As we end our month long tour of Bulgaria and get ready to enter Romania and reflect on our time here, we can say that this country has both amazed a surprised us. The mountain scenery and tranquil wild camping spots we experienced in the Rhodope Mountains were some of the best, but the submission of the beach resorts to the lure of tourism were some of the worst, with resorts built into concrete jungles and tales of mafia gangs running the shop. This is a changing country and one of two halves. The older generation who lived through the communist era continue to live out their lives in their rural villages following a simple life of working the land, but the younger generations it seems want more, and have left for the cities or other countries where they can earn a better living and enjoy a better standard of life. This means a lot of the rural villages are slowly dying off with their ageing populations, leaving the houses to slowly decay over time. These are now being taken over by the countries gypsy population who are able to buy the houses at rock bottom prices and make them their home. Although Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU in contrast with this are the expensive vehicles we have seen throughout the country Range Rovers, BMW’s and Porches a plenty. In March 2017 Bulgarian average monthly wage hit an all-time high of 1036 leva (518€), so either cars are extremely cheap here or the mafia activity is even more widespread! Coast aside we have been enraptured by Bulgaria’s simplicity & scenery, the country has a natural beauty which we hope will remain long after the hands of tourism tightens its grip.
From Shipka we headed north west to Emen Gorge, parking for the night in the village square (GPS 43.13415-25.355974) from here we could walk the gorge the following day. With the weather in the mid 30’s we parked under the trees and discreetly got our chairs out behind Boris. In most villages in Bulgaria the local mini market also doubles up as the local bar with a few table and chairs positioned outside where people can enjoy a cold beer. Around 5pm all the chairs were taken and the overspill came into the square to sit and enjoy their cold one in the shade. We got chatting to one of the locals who informed us that there were several English living in the village, by the end of the evening we were like local celebrities as one after the other came to introduce themselves and chat.
The following morning we set the alarm for 6am to avoid the heat of the day when walking the gorge although on reflection we needn’t have bothered as there was heavy cloud cover and the air temperature was much cooler which was perfect walking weather. The Negovanka River sits beneath lofty limestone cliffs and has sculpted deep creeks and pretty waterfalls in this captivating nature reserve. For views across Emen Canyon, you can hike the ecotrail along 90m-high pathways. The trail begins with a steep clamber up rocky steps from Emen Cave to a spectacular vantage point over the gorge. We did a 4 hour gorge walk but had chosen the wrong time of year to see the waterfalls cascading into the canyon. In fact the river was almost dry and what water was lying there was somewhat stagnant and brown. At other times of year this is the cleanest river in Bulgaria and perfect for swimming in – oh well maybe next time!
Our next port of call was the city of Veliko Tarnovo, where we headed to another British run campsite (Camping VT 43.066259 25.75395). This site gets excellent reviews, but we felt it was a little over commercialised and lacked the personal element of the other sites we’ve stayed at in Bulgaria. It also situated around 15km’s from the city and the busy main road isn’t one you would risk cycling on so we needed to find another way of getting there. After a chat with reception we organised a taxi which cost just 14 leva (7€). We joined a free walking tour from the tourist office which leaves each day at 11am and not only shows you the main sites of the city but also tell you about the history in detail. Here we met Shayle and Kiri from New Zealand who are currently touring Europe and eventually Canada for 8 months. The four of us enjoyed lunch together in the city followed by a boozy evening back at the campsite swapping stories of our adventures.
Enjoying the company of Kiri & Shayle from New Zealand – I love travelling!
The City is a must as it’s packed with medieval history. The fortified walls and cobbled lanes are a wondorous place to explore. One of Bulgaria’s oldest towns and the former capital, it has as its centrepiece the magnificent restored Tsarevets Fortress, citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Around Veliko Tarnovo
Historic Tarnovo is tucked into the dramatic bends of the Yantra River, clasped by an amphitheatre of forested hills. Bulgaria’s 19th-century National Revival splendour is easy to relive along the historic lanes and its local handicrafts can still be seen in the Samovodska Charshiya area.
The modern town doesn’t seem to offer a centre as such, but like most cities it does have some out of town shopping with all the major stores and supermarkets.
The old mixes withe new in a very cool way in VT
After 3 weeks in Bulgaria we were yet to explore the coast and as we’d been informed that the coast north of Varna City was the best part that’s where we headed next. Our 1st stop just across the river at Varna opposite the beach (GPS 43.178401- 27.911031), the wild camping spot was popular with locals and had a wide sandy beach with huge waves whipped up by the strong winds. The city itself didn’t do it for us, a busy hub with traffic jams everywhere it was a complete contrast to our experience of Bulgaria so far. Whilst here though we paid a visit to the stone forest a short drive from the city, also known as Pobiti Kamani it’s a desert-like rock phenomenon formed under the sea some 50 million years ago. The numerous limestone pillars some as high as 10 metres stand proudly out of the ground surrounded by pure white sand.
The Stone Forest near Varna
Our coastal tour took us past the mass tourism resorts of Golden Sands and Albena, concrete jungles of hotels, bars and restaurants admittedly on some of the area’s best beaches. We briefly stopped off a Balchik, but this uninspiring resort filled with ugly communist style buildings didn’t inspire us either so we journeyed on stopping on route at Cape Kaliakra a fortified spit of land that juts out into the sea.
Cape Kaliakra and Kamen Bryag
Our overnight stop was just a little further up the coast at Kamen Bryag (GPS 43.440861 28.545991) which offered great seas views, peaceful surroundings and a beautiful sunrise and sunset. After a few hectic weeks though we were ready for some R&R so went in search of a campsite near a beach where we could rest for a few days. Unfortunately the campsite no longer existed so instead we found a beach side parking area (GPS 43.564833 28.587764), although we were able to spend a couple of days larking around at the beach with our boogie boards the nights were far from peaceful as the local bar played their music into the small hours. This is the price you pay though when you wild camp at beaches in high season, so we can’t complain.
Having longed for the coast we were a little disappointed with the results, maybe now we’ve been spoilt forever with the abundance of beautiful beaches we visited in Greece! Here we found a lot of it is over developed and uninspiring.
After a couple of noise filled nights we longed for peace and quiet so made our way to Srebarna nature reserve (GPS44.101875 27.062283) a world heritage site, which is located just two kilometres away from the Danube River. The freshwater lake is home to and numerous birds and the area extends over 900 hectares, it is the breeding ground of almost 100 species, many of which are rare or endangered including, mute swans, great egrets, night herons, and the Dalmatian pelican.
Our last visit in Bulgaria was to the Rulenski Rom region near the border with Ruse (our crossing point into Romania), home to several Unesco heritage rock monasteries. You can visit the working monastery of Brasolovo along with the chapel cave of Ivanhoe a former rock monastery which displays frescos of the last supper which were painted before Leonardo Da Vinci did his! We were able to park easily at all the sites and parked overnight at Ivanhoe (GPS43.694417 25.986631).
For our last night in Bulgaria we are parked by a picturesque lake near the city of Ruse about 10km’s away from the bridge across the Danube which takes us into Romania. I always get excited before entering a new country, looking forward to a new culture and experiences.
Watch this space to see what it brings!
Love Andi & Paul x