The Thracians, Romans, and Ottomans occupied one of Europe’s loveliest cities, and the architecture of each era now vies for attention. A well-preserved 1,800-year-old stadium runs under the main pedestrian street, with glass panels giving bird’s-eye views of the past. The ancient amphitheater is used for operas and concerts. The Old Town, crammed with Bulgarian Renaissance-style houses either side of treacherous cobbled streets, is dotted with fine restaurants and art galleries with views of the Rhodope Mountains to the south.
Bulgarians are rapidly discovering their Thracian heritage, and this is the place to see it. One of Europe’s most mysterious peoples left a stunning legacy of relics. Like the Egyptians, they used hieroglyphics and followed a cult of death. In the town itself lies the Kazanlak Tomb, a burial chamber with fresco-covered walls that take the breath away. In the Valley of the Thracian Kings are more sites stuffed with statuary and paintings in near-mint condition. The Rose Festival, held in the first week of June, involves picking the damascene rose at dawn – its highly valuable oil is used in perfumes worldwide.
The most charming of Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts, which manages to cater for the young, party-going set from Sofia as well as those seeking something more sedate. The classy old town offers shoreline restaurants and bars where you can watch the sun slide down over Asia. To the south, miles of sandy beaches stretch as far as Turkey. To the north, Sunny Beach pulsates to the beat of 24-hour parties.
This ancient settlement sits under the 9,000ft Pirin Mountains. Its fiercely independent people boast that they were never conquered by the Ottomans. Today it’s an important skiing resort and home to one of golf’s loveliest courses. In summer walk through blankets of wildflowers to Bulgaria’s second highest peak, Mt Vihren. In September the international jazz festival pulls in thousands.
It was here that the struggle for independence from the “Turkish yoke” kicked off in 1876, and today Bulgarians recognize its significant place in their history. This picturesque town of half-timbered buildings, guarding the Sredna Gora Mountains and divided by the meandering River Topolnitsa, hosts important music and folklore festivals.
( Robert Nurden, 11 December 2013, ‘The Telegraph’)