Bulgaria in February?
July 24, 2010 5:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about going to Bulgaria for a week to ten days...in February. How would the time of year and weather impact my plans?

Is travel much more difficult? I'd like to at least see Plovdiv, Veliki Tarnovo, and maybe somewhere in the Pirin mountains like Bansko, in addition to Sofia, and would be traveling around by bus or train.

If you've got any other tips - I'm also into monasteries, photography and food! - please pass them along. Thanks!
posted by mdonley to Travel & Transportation around Bulgaria (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm living in Sofia with my Bulgarian wife at the moment, so conferring with her. January and February are the worst months weather wise obviously. I was here in february and it was pretty shit-house. Hard to walk around let alone drive. I think it was a particularly bad one though.

I imagine you would fly to Sofia first. Not so much to see and do here, but great for a couple of days, go up the mountain or to Rilla monastery. Plovdiv will be no problem to get to by train or bus, the old town is cool. Bansko will also be thriving, being the main ski resort. Veliko Tarnovo is my favourite place in Bulgaria, but my wife reckons it's quite hard to get to in winter with roads closing and so forth, but imagine it should be possible and well worth it.

Food in Bulgaria is decent and cheap, menus are more like books. Everyone thinks the Bulgarians are into meat but baked paprikas seem to be the Bulgarian favourite. Beer is also incredibly cheap.

I shouldn't be encouraging this, but Thessalonaki, Greece's second largest city is just a 5 hour train ride from Sofia, it's a great overnight stay, and the weather is usually good. Was 15 euros return two years ago. March would be a better time to come here, but for ten days you should have no problems making a go of it in february.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 5:54 AM on July 24, 2010

I went last summer, and it was rainy the day we went to the Rila monastery, and I was ill prepared and shivering in my summer clothes. At a restaurant on the way down, I found The Perfect Thing: feta, tomatoes, roasted peppers, and onions all cooked up together in a little covered earthenware pot. If I were in Bulgaria in winter, I'd eat that constantly.
Other good things I ate: roasted peers stuffed with feta, breaded and fried, and small breaded cubes of feta deep fried. Bulgarians make really good salad, so it's a pity you're traveling in winter.
posted by Sara Anne at 7:11 AM on July 24, 2010

ack! *roasted peppers
posted by Sara Anne at 7:12 AM on July 24, 2010

Many of the monasteries of Bulgaria are hard to get to by design (hiding from Turkish Empire being of paramount importance). Rila is a long drive up a two lane road, and a bit of a schlep even in summer. I would love to see it in winter, but like Sara Anne said, in summer it can be freezing. So I would take a really good coat, really warm boots, and make back up plans (maybe for Sandanski?) if there's too much snow and the trip to the monastery is not to be.
posted by pickypicky at 7:21 AM on July 24, 2010

Assuming a high tolerance for cold and patience with weather-induced travel delays, you should be fine. It's just (in my mind) a shame to visit the Balkans in winter when the spring and summer are so pretty, and the food is more varied (expect to eat quite a bit of cabbage - quite good as sarmi, but a little dull in salads). Definitely make sure your boots and coat are sturdy, comfortable, warm and waterproof - you'll get plenty of use out of them.

Sofia has a bit of variety in its culinary scene, with a noticeable French influence. I don't know if this has changed much since I was there, but outside of Sofia there wasn't much of a restaurant culture - cafes and clubs are far more popular as going-out destinations, so restaurant food is often decent at best, as DOUBLE A SIDE says. It's worth keeping an eye out for vegetarian/vegan/macrobiotic places, even if you're an omnivore - I found that a little extra effort went into the food in those sorts of places.

Food that's done well locally includes roasted peppers and spreads based on them, kebabche, and bread. Salads will be a little sad that time of year, but it's prime time for stews and soups. If you like wine, be sure to try the local reds, especially Mavrud.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2010

February is cold and dreary, and everyone is miserable. Except for the skiers and snowboarders! Are you into snow sports? You mention Bansko – it's what is considered Bulgaria's best ski resort in what I consider Bulgaria's most beautiful mountain range, Pirin. Ski season usually starts in mid-December, so you're almost guaranteed decent trail conditions by February.

We used to go every year before I moved to the U.S. (not Bansko, but Pamporovo in Rila – we still go to Bansko every summer), and we always stayed at small bed-and-breakfast places that would serve ridiculously amazing homestyle food, sometimes to order, sometimes family style. I'd recommend staying away from big-box hotels in Bansko either way: everyone who lives there seems to have rooms available for rent. The specific places I can recommend offer short-term apartments or cabin-style (but way nicer) accommodations suitable for families, and it seems like you'll be traveling by yourself. It's still quite a bit cheaper than ay comparable ski resorts in Europe. Book accommodations plenty ahead, bring your own ski or snowboard or rent equipment on site.

Bulgaria's infrastructure isn't really good enough to handle all the snow efficiently. Expect delays and don't be surprised by cancelations as far as travel goes. I agree that restaurant food tends to be mediocre, but it seems that we're catching on to the fact that people will return to a restaurant if they like it. There are lot of great places these days, you just need a local to tell you where to go. Sadly, online reviews are not yet commonplace (I can't wait though).

I agree with EvaDestruction – food is way better in summer. Everything but meat is imported in winter, so expect lots of flavorless hothouse vegetables and previously frozen Atlantic fish.

Rila Monastery is wonderful. I could only find a couple of photographs of it in winter – while it's still pretty, it looks deserted while usually it's a place that's bustling with activity. Unless you're into HDR, expect most of your outdoor pictures to be overall gray or gray-ish in winter.

In summary, unless you're a skier, I'd suggest rescheduling your trip for late spring through late fall.
posted by halogen at 10:44 AM on July 25, 2010

Response by poster: I just booked my tickets for my school's winter break in February! If anything, I'll have a chilly, non-touristy adventure exploring Rila (which looks amazing in winter!), Sofia, Veliki Tarnovo, and Plovdiv. Maybe I'll get back next summer and see more of the coast, head up to Romania or west to Serbia and Bosnia...sigh - too many cool places to go! Thanks all!
posted by mdonley at 7:00 AM on July 30, 2010

mdonley, by "exploring Rila", are you implying that you are planning on hiking in Rila in the winter? It's dangerous – I've had friends who lost their lives doing that. If you'd still like to, there are lots of organized outfits, some of which offer winter hikes and will make sure that you are in a group with an experienced guide and that all rescue authorities are notified of your plans.

Try to make some online friends before you go (Couchsurfing, IRC, etc.) whom you could meet once you get there. Bulgarians love guests, and it'd be a shame not to take advantage of our hospitality. Also, you'll have more fun going out drinking, etc., with like-minded people.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by halogen at 11:24 AM on July 30, 2010

Response by poster: Halogen, I meant just visiting the Rila monastery complex, probably as a daytrip - would that still be OK? I might even do an organized tour from a Sofia hostel I found.
posted by mdonley at 3:28 AM on July 31, 2010

If the roads are good there is no problem. Carpark just outside. Great daytrip.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 7:10 AM on July 31, 2010

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