Every year, between January and mid-March, in different towns and villages across Bulgaria the unusual tradition of Kukeri takes place. Men and boys dress up like monsters and make as much noise as they can with the heavy bells hung on their belts, believing they chase the evil spirits away.
The first weekend of August is the time to travel to the small mountain village Gela and join the biggest bagpipe contest in the country. If you can’t play the bagpipes, you can just enjoy the beautiful music that echoes across the ridges of the Rhodope Mountains.
There’s a place, right in the center of Sofia, where four places of worship of four different religions coexist peacefully together. This area is known as the Square of Religious Tolerance and comprises an Orthodox church, a mosque, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a synagogue.
Nestinari, or the people who dance on embers, is a century-old tradition that has been preserved in one small village in Strandzha Mountain – Balgari. Every year, on June 3, nestinari (as the dancers are called) fall into trance and dance on the smouldering embers with the icon of St Constantine and St Helen in their arms.
There’s a place in Bulgaria called the Valley of Roses where the local Rosa Damascena rose variety is grown. This rose is used for rose oil that is used in some of the best French perfumes and cosmetics. The picking season is in June and as a tourist you can join the process. It’s important to know, however, that the roses should be picked at dawn to keep their essential oils, so you’ll have to get up really early.
Ambaritsa Chalet is situated at 5000 feet (1500 m) altitude but this fact doesn’t stop hundreds of people sweating all the way up the mountain every summer to join the party at the Blueberry Festival. Join them and spend a weekend listening to live music performances and learning crafts and cooking.
In Bulgaria February 14 is a double holiday. St Valentines day is getting more and more popularity due to the Western cultural influence but the traditional Bulgarian celebration on this day is the Day of the Winemakers. Celebrate with a glass of Bulgarian wine or visit a vineyard and take part in the celebrations there.
There’s a peculiar Bulgarian tradition of celebrating the first day of July, usually at the seaside. Its roots are unclear but most probably it started as an activity of the hippie movement during the communist era in Bulgaria. The most famous place to celebrate July Morning is the rocky Black Sea coast near the village of Kamen Bryag.
Prohodna is one of the most beautiful caves in Bulgaria. It has two large openings in its ceilings, known as the Eyes of God and its entrance arch is perfect for bungee jumping.
Green cheese can be found in only one Bulgarian village – Cherni Vit. This traditional cheese is covered in green mould and has a rich aroma worth the trip to try it.
Struma River gets busy in spring and summer as soon as the rafting season has been officially opened. From the end of March till the end of June you can quench the extreme part of your soul with a rafting adventure. Apart from Struma, rafting is practiced in other rivers (the Iskar, Mesta, and Arda are all good places to try).
The Seven Rila Lakes are the most visited natural tourist attractions in Bulgaria and there’s a reason for it. The lakes unveil their deep blue waters as you climb Rila Mountain and at the Lake Peak (Ezeren Vrah) you are granted a magnificent view – all Seven Rila Lakes are at your feet.
Bulgaria has a variety of climbing routes and spots but one of the most challenging is the deep-water solo climbing at the Black Sea coast. Head for Kamen Bryag (July Morning also takes place there, remember?) for a gorgeous cliff landscape.
The ancient Thracian tribes have left much of their culture – tombs, sacred places, stone sanctuaries, cave sanctuaries, and numerous megaliths – scattered across Bulgaria. Some of their heritage is protected by UNESCO (Kazanlak Tomb, Sveshtari Tomb), and another part is used by new-age communities aiming to revive the ancient rituals. Head to Kazanlak and visit the local History Museum to hear the stories and then hike to the Buzovgrad Megalith 10 km away.
There are several small islands along the Bulgarian part of the Danube river that appear in a different place every summer. When the weather gets hot and the water level decreases, the sand dunes emerge. These islands are wild and you can reach them by boat or kayak. The best are Lyulyak, Mishka, Aleko, and Batin.