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The most common reaction of people whenever I mention that I had been studying in Bulgaria involves rather confused facial expression, followed by the inevitable “Why?”, which clearly shows that the country itself is not directly in the spotlight. That is, of course, just one out of the many reasons, apart from its captivating natural beauty and amazing, friendly people that I would love to reveal this hidden yet precious gem of Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad. I feel like I owe so much to this wonderful town where I had spent my great university years. I am sure you did not know about this one, so keep reading. I promise you will not be dissapointed.
Blagoevgrad, commonly referred to as Blago, is а city in southwestern Bulgaria, the administrative centre of Blagoevgrad Municipality and of Blagoevgrad Province, and the place that stole so many internatonal hearts from both students and professors who lived there. It is located in the valley of the Struma River, at the foot of the Rila Mountains, just an hour away from Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Thus, you may imagine how beautiful the climat is, with mild winters and really hot, dry summers. Snow in Blago always comes as a surprise. If you want to get some fresh air and have a detox from the city polution, then wait no more and go there, as it is proven that this town has the lowest rate of industrial polution in the region. Also, Blagoevgrad features a pedestrian downtown with preserved 19th-century architecture and numerous restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, and boutiques.
Blagoevgrad is home to two universities, the South-West University "Neofit Rilski" and the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). American University in Bulgaria, the first American-style, English language, liberal arts educational institution in Eastern Europe, has been home to students and professors from 50 different countries, including me. AUBG, with it people, faculty as well as amazing extra-curricula activities and Blago, with its warmness, safety and soothing energy really go hand in hand, as I cannot imagine one without another.
While you are there, you simply must eat in Blago’s restaurants, not because it is so affordable that even students wine and dine there, but because the food is absolutely amazing. Plus, if you are a cheese lover, welcome to your paradise spot. From potatoes with cheese, sopska salad, pileshki hapki (chicken wings) to prlenka (traditional pastry with cheese) and biscuits and chocolate desserts. Feeling hungry yet? Also, try not to be confused with Bulgarian head gestures as nod indicates "no", and head shake means "yes"!I just had to warn you about that one. But don't you worry, due to so many international people, English is commonly heard on the streets of Blago.
And if you feel like burning some calories after decadent Blago cuisine, I suggest you to take a stroll to the magnigicent Park Bachinovo. Only a few hours walking distance from Blago center, you will wander in the beautiful nature, with calming river and a lake, enjoy the magnificent view and spend an amazing day. The Park offers both opportunities for outdoor activities for hyperactive visitors as well as cafes and restaurants to satisfy those who were looking for a little relaxation. I would suggest you to just grab a blanket or even lay on the beautiful grass when you feel like resting.
Moreover, apart from the amazing activities available in Blago, nearby Aqua Park and Bansko ski resort, I would most certainly recommend you to visit the splendid Rila Monastery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. From the 10th century onwards, Rila Monastery is regarded as one of Bulgaria's precious cultural and historical heritages. Only an hour away from Blago, the attraction will offer you so much historical and architectural value.
Believe it or not, Blago is also known as a very artsy, cultural town, hosting Francofolies Blagoevgrad,an anual francophone music festival attracting big names such as Zaz, rapper Fefe, Nouvelle Vague and Gypsy Kings. Also, Bansko International Jazz Festival Blagoevgrad takes place every year in August. Former participants of Bansko Jazz Fest include Jamie Davis, Joss Stone, and Vasil Petrov. I would warmly recomend you to take a walk to the AUBG Theater and check out some of the university plays. The entrance is free and I am promising you lots of fun and enchanting theatre production (and I am not saying this only because I used to play). Moreover, do me a favor and go to the Blago cinema, just at the very center, close to the main building of AUBG. Feel like a student again by getting the discounted ticket and huge bag of popcorns, all in a spacious, renovated cinema hall. You will be surprised to see its quality. And if you go to the 1 a.m. projection, you will feel the liveliness of the town and get to know its students.
Finally, if you want to spice up your visit and party hard, Blago is a great spot for you. You would be amazed to see that the town is lively 24/7. And if you are feeling like a daredevil and going out on a Monday night for instance, you will have many things to do, or shall I say, bars and clubs to go to. Start your night with some wine in a tradional restaurant (mehana), followed by a party, karaoke and shots in Piano Bar. End your night in a Club Underground, where you will see yourself dancing until 7 a.m., meeting new people and already being best friends with the DJ. On your way home, have a traditional "healthy" Bulgarian breakfast consisting of Banitsa (greesy pie with cheese) and some Ajran (beverage similar to kefir) that will be the best cure for the upcoming hangover which you will not regret, as you had the best time in Blago.
Blago, precious hidden Bulgarian gem, offers so much more than I have managed to mention. Amazing climate, hyper energy and easy-going people make this town really sinful to miss. Perhaps you can plan it along your route when traveling to Balkans on a budet, or you might even consider to renew your university status and study there. I know most certainly I would! Stay tuned for more tips and join me on this amazing journey!
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