Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. Today, it’s Bulgaria! Relatively unknown and underappreciated, Bulgaria is a country I’ve long enjoyed for the surprises it offers the curious traveler. A crossroads of civilizations, it offers a fascinating story. Bulgaria is a land of rich culture, with a modern vitality. Its capital has a stunning cathedral. Folk traditions are alive and well. A mountain monastery cradles Bulgaria’s spiritual soul. In other words, glittering treasures from ancient tombs and decrepit monuments to a difficult 20th century. In the southeast of Europe, Bulgaria sits at the east end of the Balkan Peninsula. From Sofia, we visit Rila Monastery, head north to Veliko Tarnovo, explore the Thracian Plain, and finish in Plovdiv.
Sofia may be the capital of one of the poorest countries in the European Union, but you wouldn’t know it strolling its vibrant boulevards. With a million people, Sofia is delightfully livable. It has an airy, open street plan, fine old architecture, lush park and a relaxed pace of life. The city is named for “Holy Wisdom”. Represented by the statue of Sveta Sofia. She proudly tops a column marking the center of town. Because of its strategic position, Bulgaria sits on layers of history. From ancient Greeks and Romans to fearsome Slavic warriors, from Ottoman pashas to Cold War communists, each left its mark. In this town, any where you dig, you find ancient ruins-bits of Roman Sofia.