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Bulgaria
Bulgaria is in the very south-east corner of Europe and is becoming more and more popular to people searching for a spectacular, alternative holiday destination.

Bulgaria is situated in the very southeast corner of Europe and is becoming more and more popular to people searching for a spectacular, alternative holiday destination. It is also now becoming a prime location for property investment. Black Sea resorts boast some of the longest stretches of beach in Europe and superb sunbathing for six months of the year. The other six months are transformed by heavy winter snow, which allows Bulgaria to offer excellent skiing.

Bulgaria has something to suit all tastes, from glorious sandy beaches and spectacular mountains to traditional picturesque villages and lively party areas.

Culture

Bulgarian festivals and customs date back to ancient times and are embedded in its cultural history, which is full of beauty. Costumes, illustrated by the spectacular Kukeri Carnival, where everyone makes their own unique mask, are beautifully hand-crafted. Fire dancing is an ancient and religious ritual performed barefoot on burning embers. It is believed to help cure illness and preserve good health.

Food and Drink

Beans, sour and fresh milk, potatoes and onions, are the cornerstone of Bulgarian cuisine and often accompanied by grilled pork, lamb or fish. Fruit is also widely grown and fresh fruit juices are also very popular and produced locally. Bulgaria is now one of the world's largest wine exporters. It is renowned for its quality and its vineyards, in five main regions, produce crisp Sauvignon Blanc in the north to flavoursome Cabernets in the south-west. Its traditional alcoholic drink is Rakiya, and its best quality liquor is still used in traditional medicine. Around the dinner table, the tradition of welcoming visitors with bread and salt is still widely practised.

One of the best things about Bulgarian restaurants is that they don't define lunch or dinner time -- most open at around 11am and you can order anything anytime after this. Note that plates are served as they are ready, so don't expect courses to arrive at the same time. Also, if you eat at a mehana, portions are often small; for a full meal, choose a few items.

History

Bulgaria is the oldest surviving European state to still retain its original name, which it's had since 1861 AD. It was part of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-1300s to the 1800s until Russia, commanded by Catherine the Great, rose to prominence. In 1878 Bulgarian forces fought to establish an independent state under the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano. By 1923 Bulgaria had been overthrown by a right-wing coup and King Boris had established a royalist-military government. In 1990, Bulgaria joined the IMF, which had a major influence on the country's economic policy. However, its development was held back by political instability. Economic crisis followed. By 2001 the countries two-party political framework had been almost totally dismantled, and January 2007 marked Bulgaria's accession into the EU, 17 years after the fall of Communism.

Beaches

The Bulgarian Black Sea coast is 380km of marvellous beaches with fine golden sand and natural dunes; calm seas with a sandy bottom and clear water; numerous mineral springs and beautiful nature. The Black Sea water is amazingly smooth and is a real pleasure to swim or dive in. Holidaymakers have a huge selection of activities to choose from including yachting, diving, windsurfing, water skiing, snorkelling, underwater fishing and other aquatic sports.

Snowsports

With its rounded slopes and summits, Pamporovo --in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains-- is particularly suitable for beginners. Borovets, situated within 2 hours of Sofia in the Rila Mountains, is an excellent site for the whole range of winter sports. Also nearby, nestled among the Pirin, Rila and Rhodope Mountains, Bansko offers the best ski slopes for advanced skiers. Active snow sporting can also be practised at the Aleko Ski Center on Mount Vitosha and at the Beklemeto Complex in the Central Balkan Mountains.

Local Customs

Foreigners should be aware that a shake of the head means 'yes' and a nod means 'no', although allowances are often made for visitors; it is useful to clarify the answer verbally to avoid confusion.

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Did you know?
The Rila Cross is a wooden cross comprising 140 tiny scenes from the Bible featuring 1,500 figurines, the largest of which being only the same size as a single grain of rice. Carved by a single monk, it took a staggering twelve years to complete.
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