Bulgaria is a republic of about 7.5 million people (somewhere between an L.A. and a New York) with an area of 111 000 sq. km. (the approximate size of Cuba, England or the state of Virginia). It’s a member of the EU bordering the Black Sea to the East, as well as (clockwise from the East) Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania.
Bulgaria lies on ancient trade routes and encompasses a tremendous amount of natural variety and wealth in its tiny shape that we Bulgarians like to pretend looks like a lion facing to the right (it looks like a hedgehog or a Collie at best).
The country is almost perfectly bisected by the Eastern end of the Balkan mountain range which gives its name to the peninsula. In Bulgaria the Balkans are known as Stara Planina (“The Old Mountain“), even though, geologically, they’re a fairly new formation. Between Stara Planina and the Danube river (which, after flowing through Vienna and Budapest forms the length of Bulgaria’s border with Romania) there are mostly fertile plains (collectively referred to as Moesia), where Bulgaria’s wheat comes from. There are a number of mountain ranges in the South, including the Rhodopes, Pirin and Rila, whose tallest peak Musala (2925 m / 9596 ft) is the tallest on the Balkans (taller than Mt. Olympus by 8 metres!). Even Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is nestled against the crags of a mountain: Vitosha. The part of Southern Bulgaria that is not taken up by mountains carries the ancient name of Thrace (Northern Thrace, to be exact) and is home to wineries, orchards and fields of roses, sunflowers and tobacco.
Almost 400 km of coastline form Bulgaria’s Eastern border with the Black Sea. Beside the Danube, five major rivers run through the country: Iskar, Maritza and Struma originate high in the Rila mountains, while Tundza and Yantra originate in the Balkan range.
Bulgaria’s most populous and important city is the capital Sofia. Thrace is dominated by the second-largest city, Plovdiv. Moesia has the old capital Veliko Tarnovo and the beautiful port city of Ruse with a bridge spanning the Danube. Rounding off the list of essential Bulgarian cities are the two most significant Black Sea ports – Burgas in the South and Varna in the North.