Winner in the Aquatic tourism category
The Silistra Region is located in the north-eastern part of Bulgaria, on the southern bank of the lower Danube River, close to the border with Romania. The unique natural beauty of the region, combined with centuries-old traditions, create a unique holiday destination.
Silistra is dotted with fountains, springs, traditions and legends about water. The proximity of the Danube River strongly influences the life of the people, which is directly linked to the water. As the locals say, it is life itself.
Silistra captivates the senses with stunning natural scenery, pristine landscapes and impressive stories. The best way to see and appreciate this beauty is by taking a boat excursion along the Danube River. During this trip you will be able to appreciate the impressive pristine nature, fishing villages and other attractions.
Silistra has a unique strategic location. Its inland port is a major logistics hub connecting Europe with the East. The strategic location of the city gives it a great basis for the development of agriculture and a competitive economy.
This coexists with the unique natural beauty of the region, where rivers and mountains, and deep-rooted, centuries-old traditions create an amazing atmosphere. Natural and historical sites are closely interlinked in the Silistra region. A visit to the preserved fishing village in Tutrakan, which maintains local traditions and rituals, is a good example of this.
Winner in the Tourism and protected areas category
Belitsa is located in the Blagoevgrad region in the south-west of Bulgaria. This town, which locals call 'nature's phenomenon', is well known in the country for its sultry Mediterranean air, stunning panoramic views, world-class skiing with amazing alpine views, and festivals galore to celebrate life. The town is also recognised for hosting the Dancing Bear Park, which is home to a growing population of rescue bears ready for re-adaption into wildlife and the largest bear shelter of its kind in Europe.
In 1912, Belitsa gained independence from Turkish rule and joined the Bulgarian Kingdom. The town is said to be named after a beautiful maiden named Bela Itsa, who chose to die by jumping off the steep clifftops in her town rather than marry a local Ottoman ruler.
A part of history that cannot be missed in Belitsa is the Thracian territory. Some of the oldest traces of human civilization, dating back to Neolithic times, were discovered in this region. There is also an ancient burial ground that sits atop the high-mountain sanctuaries north of Belitsa, in an area called Babiachka Chukka.
For history buffs, the Cultural Centre of Belitsa maintains one of the largest ethnographical museums in Bulgaria, covering Thracian and Roman occupation right through to the 1944 Soviet Declaration of War on Bulgaria.
With a rich history in sports such as skiing and hiking, Belitsa is an ideal area for alpine enthusiasts. The mountain resort Semkovo, located 17km from the town, rises 600m above sea level and draws in visitors year-round. The government has also set up a number of nature trails that lead through some of the most unspoiled passages in the country.
The Dancing Bear Park is truly one of the special 'feel good' attractions in Belitsa. The park receives monetary support from the Bridget Bardot Foundation and the local Belitsa municipalities
No trip to Belitsa is complete without tasting the enticing local cuisine and enjoying the festivities that follow dinner. A stop at one of the town's quaint restaurants to try the hearty Mediterranean-influenced food ends with a night of Belistisian songs, which are sung around the tables.
Belitsa is an area steeped in history and the town's municipalities have taken the necessary steps to preserve this. Environmental issues are always on the agenda and new measures such as eco-friendly conservation are constantly being improved.
With a calendar filled with festivals and events, Belitsa stays vibrant throughout the year. The region is home to Muslims and Christians alike, whose religious rituals keep the area lively throughout the holidays.
Winner in the Tourism and local intangible heritage category
Belogradchik is located in north-west Bulgaria in the foothills of the Balkan mountains.
Myths, legends, even traces of ancient Thrace such as a fortress are waiting to be discovered by visitors to Belogradchik, or 'small white town'. The territory of the municipality of Belogradchik came under the control of the Trybals tribe and its rich history gives the region its many myths and traditions. Even today, significant days in the ancient Thracian calendar are celebrated as festivals.
