Bulgaria tourist information
Bulgaria is a country with a historical and cultural heritage, and attractive natural landscapes, one of the most visited tourist destinations in Southeast Europe. Tourism, as an industry, has been an important source of economic growth. In 2008 Bulgaria was visited by 8.9 million tourists, measured as outlined by the World Tourism Organization. Tourists from three countries - Greece, Romania and Germany - account for 40% of visitors. The country has historical cities and towns, summer beaches, and mountain ski resorts. New types of tourism, including cultural, architectural and historic tours, eco-tourism, and adventure tours, are expanding the range of visitor experiences.
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Main destinations include the capital Sofia, coastal resorts Albena, Sozopol, Nesebar, Golden Sands and Sunny Beach and winter resorts such as Pamporovo, Chepelare, Borovetz and Bansko. The rural tourist destinations of Arbanasi and Bozhentsi offer well-preserved ethnographic traditions. Other popular attractions include the 10th-century Rila Monastery and the 19th-century Euxinograd chĂ˘teau.
Hiking and Skiing
Winter tourist centres, such as Borovetz, Bansko, Pamporovo and Vitosha are picturesque and popular ski resorts.
The Bulgarian summer resorts along the Black Sea coast, include destinations, such as the summer resorts: Sozopol, Nessebur, Golden Sands, Sunny Beach, Sveti Vlas, Albena and Saints Constantine and Helena. Some guests, such as the Germans, Russians or Scandinavians favour the summer beach resorts, while winter tourism, and the ski resorts, are the favorites of the British.
Ethno, cultural and historical tourism
Tourist activities, such as "ethno-tourism" and "architectural-cultural" tourism, are gaining ground, catering to specialized tastes. These are new types of tours, which involve interaction with and living amongst the local people, in mountain villages.
For the more adventurous, active recreation, involving mountain hiking and bike tourism, provides a close connection with nature. Climbers scale the granite mountains of Rila, Pirin and the Balkan. Hikers enjoy the mountains of Vitosha and the Rhodopes. Mountain biking, and bicycle racing are also recreations, and Bulgaria is one of only six countries to annually host the official 1,200 km Randonnees - ultra-marathon bicycle rides patterned after Parisâ€“Brestâ€“Paris.
Situated at the crossroads of the East and West, Bulgaria has been home to many civilizations - Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, Proto-Bulgarians, and Ottomans. Bulgaria is rich in historical artifacts, but museus to keep them is up to be built (central historical and art museum is now being developed in Sofia), many of the museums and monasteries still need to be properly advertised and maintained, and some of the most interesting heritage sites may not be easily accessible, due to poor infrastructure. Yet, some visitors regard such "underdevelopment" as desirable - those who prefer to experience history first-hand rather than look at artefacts behind glass.
Bulgaria occupies a unique and strategically important geographic location. Since ancient times, the country has served as a major crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. Five of the ten Trans-European corridors run through its territory.
Bulgaria's national road network has a total length of 102,016 kilometers (63,390 mi), of which 93,855 kilometers (58,319 mi) are paved. Motorways, such as Trakiya, Hemus and Struma, have a total length of 441 km (274 mi). Bulgaria also has 6,500 kilometers (4,000 mi) of railway track, more than 60% of which is electrified, and plans to construct a high-speed railway by 2017, at a cost of â‚¬3 bln. Sofia and Plovdiv are major air travel hubs, while Varna and Burgas are the principal maritime trade ports.
Traditional Bulgarian culture contains mainly Thracian, Slavic and Bulgar heritage, along with Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Celtic influences. Thracian artifacts include numerous tombs and golden treasures. The country's territory includes parts of the Roman provinces of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia, and many of the archaeological discoveries date back to Roman times, while ancient Bulgars have also left traces of their heritage in music and in early architecture. Both the First and the Second Bulgarian empires functioned as the hub of Slavic culture during much of the Middle Ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world by means of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. The Cyrillic alphabet, used as a writing system to many languages in Eastern Europe and Asia, originated in the former around the 9th century AD.
Archaeological and World Heritage sites
A vast number of archaeological sites from all eras are scattered around the country's territory. Bulgaria has the third-largest total number of uncovered archaeological sites in Europe after Italy and Greece, and many of them are Thracian in origin. A historical artifact of major importance is the oldest golden treasure in the world, dating back to 5,000 BC, coming from the site of the Varna Necropolis.
Apart from these sites, nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites exist: the Madara Rider, the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari and Kazanlak, the Boyana Church, the Rila Monastery, the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Pirin National Park, Sreburna Nature Reserve and the ancient city of Nesebar.
Yogurt (kiselo mlyako), lukanka, banitsa, shopska salad, lyutenitsa and kozunak give Bulgaria a distinctive cuisine. Most dishes are oven baked, steamed, or in the form of stew. Deep-frying is uncommon, but grilling â€” especially different kinds of meats â€” is widely practiced. Pork is the most common meat, followed by chicken and lamb. Oriental dishes such as moussaka, gyuvech, and baklava are also present. Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the quality of dairy products (a large variety of sirene and kashkaval cheese sorts) and salads, as well as the variety of wines and local alcoholic drinks such as rakiya, mastika and menta.
Exports of Bulgarian wine go worldwide, and until 1990 the country exported the world's second-largest total of bottled wine. As of 2007, more than 200,000 tonnes of wine were produced annually. Among the more prominent local sorts are Dimiat and Mavrud.