Beautiful, unexplored and less than five-hours flight-time from the Middle East, rural Bulgaria is the ideal family destination for those looking to get their kids outside and into some gorgeous nature… and yes, it’s also REALLY affordable too!
#1 Flight Times are Really ‘Do-able’
Located in the South Eastern Balkans, Bulgaria is just under five-hours from most Middle East countries, and just under four-hours from all UK airports. Burgas, our nearest airport is serviced by numerous low-cost airlines from the UK, while FlyDubai and Qatar Airways fly to Sofia the capital, many times per week.
#2 The Weather is AMAZING!
Bulgaria has four full-on seasons. Spring and Autumn are incredible, with the south east of the country offering bright sunny days (around 17 to 25 degrees depending on the month), slightly-nippy nights and fresh cool mornings.
For those who haven’t experienced the burst of spring for a while, you’re in for a treat; with blankets of wild flowers, eye-popping greenery and baby animals everywhere, Spring in south east Bulgaria is truly beautiful.
Autumn too, is incredible. The fall colours rival anything New England has to offer, along with fantastically bright blue skies, and temperatures generally (in our area at least) around 22 degrees daily .
Summer is HOT! Expect temperatures between 32 and 38 degrees for almost all of July/August and through the first half of September/second half of June. In our area there’s little rainfall- except for a couple of really impressive summer thunder storms- guaranteed to make the kids quake!
Winter is cold, snowy, with blue-skies and perfect conditions for winter-sports.
#3 It’s got Great Food
OK, full disclosure time…
Bulgarian’s simply LOVE offal and navigating through a restaurant menu in Bulgarian can be a mine-field- if you don’t!
However, get past the tripe soup, the brains and the endless liver in sauces, and you’ll find the freshest, most delicious local produce imaginable.
If you’ve lived in the Middle East for a while, you’ve probably forgotten what tomatoes, cucumbers and peaches- (as big as a small child’s head) actually taste like with no refrigeration, no transport time, and simply plucked straight from garden to plate.
Throughout Bulgaria you’ll find local markets, local shops and even small roadside stalls all selling the freshest, most delicious produce. Local cheeses, meats (especially pork), organic mountain honey (4 Euros/16 Dirhams/Riyals per kilo) and numerous types of nuts are all delicious and great value.
Bulgarian fruit is also insanely good. June is known for the cherry harvest, July for peaches and August for watermelons; all at just a few Leva or less per kilo.
#4 It’s Naturally Beautiful!
Bulgaria might only be around the size of England, yet its packed with five distinct and impressive major mountain ranges, miles of coastline, rivers, numerous nature reserves and tones of wildlife.
The wildlife is impressive, boasting all of Europe’s BIG five (yep, we just invented that!) – bear, wolf, jackal, wild boar and wild-horses, although you will need to visit specific sites to view these animals in the wild.
Wherever you travel in Bulgaria, you will be astounded by the natural beauty of the country.
#5 Both Driving and Car Hire are Straight-Forward
If you’re used to driving in the Middle East, Bulgaria’s roads will come as a pretty nice surprise. Once out of the cities, the main trunk roads are fast, clear and really easy to drive. Sign posts are a little sporadic though, and a GPS is recommended for exploring anywhere off-the-beaten-track. Beware of driving at night, there are no street lights except in villages and towns and there can be a whole host of wildlife using the roads too!
Thanks to the incredible and diverse terrain and miles of off-road tracks, the 4×4 possibilities in Bulgaria are both endless and fantastic.
Car hire is easy, well-managed and affordable. Winter prices start from 13 (for Class A) to 26 Euro per day (for Class E) for a 14 day hire to 24 to 36 Euros per day for summer hire, also for a 14 day period with Sikon Group, for more information visit here.
#6 The People are Lovely
Over the years, Bulgaria has earned the not always ‘fair’ reputation for being somewhat surly. However, if you learn a few basic phrases and understand that a head shake means, ‘yes’ and a nod- ‘no,’ you’ll be welcomed into rural Bulgarian life where ever you go.
There’s no escaping it, it’s super-weird when people continually shake their heads as you desperately try to explain what you need, but understand that this is actually an affirmative and a form of encouragement, and suddenly Bulgarians don’t seem so negative at all.
Even better, learn a few words of Bulgarian and many will welcome you in with open arms.
