lev around £2.00. Visit the Monastery bakery, and have breakfast at the little restaurant and admire the views. Next stop Sophia

Bulgarian Road Trip – Plovdiv

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Bulgarian Road Trip – Plovdiv

Our next stop Plovdiv (letter E on map) which is about a four-hour drive from Sozopol, is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in Europe and the second largest city in Bulgaria. Standing on the banks of the river Maritsa, in the historical region of Thrace. It’s also known as the City of seven hills, because of the seven hills the city is built on. When we arrived we settled down in a street café to look for a nights accommodation as we had cut short our stay in Sozopol. We settled on the Hotel Expo as it was in a good location and reasonably priced. After checking in we ventured into town and were delighted to discover it was everything we expected and read about.

The town is split into three areas, the new part the old quarter, and the Kapana or trap, a truly amazing area of very chic art galleries, restaurants and trendy bars. The area is also known for it’s amazing street art. After a nice relaxing walk around getting our bearings and a couple of nice cold beers it was back to our hotel to look forward to our next few days in this amazing city.

Plovdiv has so much to see and do, to much to write about in detail so I will just list them. Click on the links for more imformation.

  • The Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis Is reported to be one of the best preserved amphitheatre’s in the world, although in my opinion Ephesus in Turkey is pretty amazing.
  • Ancient Stadium of Philipopolis Which is the remains of what was once a huge Roman stadium, a lot of which is below street level. There is currently an ambitious plan to excavate under the streets and shops to reveal it in entirety, although this will probably take years.
  • Ancient Town Of Plovdiv — Architectural Reserve Like stepping back in time
  • Regional Ethnographic Museum Plovdiv This museum is the second largest of its type in Bulgaria
  • Dzhumaya Mosque Part of the mosque at the side of the building is a restaurant. It’s great to sit here with some food or a coffee and people watch and let the world go by.
  • Museum – Gallery Philippopolis situated in the old town, which incidentally is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s an amazing place to visit. It houses works of art both contemporary and classic.
  • Balabanov’s House The house was demolished in the thirty’s but was reconstructed in the seventies using old photographs and plans.
  • City gallery of fine arts Which we did not visit as it was closed due to refurbishment.
  • Sveta Petka Church
  • Tsar Simeon’s Garden Nice place to stroll around during the day. Also, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 21:00. They have a spectacular light show with music. Although we did get to see the show, but judging by the pictures we saw it looks amazing,

There is so much to see and do in Plovdiv, it’s an amazing city and should not be overlooked if visiting Bulgaria. We loved it so much we wanted to stay longer than our four nights. We shall definitely return. Next stop Melnik

Bulgarian Road Trip: Sozopol

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Bulgarian Road Trip: Sozopol

After a relatively short journey, about an hour from Nesebar, we arrived in Sozopol. (Letter D on map). We found our apartment , but do you think we could find a parking space, we could not find a parking space anywhere. We did eventually find a car park at the end of our street. Well I say car park, it was a bit of wasteland with a ram shackled hut with a large sofa outside which had seen better days. And a rather dubious looking Bulgarian collecting the money. In fact, he turned out to be very nice and was very friendly, and all was legitimate. Also parking was very cheap 61 lev per day, around £2.80.

One thing we did not envisage was how busy the place was, as on doing our research beforehand Sozopol was labelled as a quieter family resort, so we thought it would be nice to relax by the sea for a couple of days, and also visit the old town and its attractions.

So after dragging our cases down a very long street we eventually arrived at our apartment, and we were not disappointed, it was very nice indeed, and had a balcony with a nice sea view. The elderly owners of the apartment and who live on the ground floor were lovely and very helpful. So our expectations of the town were upbeat.

After settling in we decided to have a walk around to get a feel of the area. It was not long before we both decided that Sozopol was perhaps not what we expected. Crowds of people, endless tacky souvenir shops, fast food stalls, and restaurants with the largest menus you have ever seen, which for us puts us off straight away. We were both feeling a little downcast. Luckily on our dejected walk back to our apartment we stumbled across a lovely Hotel and restaurant called Hotel Briz. Where we had a really nice meal, and a few glasses of wine. We both decided that we were perhaps both tired, and it will be a better day tomorrow.

With a new day ahead we ventured back into the old town. Sozopol is the oldest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The first settlement here dates back to the end of the 4th millennium BC. So as you can imagine the architecture is amazing.

Visit the archaeological museum. Open Monday to Friday and is situated near the port it houses a fascinating collection of local finds from Apollonian days. Apparently the museum occasionally exhibits the skeleton of a local vampire, found with a stake driven through its chest, although it was not on display when we visited, which was a shame.

