Maliovitsa Peak, Rila Mountains © Bulgarian Tourism Authority
Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with a sprinkling of mountains; it is small in size but rich in ancient culture, scenic splendour, friendly people and old-fashioned warmth and hospitality. Situated in the southeast of Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria is not as much a tourist destination as its Greek and Turkish neighbours to the south are. This despite the popularity of its reasonably priced Black Sea resorts, which are scenically captivating with their fine sandy beaches, sunny climate and safe seas.
Although better known for its sea resorts, the essential character of the country is to be found in its spectacular mountainous regions. The six very different ranges vary from high, snow-covered peaks to gentle green slopes and forests, harbouring thermal springs and mineral spas, and valleys where the air bears the fragrance of flowers and herbs. The Valley of Roses lies in the heart of the country and is one of the largest producers of rose oil in the world, giving root to Bulgaria's soubriquet, 'Land of Roses'. At the foot of the Vitosha Mountains lies the laid back capital city, Sofia, boasting a great number of architectural monuments and museums. The rugged heights of the Rila and Pirin mountains form a spectacular setting for ski resorts, as well as the famous Rila Monastery and the majestic landscape of the Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Crossing the entire country is the Balkan Range, a 329-mile (530km) chain that offers some of the best hiking in Europe.
As varied as the different mountain ranges are the people who dwell in them, with distinctive customs, crafts and colourful festivals, folklore, religious beliefs and speech. Small picturesque villages welcome guests with typical warm-hearted Bulgarian hospitality, sharing age-old traditions and traditional cooking, and a delight in their pastoral environment.
Bulgaria's history is displayed across the country in its old towns, ancient Thracian relics and treasures, decorated churches and monasteries, and in the rustic settlements that have preserved the traditional beliefs of its people. One of the country's biggest assets for visitors is its variety, but whatever aspect one chooses to explore, there is always the assurance of a warm welcome.
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