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Bulgaria: High hopes in the Rhodopes

Connecting Europe with the Middle East

Bulgaria is a unique country with its own distinct way of life, culture, nature, and traditions. Although small, with an area of roughly 110,000 km² and a population of 6.5 million, Bulgaria has a very diverse geographical landscape and occupies a key location in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, connecting Europe and Türkiye. Find out more about the country’s expanding railroads and highways, its role as the cradle of the Cyrillic alphabet, and its status as the major global producer of rose oil.

Bulgaria is situated in Southeast Europe, in the east of the Balkans. Strategically located between the EU and Türkiye, it borders Romania to the north, Serbia and North Macedonia to the west, Greece to the south, Türkiye to the southeast and the Black Sea to the east.  

“Constancy” and a whole new alphabet

Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe, steeped in dynamic historical events that have repeatedly altered its borders and territory. Established in 681, it is the only nation that has not changed its name since its founding. Key moments include the early adoption of Christianity as the main religion in 864 and the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet a little later. This had a huge impact, as this alphabet is now used in more than 50 languages around the world.

Bulgaria also ranks highly on Europe’s cultural heritage list, with numerous historical treasures from the ancient Thracian kingdoms, such as ancient gold artifacts dating back to the 4th century BC, the Madara Horseman from the first Bulgarian kingdom (one of Bulgaria’s oldest cultural monuments), and many other significant landmarks.

Plains and mountain ridges alternate

However, the country is not only renowned for its cultural sights. Bulgaria also has a diverse geographical relief that shapes its identity and offers many natural spectacles. The Danubian Plain, the Balkan Mountains, the Thracian Plain, and the Rila-Rhodope massif are the most remarkable topographical features. While the Danube River defines the country’s northern border with Romania, the Thracian Plain is a roughly triangular region that begins southeast of Sofia and widens as it reaches the Black Sea coast.

The Balkan mountain ridge run horizontally through the middle of the country from west to east. Balkаn meаns mountain and it lends its name to the whole peninsula. There are two distinct alpine mountain ranges in the south, Pirin and Rila, with the latter boasting the highest peak in both Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula - “Musala”, towering at a height of 2,925 meters. The biggest mountain range in terms of territory are the Rhodope Mountains – shrouded in legends, they are home of the ancient Orpheus.

The mountain ranges provide unique climatic conditions for the cultivation of oil-bearing roses and lavender. In the Rose Valley, 85% of the world’s rose oil is produced, a key ingredient in numerous cosmetic products and fragrances.

Naturally, the Black Sea coast is the country’s lowest point, home to beautiful beaches and a vital tourism industry. Large scale tourism started during communism, when the Black sea resorts gained immense popularity among people from Eastern bloc countries as the southernmost sea they could freely visit.

Crossroads and newly constructed highways

Due to Bulgaria’s strategic crossroads position, half of Europe’s most important transit corridors pass through the country. These corridors comprise not only roads, but also the entire Bulgarian section of the Danube River.

Transport in Bulgaria is primarily dominated by trucking. As of October 2023, there were a total of 861 kilometers of highways in service. The initial plan to construct highways dates back to 1973, when the government of Socialist Bulgaria approved a plan to build a motorway ring that would encompass the whole country, consisting of three highways. Since the democratic changes in 1990, only a total of 273 km of highways had been built, and the reasons for the slow expansion have been primarily economical.

Currently, there are more than 860 km of highways in service, with another 130 km under various stages of construction. The long-term plans aim to upgrade more roads and further integrate the road system into the European grid and the focus is set on improving road connections with the neighboring EU and non-EU countries.  Improvement of the domestic connections linking the main economic centers like Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna and Ruse are also underway.

These efforts are one of the reasons that roads have long surpassed railroads as the primary mode of freight transportation.

Rail: once number one…

The construction of the first Bulgarian railway line started in 1864. The Ottoman government granted the concession to an English company and the line, which was 223 km long, was opened in 1866. In the following decades, the railway network grew, spanning a relatively dense network throughout the country. Many lines were constructed in stunning mountainous terrain. Today, Bulgaria boasts a railway track of more than 6,000 kilometers.

Until the mid-nineties, railroads were the primary mode of freight transportation. However, due to increasing problems with infrastructure maintenance and slow speeds, there has been a shift towards road transportation carrying an increasingly larger share of freight volumes. No wonder, as the railway systems were mostly outdated and the network had not been expanded since the 1980s. BDŽ, the national railway company, is now carrying out modernization projects to tackle these challenges. An initial improvement consisted of a high-speed line connecting the Serbian border to the center of the country via the capital of Sofia.

Extensive upgrades with EU funds

Further investments of 3.3 billion euro in railway infrastructure (with EU help) will be completed in 2027. In 2023, Bulgaria announced it would purchase an additional 1.4 billion euro in rolling stock using EU-provided funds.

In the same year, after four years of construction, a rail link with Istanbul was established, enabling trains to run at a speed of 200 km/h. The double track can carry 10 million passengers and 3.6 million tons of freight. Already a year earlier, construction began on a rail line connecting Bulgaria and North Macedonia as part of the Pan-European Corridor VIII – particularly interesting as both nations boast a strong automotive industry. By the way: Did you know that the automotive industry is the fastest-growing production sector in Bulgaria? External suppliers throughout the country produce 80% of all automotive components used in local assembly lines, and this sector is expected to account for one-fourth of all manufacturing jobs in 2023.

Yes is no?!?

If you decide to visit Bulgaria, keep in mind that nodding your head to indicate agreement may be misunderstood. In Bulgaria, the gesture means the exact opposite of what it does in the rest of Europe.

But no matter what confusion this may cause for visitors and locals alike, one thing is certain: Bulgaria is a dynamic country making its way into a prosperous future…

16,700 m² Warehouse in Sofia

cargo-partner has been represented in Bulgaria since 2003 and currently operates 3 offices with 132 employees in Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. Our experienced teams provide a comprehensive range of air, rail, sea and road transport services, including door-to-door delivery to and from anywhere in the country. cargo-partner operates a state-of-the-art iLogistics Center near Sofia Airport which was opened in 2018. The TAPA-A certified iLogistics Center provides 16,700 m² of storage space and benefits from a direct connection to the railway.

Contact our team in Bulgaria to find out more!