Today I thought I would write a travel post about one of my favourite places in Bulgaria. I have had the good fortune of going to Bulgaria twice now, since I have a child from there. Our first trip was rushed, only a week, which included a lot of just making it to the right part of Bulgaria and the rest was mostly a weird** orphanage experience, punctuated by meals.
**When I say weird I don’t mean a little odd, I mean weird in the dictionary sense. “Eerie” being one of the better synonyms:
Our second trip, due to our little immigration fiasco, was much longer but also gave us time to really appreciate the country. Unless a third trip provides another perspective, I will preface my Bulgaria travel posts by saying that I wouldn’t classify Bulgaria as a very friendly country. This is definitely a generalization, but on the whole the people are just not an extroverted bunch. The stark Soviet styling isn’t restricted to their high-rises, shall we say? Also, bring cash. Bulgaria is definitely the least card friendly place I have been.
So! Veliko Tarnovo.
When to go:
We went in late November for only a couple of days while we were waiting to pick up Siobhan. There are pros and cons to staying so late in the year. The pros were that the old town is basically empty, we went to see Tsarevets Fortress on what turned out to be a free day, and most of the time we were the only ones there! I rank being alone with the locals extremely high on my perfect vacation scale. We also had our pick of accommodation for a reasonable price (see below.) The season was also very nice for scenery in my opinion. The forests we drove through were beautiful, most of the leaves were off but still colourful on the ground, the mountains were misty…perfect. Veliko Tarnovo is a beautiful place to be cuddled in front of a window with some tea. The weather was cool and damp, but not overly rainy. I felt like it really set the mood.
Cons: The old town is extremely empty. Great for wandering around but many restaurants and shops are closed. We ate at other hotels and Malkia Inter — a little café (as per my bring cash statement above, the café even had Visa and M/C signs on their door and didn’t actually accept it. Not unusual in Bulgaria.)
Usually in Europe I don’t have a car and it is just fine. Bulgaria is decidedly more “Eastern” than a lot of places that I’ve been and their rail system is not great. I’m not a fan of long distance bus trips, so for us a car made sense. Renting a car isn’t hugely expensive and our experience with the rental company was good, so I would definitely do it that way again. You will especially want a car for the journey to and from Veliko Tarnovo in order to stop and enjoy the scenery. The forests, mountains, and random monuments are worth taking your time and breathing them in. We didn’t find the Bulgarian roads to be overly busy, so driving wasn’t intimidating. I wouldn’t drive in cities like Sofia or Burgas.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at this awesome little hotel: Family Hotel Yatrus
The views from the breakfast room and from our room were amazing! The windows all looked out at Tsarevets Fortress. Who doesn’t want to look at a beautiful walled city over breakfast? The breakfast itself was overly salty, but this is Bulgaria. The room they gave us was HUGE with a little balcony and a separate little tea area with another great window. Looking back I have to say this is one of my favourite stays EVER.
When choosing accommodation in VT it is important to note that the old town is somewhat separated from the newer areas of the city. In my opinion it is well worth a few extra leva to have a view and to be in the old town. VT is in the mountains as well, so it isn’t overly easy to stroll from the new area to the old town as it is in so many other European cities. Whenever possible we go for a breakfast option because its usually less expensive and easier than finding your own. We also needed car parking. We were lucky that we were deep into the off season so we had our pick of affordable stays.
You can pretty safely book most properties on the same stretch of street as Hotel Yatrus and get a nice view. If you aren’t sure from pictures, Google street view is a great way to see a panoramic of the hotels location to help you decide. I’m an overly detailed booker, and I hate “requesting” a view and knowing you may not get it, so we booked the above hotel after I did Google street view on it and I knew most of the rooms would have one. (As opposed to hotels where only one back corner had them.) I know, I know…I’m done talking about it now. … but it is important here 😉
What to do:
Definitely walk the fortress as linked earlier! It is completely open access unlike a lot of historical sites and you can climb and wander wherever you want.
Walk the old town and enjoy the traditional Bulgarian homes. Hotel Yatrus is a nice example of this architecture.
If you have the car, drive the winding road around Tsarevets that follows the river:
At least once, drive the E85 tunnel under the town at night. You will want to take pictures!
That’s about all the time that Jason and I had. We did drive out of town to the woods and investigate some points of interest that came up on our map, but it ended up being scenic more than anything. If we had more time I would have looked checked out “New Veliko Tarnovo” and the scenery and coffee in that area. In my opinion, two days in the off season was enough with so many things being closed. I suspect the shoulder season of September might be the best of both worlds. Fall leaves, fewer crowds, and more attractions open. However, I am always looking for winter travels because most of Europe is prime in April/May and September/October so I need to find places for the crazy season and for the truly off season! Veliko Tarnovo was still very enjoyable in the off, and if I was an artist I think I would love to starve there.
I will add some more pictures from our trip soon!