The natural beauty of the Sakar region has inspired people for millennia. And, whether it’s thanks to the area’s rugged nature, incredible wildlife, the availability of land, the cohesive community or simply its proximity to Turkey and Greece, each, finds their own inspiration and reason for choosing to make their home in the Sakar region.
Discover how the area has inspired the area’s artists, philanthropists, photographers, craftspeople and online entrepreneurs…
- Linda Hristova: Founder and director of local dog rescue Charity DDR
- Hannah Freeman: Online horse riding confidence coach
- Cliff Norton: Photojournalist and wildlife photographer
- Apostol Dragiev: Young local photographer with a fresh eye on Srem
Linda Hristova: Dobrich Dog Rescue
Linda Hristova, originally from the UK is nothing short of a one-woman dog-rescue dynamo! Founder and director of the Dobrich Dog Rescue, (DDR) she has, over the past seven-years mobilised the canine-rescue community, created a network of foster-carers and adopters both in Bulgaria and abroad and established a series of highly successful fund-raising events, to finance the project.
How did you end up in South East Bulgaria?
I’ve lived in the region for around ten-years now, and am married to my Bulgarian husband- Nicholi. I initially came to the country as a stop gap- while I was going through a divorce. I was originally drawn to the country as it was affordable to live and I could get away from everything at home, but I fell in love with the place and then my husband!
What is DDR?
Dobrich Dog Rescue (DDR) is a local Dobrich/Elhovo based grass-roots project which captures and neuters local dogs, fosters those needing care, organises adoptions both at home and abroad and runs a small shop in Elhovo and various fund-raisers to finance the work.
How did DDR come about?
Although I loved the old-fashioned way of life, here in Bulgaria, I was continually getting upset about the number of dogs on the street and those on chains. So many spending their lives on a short chain with only a box for shelter or even- nothing at all. (Remember, winters in Bulgaria can reach minus 20 and summers sometimes reach 40 degrees). Then there’s the number of unwanted pups, so often killed at birth or thrown into the fields alive for the jackals to eat.
It all grew from initially wanting to raise money to get our local village dogs neutered. So, I set about creating a fund raiser at our local bar, and the event was a huge success.
The initial money allowed me to begin the neutering plan and everything just grew from there. Once we’d neutered the dogs in Dobrich, the project rolled out into other villages and our local town, Elhovo. To finance it all, I began running a stall at the hugely successful Dobrich car-boot sale- primarily selling donations given to me by the local expat community.
To date, we’ve neutered over 600 dogs and sent a further 200 to the UK alone!
Why in your view is there such a need for a project such as this in our area?
It breaks my heart to see dogs giving birth to litter after litter of puppies, when there isn’t a good quality of life or enough food even for the bitch. More often than not the puppies die, and the bitch goes on to have more.
What are the future plans for the DDR?
It’s an exciting time for DDR. Today, almost seven years on, we are the registered charity, The Dobrich Dog Rescue, we run a very successful charity shop in town (Elhovo), and we’re currently in the process of building our own fully- EU compliant and registered kennels. We’re also planning to buy our own DDR van for transporting dogs to Europe and the UK.
How does the local community help with DDR?
We always have at least 30 dogs/pups at any one time, and our network of incredible local foster carers who take the pups on and teach them how to be social. We have donations for the shop and stalls and of course many amazing people volunteer to work in the shop. Our local vets are amazing too, and we work closely with them on all our cases.
How can people get involved with DDR?
I’m always looking for people who are interested and would like to help the project. There are always more dogs to neuter, to walk and to help. I would love more volunteers to work in the shop and the kennels. And of course, anyone with fundraising, social media or specific skills which could help us increase the profile of the project- are always welcome!
I have a fully furnished en-suite annex on my farm for anybody who would like to help the project and also experience rural Bulgarian life.
DDR is always looking for foster homes and volunteers, if you would like to help please Contact Linda by email firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone +359 (0) 879 230 983 or on Facebook @Linda T Shock, or on our own charity Facebook page: DDR
Hannah Freeman: Online horse riding confidence coach
How long have you lived in Bulgaria, and why did you choose the south east- what is it you like about your area?
We had lived in Bulgaria for almost five-years, we love the quieter life, the hacking is amazing and its great bringing up our children here as they have more freedom than they would in the UK.
The winters are cold and the summers are hot, it is great being able to depend on weather.
Keeping horses here has been a learning curve… it is completely different from the UK, you certainly learn to be more resourceful.
Being able to work from home and help people with their horses has to be huge accomplishment and in very rewarding and satisfying.
You build rider confidence via online tutoring, can you tell us a little more about just what this entails?
The Confident Rider Project began about three-years ago after working with horses and their owners for many years and witnessing how people struggle with their nerves. Often people feel inadequate and disappointed in their own ability to overcome these issues and they cause people to feel uncomfortable and this prevents them from enjoying their horses as they should.
I help people who are feeling frustrated by their own limitations, who know that riding their horses will bring them a huge boost in self-confidence and self-belief and are looking for a way to make this possible.
