Kukeri are traditional monsters in Bulgaria who have tens of festivals across the country dedicated to them. These are people dressed up in fur, horns, and fangs and holding heavy bells around their waists who are believed to chase the evil spirits away with their dances. The biggest Kukeri festival, Surva, is held in the town of Pernik, half an hour by train or car from Sofia, at the end of January or the beginning of February.
Bulgarians celebrate two holidays on February 14 – Valentine’s Day (influenced by American pop culture) and Trifon Zarezan (a traditional holiday dedicated to wine and wine-makers). The combination of love and wine seems perfect and all you need to do is find a winery to spend the night, while tasting local grape varietals.
Bulgaria has a few big ski resorts (Bansko, Borovets, and Pamporovo) and several smaller ones more suited for beginners, with miles of snowy slopes and perfect skiing and snowboarding conditions. One of the main advantages of skiing in Bulgaria is that it’s very affordable compared to other European winter destinations.
Most of the big cities have book cafes where you can choose among the reads on display and browse them for free while you sip a cup of hot chocolate.
When snow falls and all the old traces are covered, it’s the perfect time to put on a pair of snowshoes and explore the mountains at their purest. As the weather conditions in the mountains are often unpredictable and part of the marking might be invisible due to the snowfall, you’d better hire a mountain guide for your hike. Most adventure agencies and outdoor equipment stores offer snowshoes for rent.
Bulgarians have some really extreme traditions, like the one on January 6, the day when the Orthodox Church marks the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, when hundreds of Bulgarian men jump into rivers, lakes, and reservoirs to fetch a cross tossed by the priest. While the Jordan River may be pleasantly tepid for swimming on this day, the rivers in Bulgaria are icy and the ritual is not for the faint-hearted. You can watch it in every Bulgarian city or town.
There are certain street foods that can be found in Bulgaria only in winter. Your nose will lead you to the stalls where chestnuts are roasted or where pumpkin is baked on an open fire. These warming delicacies are cheap and make the season cozy.