Bulgaria – Rila, Bansko, Melnik, Plovdiv, Nesebar & Varna

Bulgaria was the last country of our European adventure and luckily, we had reserved a rental car way in advance of the peak tourism season. Our car was waiting for us as soon as we landed, and all the paperwork was on hand so a quick signature and we were off. After grabbing a local SIM, we drove to our first destination, the UNESCO World Heritage Rila Monastery. Even though we arrived in the late afternoon, we were able to catch a monk who allowed us to reserve a room for the night at the simple monastery accommodations. This meant we had this amazing monastery complex to ourselves long after the last tourists had departed for the day. From Rila, we drove to the alpine village of Bankso for a brief wander before moving onward to Melnik (Rozhen Monastery, Melnik Sandstone Pyramids, and the Kordopulov House museum) for an overnight stay. The next day was a long day with a hike through the Trigrad Gorge to the Devil’s Throat Cave, a windy drive through mountain roads to reach “the Wonderful Bridges”/Chudnite Mostove, a visit to Bachkovo Monastery, Asen’s Fortress and then onward to Plovdiv where we spent two nights. Plovdiv’s old town is a beautiful collection of historical houses bound by cobblestoned streets along with some Roman ruins nearby. An annual folklore festival coincided with our visit so we had a lovely time in pretty Plovdiv! The Black Sea was up next with a brief stop enroute to visit the Roman Forum of Stara Zagora and its Regional History Museum. Our first Black Sea town was Sozopol, followed by Burgas and Nesebar. Nesebar is deservedly popular with tourists…it is a stunning ancient city on the Black Sea coast and a delight to explore on foot. Too bad we only had one night here! From Nesebar, we drove up to Bulgaria’s only desert, Pobiti Kamani, where we checked out the Stone Forest. This natural phenomenon of massive stone pillars in the desert was worth the detour, and we then backtracked to the seaside resort town of Varna for the night. We got our seafood fix here at a local restaurant and not only was our meal incredibly tasty, it was very affordable too.  We are halfway through our time in Bulgaria and it is flying by. More of Bulgaria still to come!

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