THE INSIDERS BULGARIA
GO: Bulgaria, a Balkan country of seven million people, is not always at the top of a travel agent’s list, but I meet more and more travellers who’ve been there. I’ve been exploring this ancient place for almost 30 years and it remains my favourite destination. I first went in 1989 to study traditional music. (Bulgarian singing is haunting; some Bulgarians claim to be descended from Orpheus.) I arrived a week after the Berlin Wall tumbled, and fell in love with the country’s spectacular landscapes, remote villages, hospitable (and long-suffering) people, and amazing architecture; bulgariatravel.org/ en.
EXPERIENCE: In addition to its beautiful rural areas, Bulgaria has fascinating cities. The capital, Sofia, is a treasure, complete with massive gold-domed cathedral, patrician university, 19th-century public buildings, art museums, boulevards, and — an inspiration for my new book The Shadow Land —a central area paved with old, yellow cobblestones. Sofia also has its own mountain, Vitosha, which towers over the city and provides great hiking opportunities; visitsofia.bg/en/.
EXPLORE: However busy my schedule, I always leave a day open just to wander around Sofia, read in a cafe — Peroto in the old communist National Palace of Culture honours literature — and light a candle in the exquisite Russian Church, officially the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker; ndk.bg; podvorie-sofia.bg/bg/main/.
DINE: Eating out in Sofia ranges from the deliciously simple, and Na Popa and Made in Home are just two possibilities, to the elegant, such as Lavanda and La Bottega. The Red House Centre for Culture and Debate has its own cafe frequented by artists and activists, and The Apartment draws an international crowd for drinks and late-night conversations; redhouse-sofia.org.
STAY: After a day of wandering, I recommend Hotel Diter, which is affordable, clean, and centrally located. It has 21 guestrooms and an in-house restaurant. The establishment always ensures Leka Nosht, which means good night; diterhotel.com.
Elizabeth Kostova is an American author whose first novel, The Historian, sold three million copies. The Shadow Land, a contemporary novel set in Bulgaria, is her new release from Text Publishing ($32.99). She will tour Australia and New Zealand this month. More: textpublishing.com.au; elizabethkostova.com.
Graham Erbacher Graham.Erbacher@news.com.au