THE IN­SID­ERS BUL­GARIA

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - EL­IZ­A­BETH KOS­TOVA AU­THOR

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.

In­sid­ers edi­tor:

Gra­ham Er­bacher Gra­ham.Er­bacher@news.com.au

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