Enjoy The Warm, Inviting Setting Of Our Pravets Hotel
Sports, calm and nature. This is what Pravets, a lovely destination 40 minutes away from Sofia, Bulgaria, has to offer. Along with an 18-hole golf course, Pravets has excellent sports facilities: football, basketball, volleyball and tennis. The Pravets Lake offers watersports and fishing; and the surrounding prairies and gentle hills, are perfect for horse riding, cycling and even hunting.
From Pravets you will be able to visit the elegant capital town of Sofia, the Rila monastery, set in the depths of a wooded valley, or Koprivshtitsa, a jewel of Bulgarian cultural renaissance architecture.
Sitting at the foot of a valley, Pravets is a green stop very close to Sofia. The town will catch your eye with its tree-covered streets and a pleasant pedestrian area that covers the centre. The absence of major landmarks is largely made up by great sports facilities: an 18-hole golf course, set to open in September of 2009 as part of the Hotel Riu Pravets; as well as a football pitch and tennis, volleyball and basketball courts.
The Pravets Lake, on the edge of which is the Hotel Riu Pravets, offers a range of water activities and fishing. The rural surroundings, with prairies and forested hills, are perfect for horse riding, cycling and even hunting.
3km from the town centre stands the Saint Theodor Tiron monastery, with a elegant white structure and orange tiles. From this place, there are a number of paths that will lead you through beautiful country scenery.
Known throughout Bulgaria as the birthplace of Todor Zhivkov, the country’s communist leader from 1954 to 1989, Pravets can claim to be a green outpost very close from Sofia.
The suburbs of Sofia, lined with buildings dating back to communism and the remains of the odd out-of-use factory, don’t suggest that we are about to enter one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Eastern Europe. Small enough to be discovered by foot, Sofia’s old town stands out with elegant avenues, lively bars and beautiful buildings and churches.
Among the latter, the most impressive of them all is Aleksander Nevski, built in memory of the Russian soldiers that gave their lives in the war of independence from Turkey. Its towering, impressive structure is worth the visit alone. But it’s the details that are special: a splendid marble entrance, mosaic-filled corridors and gorgeous golden domes. On the inside, there are frescoes, chandeliers and rich ornamentations that added to the intense smell of incense, are a clear expression of the Christian Orthodox religion.
Another must-see site is the Russian Church of Saint Nicholas. Its immaculate white facade, shinny golden domes and rich green mosaics will catch your eye immediately.
The heart of Sofia is the Sveta Nedelya Square, where the cathedral of the same name stands out. Inside the grey, sober walls there are beautiful frescoes. Every Thursday, a service is held where attendants are blessed against black magic.
Facing it and hidden between modern buildings, is the medieval Saint George chapel, built on top of a Roman Temple dating back to the IV B.C.
On that same square is the Presidential Palace. Don’t miss the change of the guard, a truly magnificent ceremony.
Bulgaria’s multicultural tradition is illustrated in the Banya Bashi mosque and the Sephardic synagogue, which stand almost face-to-face on either side of the huge Maria Luisa Boulevard.
At the end of this busy avenue is the city’s central market. Colourful and lively, it has an obvious Turkish influence and it’s a reminder of the country’s location between east and west. If you go there, remember that in Bulgaria, nodding and shaking one’s head means exactly the opposite than in many other countries. Knowing this will spare you surreal situations when dealing with sellers.
Another thing that stands out is the number of street vendors and small markets selling books. The amount of literature that’s sold on the streets of Sofia is quite astonishing.
In between visits, you can always rest your feet in one of the many parks scattered around the city. The enormous Borisova Gradina is worth a stop, with colourful flowerbeds and statutes as decorations. There is also a monument from the communist days that reminds us of Bulgaria’s recent past.
The Sofia City Garden is much smaller but also very pleasant. There are bars, swings and a fountain around which men young and old gather around to play chess.
