Bulgaria

Bulgaria is located in Southeast Europe, in the northeast part of the Balkan Peninsula.It is a European, Balkan, Black Sea and Danube country. This geographic location places it on the crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa.Bulgaria borders to the north with Romania, to the east with the Black Sea, to the south with Turkey and Greece, and to the west with Macedonia1 and Serbia.

Bulgaria’s natural lakes (coastal, glacial, karst, landslide, by-river and tectonic) are concentrated along the Black Sea coast and the Danube, and in the alpine regions of the Rila and Pirin ranges.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.Three national parks have been established in the country: Pirin National Park (a 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.

The territory of Bulgaria has been inhabited since antiquity, as the country’s many ancient settlements and burial mounds attest. Present-day Bulgaria was a cradle of some of the earliest civilizations in Europe – the oldest gold ornament ever discovered, unearthed in the Chalcholite necropolis near Varna, is evidence of that. From the age of Ancient Thrace we have inherited valuable cultural monuments, including tombs (such as the Kazanlak tomb, the Aleksandrovska tomb, and the Sveshtarska tomb); treasures (the Panagyursko, Rogozensko, and Valchitransko teasures, among others); and sanctuaries and temples (at Perperikon, Starosel, Kozi Gramadi, Begliktash, and elsewhere).

According to its Constitution, Bulgaria is a Parliamentary Republic, a unified state with local self-government. The official language in the republic is Bulgarian, and the religion of most Bulgarians is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The national state emblem of the Republic of Bulgaria is an upright golden lion on a dark red, shield-shaped background. The national emblem of Republic of Bulgaria is depicted on its state seal. The flag of the Republic of Bulgaria consists of three colors: white, green and red, laid horizontally from top to bottom. The country’s national anthem is the song Mila Rodino (Dear Motherland). Bulgaria’s capital is Sofia.Bulgaria has a population of 7,351,234 as of 01.02.2011, with 72.9% of its people living in either cities or villages. The country is justly famous for its yoghurt and other dairy products, for its rose oil products, and for its wines and brandies. One of Bulgaria’s preeminent industries is tourism.

Lifestyles and cultures in what is now Bulgaria have developed over thousands of years. The country is located at the crossroad between Europe and Asia, and the lands of Bulgaria have been populated since antiquity. The Slavs and proto-Bulgarians were greatly influenced by the cultures of the Thracians, Illyrians and Greeks, and all peoples who resided on these lands – Thracians, Romans, Slavs, and Bulgarians – have contributed to the world’s cultural heritage. It is no accident that the earliest European civilization grew up here.Bulgarian customs are rooted in antiquity and are closely tied to the country’s history and particular expression of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Especially well-respected in Bulgaria are traditions related to the circle of life – birth, christening, wedding, and funeral. Saints’ name days are also highly respected in the country, the most famous ones being St. John’s day, St. George’s Day, and St. Dimitar’s Day.

The holidays that are most honored by Bulgarians are undoubtedly Christmas and Easter – when the generations all celebrate together, united by the feeling of belonging to the harmonious Bulgarian family. Also especially highly honored are the first Sunday before Lent, the second Sunday before Lent, Mother’s Day, All Soul’s Day, and Lent.

While traveling around the country, tourists will become acquainted with various rituals and customs, many of which are typical only for specific regions in Bulgaria.

The Rose is the symbol of Bulgaria. Rose picking, one of the oldest and traditional customs of Bulgarians, has become primarily a tourist attraction. Carpets from the time of the Bulgarian Revival are now highly valued works of art. The major centers of carpet weaving are Kotel, Chiprovtsi and Samokov. Along with traditional handicrafts, Bulgaria’s people have also preserved a wide range of traditional popular customs and songs.

An important part Bulgarian culture is folk music and national dances, such as the horo. Instruments typically used to perform Bulgarian national music are the fiddle, the mandolin, the kaval (flute), the gaida (bagpipe), the pipe, the dvoyanka (double pipe), the drum and the taranbuka, another percussion instrument. Bulgarian folksongs are handed down orally from one generation to the next. The ensembles “Cosmic Voices”, “The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices” and the folklore ensemble “Pirin” are internationally famous. Bulgarian traditional dances are exceptionally vivid forms of artistic expression. Most often they are performed by a group of people touching palms in a closed or open circle, semicircle, serpentine pattern, or in a straight line. Participants perform similar movements in unison, along with gestures and steps to a specific melody (the horo). Depending on the rhythm and the steps, there are a number of horo types: the standard horo, the rachenitsa, the paydushko horo and the improvised horo.

Bulgaria’s museums preserve valuable collections of domestic, cultural and military articles; statues, burial steles and monuments; masks, mosaics, and small statuettes of ancient gods; and many other precious exhibits.

Bulgarian cuisine is exceptionally diverse and delicious, consisting of various salads, breadstuffs, stews, and other local dishes. Many of the dishes are prepared according to traditional recipes handed down from generation to generation over the centuries.

The most products for which Bulgaria is internationally known are yogurt and white brine (feta) cheese. These are almost always present on Bulgarian tables in one form or another.

One of the most famous and most popular breakfast items in the country is banitsa. It is a made of dough with various fillings, such as cheese, spinach, rice, and meat.

People in rural areas grow vegetables that are exceptionally tasty, which is why salads occupy a central place in our culinary tradition. The most popular Bulgarian salad is the Shopska Salad, but there are also other salads worth trying – Shepherd’s Salad, Harvest Salad, Snezhanka, Monk’s Salad, Dobrudzha Salad, Roasted Peppers Salad, and many others.

One of the most popular appetizers is Tarator (cold Cucumber Soup). It is prepared with yogurt, cucumbers, dill, crushed walnuts and spices.

One of the trademarks of the Bulgarian cuisine is Cheverme – an entire lamb roasted on a spit. This dish is typical for the Rhodope region, but it is also served throughout the country.

Potatoes are a main ingredient in many Bulgarian recipes. The most popular potato dishes include Ogreten (au gratin), Patatnik (in the Rhodope region), potato stew, and fried potatoes.

Such delicacies are usually accompanied with a Bulgarian wine, since Bulgaria is justly famous for its wines. Thanks to the country’s unique climate and soils, a variety of grapes thrive here – Gamza (North Bulgaria), the Wide Melnik Vine (in the region of Melnik and Sandanski), Dimyat (in the regions of Varna, Shumen and Stara Zagora), Mavrud (Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Asenovgrad), Red Misket (Straldzha and Sungurlare), Ruby (Plovdiv and Septemvri) and Pamid (Pazardzhik, Pamidovo and Plovdiv).

Another very popular Bulgarian spirit is Rakia. It is made of grapes or other fruits – plums (in the region of the town of Troyan, Teteven), apricots (in the region of Tutrakan, Silistra, Dobrich), figs, pears, and others. A rose rakia is distilled in the Valley of Roses (in the region of Karlovo and Kazanlak), since this is the home of Bulgaria’s oil-yielding roses.

This brief introduction only touches on the diverse Bulgarian dishes and drinks. To fully know the culinary magic of the country, it is necessary to visit all of the regions where the traditional recipes are proudly maintained and culinary delights are constantly on offer.

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