Cuisine and culture are an intrinsic partnership in virtually every aspect of travel and all the more so in the more traditional countries of Eastern Europe such as Bulgaria, Poland and Romania—all of which, appropriately enough, helped feed the “melting pot” of America.
This is a country that doesn’t get much press in the U.S. but in actuality, it’s grown into one of the most popular tourism countries in Europe with more than 1.4 million visitors a year.
And with good reason. According to Gwen Erwood, president, Travel Concepts International, “Bulgaria’s past, present and future are forever marked by the country’s strategic location at the crossroads of major civilizations: between Classical Greece, Imperial Rome and majestic Byzantium.”
The company’s 10-day Seven Wonders of Bulgaria program—offered June 2-12, 2013, only and with a rate of $3,950 pp land-only—encompasses both that cultural emphasis and the resulting cuisine that came from those cultures. It starts in Sofia with a visit to the 11th century Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, along with St. Sofia, a basilica built in the sixth century over the mausoleum of the early Christian martyrs, and the Russian Orthodox St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the largest Eastern Orthodox church in Bulgaria. Travelers get their first taste of a traditional Bulgarian meal served buffet-style in a small monastery outside of town, where guests have the opportunity to spend time with authentic “grannies” who prepare the Bulgarian cuisine.
One of the most beautiful regions in Bulgaria is near the city of Kazanluk, the capital of the Valley of the Roses and the Valley of Thracian Kings, where guests enjoy the beauty and scent of the area’s rose fields before heading on to the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk to admire the magnificent frescos from the fourth century B.C., another UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. On the way to northern Bulgaria, guests enjoy more traditional Bulgarian cuisine with a stop at an open-air crafts and arts museum and tavern, where BBQ and food are prepared according to the 19th century recipes at a family-style lunch. Later in Veliko Turnovo, guests enjoy a spectacular show of Bulgarian folklore, music and dances, privately arranged for the tour on the terrace of the hotel.
In Varna, the Museum of Archaeology features the oldest hand-crafted gold treasure in the world, dating back to the fifth millennia B.C.—it belonged to a king who reigned roughly 2,000 years before the first pharaohs of the Egyptian Old Kingdom.
In Plovdiv, the Old Town is situated on three hills. It’s been known as Pulpudeva in Thracian times; Philipopolis, honoring the father of Alexander the Great; and Trimontium during the Roman period. It preserves many magnificent examples of Roman, Greek and Bulgarian architecture including a Roman amphitheater, an icon exhibition, and the oldest and richest ethnographic museum in Bulgaria.
Next it’s the Bachkovo Monastery and the crown jewel of the tour’s culinary experience—lunch at Efrosina House, a private, 250-year-old mansion visited by invitation only to diplomats, nobility and distinguished guests. The owner of Efrosina invites tour guests to enjoy the finest Bulgarian food and wine and the hostess, author of several cookbooks, shares her recipes with the tour guests.
Finally, the last stop before returning to Sofia is the world-famous Rila Monastery, home to the Rafael Cross, which was carved by a monk over a 12-year period and who subsequently lost his vision after finishing this masterpiece. Here, too, is the monastery church, covered with frescos that are considered to be the finest example of 19th century ecclesiastical artistry.
On flights to and from the U.S. and Canada, Bulgaria Air offers fares in a combination of flights with Virgin Atlantic Airways, US Airways and Jet Airways.