A Journey Through Bulgaria's Abandoned Ruins and Otherworldly Monuments - Atlas Obscura

Bulgaria

A Journey Through Bulgaria's Abandoned Ruins and Otherworldly Monuments

Join Atlas Obscura for a unique and memorable introduction to one of Europe’s oldest countries: Bulgaria.

Across eight days and seven nights we’ll dive into adventure and discovery in Europe’s most southeasterly corner, as we explore ancient civilizations and marvel at otherworldly relics of a communist utopia that never came to be. Immerse yourself in the rich and often tragic history of a country that stands on the frontier between Europe and the Middle East—a country that has seen the rise and fall of three historic Bulgarian Kingdoms.

When we’re not learning about Bulgaria’s complex history—or admiring the underrated architectural masterpieces constructed during its communist period—our small group of intrepid explorers will be taking in jaw-dropping natural landscapes, wandering the streets and markets of picturesque old towns, and feasting on hearty local cuisine.

This trip is limited to a small group of 10 explorers.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hands-On History: We’ll visit popular UNESCO sights and secret, hidden gems alike as we immerse ourselves in Bulgaria’s past. We’ll visit the nation’s former capital, home of the medieval tsars who once governed a vast Bulgarian Kingdom; we’ll see the site of Bulgaria’s origins, admiring titanic memorials to the nation’s seventh-century founders; and going further back still, we’ll walk amongst the stones of Serdika, the ancient Roman city from which modern-day Sofia emerged.
  • The Ghosts of Communism: Learn about Bulgaria’s communist period as we explore the physical legacy of the former regime: the remarkable collection of otherworldly monuments that stand now in various states of disrepair across the villages, cities, and mountains of Bulgaria. We’ll learn about the evolution of Bulgaria’s memorial architecture and the role it played in the propaganda machine—as well as discussing the complicated place that communist heritage inhabits in contemporary Bulgarian society.
  • Local Cuisine: Prepare to be overwhelmed by a smorgasbord of culinary delights. Bulgarian food is hearty, rich, and fresh: Expect stuffed roasted vegetables, flavorsome stews, and mouthwatering grilled meats. Vegans and vegetarians are also very well catered for, with a colorful variety of salads and vegetable dishes on offer in most places. Bulgarian yogurt is a unique delight, while the local wines—both red and white—will speak for themselves.

YOUR EXPERT ORGANIZER AND GUIDE

Darmon Richter is a British travel writer and Ph.D. researcher, with a particular interest in the ideological architecture of Eastern Europe. He writes The Bohemian Blog and has contributed to Atlas Obscura since 2013. In addition to Bulgaria, he has led Atlas Obscura trips to Ukraine and the Western Balkans.

TRIP COST

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $1,970 (the $500 deposit plus $1,470 final payment) and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, daily breakfast and dinner, and all the activities listed below.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment. 

