Parklands a) USEFUL ADDRESSES
Guildford Bulgarian Embassy
Surrey GU2 9JX 186/188 Queen's Gate
0870 873 0060 London SW7 5NA
email@example.com Tel: 0207 584 9400/9433 (general)
www.ctc.org.uk 0207 589 8402 (tourism)
TOURING website: www.bulgarianembassy.org.uk
Committee of Recreation & Tourism
1 Lenin Square
National Information Center
These notes were updated in Autumn 2002 and also in July
2003, retaining as many of the earlier notes as seemed 1 St. Sofia Str.
appropriate, and adding a great deal of new information. The 1000 Sofia
worth of specific tour reports - especially from the distant past - is Bulgaria
limited, but may be found on a separate information sheet for the Tel. 00359 2 987 9778
sake of completeness (ref BU2). Thanks to CTC member’ LS’ for Fax 00359 2 989 6939
compiling these notes (2003). e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Internet address: www.bulgariatravel.org
References to websites, from which additional information may
be obtained, are increasingly made in our information sheets.
Stanfords Map & Book Shop (mail order service available)
Members unable to access the internet may obtain additional
12-14 Long Acre
information by telephoning the CTC
Information Officers (0870 873
0060) who will note the member’s
needs and try to assist. It will be
Tel: 0207 836 1321
necessary to send a stamped, self-
addressed envelope to receive the
BU1.doc ~ Bulgaria~ Printed 20 April 2005 ~ Page 1
b) GETTING THERE One formality about which much doubt exists is an alleged
From Britain, flying is the obvious way. There are summer requirement to 'register' your presence with the police wherever
you stay. Exactly how is undefined, but one documented
charter flights from various UK airports (e.g. Gatwick,
(historic) method was that your host (hotel, camp site, individual)
Birmingham, Cardiff) to the coastal resorts Varna or Burgas; and
accompanies you to a police station to register your stay with
presumably some winter ones to Sofia for skiing. Scheduled
him. A more realistic possibility is that whenever you stay in
flights  comprise more-or-less daily Gatwick-Sofia by
formal accommodation, they fill out a form re your residence.
Balkan Air *and* BA, the latter much more expensive. We found
They should give you a copy, but seldom do. Ask for one; at
the charters fully booked far ahead, and that travel agents knew
least it is a bit a paper to show if asked.
nothing of the daily Balkan flight, nor could they discover more
even when told of it. Yet when we flew on it, it was lightly loaded. This whole business becomes impractical for people like cyclists
Guide price £250 to the coast, less to Sofia. (See the later who roam freely, are likey to camp wild, and even if they stay
section on 'Sofia airport'). somewhere, may not be given a form covering same; and one
seldom encounters police, let alone police stations. Cyclists
At the time of writing, the future of Balkan Air was uncertain. Fly
commonly ignore this bureaucratic myth without any
with them if you can. They need your money much more than
consequences, and you are recommended not to let it worry you.
British airlines do.
For further details of the Travel and Cycle Insurance available
through the CTC, please contact the Insurance Department
c) BORDER CROSSING, VISAS ETC. (0870 873 0068). Bulgaria is treated as part of 'Europe' for travel
Crossing by land from adjacent countries as part of a longer tour insurance purposes. Health provision is free.
is no problem, except that border officials in the Balkan countries
have an unsavoury reputation for corruption these days. Be wary
d) CURRENCY INFORMATION
not to be taken advantage of. Ask about an import certificate for
your bike, in case you get done for export charges on leaving the The current exchange rate is approximately 3 Lev to £1.00. The
country later. (See also www.fco.gov.uk for important currency is 1 Leva = 100 stotinki. In the late 1990s the leva was
information.) equated with the Deutshmark (not long before that evaporated
into Euros), and has  remained quite firm. However, the
It is said to be easy to get to Sofia - with bike - by international
economic state of the country is precarious, and this stability may
bus services from nearby countries. You will have to ask there.
not be sustained. At the time of writing, there were about 2.5 - 3
Ditto for trains.
leva to the £, making it worth 35-40p.
Visas are NOT required by EU citizens for stays up to 30 days.