12km from the centre of town is the Church of Boyana, Sofia’s best-known and most appreciated landmark. This little chapel is a jewel of 13th century orthodox art. What stands out the most are the delicate and stunning frescoes that adorn the interior. This same style later expanded to other parts of the Balkans, including the medieval churches of Kosovo. To preserve these masterpieces of religious art, it’s forbidden to take pictures and one can only stay inside for 10 minutes. Boyana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Deep down a wooded valley is the Rila Monastery, 150km south of Pravets. This truly spectacular complex is one of Bulgaria’s must-see landmarks. It’s sober exterior walls hide the unparalleled beauty of the inside, where four levels of colourful arches and balconies rise up over a courtyard. Right in the middle is the beautiful Nativity Church, with dramatic frescoes in vivid colours that seem to come to life.
During the Turkish occupation, this monastery, like many others, helped keep Bulgarian culture and religion alive. Like the Boyana Church, Rila is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hard to pronounce, Koprivshtitsa is one ofBulgaria’s most beautiful mountain villages. Along its narrow cobbled streets there are immaculate houses with colourful facades and impeccable gardens. The village has several house-museums, which are well-preserved examples of what is known as the Bulgarian national revival period.
There are also restored churches and tiny stone bridges that arch over calm streams. The most famous one is Kalachev Bridge, from where Todor Kableshkov proclaimed the national uprising against the Turkish occupation, on the 20th of April 1876.
Nothing seems out of place here. When the village is calm, walking down its crammed streets will take you to 19th century Bulgaria. If you can, climb to a viewpoint and admire the panorama of the red-tiled roofs of Koprivshtitsa.
For great walks and breathtaking views go to the Stara Planina mountain range, only a few kilometres south of Pravets. These mountains that extend almost the entire length of the country, have easy and accessible paths. They will lead you through sublime wooded areas and trickling streams. Although the average height is just over 700m, there are 30 peaks over 2000m, so those looking for more demanding experiencies won’t be disappointed.
The Hotel Riu Pravets, set to open in September 2009, will have an 18-hole, par 72, championship golf course. Built around the pleasant Lake Pravets and surrounded by greenery, the course will have slight undulations scattered water-traps.
Bulgaria has very good skiing, although its a step below better-known places like the Alps. The Rila Mountains, 150km from Pravets, have the country’s best runs. Possibly the best resort is Borovets, with the longest slopes. Pamporovo is another good place to ski, with many runs, great snow and many facilities.
Much closer is the Mount Vitosha, just south of Sofia. Although the runs and facilities are not as good as those in the Rila Mountains, many will find this place more convenient for a day of skiing.
Bulgarian cuisine is tasty, spicy and very similar to that of its Balkan neighbours. The Turkish influence is considerable. At times, the difference between a Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish or Serbian dish resides solely in its name or one ingredient more or less.
Meat: Highlights are kavarmá, a kind of stew containing pork, leeks, wine, chilli and fresh herbs; méshana skara or mixed grill; and sarmí, well-spiced minced meat wrapped in vine or cabbage leaves.
Yoghurt: Without doubt this is the culinary symbol of Bulgaria. In fact, the microorganism that transforms milk into yoghurt is called 'Lactobacillus bulgaricus' or ‘Bulgarian milk bacillus’. Yoghurt is an indispensable component of the cold ‘tarator’ soup, which also contains cucumbers, garlic, oil and walnuts, and is eaten like gazpacho. Another popular dish is ‘airán’, diluted yoghurt with a little salt.
With regard to cheese, ‘sírene’, made with cow or sheep milk, is used in many dishes like the ‘shopska salata’, a salad made using tomato, cucumber, green pepper and onion.
Desserts: Ottoman influence can be felt in the typical sweets such as ‘baklavá’, a pastry gateau filled with walnuts and honey; ‘tolumba’, a fritter with syrup; or ‘kadaif’, vermicelli with walnuts, cinnamon and syrup.
Wines: Although Bulgarian wines have lost their splendour and the markets they had during the Communist era, they are still very good quality. The country has many local grape varieties such as Mavrud, Gamza, Pamid and red Misquet, among others, which produce excellent wines. The crisis in the sector saw the introduction of international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rkatsiteli, of Georgian origin.
Popular Bulgarian crafts are like the country’s history, a mixture of influences. We recommend you purchase ceramic and copper objects, and hand-embroidered items. You will also find typical Orthodox icons, very similar to those found in Greece.