Adventures on the Bulgarian Highway (and side roads) With a Dog!

Best we could do for a photo. Does not do it justice!

Our time in Bulgaria had a road trip vibe to it.  We would all pile into the white minivan, our hosts Radmila, Slavcho, Pepi, the bipeds and myself and off we would go!  We drove from Sofia to the black sea coast through woods and small towns, over mountain tops and along beaches.  I had heard that the road between Sofia and the Black Sea was a death trap; but honestly there was no reason to fear.  There is a new highway and it is stellar.

Warning: The cars drive fast, much like the autobahn; as long as you stay in the slow lane you are alright.

What I enjoyed the most was the scenery. It’s really wonderful. It started off all woods and hills as we left Sofia around the Vitocha mountains. Soon it flattened out and we saw field upon fields of sunflowers. Turns out that Bulgaria is one of the world’s largest producers of Sunflower oil!  My greatest regret was not having  a biped around that could really do the “sea of yellow” justice in a photograph.  It was enchanting, with the Balkan mountains brooding in the backdrop, the dramatic play of sun and cloud over the golden, cheerful expanse. There are no words really.

The signs on the highway are easy to read once you get use to the idea that it is Cyrillic on top and Latin below (that is what alphabet English uses).  Train your eye to read the slightly smaller print and all is well.

SURPRISE!!and wow – sign is in English too!

Tragically, Bulgaria suffers from a great big case of “Not knowing what you got”.   Seriously … the country really is splendid and has so many gems but nothing, absolutely nothing, is done to draw attention to these treasures. You have to stumble upon them half hazardly, by accident. Sometimes a single odd sign will give you a clue.  Most of the time it’s just a question of keeping your eyes wide open or just plain dumb luck.

At one point we really needed to stop to relieve ourselves.  Our wonderful host Slavscho took the next exit and after a short drive on a small road we stopped in a big parking lot. There was a wonderful field of sunflowers on the one side and a building on the other. We went to take some photos of the sunflowers and ahmm… answer natures call.

Then we went to see what the building was and wouldn’t you know it… we had stumbled upon an ancient roman garrison! Oh yes folks complete with elaborate museum and a walking trail and everything!  The outside part was FREE!  Taking full advantage of this little discovery we had our fun and stretche our legs while soaking up a some history.

Could I tell you where this museum was exactly? No. Why? Because I never saw a sign for it! But it was so neat and very well put together!  Honestly if I were to be on that road again I would want to stop and actually take more time to enjoy it. I am happy we saw what we did and talk about a fun surprise!

Later, on another stretch of road between Sofia and Rilla Monestary we saw a sign that made no sense. A sign indicating “pyramids”.  We all just looked at each other? Pyramids? That couldn’t be right. So we decided we had to check it out.  Following little signs, we went through two tiny villages on rough dirt roads, stopped to ask a local for directions and in time we found what we were looking for.

And then, there it was.  Once again, totally AWESOME!

Stob Pyramids! Cool eh?

We got out of our mini van and following the path, I breathed in deeply. There was wild chamomile everywhere and it filled the air with its calming scent.  We laughed and chatted – happy to stretch our legs and all curious because we still had no idea what to expect.

Turns out the place is known as The Stob Pyramids and they are a natural rock phenomenon (a set of earth pyramids) located 7 km (4.3 mi) to the northeast of the village by the same name.  Encompassing 74,000 m2 (800,000 sq ft), the Pyramids have been under state protection since 1964.   They are 30-40 meters thick and 6-10 meters high, reaching a height of 12 meters in some places. Some of the pyramids are pointed and needle-like, while others are round and topped with sandstone “hats” and resembling giant mushrooms. Their bases are wide and often joined to neighboring formations. Most of the pyramids are on the south slope and range from yellow to dark brown and red.

Many of the formations have been given names:  The Towers, The Hammers, The Wild Woman’s Chimneys, The Snaggletooth, the Brothers, The Wedding Couple, and so on. I can only imagine how beautiful they must be at sunset or by moonlight. The Stob Pyramids may be viewed from above by hiking up the ecological trail, or they may be seen from below by using the road that winds past a scenic stream – that was where we were.

Note: The Tourist Center in Stob provides guides and offers free brochures in Bulgarian, English, German, and Italian.

How Baby Chilala’s are delivered!

So although not pyramids in the way we understood it, we ended up learning a lot that day about an amazing natural rock formation.  The best part were the stellar amenities: A parking lot, porta potty, and two ladies at the entrance to answer questions.  It’s pet friendly, has a really well kept path you can follow for the easy viewing  with lighting, benches … you name it!  You can also undertake the long hike, but we took the easy way since it wasn’t a planned stop and Rilla Monastery was waiting.  I think I would have absolutely loved that hike though!