For longer stays, you can obtain one from the embassy. A Any black market is a thing of the past. Avoid any attempts at
same; banknotes were changed recently, and you may land up
suggested ploy is to leave the country (whereby the entry stamp
with worthless ones. The exchange rate is generally similar
in your passport is cancelled), and immediately re-enter.
everywhere - except that you may get a worse rate on entering
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the country, before you discover the true score. If you have to (Stara Planina) and south (Rodopi). Plains are especially (but not
use a bureau on entry (any available card machine should give solely) in the north near the Danube and in the east near the
you the proper rate), change just a little then, and plan to be in a Black Sea. If you get around, you will enjoy the scenery at all
sizeable town soon to change more. (See the section on 'Sofia levels from appreciation to wonderment.
airport'). There are of course less attractive areas, and much of the land is
Take a plastic card, but do *not* expect to be able to use it - derelict. Woodland is extensive and predominantly broad-leaf
although you can in some places. Better to take real money, or deciduous; pines where they occur are natural. The commonest
(less flexible) traveller's cheques. roadside trees are walnut.
In large towns and tourist resorts, money and travellers cheques Animals - cows, sheep, goats - are typically shepherded. Horse
can be exchanged at banks, 'change' shops, and major hotels. carts remain common in some areas. Peasant agriculture by
Always be sure to obtain official receipts for exchange - you may hand and horse is widespread. Subsistence farming is the norm,
be asked by officialdom for them. You *can* change surplus the more organised agriculture of Communist days having
levas back into western currencies. withered without being effectively superseded. The main crops
are grass & hay, maize, sunflowers and tobacco.
Please also refer to www.fco.gov.uk
Much of the terrain is easy cycling, even in/through the
mountains. Stiff climbs on 'through' tarmac roads are unusual.
e / f) TERRAIN & CLIMATE
Most of the country enjoys warm, sunny weather between April
Situated in south-eastern Europe, Bulgaria occupies the north- and October. Summer temperatures tend to be 80-90F (25-30C).
eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. To the North, via the In short, winters are very cold, summers very hot. Rainfall is fairly
Danube River, it borders with Romania, to the West – with the evenly distributed throughout the year, highest in the SW; yet (as
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and with the Republic of in Britain) inconsistent.
Macedonia. To the South its neighbours are Greece and Turkey.
The past obsession with industrialisation and concrete apartment
To the East Bulgaria touches the Black Sea, which links it also to
blocks has, unfortunately, made most towns look the same.
Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. The Black-sea border-line is
Villages are usually nondescript, often with positively grim-
The country’s total territory is 111 000 sq. km (43 000 sq. miles). looking centres. The little of historical interest that has survived is
Bulgaria has a long Black Sea coast (378 km /240 miles), much now preserved under museum like conditions. In the SW
of which consists of sandy bays between rocky headlands. It is especially you do find really rustic villages. Churches etc are not
highly developed and untypical. over-common, Orthodox churches being most widespread, with
Mosques prevalent in the S.
The countryside is more open than enclosed, and largely empty.
Much of the country is scenically wonderful - pretty valleys, Since the collapse of the Communist Government in 1989, crime
rolling open downland, wooded hills, great hills we would call has rocketed, particularly in the towns and tourist areas. Often it
'mountains' and real unambiguous mountains in the middle is the little things which though they don't cost a lot in the West,
BU1.doc ~ Bulgaria~ Printed 20 April 2005 ~ Page 3
are unobtainable in Bulgaria and whose loss can spoil a holiday. Good morning = Dobro ootro
It is recommended in the cities to have someone to guard your Good afternoon/Good day = Dobr den
bicycles. Thieves are brazen and appear totally unperturbed at
the prospect of being caught. Fortunately, the villages still seem Yes = Da (SHAKE head)
to be relatively untouched by the crimewave. No = Neh (NOD head)
Generally, Bulgarian people are very friendly. Master the basic Please = Eezveenaytay
greetings etc (see the 'language' section) and you will be
rewarded with smiles and helpfulness. You may be given things Thank you = Blagodaria
in cafes by people much poorer than you are. If (unusually) you How much? = Kolko stroova?
find yourself being over-charged or short-changed or whatever,
do not let the matter lie, for to do so merely corrupts behaviour Water = Vodah
towards subsequent travellers. Goodbye = Doveezhdanay
Cheers! = Nazdrarvay!
g) LANGUAGE Toilets = Toyaletma
Bulgarian uses the Cyrillic alphabet and has some similarities Great Britain = Veleekobreetania
with Russian, which all Bulgarians used to learn at school.
1 = Edno
Bulgarian and Russian (should you know the latter!) are mutually
comprehensible. The words are spoken exactly as written and 2 = Dvay
therefore the ability to pronounce the Cyrillic alphabet helps 3 = Tree
enormously in the reading of signs. This is particularly useful as
many words are taken from English, French or German roots and 4 = Cheteeree
when spoken out loud, can often be guessed at. You are sure to tour 'in the sticks', and must expect to encounter
It is *essential* that you take a phrase book of sorts (the Berlitz routinely *only* Bulgarian. In touristy places (or anywhere you
'East European phrasebook and dictionary' is inexpensive and bump into a better educated person) you will find people who
has a very useful Bulgarian section in it); and make an effort to know some English or German or French. People seem keen to
understand Cyrillic. This is necessary not just for basic show a knowledge of English, which is often misleading as 'Hello'
communication, recognising shops etc, but navigation (see later may be the sum total of it.
