Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Lifestyle Adventures: A Perfect Base for "Roads Less Traveled"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Our Lifestyle Adventures: A Perfect Base for "Roads Less Traveled"

the view from our bedroom
Our twenty-two hours in Rome was a welcome pause to our adventures in “roads less travelled.” Tunisia, with its terrorist attack, has now become one, too. Even Malta, with its stunning sights, is included in the list of “least visited” countries of Europe. The next country we visited was Bulgaria in the southeastern corner of Europe. It was the perfect base for our tours around other Balkan states included in places off the beaten path.

our comfy beds
our dining area and kitchen 
We were based in Razlog, Bulgaria, two hours away from Sofia, the capital. Jingjing and I loved our room at the Balkan Jewel Resort, part of the time share properties in our membership at Diamond Resorts International. We rested well in our fully furnished and equipped one-bedroom apartment in this jewel of a resort. Amenities included an outdoor pool for summer and a spa center with an indoor pool and heated benches. It was the Bulgarian breakfast spread, f different kinds of cheeses, sausages, sauces and fruits, that gave us a rousing meal every morning, starting our day with lively locals enjoying their staycations!

our living room
Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe. With a territory of 42,855 square miles and a population of more than 7 million, it is Europe's 16th-largest country. The Thracians occupied the land in ancient history and later the Persians, Greeks and Romans. From 681 AD, the First Bulgarian Empire dominated most of the Balkans and was the cultural hub.

the view from our dining area
With the downfall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 14th century, the Ottomans ruled for five hundred years. The Third Bulgarian State emerged after the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) but with conflicts with its neighbors, Bulgaria aligned with Germany in WWWI and II. In 1946, it became part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc and in 1989, when the ruling Communist Party allowed multi-party elections, Bulgaria became a democracy and is now a member of the EU.

a flock of sheep  
But the best thing about the Balkan Jewel Resort is the spectacular views of the Pirin mountain range. The beautiful mountains extend about 40 km northwest-southeast and are widely protected as the Pirin National Park. Razlog lies in Razlog Valley between the Pirin Mountains to the south and the higher Rila Mountains to the north. The valley is populated by many ski resorts like Balkan Jewel although most of them were empty since the ski season had not yet begun. But a resort shuttle happily took us to a small Sunday market in town and a drive through scenes like a maze of sheep butts.

Sveta Troitsa Church
The shuttle also took us to charming Bansko, an important tourism and winter sports centre, only ten minutes away on the northeast slopes of the Pirin Mountain Range.  Our friendly driver who speaks no English took us to the town's pride, the magnificent wooden Orthodox Church, Sveta Troitsa Church (1835). Surrounded by a high and thick stone wall, it hosts Bansko’s major landmark: the 30-meter high clock tower.
the marvelous wooden Orthodox Church of Bansko, Bulgaria
Until Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was completed in 1912, it was Bulgaria’s largest church. Inside you will be amazed by the floors, pillars, and the many icons fashioned out of wood. Bansko is famous for an icon-painting school established in the 18th century to spread the art by word of mouth. You may find many artworks around Bulgaria created by talents from the school.

the indoor spa
Our Bulgarian home in this jewel of a resort was the base from which we toured the other least visited states in the Balkans: Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia. We even reached Thessaloniki, "the other Greece.” If we had more time for other tours, we would have probably also visited Albania and even crossed into Istanbul. We were so lucky to have found this perfect base, a jewel of a resort, from which we got a whiff of life in Bulgaria and a plethora of discoveries on “roads less travelled.”

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