Old secrets and new surprises on a trip through Bulgaria and Romania

Old secrets and new surprises on a trip through Bulgaria and Romania

The Schengen visa has made travel across Europe easier for decades. The latest to join the group of countries in Europe that you can visit without an additional visa are Bulgaria and Romania. Travel companies, too, are predicting an oncoming hike in interest that also has to do with the “maximalist mindset” of Indian travellers. “We’ve witnessed a 30% uptick in demand. Indians are quintessential value seekers and with just one visa, the allure of a multi-country trip will surely drive more people to apply for it in the coming months,” shares Rajeev Kale, president and country head, Holidays, MICE, Visa for Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

Schengen visas issued by Romania and Bulgaria after March 31, 2024, allow travel within Schengen countries for up to 90 days in 180 days.

Highlighting the logistical ease in accessibility, Abhishek Gupta, co-founder and director of Trip Navigator explained, “This expansion streamlines the visa process, facilitating seamless travel across multiple EU countries and reducing logistical complexities for professionals on the go. The elimination of internal border checks enhances efficiency and saves valuable time, while improved connectivity promises more direct flight options and easier access to emerging markets.”

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Essential information

Schengen visas issued by Romania and Bulgaria after March 31, 2024, allow travel within Schengen countries for up to 90 days in 180 days. However, passport check exemption for these countries is valid only for air and sea transport. Travellers crossing the Romanian or Bulgarian border by road (which includes rivers and lakes) must have a valid passport.

When in Romania

What to do: Take a walking tour through the capital, Bucharest, learning about its history as you spot (Nicolae) Ceausescu’s balcony — where the Romanian dictator gave his final speech — and the former secret police HQ. Explore Văcărești, a reclaimed swamp transformed into a nature park with otters and bird species. Three hours north is Bran Castle, linked to Vlad the Impaler (known to be the inspiration for Dracula). Use extra time, if any, to explore the Danube Delta’s vast wetlands.

What to eat: A taste of avant-garde Romanian dishes such as butter-soft venison is a must in Romania. If pasta is central to Italian cuisine, for Romanians, it is the ciorba de fasole cu afumatura, or bean soup with smoked pork, which is a comforting staple served with smoked meat or pork knuckles or bacon. Balmoș (inset above) is another speciality dish of old Romanian shepherds made using mămăligă or polenta. Do not skip visiting Casa Capșa, a historic restaurant known for its chocolate buttermilk layer cake known as the Joffre, created over a century ago.

Do as the Bulgarians do

What to do: Explore Sofia’s communist-era landmarks, Varna’s maritime allure and the archaeological wonders and beauty of the Valley of the Roses near Plovdiv. Architecture buff? Alongside Plovdiv’s ancient ruins, check out its open-air gallery of whimsical Revival houses. Or, take a bus to Tryavna where the breathtaking Belogradchik Fortress and 180 cultural monuments await you. Explore Arbanasi’s blend of Greek and Bulgarian architecture, visit the iconic Rila Monastery and discover Veliko Tarnovo’s medieval charm.

What to eat: Start your morning with banitsa (inset below), a traditional Bulgarian pastry prepared by stacking up layers of filo pastry dough with butter and traditional Bulgarian cheese before it is baked. For lunch, Bulgarians love their soup and salad and škembe (tripe soup) — made by boiling cut or minced tripe (cattle stomach lining) for several hours with paprika, milk and oil — is a local favourite. For a heavy, hearty dinner, try meshana skara at one of the local upscale restaurants in Sofia which includes, akyufte (meatballs much like the Indian kofta) and skewers of pork meat and a pork steak.

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