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Despite Bulgaria’s status as one of Europe’s poorer countries, its capital Sofia is a cultured, sometimes elegant place that looks much as if parts of Vienna, Istanbul and Moscow had been reproduced in miniature.

In its compact, tidy centre, late 19th century tenements sit next to Stalinist baroque official buildings, elaborate Orthodox churches, synagogues and mosques. Beyond the neo-Byzantine Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – the Balkans’ second largest church – Sofia has few formal sights, but its café-filled Vitosha Boulevard, cheap markets such as the Zhenski Pazar (“Woman’s Market”) and eclectic architecture throughout the centre are worth seeing in their own right.

Sofia is also a mountain town. Peaks over 2,000 metres high rise directly south of the city, and a cable car takes visitors directly into the Vitosha massif from the suburb of Simeonovo. These mountains contain some of Europe’s cheapest skiing, plus the isolated Rila Monastery, a painted cloister in a high valley directly beneath the Balkans’ highest summit.

Where to ski in Bulgaria

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