Bulgaria, an Eastern European country located on the Balkan Peninsula, has until recently been one of Europe's best-kept travel secrets. Not anymore! Cheap skiing got the word out about Bulgaria, but the lovely locals and their traditional way of life has given visitors even more reason to spread it.
A country full of pristine natural landscapes, towering mountain ranges, dense forests, beautiful lakes and gorgeous beaches, Sofia is Bulgaria's thriving capital and is the perfect size for those who enjoy exploring a city's wonders on foot.
Much loved for its street-sides cafes, some of Sofia's must-see sights include the interesting Archaeological Museum housed in a 15th Century mosque, and the superb Alexander Nevski Cathedral.
See what the buzz is all about
Bulgarian history dates back at least 3,000 years to the times of the Thracians and there are plenty of well-preserved artefacts and sights from a variety of historical eras still on display.
These include artefacts from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods, so it is worth taking a Bulgaria travel guide with you for some quick referencing.
One such architectural gem is the atmospheric Rila Monastery near Sofia, founded in the 10th Century and filled with colourful frescoes, which is located in the scenic setting of the Rila Mountains. Another is the epic Roman Stadium located in Bulgaria's second largest city, Plovdiv.
Come winter, savvy skiers converge on the slopes of Bankso, Borovets and Pamporovo to share tales about off the beaten track ski destinations.
If you're visiting Bulgaria in summer, then your trip won't be complete without a visit to Varna, a beautiful Black Sea port and the third largest city in Bulgaria.
Despite being a vibrant seaside town, Varna is not short on historic sites. It's home to the country's largest Roman baths complex, an excellent archaeological museum and natural wonders such as the so-called 'Sticking up Stones' – a series of eerie rock formations jutting out of the earth.
Take to the sea or the slopes
Specialised Bulgaria tours will also take you to see some of the plentiful natural attractions, such as the Wonder Bridges in the Central Rhodope Mountains and the World Heritage-listed Mount Pirin National Park, with its glacial lakes, stunning waterfalls, cave networks and imposing peaks – the tallest being Vihren at 2,914-metres.
Having benefited from both Russian and Middle-Eastern influences, Bulgarian cuisine is another one of the country's attractions. Rich stews are a popular Bulgarian menu item along with grilled meats, tasty soups and filling pastries.
Save some room for dessert as Bulgarian halva, kazanlak donuts and garash cake are often the highlight of a local meal.
A tiny bit of sad news is that it will take you two stops to get to Bulgaria from Australia. Turn that frown upside down by enjoying a stopover in nearby Istanbul or other European capitals including London and Vienna.