#7 The Local Culture is Like Nothing Else on Earth
Bulgarians simply LOVE to party! Between the endless name-days, Orthodox celebrations and the numerous pre-Christian traditions, there’s not a week goes by in the Bulgarian calendar without at least a few things going on.
Many celebrations link directly to ancient Thracian times (or older) and events such as Kukeri, (held in early spring), St Trifon’s Day (14th February) and the mystical fire-walking in Strandzha (3rd June) all over visitors a glimpse into humanity’s far-off past.
#8 The Local Wine is Top-Notch
If you love wine, you’re in for a real treat. Bulgaria has some really great wineries and the wines are getting more impressive and collecting more global accolades each year that passes.
We’re really lucky to be located near the Sakar wine region, known as the ‘Napa Valley’ of Bulgaria, with several of our local vineyards making some of the best wines in the country. If you’re coming from the Middle East, Bulgarian wine not only offers good variety, but great quality and great value too. Expect to pay 10 to 15 Leva for good quality and between 20 and 40 Leva per bottle for top-export quality.
Vineyard tours and wine-tasting are still relatively new in Bulgaria- although the industry is just beginning to take off. Some forward-thinking vineyards offer a really special experience, (tasting, touring, translators, time spent with the vinter, delicious accompanying nibbles, etc.)… and some, seem deeply confused as to why you’re even there!
Read more about our local Sakar wine region- here.
Discover Castra Rubra vineyard here and the fantastic wine tasting experience at Zaara Estate here.
#9 It’s Jam-Packed With History
Thanks to its location on the cross-roads of Europe and Asia, there’s barely an inch of Bulgaria which has not, at some point, been trampled upon by literally every major civilisation since time began. (The Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Byzantines, Ottomans; to name just a few!)
It’s actually impossible to spend time here and not see traces of the past. From the Thracian mounds dotted along the motorways, to the impressive Roman and Thracian remains in every major city.
In fact, there’s so much history, most Bulgarians have become a bit blasé about it all. The nightly TV news is often filled with stories of new motorway and rail projects on-hold thanks to incredible finds of golden chariots, treasure filled burial mounds and hoards of ancient and valuable coins.
#10 It’s REALLY Well Connected
If you’re going to convince the kids to visit, nothing will capture their attention like knowing the country is exceedingly well connected. In fact, even our small village of around 250 people has full fibre-optic cabling and almost all of the country is covered by 4G.
Tourist SIM cards are available from most operators and cost between 10 Leva for 3GB to 30 Leva for 12GB, both valid for 14 days. For more information on Bulgarian tourist SIM cards in 2019 see here.
#11 It’s Brilliant for Kids Who Need Outdoor Time
Bulgaria is not only beautiful, its nature is really accessible too! With hectares of communal land, no fences or boundaries and nature reserves everywhere, its possible to hike, ride, cycle, explore and camp- practically everywhere.
Each year, more and more outdoor activities are offered, and Bulgaria is now synonymous with good quality and affordable; horse-riding, skiing, hiking, mountain-biking, bird-watching, caving, mountain climbing, kayaking and paragliding.
#12 Yes… it is REALLY Affordable!
If you land in Sofia and think the city is easy on the pocket- just wait till you get to the villages! The Bulgarian Lev is pegged to the Euro and always sits at around one-Lev for 50 Euro Cents mark. This makes it super-easy to manage; simply half the Leva price and you have the cost in Euros. And, if you want to know the price in Riyals or Dirhams- just double the Leva!
Expect to pay between 6 and 15 Levs (3 to 7.5 Euros/ 12 to 30 Dirhams/Riyals) for a hearty village meal, 1 Leva (50 Euro Cents/ 2 Dirhams/Riyals) for a loaf of bread and 1. 25 Leva (62 Euro Cents/2.5 Dirhams/Riyals) for a half-litre bottle of the excellent local beer.
Village accommodation is also great value, with Bed and Breakfast style accommodation costing around 10 to 20 Leva per night (depending on the season), entire rural home AirBnB rental coming in between 50 and 100 Leva per night and local hotels starting from 20 Leva per person per night.
A final note on affordability…
While Bulgaria is highly affordable for those earning outside the country, for those living on pensions, (often only around 300 Leva per month), it certainly isn’t cheap! If you do find yourself in Bulgaria, and someone asks you why you chose their country for your holiday, please don’t insult them by saying, “because it’s cheap!” You’ve now got 11 amazing new reasons why you came to this small, undiscovered little gem!