Travel Guide to Blagoevgrad, Bulgaira
Home of the American University in Bulgaria and the South-West University Neofit Rilski, Blagoevgrad (pronounced Blaygo-evgreat) has a high population of college students. A town centre provides a comfortable amount of shops, bars, and restaurants.
Blagoevgrad was built on the ruins of a Roman village called Skaptopara. Believed to have been occupied since the Thracians, the Romans lived a relatively quiet time in Skaptopara. Eventually, the Ottomans took control.
In general, the town's history is vague. It is not until the late 18th century, that the town seems to take shape. During the latter part of this century, craftsmen began turning the area into a thriving trade and craft centre. Renamed Gorna Djumaya, the town continued to thrive.
After the World War, communists renamed the area Blagoevgrad. The area remained a centre for trade and crafts. When the Communist regime fell apart, the American University in Bulgaria opened its doors. This has led to a new Blagoevgrad, one that is shaping its future.
Blagoevgrad is home to both the Dramatic Theatre and the Puppet Theatre. The Dramatic Theatre began in 1919. The modern building houses two auditoriums with a total of 550 seats. The Puppet Theatre began in 1977 and has one stage where performances are held regularly.
In 1971, the Bulgarian Chamber Opera opened. Now based in Blagoevgrad, the opera does not have a building, but it borrows the stage from the Dramatic Theatre and holds regular performances.
Three area museums/galleries can be found in Blagoevgrad. The Historical Museum opened in 1956 and many artifacts found in the area are on display. Admission into the Historical Museum is a meager €1.50 The Artistic Gallery of the Association of Bulgarian Painters and the Stanislav Gallery display artwork from many area painters, past and present.
Parangalista is a nature reserve that borders Blagoevgrad. More than 280 flowers/plants can be observed from the walking paths. A huge number of birds and animals are also located within the nature reserve.
Alen Mak Hotel is located in the heart of Blagoevgrad sitting opposite to the American University of Bulgaria. There are 22 single rooms, 138 double rooms, and two suites. There is a hotel restaurant, cafe, bar, tavern, gift shop, currency exchange, and conference room inside this huge building. Rooms are small, but comfortable, with private baths and telephones. Children ages 2 to 12 receive a 50% discount, and children under the age of two are free.
Fenix has 13 double rooms and 1 suite. Rooms are well equipped with cable television, heating systems, telephones, and balconies. The suite is larger with a huge balcony. International students carrying a student ID can receive a discount. Children two and under stay free.
Hotel Ezeretz is Blagoevgrad's most exquisite hotel. An in-house restaurant can hold 150 people. There is a wonderful in-ground pool with a swim-up bar. A well-equipped fitness centre ensures guests will not have to forgo their usual fitness routines. Also on the premises is a mini-stadium with a football arena and tennis courts.
Within the province of Blagoevgrad are 13 key companies who provide numerous jobs and inject revenue into the area. Blagoevgrad BT (tobacco), Vihren (shoes), and Strumatex (knit clothing) each employ more than 300 people.
Next on the list are a number of large employers who may be slightly smaller, but they still offer many jobs. Vinprom Shterev (alcohol), Prinsko Pivo (beer), Rila CTX (millwork), Bodrost (leather goods), MIP Standart (equipment manufacturing), and CDP (telephone) each bring jobs to between 100 and 300 area residents.
Nardona Mebel and Mebelfab are both furniture manufacturers. Each company employs a total of 200 during peak seasons. When business is slow, they may lay-off half of the work force if necessary.
Asparuh (clothing) and CBP (circuit boards) take on up to 100 employees. Additionally, the colleges bring in a comparable amount of staff (professors, secretaries, maintenance workers, etc.) during the school year.
Despite the number of companies in the area, unemployment is still a factor. Sadly, the highest percentages of unemployed workers are those with bachelor degrees. In Blagoevgrad, one does well to remain in college until a Master’s degree is achieved.
The town centre is certainly packed with taverns, bars, and restaurants. Wide arrays of establishments offer traditional fare. Many dishes feature grilled meats and vegetables, fresh fruits, and Bulgarian yoghurt. All are well spiced and satisfying without being too rich. Try a Shopska Salad for lunch. The salad is a mix of fresh tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, diced onions, fresh cheese, and a dash of vinegar.
Despite the fact that it is a college community, there really are few dance clubs in the area. Part of the reason for this is that Sofia, the capital city, is within 100 kilometers. Many people feel that the drive to Sofia for the exquisite nightlife is well worth it.
There are a few taverns and bars where you can relax and have a cold beer, glass of wine, or fancy mixed drink.
Blagoevgrad is a thriving college community. Shops and restaurants are growing by the numbers, but tourism is still shaping up. For now, the area tends to suit the college students best. It is certainly an area to watch because in a few years time, it seems destined to become a tourism hot spot!