Almost a month ago we entered Bulgaria from Greece a little nervous of how we would find it after such an amazing Greek adventure. Almost instantly we realised that Bulgaria also has a lot to offer, with stunning unspoilt mountain scenery, an abundance of ancient history, natural lakes and wetlands and aqua blue seas. Do not discount this beautiful country. Here’s our top tips when visiting in a motorhome:
Roads & Vignette (Toll)
Almost everyone that mentioned Bulgaria to us also mentioned the condition of the roads, describing them as being a patchwork quilt of joined up potholes, so we were expecting the worst. Whether it’s because our expectations were low or the fact that we had just come through Italy and Greece to get here, we have found on the whole the roads haven’t been too bad. Yes we’ve experienced pot holes, but they’ve been avoidable. The main highways have been more than passable and even the mountain roads have been ok. The centre of villages and towns aside as these seem to have had little or no investment when it comes to road maintenance, here we have had to navigate our way around giant crevices, huge speed bumps and rough road surfaces. The standard of driving here after Greece has also been acceptable (at least here they seem to come around bends on their own side of the road). Most road signs are pictorial and place names are now in the main written in both Bulgarian and English.
Here in Bulgaria rather than have to pay tolls at a booth on roads you pay for a Vignette which comes in the form of a sticker that you place in your windscreen. Normally they cost 15€ for a month, although because we got ours at the 1st place over the border we paid an extra 5€, there’s always a tourist tax somewhere!
The notes here are known as Leva (or lev singular) and the coins Stotinki. There are around 2.10 Leva to the pound. There are plenty of ATM’s in towns, max daily withdrawal is 400 leva (200€). There are also bureau de change in larger towns and cities. Large supermarkets and shops in major cities all take card elsewhere its best to carry cash.
Fuel & Gas
Fuel stations are everywhere in Bulgaria, but ensure you use a named brand such as Shell or OMV as reportedly some smaller more rural stations can have contaminated fuel. Price of fuel is around 2 leva per litre (1€) although we have paid as little as 1.84 leva. As lots of vehicles here run on LPG this is also widely available for around 0.78 (0.39€)
Supermarkets & Shopping
There are some large chains of supermarkets now in Bulgaria, namely Lidl, Kaufland and Billa. We tried the 1st two and both are good. Prices are very low here, a 2 litre bottle of beer around 2.40 Leva (1.20€), 2 litre bottle of Ouzo 21 Leva (11€), wine is around 10 Leva (5€) for 3 litres. We do buy groceries sometimes as well!!! You will spot lots of stalls along the roadside selling local produce and also at tourist attractions, locally grown fresh fruit and veg and honey are all very cheap at these.
Wild camping and campsites
Bulgaria has a lack of campsites. All of the sites we have stayed on have been British owned and they have mainly been in the garden area of their home which they have converted into a camping area. We found this very personal and it gave them a home from home feel. We have paid on average 17€ a night inc electric. Laundry has been an additional 4€. Expect rural campsites to occasionally loose power and sometimes even water!
Wild camping (although technically illegal in Bulgaria) is generally accepted. If you are parked up and have no chairs out or windows open etc you are not breaking any rules. We have not personally experienced any issues wild camping here and due to the lack of campsites the majority of our overnight stops have been at wild spots, some of which we have gleaned from others who have previously trodden in our shoes, others that we have scoped out for ourselves. We are always respectful and never park in front of homes or anywhere near an open campsite and we always try and give back to the local community by shopping locally, eating out or stopping off for a coffee or beer. Note there is a large Gypsy population in Bulgaria a lot of which live in or around the small rural villages although we haven’t had any issues we were warned by a local to be on our guard.
Wild camping at Kamen Bryag on the black sea coast was still easy in July
Water & Waste
Fresh water taps are everywhere in Bulgaria. Most villages and towns have them and there are also numerous water points in laybys on the side of the road, we have also filled up with water at service stations (shell garages here have taps). If filling from a mountain spring the water is fine to drink too. Waste is a little trickier; most campsites we have visited don’t even have grey emptying points and so just expect it to be emptied on your pitch. Black waste is well catered for on sites and there are occasional public toilets dotted around at tourist attractions, but if wanting to wild camp here a spare cassette is really a must.
Roadside taps fed by spring water are plentiful
Ancient sites and visitor attractions
Bulgaria has some amazing sites and attractions and none of them were overcrowded when we visited. Most sites charge an entrance fee but they are very inexpensive. Here’s an example of the prices we have paid:
Caves 6 leva (3€)
4×4 off road experience 10 leva (5€)
Stone forest 3 leva (1.50€)
Thombs 3 leva (1.50€)
Castle 6 leva (3€)
Monastery 8 leva (4€)
Prices are per person
The Stone Forest entrance fee was just 3 Leva each (around £1.40)
Although a large number of the younger generation speak some English most of the older Bulgarians do not, so it helps to know some of the basics. We recorded some spoken language from you tube on to our phones and played it whilst driving along. This was an easy way of learning and certainly helped us whilst we were here. Being able to ask how much something is and understand the reply has been essential.
Eating out in Bulgaria is a must. The cuisine has influences from Greece and Turkey as well as local specialities. It is also very inexpensive, on average we have paid around 6 – 10 € per person for an amazing meal and wine. Most menus are now written in English underneath the Bulgarian.
There are plenty of big bins around in Bulgaria which seem to be emptied regularly although there is hardly any recycling.
Wifi is widely available in bars, restaurants and campsites although the signal strength can often be poor especially in more remote areas, so good wifi can be hard to find. 3G signal can also be hit and miss so if you’re reliant on wifi then you should aim for larger towns and villages.
The Bulgarian People
We have found the Bulgarians very welcoming and if spoken to in their own language they will always reply and smile even when there is very little understanding between the two parties.
One of the most confusing things that Bulgarians do is shake their head when they mean “yes” and nod their head when they mean “no”. It takes some getting used to and I’m unsure I ever would! Pointing is considered rude here too, so try and find another way of indicating.
Happy Travels All
Love Andi x