'maps' section). Only on major roads do the main towns have
h) FOOD & DRINK
To get you started, here are some basic words (roughly as
said):- Food is basic but good: decent bread, cold meats, cakes,
yoghurt, sunflower seeds. Fresh fruit and vegetables are sold in
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normal shops, or (better) roadside stalls. Food shops seem to be shops & cafes - they hide behind anonymous barred doors or
general rather than specialised - baker, butcher etc, none of hanging plastic-strip door screens. Look for the crate outside.
which we ever saw. Opening hours vary widely due to the Tap water is safe for drinking. Bulgaria has many roadside
proliferation of private ownership, but traditionally were 7.00- fountains particularly in hilly areas, which are also safe. You are
12.00 & 14.00-19.00. Many shops now open throughput the day, sure to see at least a couple a day. One area to be wary of water
some even on Sundays. Markets are open early to late, 7 days in is the Danube plain - but hills (with waterspouts) lie not far south.
larger towns. Wine is inexpensive, and anything in a corked bottle is good.
Most village shops stock more than enough to put together a Excellent (not so cheap) fruit juices are proiliferating. Large (2L)
decent picnic lunch, but be prepared to choose from what's on plastic bottles of fizzy soft drinks are ubiquitous, OK and cheap.
offer rather than look for the specific items you'd buy back home.
Prices are cheap to varying degrees (very to not at all) i) ACCOMMODATION
depending on what you buy. They are reasonably similar
everywhere, and rare city supermarkets seem scarcely cheaper The best bet for cycletouring is to camp wild - this is easier in
than small village shops. Bulgaria than almost any other European country, owing to the
generally open, empty and often derelict nature of much of the
Restaurants are generally cheap (typically £2-£3 a head countryside. Beware another potential bogey here: it is
including beer). The Cyrillic menus add an interesting mystery
sometimes alleged that wild camping is forbidden. Evidence from
factor. Note that every component is separately charged, down natives is to the contrary. The London embassy did not support
to individual bread slices. Fast-food is becoming popular in the the view. So do not let it trouble you. Wild campers try to be
cities and resorts. Convenience foods are limited and relatively
discrete anyway, but even if you are visible from the road, the
expensive. chances of hassle are probably less than in other countries. As in
Food in local cafés, bars and restaurants is, almost without any country, avoid doing it (visibly) where it is sure to offend -
exception, wholesome, nourishing, tasy and cheap, but you will sensitive areas, or where formal sites exist nearby.
need to master handwritten Cyrillic to make sense of the menus! Camp sites used to be widespread, but have mostly disappeared
If you want to eat western food then you'll be disappointed,
except on the coast, where they are numerous, and you should
whereas discovering the various local dishes can be a very use them - about £1 per night. Any active site may have chalets
rewarding adventure indeed. to rent for a modest amount.
Cafes are a boon for cyclists. Rare is the village without one or Hotels exist in larger towns, but are often superficially rather
more, though what they have to offer varies a lot; yet it will be smart, and (by Bulgarian standards) expensive. There are
very cheap. They often double as small shops; or may rustle you special prices for foreigners... We once paid £16 for 2-in-a-room,
up a meal if asked (always 'kebabs' = sausage, salad, bread). similar to France; and that was vastly cheaper than the dearest
Conversely, small shops may also serve coffee - which is hotel in the town. Another time £10. OTOH We met others who
typically small and black. Note that you often have to sniff out
had obtained seedy lodgings for about £4 for 2-in-a-room. Look
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around comprehensively before deciding; it is easy to overlook vehicles can be erratic and very unpredictable. The most
candidate hotels. dangerous potholes are open manholes in towns. You must
always keep your eyes open, for even rare smooth surfaces may
Private rooms can be had readily in more touristy areas; you may
have the odd spurious pothole. Do not ride close behind
be touted. Typically 10-20 levas (£3-£8) per person, depending
someone else, nor at night.
on the situation. We met Russian-speaking E German cylists
who managed by asking in villages, and said someone was Some stretches of main roads are signposted 'no cycling'. Once
always ready to put them up for about 20 levas (£7-£8) 2-to-a out of town nobody seems to take much notice of them, however,
room. This sometimes included a free evening meal - a sort of the ban on Motorways is strictly enforced but there is usually the
traditional gift; but never breakfast. old road running parallel. The first few kilometres out of major
towns is sometimes dual carriageway but this soon ends.
