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Bulgaria as a cycling destination, or what is lacking?

Photo: Венета Николова

Despite its undeniable potential for cycling tourism, Bulgaria continues to be on the periphery of global trends in this field. The reasons for this are at first glance contradictory. On the one hand, Bulgaria is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers, and cycling is their favorite way to get away from the city and dip into the embrace of the mountains. These people combine cycling tours in Bulgaria with rural tourism, river rafting, bird watching and a whole range of activities that the preserved Bulgarian nature can offer them.

But on the other hand, poor infrastructure, along with a host of other unresolved issues, hinder the development of this lucrative tourist niche. According to Lyubomir Popyordanov, founder of the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Tourism /BAAT/, Bulgaria is the perfect destination for mountain biking. Why? Because no special routes are needed, dirt roads or footpaths are used. Fans of mountain biking in Bulgaria find their way with a GPS and with the help of specialized platforms on the Internet. "These people travel to get a different experience, to learn something new. The mountains near Sofia, as well as the Rhodopes, Pirin, Belasitsa and Ograzhden are ideal for this purpose!”claims Popyordanov. In addition, this type of cycling tours do not require special intervention by the state in order to develop.

However, this is not the case with the so-called road cycling. In this respect, Bulgaria is lights years behind Europe. The reason is clear - the bad  roads and the lack of state policy in this direction.

"The main demand in the world is for road cycling, but we have almost no good conditions for it”, says Lyubomir Popyordanov. “Mountain biking in which we are strong occupies only 5 to 8 percent of the total share of cycling in the world. This ratio is not in our favour! At the moment, electric bicycles are also entering the sector, so that people with even restricted capabilities can climb slight slopes”.

Electric bikes are available in several places in Bulgaria, such as in the region of Belogradchik. There they are combined with a hot air balloon flight over the rocks.

Regarding road cycling, Lyubomir Popyordanov offers the route between the Stara Planina towns of Etropole and Elena, where the road surface is in very good condition, the traffic is not heavy and the landscape is strikingly beautiful. The 5 km-long bike lane in the Valley of Roses between the village of Enina and the town of Kazanlak.

But what about the Bulgarian section of the European route EuroVelo 6, which also passes along Bulgaria’s Danube bank?

"Unfortunately, once they enterBulgarian territory, cyclists come across broken roads, missing signposts, etc.," says Lyubomir Popyordanov. Together with his colleagues from BAAT, he proposes the adoption of a National Cycling Plan for Bulgaria.

"There is no understanding at all about this type of tourism in our country. There are no signs for it yet. And this is the idea of this national cycling strategy - to put some kind of markings and signs around the country. Some provisions in the Road Traffic Act need to be changed in order for cyclists in Bulgaria to feel wanted and safe. Also, it is necessary to create special bike lanes along some roads that are not busy.

Cycling tours should be developed together with camping tourism - a topic that Bulgaria’s Ministry of Tourism and all lobbying circles in the country stubbornly ignore. Because campsites prevent them from developing hotel chains, which they subsequently fail to fill with visitors. It is high time that the state decided how to develop tourism.

Obviously, the coronavirus crisis gives us a great opportunity to re-evaluate our efforts and investments in the sector so far and become aware of the fact that the future lies in alternative tourism, which is close to the people and brings prosperity to local communities, not to a handful of investors! Lubomir Popyordanov says in conclusion.

English Rossitsa Petcova

Photos: Veneta Nikolova and BGNES


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