“You know, Bulgarians are the first European people in the world,” the older gentleman tells me just minutes after stepping off of my bus. “We also invented the saddle and horseback riding.” These first few moments are telling of the national pride and history this once mighty and now re-emerging Eastern European nation possesses. Nowhere is that past more apparent than in the country’s bustling capital - Sofia. Having only recently become the capital city in Bulgarian terms (nearly 1,000 years ago), a weekend here means a near endless supply of “Wait, this is how old?” moments. Sofia has also emerged as one of the most religiously tolerant cities in the world, as a mosque, synagogue, evangelical church and Orthodox cathedral have managed to co-exist for hundreds of years within 100 yards of each other. Charming lanes, a bustling market culture and lovely parks make this city the perfect jumping off point for a Bulgarian adventure.
Bulgaria is squeezed nicely between Romania, Turkey, Greece and Serbia. Sofia - the capital - is located in the west central portion of the country. The world famous Rila monastery is roughly 100 miles south, deep in the magnificent Rodopi mountains. From there, head east for some of the best-preserved Roman relics in Europe in Plovdiv. Continue north and you’ll end up in Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria’s medieval capital complete with castles, old city walls and teeny tiny lanes. At this point, it’s time to hit the world class Black Sea Coast in Varna - the country’s summer capital. Tiny beach towns and resorts dot the entire eastern edge of the country along the coast, so give yourself ample time to explore the empty beaches.