Koprivstitsa is probably the best destination if you want to see Bulgaria as it used to look 150 years ago. With its well-preserved 19th-century houses, many of which have been turned into museums dedicated to Bulgarian poets, scholars and participants in the National Revival period, this small town can literally take you back in time. The sense of history is almost palpable – you can see the rooms where Bulgarians used to live, and hear stories of brave men and women who fought for the liberty of their country.
Plovdiv’s Old Town is colorful in many respects – from the nuances of the houses to their respective eras, not to mention the many and varied events that take place here (wine festivals, literature readings, live music concerts under the stars). Put your comfortable shoes on and let your curiosity lead you through the maze of winding streets up and down the three hills where the Old Town is laid out. When you’ve had enough history, go down to Kapana art district where the creative crowd of Plovdiv gathers for a glass of wine or a whisky tasting in the evening.
Lovech is an off-the-beaten-track destination well known to Bulgarians, but more likely a surprise for foreigners. The most colorful part of it includes the eclectic-styled houses lining the river banks which gradually give way to the old houses in the historical part of the town. The town’s pride is the only covered bridge in Bulgaria connecting the old and the new part of Lovech. Walk all the way up the old neighnourhood and you’ll reach the town’s medieval fortress ‘guarded’ by the statue of Vasil Levski, the most cherished national hero in the country. The area is also rich in unexpected natural gems such as the Krushuna Waterfalls and the Devetaki Cave.
Ruse used to be called ‘Little Vienna’, and you can feel the Viennese atmosphere as soon as you set foot on its pedestrianized Alexandrovska Street. The restored façades are painted in bright colors and decorated with fine ornaments, manicured bushes and flower beds surround fountains, while the cafés are full of people. Don’t miss the recently opened Eco Museum with Aquarium displaying the wildlife in the Danube area, or if you feel more adventurous, use Ruse as a hub for exploring the Danube islands.
Melnik is officially the smallest town in Bulgaria (with fewer than 400 inhabitants according to the last census) as well as being one of the most famous wine destinations in the country where you can taste the local grape varietals Melnik 55 and Broad-leaved Melnik. What’s more, the handful of houses here are well-preserved and although they are not painted in the colors of the rainbow, there’s a perfect harmony between the black-and-white façades and the ever changing hues of the surrounding earth pyramids.
If you’re traveling in Central Bulgaria, plan a detour to Zheravna. This village has more than 200 houses that are cultural monuments with wood-carved ceilings and ornamental doors. The multicolored carpets and rugs typical of the area can be seen all over town, and you will find impressive handcrafted souvenirs on almost every street.