Bordered by the Danube River and Romania to the north and the Balkan Mountains and Serbia to the southwest, the north west region of Bulgaria ranges from dramatic mountainous landscapes covered by dense forests to the more gentle Danubian Plains. The protected Vrachanski Balkan Natural Park is an important natural habitat for butterflies in Bulgaria. Also in this area are the Belogradchik Rocks, natural rock formations of shaped sandstone, while the limestone geology here has produced a karst topography with many spectacular caves that are tourist attractions in their own right. One of these caves, the Magura Cave, has been used by humans since at least the end of the Palaeolithic, and is known for its prehistoric cave paintings. The Romans built fortifications along the southern banks of the Danube River, a military frontier known as the Danubian Limes. In the north west, Ratiara was the most important military town. The region has its share of Medieval castles and forts, one of the most well known being Baba Vida, one of the last Bulgarian strongholds during the Ottoman invasion.
The north west region includes the provinces of Vidin, Montana and Vratsa.
The Babini Vidini Kuli Fortress, also called Baba Vida, is said to be the best preserved Medieval castle in Bulgaria. Construction began in the 10th century on the site of the Roman castell Bononia. There are two concentric curtain walls and nine towers – three of which have survived at the original height. The exceptional preservation and its location on the south bank of the Danube River makes this a popular attraction. And one that is frequently used in film production. During the summer the castle hosts performances and concerts.
The Belogradchik Fortress is found among large, natural sandstone formations. The first fort was constructed by the Romans, and probably only served surveillance functions. It was not until the 14th century that the walls were extended to make this one of the the most strategic and substantial strongholds in the region. Since then the fort has played key defensive roles in various battles between the Bulgarians and Ottomans. Changes made in the 19th century reflect the engineer’s Italian and French origins. Photo © Klearchos Kapoutsis
In the present-day town of Kula is the Roman fortress Castra Martis. The fort was built to provide military protection to the road that went over the nearby Vrashka Chuka Pass in the western Balkan mountains. A typical late Roman quadriburgium, this is a four sided, square structure that measures 40 by 40 metres with thick-walled round towers on the corners, each about 12.5 metres in diameter. Remains of other Roman structures have been found nearby, including a bathhouse and a military camp. Photo © Marcin Szala
The karst topography of north west Bulgaria has numerous limestone caves, many of which are open to the public. One of these, the Madura Cave, was occupied from at least the end of the Palaeolithic through to the Bronze Age. Archaeologists have recorded over 750 individual paintings, some thought to be as old as 8,000 years. The cave is open to visitors throughout the year, but if you want to see the prehistoric paintings you will need to take a guided tour. Madura Cave is on the UNESCO Tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
Ratiaria was a Roman garrison built during the 1st century on the Lower Danube, near the present day town of Archar. And as such, the garrison was part of the Danubian Limes. There is nothing to see at the site today, but artefacts collected from the archaeological site can be seen in the National Archaeological Institute and Museum, in Sofia.
Capital: Sofia Language: Bulgarian Time Zone: UTC + 3hrs Telephone Country Code: +359 Electricity: 220V/50Hz European plug
The Bulgarian currency is the Bulgarian Lev, plural Leva (лев, abbreviated лв). The Lev has been pegged to the Euro at 1.95583 Lev for 1 Euro. The Euro is accepted by some businesses. Credit cards are accepted in the big cities and at major attractions and hotels, but Bulgaria is largely a cash economy in the more rural parts of the country.
The following guidebooks for Bulgaria are available on Amazon.com (see the same set of books on Amazon.co.uk):
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