Another interesting place to visit is the Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa. This 15th-century church was built below street level, as required at the time by the Ottoman rulers. Set in a courtyard with a giant fig tree in the middle, it is one of the most picturesque and photographed places in town, with an exquisite wooden iconostasis and a magnificent carved pulpit. So after a good look around we were slightly warming to the place. The beauty of the old architecture and the quaint little streets you can wander around. Another place worth visiting is a traditional Bulgarian house Ethnographic house which is now a museum, which is very interesting indeed, where we learnt a great deal about life in a typical Bulgarian town and household. After we left the museum and on walking around the quaint streets, we came across locals who had set up stalls outside their homes selling local produce and crafts. Where we bought some very nice local honey. Don’t be put off visiting Sozopol as the old town is amazing, but when you venture into the new town it’s typical of any busy seaside town. We had originally booked three nights in Sozopol but cut our stay short as in my opinion you only need one full day to see everything. Tomorrow we move onto Plovdiv.

Bulgaria Road Trip: Nessebar

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Our next stop on our itinerary was the lovely town of Nessabar. Point C on map. Journey time was around 4 hours. Nessebar is situated on the coast and a real nice spot to relax for a couple of nights. It’s often referred to as the “Pearl of the black sea”. The town is split into two parts. The main part where most of the tourist hotels are situated and a small peninsular (The old town which was previously an island). But is now joined by a narrow man-made walkway “Isthmus”. Nessebar is a much quieter resort than the infamous sunny beach area which is opposite in the distance across the bay. We stayed in the old part of the town at the Villa Azzurra . Villa Azure quaint old traditional hotel built in the traditional Bulgarian way, “one thing to note they accept guests over 16 years old”. There are plenty to do in the old part of town with its many shops, bars and nice restaurants, many as you would expect serving some excellent seafood. The old part of town gets very busy during the day with lots of day trippers from all the other black sea resorts. But empties out dramatically in the evening. That’s the one advantage of staying in the old town. Also you can get up early to explore before the coaches arrive. Point to note there are no cars allowed in the old town only residents are allowed, but there is a large car park just at the entrance to the town with very reasonable 24hr rates 8 lev. £3.65

There are lots of historical landmarks, quaint churches and museums to explore in the old town, and lots of very lovely Bulgarian houses to admire, it’s almost like stepping back in time. Make sure you visit the Ethnographic museum and the Archaeological museum both of which details the journey of old Nessebar through its history. Entrance fees to both sites at time of writing is 8 lev, which £3.65 (Bulgaria is very cheap), strange exactly the same as the car park. I would highly recommend staying in the old town for a night or two. If this is not possible take a day trip, you will not be disappointed.

Bulgarian Road Trip. Veliko Tarnova

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Bulgarian Road Trip. Veliko Tarnova

Please note this trip was before the Covid 19 outbreak. All future trips currently on hold until who knows when

Veliko Tarnovo

Our travels this time took us back to Eastern Europe and the stunning country of Bulgaria. We have never travelled to Bulgaria before so we were really looking forward to our trip. After some in depth research we decided on our itinerary and booked our flights to Sofia Bulgaria’s capital. As our flight did get in until late we decided to stay the first night in a hotel near the airport and picked up our hire car early the next day and head of to our first destination which was Veliko Tarnovo. After all that we read about the town we were really looking forward to our first stop. Veliko Tarnovo is around a two and half hour drive from Sofia along some very nice scenic roads. We arrived at our accommodation Casa Dea for our three night stay. Our philosophy is to always stay anywhere we visit for three nights as this gives you one full day to explore. Our apartment situated in the old part of town in a nice quite street, was lovely and afforded a beautiful roof terrace with stunning views overlooking the Tsaravets the 12th century fortress which dominates the town’s skyline. Veliko Tarnovo is the oldest town in Bulgaria and has the nickname “The city of the Tsars”. There is a free walking tour of the town which leaves at 11am from outside the tourist office. Which we did not do We just wandered around ourselves with our trusty lonely planet guide book, personal preference I suppose. The town has plenty of nice shops and restaurants, also many beautiful old buildings, churches and monuments.

Must do’s

Take a walk across the Stambolov Bridge. (Click for 360 degree view) Built in 1892 it’s a pedestrian bridge to a small island in middle of the Yantra river where the memorial to the Asen dynasty, can be found The Asenevtsi Monument was built. In memory of the Asen dynasty undoubtedly is the most visited monument in Veliko Tarnovo. It is dedicated to the kings Asen, Petar, Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II. The name of the dynasty comes from one of the brothers, Asen. It was built in 1985 for the 800th anniversary of the uprising of the brothers Asen and Petar. When standing at the monument take the time to soak up the great 360 view of the town.

Visit The Tsaravets

Tsaravets is a medieval fortress built on the top of a hill overlooking the town. It served as the Second Bulgarian Empire’s primary fortress between 1185 and 1393. Entrance fees are currently 6 lev which is just under two pounds. Try to get there early in the morning to avoid the tour coaches. At various times throughout the year (check website for dates) they have a laser light show with musical soundtrack which bathes the whole fortress in spectacular colour.

View of the Tsaravets fortress from our terrace
Bulgarian Asen dynasty monument
Tsaravets laser light show

Next stop the black sea to the town of Nessebar.