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Blagoevgrad - Bulgarian Macedonia

Distant mountain peaks, the ripple of the rivers and a stunning centre rich in 19th century architecture - this is Blagoevgrad, which lies serenely in the southwest of Bulgaria at the foot of the Rila and Pirin Mountains on the banks of the Blagoevdradska Bistritsa River. Two further rivers, the Struma and the Mesta, run close by and provide major transport corridors.



The city is absolutely stunning and flourishes both economically and culturally with its pedestrian downtown, preserved National Revival architecture and numerous restaurants, cafes, coffee shops,modern shopping mall and boutiques.The city has had an overhaul in the last few years and also has 5 hypermarkets Metro, Technopolis, Technomarket, Mr Bricolage and Kaufland. The town forms the main centre of what is often labelled Bulgarian Macedonia. It is also the last big town in Bulgaria before reaching one of three borders; those of Greece, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia.

The climate here ranges from temperate to Mediterranean with dry, hot summers and cold dry winters. Natural resources are timber, mineral springs, coal, marble and granite. The beautiful and preserved environment is widely considered an important resource. A number of national parks and protected territories care for the biodiversity. The surrounding areas are divided between farmland and rich pine forests.

Blagoevgrad is a key transport centre in this part of Bulgaria. It is the main stop on the international motorway and railway line linking Sofia with Koulata and Athens in Greece. There are regular buses to Sofia and other towns and villages in the region and a well developed service throughout the town. The bus and train stations are situated in close proximity in the southwestern part of the town. Blagoevgrad has a developed and well-organised bus transport within the town, but it is equally convenient to walk around the town.

Blagoevgrad has, like many other Bulgarian cities, carried many different names throughout the ages. Originally a Thracian settlement known as Scaptopara, it was captured by the Roman Army. During Ottoman rule the majority of its inhabitants were Muslim and the town was known as Cuma-ı Bala, which means "Upper Juma" in Persian and Turkish. During the National Revival Period, the town's old quarter known as Varosha, developed and many examples from this period can be seen today. The area still maintains controversial significance in its historical links with neighbouring Macedonia. During the Ottoman occupation the town then known as Gorna Dzhumaya attracted a large influx of Bulgarian refugees from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia. After the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 the town was finally incorporated into the Bulgarian state. In 1950 the town was renamed Blagoevgrad in honour of the founder of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Dimitar Blagoev.

There is not a wide selection of hotels here, so ensure that you book your stay in advance. The Alen Mak Hotel is located in the heart of Blagoevgrad opposite the American University of Bulgaria. This is a big hotel with on-site restaurant, cafe, bar and gift shop. The Fenix is much smaller with only 14 rooms, but it offers a more personal service. Blagoevgrad's most luxurious hotel is the Hotel Ezeretz. Its facilities include a restaurant, a fitness centre, a sports centre offering football and tennis and a swimming pool with poolside bar,

The café culture dominates this city with a mass of delightful pavement cafes particularly in the old town. The town centre is certainly packed with taverns, bars, and restaurants, many of which offer traditional Bulgarian cuisine. Vodenitsata is the city's most renowned mehana serving some excellent Bulgarian dishes. The Old House also has a good selection of traditional cuisine and has a wonderful summer garden. If your tastes are more international, try the Pizza Napoli, which serves some tasty Italian dishes. Todor Aleksandrov has a good selection of different eateries and it is worth checking menus and prices to see what takes your fancy.

The large number of young people here makes for a rich nightlife, with music as varied as the popular Bulgarian pop-folk mix, chalga, to techno and karaoke. If you enjoy nightlife then try visiting Underground 1, which plays alternative music as well as popular hits. The club also serves some unique cocktails. True chalga lovers will enjoy the Opium, connected to the Xtreme nightclub by an underground tunnel.

Blagoevgrad is a football town and although lacking in investment for its own progressing clubs, have fed the world's wealthier clubs including Dimitar Bervbatov who plays for Manchester United.