I'll admit it — I basically knew nothing about Bulgaria before my trip to Eastern Europe.
All I knew was that it had a few pretty monasteries that I wanted to visit.
And that's it.
I purposely didn't do too much research into my summer destinations. I did enough to know where I was going, and where those places were located in each country. But I didn't want to over-educate myself, or build up expectations that had no prayer of being met.
So I stayed blissfully ignorant about Bulgaria right up until we crossed the border from Romania.
Well, was I ever in for a surprise!!
Things I loved about Bulgaria
Bulgaria has extremely gorgeous countryside, with everything from snow-capped mountains to beaches along the Black Sea coast. I knew Bulgaria was going to be agricultural and all, but I was absolutely not prepared for its stunning landscapes!
Really cool cities
While Sofia may not be much of a looker, other Bulgarian cities really wowed me.
Like Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria's medieval capital) with its narrow cobbled streets and old fortress on the hill. Even though it was almost unbearably hot during the summer months, I couldn't get enough of the views here.
And Bansko, a ski city during the winter months, was also fun. It's quiet and charming during the summer months.
And Plovdiv, with its history and colorful buildings.
And the villages we visited – like Gorno Draglishte – were also beautiful.
Bulgaria has ties to many different empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans. Plovdiv, for example, has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins I've ever seen!
This was the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Bulgaria was Rila Monastery, the largest and most well-known Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. I first heard about this monastery in a book, and had dreamed for years of visiting myself.
It was even more amazing in person than I could have hoped.
Even though I could only communicate with most of them through pantomime, I found the locals in Bulgaria to be incredibly kind and welcoming.
And lastly, I loved how much Bulgarians love their country. There's an attitude there that exudes pride for a country that many people have barely even heard of. From guesthouse owners to minibus drivers, I had a sense that everyone we met was really happy to have us there, and to have the chance to show off their country to us.
It was this pride and attitude that helped me forgive Bulgaria it's little failings and fall a little bit in love with it, too.
Bulgaria definitely isn't on the usual tourist track in Europe. And that's exactly how it should be, really. It's not a place made for mass tourism; it's nowhere near as developed as Romania, even.
But for those curious enough and willing to step off the beaten path, it's a country that's incredibly rewarding to travel through.
Would YOU travel to Bulgaria?
*Note: I visited Bulgaria as part of a complimentary 18-day “Explore Eastern Europe” tour with Intrepid Travel. But all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.