Nature lovers are in for a treat in Bulgaria. The country has much to offer, whether your travels take you to the rugged mineral landscape of the country’s wild valleys, or to the peaceful countryside, where life moves at nature’s pace, dictated by the rhythm of the seasons. Untouched massifs covered by sombre forests form a dramatic backdrop for splendid lakes; countless fragrances mingle in the air of the vast flowering plains. In the villages, inhabitants keep up ancestral traditions from generation to generation and it sometimes seems as if time has come to a standstill…
A mountainous country
With a surface area of 110 912km2 (approximately half that of the United Kingdom), Bulgaria is roughly rectangular: to the north, beyond the Danube, lies Romania. The western border is shared with Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia. To the south, the Rhodopes Mountains constitute a formidable rampart, beyond which lies Greece, while to the south-east, Edirne, with its skyline of minarets, is the gateway to Turkey. Finally, in the east, the Black Sea laps at Bulgaria’s shores. Almost 9 million people live here, which represents a (low) average density of 81 inhabitants per km2.
The mountains cover only a little more than a quarter of the territory, but their importance in the hearts of Bulgarians, if only because of their role as a refuge during the dark days of the country’s history, make them a key part of Bulgaria’s landscape… all the more so as their jagged summits, snowcapped in winter, verdant in summer, can be seen in the distance from almost everywhere in the country.
Bulgaria is essentially rural. In inland villages the traditional way of life has been preserved.
During the harvest, the smell of freshly cut grass lingers in the country air. Piles of grass are strewn about the roadside, waiting to be gathered and tied into fat bundles. The fruit trees growing along the side of the road bear a plethora of temptations. Morello cherries, plums, apricots are a permanent temptation. Roadside stalls are laden with watermelons and dried flowers, herbs, honey, cheese and charcuterie, while the vines promise good vintages.
A wealth and variety of wildlife
Geese, ducks, chickens and cockerels: village streets are a veritable farmyard, populated by animals that are utterly oblivious to the cars and the highway code. In this respect, they are not so different from local motorists… On the roads, whether main or minor, you will come across cows, sheep and goats, wandering about without a care in the world. Throw in the odd herd of buffalo, piglets strolling about beneath the oak trees, dreamy-eyed donkeys, and the horses drawing their carts as far as the outskirts of Sofia – how can animal lovers not be happy in Bulgaria (although you do have to be careful, of course)?
However, Bulgarian wildlife is not limited to these friendly creatures. The fir-tree forests of the Rhodopes and Rila Mountain are home to bears. It is highly unlikely that you will meet one, unless you visit the Belica reserve, near Bansko, where “dancing bears”, liberated from their masters, enjoy a peaceful retirement. Packs of wolves have also been sighted, in particular south of Pirin. But rest assured: gone are the days written about by Elias Canetti, when wolves pursued lone travellers onto the frozen Danube… Last but not least of the large predators present in Bulgaria is the jackal, which thrives in the Strandža Massif!
It is more likely that you will see game: stags, deer, roe deer and boars abound in the mountain forests of Bulgaria. In the Rhodopes, you might chance upon the wild goats that are the pride of Devin. Among the small rodents that live here are hamsters, which populate the Rila Mountain.
Streams and brooks are home to a large number of trout, to the delight of the many amateur fishermen from the surrounding areas.
There are numerous reptiles: from the impressive Balkan viper to countless green lizards, and, in the southeast of the country, a few tortoises, which have managed to escape the traffic unscathed.
As for marine mammals, colonies of monk seals are sometimes spotted on the southern coast of the Black Sea.
Finally, bird watchers will not be disappointed: as well as storks – on fine days, they greedily take certain fields by storm, while their young wait in the nests that cling to telegraph poles and bell towers –, the lacustrian expanses of the coast and the Danube Valley are inhabited by a significant number of migratory birds on the Via Pontica. So don’t forget to pack your binoculars!