Itinerary
Day 1
Welcome to Bulgaria
  • Arrive in Sofia and make your way to the city’s downtown in time for Sunday evening.
  • The group will meet at the hotel before heading out for our first banquet meal together. There will be introductions all round, as you get to know your guides, your travel companions, and have your first taste of Bulgarian cuisine.
Day 2
Around and About Sofia
  • We’ll dive into the Bulgarian capital today, beginning with an immersive walking tour of the city center. From Roman ruins and fourth-century churches to impressive works of modern architecture, you’ll get to know different sides of Sofia.
  • Learn about Sofia’s numerous communist-era heritage sites, and the precarious status they find themselves in today. We’ll admire imposing monuments to the Soviet Army, as well as visit the site of former monuments that have since been demolished.
  • After lunch we’ll visit the Museum of Socialist Art to explore some of the statues and monuments salvaged from scrapyards around the country. The museum houses Bulgaria’s last Lenins, along with an extensive collection of political artwork and paintings.
  • Walking back to the city center, we’ll stroll through Sofia’s "Borisova Gradina" park. We take in sights along the way including the Russian Embassy and Hotel Moskva, the Astronomical Observatory, and the Fraternal Barrow: a Socialist-realist memorial complex that watches solemnly over the park.
  • Finally, we settle in a unique communism-themed restaurant for dinner and drinks in the capital—a chance to review what we’ve already seen, and to share our excitement over what comes next.
Day 3
The Old Mountains
  • After meeting our driver in the morning, we’ll head first to the Banner of Peace memorial complex to ring the ornamental bells that hang from this uniquely Brutalist monument. The bells were each donated by different nations, and we’ll spot a few from places that no longer exist, including the USSR, Yugoslavia, and the GDR.
  • Driving into the foothills of the Balkan Mountains, we’ll stop at the town of Koprivshtitsa to learn about a local revolutionary hero as well as to sample a local culinary specialty for lunch.
  • In the afternoon we’ll reach the highest point we’ll visit this week, where we’ll find the Arch of Liberty, a massive monument situated at an altitude of 1,520 meters (4,986 feet) in the Beklemeto Pass.
  • Later we’ll reach Troyan, a town famed for its fine wines and brandy. After settling in our luxurious hotel here, we’ll meet a Bulgarian sommelier for a curated wine tasting session.
Day 4
The Medieval Capital
  • Stopping at a couple of interesting monuments along the way, we’ll drive to Bulgaria’s medieval capital: Veliko Târnovo.
  • Learn about the resilience of the Bulgarian Orthodox faith, as we explore the Preobrazhenski Monastery. The monastery, established in the 11th century, is still standing in spite of both religious persecution and dramatic landslides.
  • Veliko Târnovo is easily one of the most beautiful cities anywhere in the Balkans. After a tasty lunch together, you’ll have some free time to explore the Old Town area with its flea markets, craft workshops, and the historic Tsarevets Fortress.
  • In the evening we’ll meet again for dinner with a breathtaking view over the river valley. Afterwards, we retire to our hotel for the evening: a wonderfully bizarre work of abstract Modernist architecture.
Day 5
Founders of the Bulgarian State
  • In the morning after breakfast we’ll drive to Shumen and visit the Monument to the Founders of the Bulgarian State. Prepare to be blown away by the sheer size and intensity of this unique, cubist memorial complex, which sits on a plateau overlooking the city.
  • This region is home to a sizable Armenian community, and for lunch we’ll drop in at their local cultural center for a traditional Armenian feast.
  • Aiming for the Black Sea, we’ll head east to Varna and visit the imposing Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship.
  • After checking into our hotel for the night, we take a walk down to the beach and finish the day with cocktails and a seafood dinner at the waterfront.
Day 6
The Black Sea
  • After breakfast today we’ll have some free time. You could explore the city, see the Roman baths, visit the museum and see the oldest gold jewelry in the world, or simply unwind on the beach. You’ll also be provided with a map, detailing some of Varna’s architectural highlights.
  • Bulgaria has a long and complicated relationship with neighboring Turkey, something that manifests not just in culture and politics but also in food. For lunch, we’ll take a deep dive into Turkish cuisine as part of our culinary education.
  • After lunch we hit the road again, traveling south along the Black Sea coast. We’ll stop at the Burgas Aviation Museum for a hands-on investigation with some of the retired craft of the Bulgarian Air Force.
  • Arriving in the sleepy port city of Burgas, we’ll investigate a number of unusual communist-era memorial sites—before finding our cozy hotel, freshening up, then heading out for a group dinner.
Day 7
Buzludzha
  • Saturday is our busiest day, featuring some of the largest memorial sites you’ll see this week. Our first stop will be the Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship, which shares the same name as the one in Varna. This one exists as a concrete obelisk situated on a hilltop near the city of Yambol.
  • Heading west, we’ll stop again at the impressive "Defenders of Stara Zagora" memorial complex, which commemorates the sacrifice of the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who fought here during one of the bloodiest battles of the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War.
  • Lunch today is a rustic meal at a rural watering hole, an old-style mehana complete with folk instruments, taxidermy, and framed portraits of communist leaders.
  • Ascending the mountain in the afternoon, we’ll visit the Buzludzha Memorial House: a remarkable concrete structure designed in the shape of a flying saucer, once a lavish memorial museum but now left abandoned to the elements. We’ll discuss the complex history of the monument, the reasons for its current decline, as well as learn about new developments towards a potential preservation plan.
  • Finally we arrive in Plovdiv, where we’ll settle in a luxurious hotel for dinner, a well-earned drink, and an overnight stay.
Day 8
The Rhodope Mountains
  • Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe with a history dating back 5,000 years or more. After breakfast we’ll explore the city, taking in everything from Roman ruins to contemporary street art along the way.
  • As we leave Plovdiv, we’ll stop to investigate the Fraternal Barrow memorial complex: a huge Brutalist structure that commemorates the local soldiers lost in Bulgaria’s wars for independence. Though the monument has been largely abandoned since the fall of the communist regime, it was cleaned just recently for its upcoming appearance in a Hollywood blockbuster.
  • At Perushtitsa, on the edge of the Rhodope Mountains that separate Bulgaria from Greece, we’ll see the Monument to the Three Generations: a beautiful stone crypt overlooking the plains.
  • Traveling deeper into the mountain range we’ll visit Batak, the site of a terrible massacre in 1876. We’ll walk up to the monument overlooking the town, as well as visit the church that contains the preserved bones of massacre victims, as we learn about this difficult chapter in the history of Bulgaria.
  • After that we’ll return to Sofia, stopping at one more site along the way, to have our final group dinner and farewell drinks in the capital.
Day 9
Do Vizhdane!
  • This morning, we’ll bid our farewells and begin our journeys home. One last breakfast at the hotel is included, and your guides will be on hand to help recommend transport routes or provide you with suggestions for extra things to see and do in Sofia, if you have more time.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA BULGARIA EXPEDITION INCLUDES

  • All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $440. Otherwise we'll work to place singles together.)
  • Breakfast daily (either in your hotel or at recommended traditional breakfast spots).
  • A full meal every evening of the tour.
  • An experienced Western tour leader in addition to a local guide, to accompany you throughout the trip.
  • Private transport throughout the trip in a comfortable minibus.
  • Admission to all proposed activities and events, including museums and memorial complexes.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading, and packing list.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that Bulgaria has to offer!

NOTE ON FLIGHTS

For flights in and out of Sofia Airport (SOF), we suggest you arrive anytime before 5 p.m. on May 5 and depart anytime after 7 a.m. on May 12. We’ll provide the option of booking extra nights at our Sofia hotel before and/or after the tour, and are more than happy to provide suggestions for things to do and see in the city on your own.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. Though unlikely, if any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available—be it due to local developments, untoward weather, or anything else—then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.

NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

This tour will not be particularly physically demanding. Some walking will be required, and often over uneven ground, but rarely for more than a short distance at a time. Do be sure to bring proper walking boots or other outdoor footwear, and be aware that this tour also involves a good amount of driving time, so dress for comfort.

The longest walks ahead of us will be in Sofia, on the first day, as we intend to explore much of the capital on foot. Be prepared for between three to five miles of moderate walking.

NOTE ON PAYMENT

You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $1,470 will be due by March 4, 2019. All reservations will be final after these dates and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $440 will be included in the final payment.

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • Transportation and flights. The tour begins and ends in Sofia, Bulgaria.
  • Travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including lunches and alcoholic beverages.
  • If applicable, applying for a Bulgarian visa. 

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.