Bulgaria once had the most Youth Hostels per head of poulation.
Significant lengths of cobbled road exist in some areas.
Today they are in disrepair and disarray.
A few stretches of 'yellow' road are in fact dirt or rock tracks,
In mountain areas are special so-called 'huts', each with its own
down to cartographic error. Roads shown 'white' on maps *are*
name. They are approximately shown on maps, and could be
rock tracks in the mountains; see the later 'rough stuff' section on
invaluable if one knew how to use them. The few we saw were
same. Signposting (Cyrillic) is generally quite good.
proper buildings. They have no evident markings or identification.
We never saw anyone in nor around them. So they remained It must be said that whatever type of bike you tour on (see later
more a virtual than real possibility. We learned from natives that 'bikes' section) that you should have good wheels, and tyres as
they do function, and are cheap. big as you can fit. Not less than 32mm, and you will be glad of
35mm or 37mm if you have them. The bigger your tyres, the less
cautious you can afford to be.
j) OPENING HOURS ETC. (see section h)
l, m, n) BIKES
Ordinary bikes are quite adequate for touring in Bulgaria, but
The main arterial routes do not carry such great quantities of note the desirability for good wheels and generous tyres noted in
traffic similar roads would in W Europe. Heavy lorries make up a the 'roads' section. Any rough stuff calls for tougher machinery -
large part of the traffic, particularly on the transit routes through as it does anywhere. Bulgarians *do* cycle, so indiginous basic
Bulgaria, and they may not have a lot of room to overtake supplies must exist. Enormous tyres are the norm.
cyclists. On lesser roads, traffic is very light.
It is self-evident that you should aim to be self-sufficient for
Road surfaces are generally (red/yellow roads on maps) spares etc; assume you can get nothing - at least when and
asphalted, but are becoming heavily broken or potholed due to where you need it. Take all the specialist tools you might need;
lack of maintenance, or heavily patched. Bulgarian drivers
always drive round the potholes, so the course of oncoming
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spare tyre, inner tube, spokes, inner wires etc - as you might for o) RAIL/BUS
a tour anywhere. The rail network still runs, if slowly. Touring cyclists commonly
If the worst comes to the worst, you should always be able to get seem to use trains, and have little trouble in doing so. It is normal
back to the airport (with bike) on public transport. to buy tickets in advance and book a seat if there are any
available. Prices are still very cheap by western standards.
Dilapidated buses reach most places, and apparently it is easy to
Bulgaria has some marvellous mountain 'white road' crossings
travel on them with your bike - if they have adequate luggage
shown on all the maps, and it is tempting to include them in an
space. This applies to long distance (even international)
itinerary. The difficulties can be great, though the rewards can be
services, as well as regional ones. Your biggest problem is likely
greater. We traversed several such routes, and always had
to be finding out what goes where, and when.
serious trouble finding our way. There are apparently special
mountain maps obtainable from bookshops in the largest towns,
and you are well advised to obtain these if you want to have a r) MAPS
go. The main navigational difficulties are finding the correct road
to start with, since they are never signed to anywhere; and being Obtainable in Britain before going are: Cartographia 1:700,000;
confounded by diverging tracks and not knowing which one (for GeoCenter Euromap 1:800,000. The former is definitely better,
our maps showed only one) to take. Sometimes we mis-judged but irritatingly both maps show a few obscure roads not on the
at a high cost of time and effort. other. Almost all of Bulgaria's rural road network is shown on
both, with latinised place names throughout, and major place
Navigational problems apart, these tracks are mostly rough or names also in Cyrillic. Both are reasonably (but not always)
very rough stone and rock - notably granite; although accurate. The Cartographia is just adequate for touring, the
occasionally less aggressive and smoother. They will hammer Euromap less so. A new 1:400,000 map by a reputable maker is
your bike (and you) severely. The granite dust noisily abrades in the pipeline.
your rims when you brake. The combination of gradient and
roughness for long distances may neccesitate pushing for hours. The best map at the time proved to be a 1:530,000 one available
The longest crossings require a whole day - be prepared to camp cheaply from garages in Bulgaria, with a *dark blue* cover. White
high. mountain tracks apart, this is largely very accurate, with the
additional advantage of being familiar to the natives when you
A number of specific routes are described in the separate 'tours' open it to consult them. It is available in both Cyrillic and latinised
document. Note: whatever you do, do not take it for granted that version. You must have a Cyrillic map to reconcile road signs;
the tempting Rila crossing south of Samokov is passable.
and it helps to have a latinised map also to help you with
pronouncing place names. Unless you are confident with reading
and speaking Cyrillic, that is.
