Hello wonderful JFC team!
I'm planning a week-long trip in August next year with my partner. We are hoping to find an affordable destination in Europe or the Caucasus to spend most of the trip that has easy access to hikes and chill outdoor adventures (relaxing by a lake, swimming in waterfall pools, reading on the beach, etc).
We would prefer to only spend a couple of days in a city and then head into the countryside to somewhere quiet, but we are both massive foodies and still want to be near good food options!!
Also aware that lots of places are very hot (and crowded) at that time of year... mid-late 20s would be ideal temps but we aren't too fussy. We would be super grateful for your recommendations!
Thanks for everything you do!
We’d probably point you towards blissful Bulgaria for a trip that can cover all of your bases here, reader!
You’ll be looking at an average spend of $715 for a week’s accommodation, food, travel and activities for one couple. Temperature-wise, we’re talking about average highs of 28 degrees celsius, and those evening lows dropping to 19 degrees.
Bulgaria has a good amount of mountainous coverage - which means it’s showing off some of Europe’s most stunning waterfalls across its three national parks. In the north, you’ll find gorgeous glacial lakes and craggy hiking routes past ruined medieval fortresses and monasteries.
While we’d make it a priority to visit the Seven Rila Lakes or the rocks of Belogradchik (pictured above) in the mountains for some unforgettable walking trails, there are also lovely hiking options up Vitosha Mountain, less than an hour’s bus ride from Sofia.
In the south, you’ve got charming coastal towns like the UNESCO-recognised Nessebar - or if you want to really get away from it all, head to the completely undeveloped and peaceful Pasha Dere beach for some Black Sea RnR.
But what about the food?
When it comes to world-class food, you might not necessarily be thinking of Bulgaria as an option.
You won’t find any Michelin stars here, and Thrillist’s comprehensive rankings of European cuisine only puts it at a respectable 14th out of 48 - far above any of its immediate Balkan neighbours, but below the obvious choices of Italy, Spain and France. (It looks like the reviewers were put off by the traditional shkembe, or tripe soup - it’s a great hangover cure, guys, don’t write it off.)
But bear with us: even beyond Sofia itself - which has some excellent Bulgarian-fusion restaurants and a much-praised dining-in-the-dark experience, Tenebris, which we’re keen to check out - you should have a base level of good culinary options wherever you go in the countryside.
Bulgaria has a number of local farm-to-kitchen enterprises outside of the big cities for the adventurous foodie to explore, from snail, trout and mussel farms to outstanding wineries - and if all else fails, you’ve always got simple, tasty fresh meat and fish coming straight from the ever-popular tavern grills.
The BBC has a great piece on the hidden world of Bulgarian cuisine, with some helpful tips for exciting foodie choices in rural areas, including the mysterious ‘green cheese’ that comes from the village of Cherni Vit, close to Skoka Waterfall.
Raiders of the Lost Cheese
This one’s worth a bit of extra detail, just because it’s an awesome story. Cherni Vit's unique climate conditions meant that its sheep’s cheese used to naturally develop a green mould crust after being stored in wooden boxes.
In the 1970s, the move towards plastic storage containers meant that the mould disappeared - and as the cheese producers mistakenly believed that the green colour was a sign of spoilage, they weren’t too upset about that.
And then in 2007, the grub-loving experts at the Italian Slow Food Association in Bra heard about the mysterious green cheese. They wrote to Cherni Vit’s mayor, Tsvetan Dimitrov - who also happened to be a biologist - asking him whether it still existed.
Dimitrov eventually tracked down a matchbox-sized sample of the cheese in an elderly couple’s cellar, and was able to recreate it - it premiered to great acclaim at Bra’s international cheese festival.
The green cheese isn’t produced commercially, but as of 2019, Dimitrov was still welcoming visitors to his house for tastings (and one travel blogger reports that he was also posting cheese samples out to foodies who wrote to him and asked nicely).
Very Lovely Valencia
Thanks to your email, I bought tickets to Castellón De La Plana for my boyfriend and I, for a long weekend in October.
What would you recommend seeing and doing? :)
Awesome news, reader! You're going to have an incredible time.
Temperatures are looking OK across Valencia right now - hovering in the mid-20s for a relaxing day on Castellón De La Plana's gorgeous beaches (although with the occasional shower) but they're likely to begin dropping throughout the second half of the month.
So take this recommendation with a pinch of salt depending on your tolerance for a chilly dip, but we'd be tempted to take a boat out to the stunning, craggy Columbretes islands and marine reserve off the city's coast - the crystal-clear waters will be about 22 degrees - for a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving and sea-life spotting.
If that sounds slightly too shivery for you both, we'd recommend taking one of your days out to see a few of Valencia's prettiest towns. Peñíscola is easily reachable by an 80-minute bus ride from Castellón De La Plana (and in October, the tourist crowds around the old town and castle shouldn't be quite as intense)
Inland, it's about a 30-minute car ride to Vilafamés (pictured above), a gorgeous historic village ranked amongst Spain's most beautiful - with plenty of romantic wineries and restaurants to visit. Hope you both enjoy!
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