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Bulgaria - Alternative Place for All Seasons

Source: Sofia News Agency (
Published Date: 13 Oct 2006

Bulgaria is a holiday address, destined by nature and it is a spur of the moment affair to pick the timing for a visit here. As calls for developing year-round destinations gain momentum in the country, new opportunities tempt those eager for adventure and special interest tourism.

By Milena Hrisova

Climbing up the rock, I could hardly believe it was me who was hanging on a rope over the wide chasm of a cave. Well, it was me but only after contacting an adventure and special interest tour operator for my autumn vacation.

A sole Bulgarian in a group of French and German enthusiasts, it dawned on me that the country's potential as an alternative tourism destination is beginning to be recognized better by foreigners than by locals. It is namely alternative tourism that gives Bulgaria a good chance to attract a wider mix of visitors from all over the world. But only it plays the PR game right and manages to create its own image to stand out from neighbouring rivals Greece and Turkey...

Bulgaria's coastline is no longer than 380 kilometers, while its beaches account for less than 150 kilometers. The country has no glaciers and its peaks are lower than 3,000 meters, which is generally considered as highly unattractive for investments. A small country that faces the risk of quickly running out of resources by overconstructing and urbanizing the landscape.

Right here alternative tourism comes into the picture to lend a helping hand.

Rich history and traditions, safety, an increasing number of tour operators and programmes make Bulgaria a preferred alternative tourism destination. Last but not least on the list comes the friendliness of the Bulgarian people and the excellent cuisine.

Hardly would anyone disagree that summer is one of the best times for a fabulous vacation. Summer tourism, focused exclusively on the Black sea coast, has been dominant in Bulgaria over the last fifty years. But it is no longer all about the Black sea coast, its blue sea and azure sky. More and more people discover that summer days can be glorious even if you don rain pants and raincoat.

Up there in the mountains, where views are "one in a million" and never-to-be-forgotten, one can share the energizing and soul-expanding joy of hiking, mountain biking, horse back riding, rafting, paragliding, rock climbing and caving. For those who are not keen to be that extreme, there are the cultural, eco, rural and theme tourism - exploring local crafts, traditions, bird watching, geology. And all of it tailor-made.

Ski tourism, now accounting for no more than 15% of annual revenues in the sector in Bulgaria, is set to make its highest jump, experts say. The good prospects however tempt investors to head for the highest of peaks and encroach into the five percent of protected areas. Global warming, in its turn, puts into question even the four months of skiing season.

Small wonder alternative tourism is said to enjoy an even better chance to speed up and catch up with ski tourism.

"Bulgaria must develop mountains tourism beyond the ski tourism. There are many examples worldwide of developing year-round destinations, which are not connected with the construction of ski runs and lifts," says Lyubomir Popyordanov, chairman of the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Tourism (BAAT).

"Bulgaria's tourism sustainable development should not focus on major resorts, but should allow tourist industry to regenerate and develop its resources - human, natural and cultural-historical," says Popyordanov.

Tourist enthusiasts point Bankso in the Pirin mountain and the project, dubbed Super Borovets, in the Rila mountain, as super examples of successful winter tourism investments (EUR 40 M invested in Bansko's ski center alone, the Super Borovets project is worth EUR 300 M). They say the investors' enthusiasm is contagious and fuel the property market and the interest of other major investors. Real estate agents are more restraint in their projections, while environmentalists vehemently slam the projects.

But this only enhances the potential of the resorts as alternative tourism destinations. Here are our suggestions how to enjoy the authenticity and charm of those "winter resorts" the whole year round. Imagine you are arriving in Sofia...

- From central Sofia, the bulk of Mount Vitosha dominates the view to the south and hints at mountain adventures to come! Later in the afternoon, depart for the Rila Mountains and the resort of Borovets. Borovets is just as marvelous in the autumn as it is in the winter. It offers everything a perfect vacation takes: clean and fresh air, serene centuries-old pine forests, meadows sprinkled with herbs, blue lakes and majestic snow-capped peaks. For nature-lovers the resort is a favorite vacation spot and starting point of many hiking routs in the Rila Mountains- the Rila Seven Lakes Basin, to the Rila Monastery.

- Enjoy a morning hike to the chapel of St. John of Rila set in lush, deciduous woods. After the hike, depart for the town of Bansko at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. Explore Bansko town and its cobbled back streets. Wander past well-preserved kashti ("houses") for a taste of traditional Bulgarian vernacular architecture. Local hoteliers will go to great lengths to organize for you tours around the mountain and the town of Bansko.

- Situated in the heart of the Rhodope mountains, Pamporovo attracts the tourist in the summer with its clean air, sunny days, rehabilitation centers, swimming pools, tennis courts. Biking is one of the things that make it worthwhile to visit Pamporovo. Its biggest advantage for bike fans are the lifts.