BU1.doc ~ Bulgaria~ Printed 20 April 2005 ~ Page 7
Also widely and cheaply available in garages are *red* covered USEFUL WEB SITES
'Domino' 1:540,000 maps, Cyrillic. These are definitely less good www.bulgaria-tourism.com/
than the blue ones, more stylised; not recommended as a sole
map. All the maps noted seem to be similarly up-to-date; more www.travelfactfile.com
truthfully, out-of-date re recent road developments. They all www.bulgariatravel.com
occasionally get tarmac (yellow)/dirt (white) wrong. See the
'rough stuff' section before planning to traverse white mountain www.peakview.bg
roads, for which these normal maps are *not* adequate.
Don't overlook the town plans the maps contain! Notes by Mark XX (added July 2003), copied from
SOFIA AIRPORT his web site:
In the arrival area, no cash machine is evident - only exchange http://www.mark-ju.net/bike_ride/countries/bulgaria.htm
bureaux. These give an unfavourable rate (we unwittingly got
2.60 rather than 3 levas/£). If you must use them, only change a
little. First try the *departure* area, which does have a cash
We were in Bulgaria from the 6th to the 18th March 2003. We entered
machine at the proper rates.
at Svelingrad in south-eastern Bulgaria and went pretty much due north
For a normal-price shop selling many things (and cheap coin- to Ruse on the Danube.
dispensed drinks), there is a mini-market close by for airport
workers. Go up the main dual carriageway from the airport We liked Bulgaria, it was very cheap (one third the price of the UK for
towards 'Centro' about 100yds. On the L side is a bridged gap food, restaurants and hotels), the roads were quiet and the people were
between adjacent office blocks. Go through that, and you will see reasonably friendly. However it is a more dangerous country than
the shop sign on the further side. anywhere in the EU, the people are very poor and the economic
Getting away from the airport N or E is difficult. It looks from situation is bad. As a result the roads are potholed, signposting is not of
normal maps as if it sits on the main road E; but there is *no* exit a high standard and village shops are poorly stocked (but you will not
that way, only to the S. If you try and get out anti-clockwise, go hungry). We never felt threatened but we were certainly very
away from the city centre, you end up miles to the SE. Better to conspicuous and we were careful to camp well out of sight.
start towards the centre, and work your way clockwise as soon
as you are able. Small towns always have vegetable shops and general grocery shops
selling tins. The villages often just have a cafe that doubles as a shop
and will have things like tins of fish, pasta, onions if you are lucky, but
no other vegetables.
The road network is good and there is a lot of beautiful scenery. Horse
and donkey carts are still widely used which is very picturesque and
BU1.doc ~ Bulgaria~ Printed 20 April 2005 ~ Page 8
means that drivers are used to slow moving vehicles. Villages seemed Svelingrad railway station. Coming from Greece, the tall white building
to be compact and widely separated, perhaps a relic of communist at the T junction between the Greek border road and the Sofia road is a
collective farms, which meant it was easy to find places to camp wild hotel (there is a sign saying so), which charges just 12Lv per person,
(although this is illegal and you need to rehearse your excuses for when and there is also another hotel charging 10Lv per person near the
you don't have enough registration papers when you leave the coutry). railway station. This second hotel is also a cafe-bar but there is no sign
We were kept awake some nights by wolves howling. The sound is advertising the fact that it is a hotel. There is a restaurant and an
utterly spine chilling and when close to makes it impossible to sleep. internet cafe a few doors down from the hotel. (2Lv = 1 euro).
We have been assured they will not attack humans, but it would be
prudent not to have meat in the tent because they could come looking
We had sunny, cold weather for our first week and then it clouded up
and we had several days with light snow. Judging by the snow banks
besides the higher roads, these would have been impassible a few
weeks before, so I would say that mid-March is the earliest it would be
sensible to go cycle touring.
The language is similar to Russian, and uses the cyrillic alphabet. Very
few signs are in English and very little English is spoken in the
countryside. It is essential to be able to pronounce the cyrillic names for
places so learning the alphabet beforehand would be a good idea.
We didn't see any bike shops but bicycles are widely used and we even
saw racing cyclists training on quite nice looking machines so they
Svelingrad border info
Our guidebook barely mentioned Svelingrad so I thought the following
could be of use to other cycle tourists crossing the border from Greece
Svelingrad itself has a three star hotel which we did not visit. 2km from
Svelingrad, in the direction of the Greek border is a hamlet by
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