Often people have doubts and worries that creep in and take over and can leave them feeling defeated and disempowered… I love to change that by creating a detailed mental picture of exactly how they want to look, feel and be and working with them one to one to achieve amazing results that literally change their lives.
It’s all about mindset, in other words changing the way you think. Up-levelling your mindset so that you can be a braver rider, allows mindset shifts to happen that change your world- the results are amazing!
Nearly all of my work is done online, this is great because it means that I can help people from all over the world.
Can you describe one of your success stories?
One of my favourite success stories is a lady who was petrified of riding, she hadn’t ridden for weeks and had built up a massive paranoia. We created a strategy and a plan, applied some mindset strategies and she quickly restored her confidence… she sent me a video of her out for a hack, cantering through the woods, giggling… it is so wonderful to see peoples’ transformations and the ripple effect of their new found confidence is profound!
It’s always so rewarding to have reconnected someone with their love of horses and helped them to rekindle a passion that now fulfils them. And the energy that they have as a result is amazing!
What is your ‘horsey’ background?
I was a horse mad child, spending most of my time at a local riding school, I worked all year round in all weathers in return for rides. After this, I went to agricultural college to gain some formal qualifications. For many years I worked for prestigious private yards and showing yards and livery yards. I rode all kinds of horses, point to pointers to children’s ponies and everything in between.
I love forming a partnership with a horse and I think this is such an important thing that is so good for us as humans as it teaches us things that nothing else can, things such as listening or observing subtitles that most people will miss. I think that horses teach us calmness and repose that makes us more able to cope with all sorts of situations in life.
I bought my Welsh Section D Max when I was 30- Max was and still is- my dream horse!
After having my first child I decided to create a dressage schooling music product to help other people get more from their horses, as I realised the difficulties and challenges that so many people have when they combine horse ownership with busy lives and families.
One of the key benefits of riding to music is confidence, and this is how The Confident Rider Project came to be. I endeavoured to create a online space for people to find the solutions to help them to feel good about riding their horses and ride with freedom!
In your opinion, where do the majority of confidence issues around horses come from?
People’s confidence issues arise from many different reasons but generally it’s a natural self preservation and the older we get the more this creeps in. It can be very frustrating and limiting!
Often these issues come after many years of riding and never fearing, then suddenly these strange feelings begin to encroach.
Other factors that affect people are worrying about what others think, the horse industry is well known for being a little snooty and this often makes people feel that they are not good enough or that others are judging them.
Some people come to horses later in life then there is a steep learning curve and people hate to feel intimidated.
What would be your top three tips for anyone feeling low in ‘horsey-confidence’ right now?
- Figure out what you want your riding experience to be, in an ideal world.
- Feel how that will feel, create a mental image of you doing what it is you want to be doing.
- Using this positive energy, create a plan to get to that ideal…
What’s in store for your customers and clients for 2019?
Horses and Freedom is my core programme that helps people to find their confidence with horses and riding, it’s highly personalised and tailored to suit the individual… with three or five month plans available on application.
I currently have a few spaces available…
There are free Mindset Makeover for horse lovers sessions for anyone wanting to figure out exactly what is holding them back and to find a solution to get them back in the saddle and enjoying their horses… a great way to find out if Horses and Freedom is for you.
How can people join the Confident Rider Project?
There’s The Confident Rider Project Facebook Community – where we discuss all things horsey: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theconfidentriderproject/
Confidence in the Saddle and Out is a smaller Facebook group specifically for those on a mission to find a solution to become a more confident rider. There are regular online and interactive challenges, master-classes and events.
The Confident Rider Project website has lots of inspirational blog posts and helpful ideas… and information about the programmes and courses.
And here is the link to book a Free Mindset Makeover for horse lovers
Cliff Norton: Wildlife Photographer
How long have you been in the Sakar region?
I have been visiting Bulgaria for over two decades and purchased my cottage in 2004. I spent a couple of years renovating to a English living standard, while working as a photojournalist in Paris, Berlin and London. I get to visit the region regularly and run courses in documentary photography and wildlife photo tours- with a focus on birds.
Why is the Sakar region so incredible for birdlife?
The region offers over 400 recorded birds including the red book list of endangered species. The area’s rolling hills and meadows are an ideal location for visiting birds and resident bird life alike, and this allows photography and bird watching all year.
What are the most impressive birds you have seen in the region?
For me, I love to photograph the Egyptian and Griffin vultures. The winter, spring and autumn migration in Bulgaria is wonderful, with large flocks of White Storks in flight and feeding, then there’s the birds of prey high in the sky including vast flocks of Buzzards.
In the summer months the European Bee Eater and Hoopoe are outstanding to watch and photograph as they feed their young. Not only are the birds abundant in the fields of meadow grass, but the reeds around the numerous small ponds are home to lots of different Butterflies and dragonflies.
What three tips would you give to anyone hoping to capture Sakar’s birds on film?
