Upon arriving in Black Sea town of Varna in Bulgaria I tried to take money out and discovered all my money saved for travelling had been withdrawn from my bank account due to a "banking error" that occurred 2 days earlier in Istanbul Turkey. The bank machine had withdrawn $10,000 USD from my bank account instead of the $100 USD I had actually requested and received. Due to this horrible incident there were a few places within Bulgaria that ended up being missed. The biggest disappointment for me was missing travelling to the remote village of Belogradchik and viewing the unique rock formations and fortress.

Rila Monastery
The Rila Monastery is the largest and most important Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria; it is also the one thing you cannot miss if you make a trip to this part of Europe. The Rila Monastery is the most revered site in Bulgaria and it is not hard to see why: the enclosed courtyard with its red and white striped church in the centre oozes authenticity and religious importance. The surrounding complex is either 3 or 4 levels of old wooden timber that creaks and groans as you walk around the courtyard and view the colourful church from above. The church itself is the biggest draw, with breathtakingly colourful frescoes of religious scenes, demons, massacres and the occasional dragon.

Rila Monastery

The church has been destroyed by conquering armies and fire a few times over its history but each time it has received enormous donations from Bulgarians to ensure it is rebuilt. During the occupation by the Ottomans and other foreign invaders it acted not only as a religious institution but also as a safe house for important aspects of Bulgarian language and culture. This fantastic site can be seen easily in a day but due to its remote location in the Rila Mountains you would have to do a tour most likely from the capital Sofia. I recommend you make the sacrifice and take public transport from Sofia out to the monastery and stay overnight in the compound.

There is a unique calmness that descends over the complex after they close the monastery doors and the bus tours go home. This is when the orthodox monks come out of their sparse rooms to pray.  Even if you are not a religious person, there is something special about having this important piece of Bulgarian history all to yourself. Make sure if you stay overnight you bring food with you because there are only 2 local restaurants and a place where you can buy the famous donuts made fresh from the Monastery bakery.

Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is a picturesque city located in central Bulgaria that is dominated by a hilltop medieval fortress and has evidence of human settlement in the area for 5000 years. The city is a thriving university town that offers great value for meals and accommodation plus an added bonus of some fantastic views of the surrounding hills and thickly forested valleys.

Burning House in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire before being progressively taken over by conquering Ottoman armies in the middle Ages. The city is one of the last few places in the country where you can appreciate and even stay in the unique Bulgarian National Revival buildings. These architectural gems perch above the Yantra River and give the city an old school charm not found in other Bulgarian cities. Veliko Tarnovo is a great stop on the road from Sofia to the Black Sea coast.  Be sure you take the time to explore its historic streets.

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and also its largest city. The city is one of the oldest in Europe with history dating back some 7000 years. If you spend any time away from the Black Sea coast you will end up going through Sofia.  It is a main transport hub for this region in Eastern Europe and has large train and bus stations going everywhere. The city is now more of a big European capital with fast food chains, expensive department stores and little remaining of its long history. However, you can still get the older soviet influence from some of the classic socialist architecture and squealing ancient tramcars that shuttle around the city. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a must see with its unique domes and Bulgarian icons museum in the crypt. Take a day or two to explore Sofia and you will be ready to move on to the other smaller and more Bulgarian towns and villages throughout the country.