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Interview with Hristo – Our Balkan Travel Specialist

Hristo joined the Private Guide Bulgaria team in 2014 as a private tour leader and driver/guide, initially focusing on tours within Bulgaria. Over time, he transitioned to become a tour leader across the Balkans. Today, he is one of our the Balkan travel specialist, organizing custom Balkan tours from clients from all over the globe. Here, he responds to some questions about his deep passion about this part of the world.

Tell us about your background and experience as a private guide in Bulgaria and the Balkans.

 Hello! I am Hristo and I am from Bulgaria! I started in the far year of 2014 in Private Guide Bulgaria, but my experience as “some kind of local guide” began in my student years, when I discovered the travelers’ social platform – Couchsurfing. Since then I started hosting people from all over the world, and from time to time I “surfed” other people’s couches. This started quite innocently and grew into passion – to meet amazing people and to travel the world! So, when Adriana found me she “pulled up a match stick and started a fire out of my spark” and so my adventure as a private tour guide began. As this passion grew stronger I got into the guiding quite fast and I haven’t stopped yet! I have been to places all around the Balkans, that before I was only reading and dreaming about. I love being a Balkan travel specialist and I certainly will continue to show our piece of Paradise to whoever is interested and visits us.

What inspired you to become a tour guide, particularly in this region?

I became inspired in my teenage years, when my eyes opened to the beauty of my country – Bulgaria. I started hiking in the mountains and discovered many breath-taking natural “gems”. My region also has a rich history which is told in many books, poems, monuments, archeological sites and all of that just sparks your curiosity to know more and to share!

Which destinations and landmarks do you specialize in within Bulgaria and the Balkans?

I am from the Valley of the Thracian Kings, so let’s start from there. I am particularly interested in the Thracian culture and lifestyle and it is the best place to learn more about them. Other favorite places where I specialized over the years are Belogradchik Fortress, the 7 Rila Lakes, Veliko Tarnovo and Rila monastery. As for the Balkans, I love all of them as they have a similar, but kind of unique atmosphere. However, I am specialized in Ohrid, North Macedonia; Nis, Serbia; Slovenia at general – Ljubljana, and its surroundings – Predjama Castle, Postojna Cave and Lake Bled; Kotor, Montenegro; Sarajevo and Mostar, Bosnia and Berat, Albania.

There are many traditional festivals on the Balkans. Which is your favorite?

One of my favorite festivals in Bulgaria is the Rose Festival in my hometown Kazanlak. Here, in the rose valley, every year the people choose their Rose queen and the festivities begin! There are many workshops all around the town where you can see cheerful people selling their home made products and souvenirs. There are also a few stages where you can enjoy Bulgarian artists, kids performances and traditional Bulgarian dances like “Horo” and “Rachenitsa”.

The famous Rose Museum is also located in Kazanlak and there you can see how the precious rose oil is made and what are the uses of it. The culmination is on the first weekend of June when we have a huge parade where all can enjoy the Rose Festival spirit!

Surva festival or the Kukeri festival in Pernik is also a wonderful tradition that we have. This event represents the end of the Winter and the beginning of Spring. The Festival takes place in January and for that occasion, our tradition is to dress up as big scary and noisy monsters and to chase away the bad spirits of the winter from each house!

Another favorite one is the “Festival of the Slanina and hot Rakia”. This one takes place in Apriltsi and it is also quite interesting if you want to get deep into the Balkan/Bulgaria culture. There, you will try unique home-made strong alcohol (brandy) called “Rakia”, which is made out of different kinds of fruits, but most commonly  from grape, plum and apricot. This will be served hot as medicine since the festival is outside in February. This all sounds great, but an important part is missing – the slanina! This is also a must to have on the table with your Rakia since it is made by the fat and skin of the pig and it is a delicious food-pairing.

Which type of food do you always recommend to your tourists?

Well, you wouldn’t have been in Bulgaria if you hadn’t tried our cold soup called “tarator”. It consists of yogurt, cucumber, dill and garlic and it is a great refreshment in the hot summer days! Another meal that I always recommend to my tourists is called “sarmi”. This meal is quite common for the Winter and it consists of cooked rice with herbs wrapped -up in sour cabbage leaves.

Share some interesting anecdotes or experiences you’ve had while guiding tourists in this region?

Oh wow! There are so many – haha! Let’s try! I was with a young American lady who saw a big dashboard near a bus stop and asked me: “Why are there so many missing people’s posters there?”. I said to her that these people are indeed missing not from the town, but from the planet. She asked: “But how is that possible?” and I told her: That is how we announce to the people in the village/town that a person close to us had died. This has been our tradition for a long time.” After that she was way more relaxed that our country is not number one in crimes like she thought before.

What measures do you take to ensure the safety and comfort of your clients, especially in unfamiliar locales? 

Well, for one I always ask my clients to take their passports with them in the hotel and never to leave anything precious in the vehicle. The next day I remind them if they took their documents, chargers, etc. Also I always give advice for where to have a meal, to walk around, and which places they should avoid. Also I drive by the speed limit, even if I know the roads.

What are some lesser-known gems or hidden treasures in Bulgaria and the Balkans that you often include in your tours?

Hah! That is why they are hidden gems, aren’t they? You have to come and find out!

What do you love about the Balkans?

What’s not to love?! We live in Paradise. It is so diverse – with its people, languages, nature, traditions, colors and we live in the crossroads between continents. We have the 4 seasons, mountains everywhere, hot springs, clean fresh water, mighty forests, lakes and we are surrounded by seas with all kinds of beaches! ( Greece is like 130 miles away). The Balkan traditions, liquor, wines, yogurt, rose oil are world famous! So come and check it out!

Which is your favorite Balkan tour?

All of them! It is very hard to say as all countries has so much to offer. It all about how much time do you want to spend. If you have time and want to see as much as possible I can recommend the 28 DAYS Grand Balkan Tour or 21 DAYS “Best of the Balkans Tour” – 10 Balkan Countries including the top landmarks around the Balkans.
If you have limited time I can recommend to check out!

Which is your favorite tour in Bulgaria?

The same, it is all about how long do you want to travel. I can recommend at least a week, so you can dive deep into the cities, historical landmark and natural beauty of our homeland. He is our “One week Bulgaria Exploration” itinerary.

Contact us now for more information about our Bulgaria and Balkan guided tours. We will do our best to customize the best program for your group.

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