What boggles the mind is the disconnect between the stellar site and the lack of proper signage or an actual street leading to it.

Back on the road, I we had fun. We stopped at the many large resting zones, or under bridges to take our breaks.  Along the edge of the road you could easily find a huge array of foods sold by locals under their little red umbrellas. From watermelon to local honey and if you needed a coffee there was always a proper gas station with a espresso vending machine not too far.

We even drove past and stopped at the village where our hosts are building a summer get-away.  Folks one word: STORKS! So, yes the roads of Bulgaria are fun. And I will forever have fond memories of our crazy finds along the way!

What’s the most surprising site you have found on a highway or road?

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15 Comments on “Adventures on the Bulgarian Highway (and side roads) With a Dog!

  1. Yes – we really traveled great!!!! When there are no accidents, we are all healthy and we arrive at our destination – it’s lucky!!!
    When traveling with good and funny friends – It is truly a wonderful experience!!!! Thank you friends! Love you!!!!

    • You are such a worry wort!! Getting their safely is of course important and yes, luck is part of it – but we also had a very good driver! Slavcho was great! We have fond memories of our time in that white mini van!! I call it our “a la Mafia” time! LOL!

  2. Great blog!
    I think we would have enjoyed the lack of tourist traps, the slow paced, find your own adventure would suit us very well 🙂
    The sunflowers are amazing! …Pepi looks great in his Kerchief, although I am bias..lol

    • Your Kerchiefs are now international! 🙂 Pepi did look dapper. So glad we got him one. They make GREAT host/hostess gifts for dog owners. The sizing is easier.

      The slow pace was great. Very unpretentious. But certainly an adventure. You have to be willing to “get lost” in order to discover. But — we love that!

  3. Oh, that is my cup of tea to travel… no tourist traps, unspoiled and undiscovered glorious sights…. Thanks Monte, for all the photos, too…

    • Bulgaria is like that. Not once did we have a line up, or crazy high priced site or…. anything. I think its marvellous too. But I do think that in order for these sites to remain open they have to make money and as such I think Bulgaria needs to undertake a Highway Site sign campaign. Like we have in Canada where you are told there is a farm to visit, or a historical site or village, or spa … or anything of interest. I think it would make a huge difference for them. Without it spoiling its unfettered feel.

      But it was really cool to be the only ones there. 🙂 Easy for photo ops!

  4. Monte, you are making us consider a return to the Homeland —Bulgaria. Well, we can’t actually return because we’ve never been there even though both of my husband Steve’s parents were born there.

    • Well Suzanne … we may be going back soon — so perhaps we can coordinate and at least meet-up. How much fun would that be!? I have a GREAT list of sites and places to see. Private message me and I can hook you up!

  5. Wonderful pictures. So happy you got to experience Bulgaria especially with sweet Radmila and her family!

    • Having Radmila and Slavcho (and Pepi) made a huge difference. I will not lie about that. Bulgaria is still not entirely worked our for Westerner Tourism. So it feels a little rough around the edges. Granted – we liked that! Having our hosts there to drive and guide us made it a lot more fun and removed a great deal of anxiety. For example – just negotiating paying our B&B rooms. Slavcho would just pay and then let us know our share. That way we had no issues with language barrier and the B&B owner. NOT that it would stop us, and we would totally figure it out. But very helpful! They were VERY kind, incredibly generous and giving of their time. We are forever in their debt.

  6. Talk about hidden treasures! In a way it’s sad that these places aren’t better promoted. But to have these places all to yourselves must have been heavenly. Especially The Pyramids – what a wonderful find! Thanks for sharing these great photos and wonderful blog.

    • I think if we return we will all hike the long trail. I have a feeling that it would be absolutely SPECTACULAR. Thos pyramids … I feel like I have a lot more to discover there. So much world and so little time! Having the places to ourselves was amazing!! I think that what is needed are two things:
      1) A Highway Site Signage campaign to let people know what is where as they drive past.
      2) Better access roads TO the sites so that folks feel like they are on the right track and not off-loading! LOL!!

      It’s a best kept secret this country. SO cheap!! and so beautiful … You’d love it!

  7. You got a very nice blog! Love all the photos posted here 🙂 I really like the picture of that sunflower. I think you did enjoy your stay in Bulgaria 🙂

    • We did! very much! Hope you will come back for the rest of our trip! Including Burgas, Sozopol, Plovdiv and more! Thank you for stopping by and thank you for the comment and letting us know you were here – we appreciate it!

  8. Pingback: Are You Flying to Sofia Aiport (SOF)? A Dogs Airport Review! | Montecristo Travels

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