Part 1 - Sofia, Monasteries, Mountain Resorts
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Bulgaria map Bulgaria is a country with many attractions: beautiful mountains offering hiking in summer and skiing in winter, ancient monasteries, summer resorts with golden,  sandy beaches, and an interesting folklore and historic relics. It is relatively inexpensive to visit, because prices have not yet caught up with those of western Europe.

Its history has been stormy. Written records go back to Roman times, then Bulgaria became an important element in the Byzantine empire. This golden period was followed by several centuries under Turkish domination. Independence was regained late in the nineteenth century. From 1945 to 1990 the country suffered under a communist regime as harsh as that of Soviet Russia itself. The return to a democratic free market society has been slow and the country is one of the poorest in Europe. However, the upgrading of facilities for tourists has been given a top priority.

The capital  Sofia offers many attractions for the tourist. It is dominated by Mt. Vitosha (2,290m - 7,440ft) and the resort Aleko, 400m below the summit, can be reached by city bus or by a gondola cable car. St.George Church Sofia is unique among European capitals in its easy access to mountain wilderness and ski slopes.
Sofia was a Roman outpost called Serdica and some old Roman ruins may be seen in an underground passage below the main street. One of the oldest surviving churches in Europe, built by Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century, Sveti Georgi (St. George) is located close by, behind the Hotel "Balkan". Some wonderful ancient frescoes have survived the passage of time. Sofia's outstanding ancient church, St. Sophia Basilica, built of brown brick, its plan in the shape of a Byzantine cross, was built in the 6th. century. Just across the square you should visit the huge Alexander Nevski Church. Although not old, it contains many elaborate paintings and icons.
To see a well displayed, rich, collection of ancient Thracian gold treasures, visit the National History Museum.

Rila The visitor should plan to spend several days in Sofia because some of the best attractions are outside the city. South of the city is a beautiful church, situated in a small park, Boyana, built in the 11th century, with frescoes dating back to the 13th century. Not far away you may see the 15th century Dragalevtsi Monastery, which has some fine medieval murals, it is located in the beech woods just above the village of the same name.

The largest and most famous of the many Bulgarian monasteries Rila is also the closest to Sofia, less than two hours away by car or tourist bus. Its beauty is not only due to the 1,200 ancient frescoes, but also because of its situation in a valley surrounded by the wild Rila mountains. In good weather it is desirable to spend the night so you van enjoy the beautiful scenery. If you're lucky, you might find a room in the monastery itself, otherwise you can stay in the Hotel Rilets, just 20 minutes walk away.

Bansko Two of Bulgaria's best mountain resorts lie in the mountains south of Sofia. Borovec is in the Rila mountains, on the other side of Bulgaria's highest peak, Mousala (2,925m. = 9,500 ft.) from the monastery.
Bansko lies further south in the Pirin mountains. Both resorts offer excellent skiing in winter, wonderful mountain hiking, or just simple relaxation, in summer. Much less costly than similiar resorts in western Europe, they are very popular with the younger set, especially from Germany.

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Last update February, 2009