Ruled by the Ottomans for five centuries and then the Bulgarian Communist Party after WWII, the Republic of Bulgaria only started to emerge onto the world stage in 1989. Firmly positioning itself as a Western European country, Bulgaria became a member of the Council of Europe in 1991, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 2004, and was finally accepted as a member of the European Union (EU) in 2007. With these moves, Bulgaria's status as a tourist destination rose. It still feels more Eastern European than Western, but that is part of Bulgaria’s appeal.
With Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south, Macedonia and Serbia in the west, it is the Black Sea to the east that traditionally has been one of the main attractions for tourists visiting this country of 7,360,000 inhabitants. However, the more curious traveller will head for the capital, Sofia. While Ottoman-era landmarks and Soviet-style monuments abound, the city has a youthful vibe and is very much the modern Eastern Europe capital. From the city centre, across the landmark structures, you can see Vitosha Mountain just ten kilometres away, making it the closest ski resort to a capital city perhaps in the world.