Visitors to Belogradchik can also experience wine tastings, a summer folklore festival and lectures at an astronomical observatory, to mention just a few of the attractions.
The area has an abundance of intriguing natural features. Its geology gives it a network of interesting rock formations, including what is described as the jewel in its crown, the Magura cave. Situated near Rabisha village, 25km away from Belogradchik, this is Bulgaria’s biggest cave and home to galleries and halls that will appeal to the most experienced speleologist or caver.
The Triumphal Hall, the Bat Gallery, the Stalactites’ Hall, the Drawings Gallery, the Fallen Pine Hall, the Poplar Hall, the Throne Hall, the Ceremonial Hall and the Fjords Corridor – these are all evocative names that call the visitor underground. These caves from the paleolithic era are important, having unique stone drawings painted with bat manure dating from the epipaleolithic age (10,000 BC) to the early bronze age, and fossils of wild prehistoric animals. Open all year round, the caves are well lit and the paths that meander through the underground world are well maintained and fitted with safety rails. The paths are open to both walkers and cyclists.
If claustrophobia looms, then escape is offered in the form of star-gazing at the astronomical observatory, situated among the Belogradchik rocks. It serves as a romantic getaway where the moon, the rings of Saturn, the satellites of Jupiter, Venus’ sickle, comets, stars, and galaxies can all be clearly observed.
For those preferring life sciences to geology and astronomy, Belogradchik also houses the only museum of natural science in north-west Bulgaria. Over 3,000 exhibits cover the most attractive part of the rich biological variety of this part of Bulgaria. Interesting lectures present fascinating and curious facts about the living world to visitors.
An important highlight of the year is the folklore festival 'From Tymok to Iskar – along the steps of the Thracians' which lasts for three days in September. The festival kicks off with the Thracian procession which takes place at the famous Belogradchik fortress to the sound of shepherd’s pipes and other musical instruments, as participants dressed in traditional Thracian clothing walk through the town. The scene has an eerie quality with participants dressed in costume, wearing masks and bearing torches. People wishing to join in can do so as masks, costumes and torches are handed out freely.
Thracian goddess Bendyda is feted as her story is celebrated in rock, fire and torch light and historical reenactments are staged in Panairishte square, with titles like 'Orpheus and the stone wedding' or 'Tamirius and the muses'.
Competitive tribal battles are reproduced using improvised arms like javelins, swords, bows, shields and sticks. The festival involves sporting competitions such as javelin and disk throwing, archery, horse racing and fire jumping. The winners are crowned by a young woman in the role of the goddess Bendyda. In the Panairishte square, special areas are set aside for the molding of clay where craftsmen reveal the skills and the secrets of this art.
Belogradchik fortress was built amongst impenetrable rock before the Bulgarian nation existed and was used as a fortress right up to the Serbian-Bulgarian war of 1885. Visitors today will find it easy to see why the spot was chosen for fortification if they climb up the highest part of the fortress – the first plate. Bulgaria appears spread out before them, from the ridge of Stara Planina in the south to the copper Carpathian mountains in the west. Directly below lie the rock formations which, from this perspective, seem even more dramatic.
The Museum of History in Panov’s house, built around 1810, is a typical model of western Balkan architecture which was opened as a museum following its restoration in 1970. An exhibition of 8,000 artifacts reflects the life, occupation and the battles of the people.
Historical architecture and the reflection of the lives of those that lived in the dwellings of a past time can also be explored in the Anishte grounds – excavated ruins of an ancient village, artifacts collected from which include pottery fragments, ornaments and coins from the 3rd century.
The Hadji Hjusein mosque is also a site worth visiting. It boasts the best of Bulgarian woodcarving and is the only mosque with a Bulgarian fretwork ceiling.
The region is celebrated for its wine and local inhabitants include wine tasting as an important part of their traditions. The Thracians believed that wine could lift people out of the earth and up to heaven. Local residents and tourists to the areas are willing to put the theory to the test!