I would say, research your location, use a daily or weekly guide so you get the best out of your visit, and of course, know your camera gear! Many a good photograph has been missed by unfamiliar knowledge of the camera.
You offer guided trips and excursions to see and photograph the ornithology of the region, can you outline a little of what this entails?
My company offers a week-long, hands-on documentary photography course, The course runs at selected times of the year and teaches the art of one picture telling the whole story, photo features, caption writing and the fundamentals of documentary photography.
For those wishing to focus on the region’s wildlife, I offer bespoke photo tours visiting sites across the region which are well known for wildlife and where i have captured incredible images previously. These focus on photographing: wildlife, birds, insects, butterflies and the brown bear.
Our company also runs street photography short breaks in the capital city of Sofia.
For more information on Cliff’s tours, please email: email@example.com
Apostol Dragiev: Photographer
Can you tell us about your connection to Srem?
Srem it’s not just a place for me, it’s a part of my heart. My mother was born there and I spent all my free time as a kid in Srem with my grandparents and friends.
There you can find truly amazing people. They work hard from dark to dark and are very hospitable. But the magic of the village it’s not only this people. The Nature, every single peace of it looks different in Srem. The sound of the wind thru the trees or song of the Tundzha frogs in the warm summer nights, the sunset on the top of the hills and the clear sky after it, which reveals the Milky Way, and if you stretch, you feel you could almost touch it.
There, in the village- you can see how amazing Mother Nature truly is. How animals live in symbiosis. How they create their homes and teach their progeny to live and survive.
How many times have you seen the first flight of a bird in the city? Or the tireless bees collecting pollen around you?
The Sakar region it’s one of the wildest in Bulgaria with just a few towns with over 10,000 people. So the Nature is still clear, wild animals are still there and if you want to become part of it- Srem will become part of you.
How does Srem/the Sakar area influence your art?
When you spend some time there, relaxing and clearing you mind from the hectic everyday life of the city, you start to see all that beauty that surrounds you, then you can really feel my shots.
The key words are See and Feel! If you can see it and feel it, capture it with your eyes, then the camera.
Your photos are extraordinary- never, ‘picture perfect’ like so many rural Bulgarian images, all taken in preserved ‘ethnographic’ villages… you capture village life ‘warts and all’ and yet, still find the beauty- can you talk us through the thought process when capturing life in the village?
There is no thought process … just a sense.
What is/are you favourite village subject(s) to photograph and why?
The region it’s very multifarious. In a radius of only 1km you have hills and pine forest, river and fields, and on the other side a century-old deciduous forest, with small springs and dams.
In every step you can find something beautiful. I can’t choose a favorite, I love every square metre!
What interests you in the village/area that you haven’t photographed yet and why are you interested in it?
Unfortunately, in last 10 years I haven’t had enough time to spend in Srem. I’m there only two to three times per year for several hours, and I miss it very much.
When I was a child, I went around the whole area. I miss a lot of magical moments and landscapes. Every place is interesting, you just need to be there at the right moment, (with your camera).
What are your photography tips for those hoping to take great images in the villages?
If the village life it’s something new for you – spend some time just watching how one day runs. On the next day, try to be part of it, plant a tree or a flower, chop wood or ride a horse.
So you can feel the key elements in life and find the details you want to capture. Remember! Most important is to see and feel!
Tell us about time of day, the light and seasons in the village? Which are you favourites and why?
It might be trivial, but, for me the best time for shooting is around sunset. The sunrise it’s also amazingly good- its so quite, in some aspects it’s even better, but I’m mostly asleep then!
Each season offers something unique, but my favorites are the Summer, because the day it’s longer and Autumn because of the incredible colors!
Also when is warm it’s better for walking around.
How can people contact you for more details on your work?
My email is – firstname.lastname@example.org Everyone is welcome!
There’s some really exciting things happening in Bulgaria, you just need to know where to look!
Here’s our list of favourite sites, places, pages, people and accounts doing ground-breaking work across Bulgaria and beyond…
Alex Grudev: Film-maker
Bulgaria based film maker who’s extraordinary clips and short films bring new meaning to Bulgaria’s traditions and archaeology, and highlight the modern, including; graffiti, dance and performances.
For more information: follow Alex on Facebook.
Faunagraphic: Locally Based Mural & Street Artist
Creator of magical nature inspired murals, Faunagraphic’s work is in demand around Europe. When she’s back in Sakar, she offers art workshops for adults and children.
For more information visit: Faunagraphic’s site.
Kapana District Plovdiv
This little corner of Plovdiv city literally translates as, ‘the trap,’ and trapped you will be in this up-and-coming, dynamic area filled with contemporary creators, bars, shops and artists.
See here: for more information on Kapana District.
The Balkan Ecology Project
The grass-roots pioneers in all things permaculture, the group has created edible forest gardens, runs permaculture courses and sells via their own bio-nursery.
See here for: Further information on the Balkan Ecology Project
Bulgarian Instagramer reclaiming and reimagining Bulgaria’s abandoned spaces- and in the process bringing Bulgarian Urbex to the wider world.