From mini-ramps in bars to village vert and seaside sessions – skateboarding in Bulgaria with Papa Virus.
Implausible as it may sound, Bulgaria is one of the best country’s for skatespots in the world. I will come to how I came to understand that fact presently, but for now let me share something with you that I have been telling anybody who will listen for the last decade:
Bulgaria is Europe’s last great undiscovered country, more thickly cultured and beautiful than any of her neighbours – and nobody knows.
Why? 2 reasons:
A kind of lazy tendency on behalf of Westerners to lump all the former Eastern Bloc countries that end in -IA into a mental space labelled : heavy eyebrows, dodgy food, mafia.
Secondly, a kind of justifiable terror of the unknown – countries of the Balkan peninsula (of which Bulgaria is the final one) perfectly well deserve their reputations for sketchiness in many regards, and in my experience that is less evident at ground level than further up the economic and political food chain. Also, Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet which makes roadsigns unreadable and everything undeniably .…foreign to our eyes and ears.
The first is the challenge of our perception, the second is the challenge of their state to express itself. So the answer is this:
“Go, but go with a local. It changes the entire complexion of the experience.”
Bulgaria is not unsafe in the conventional sense but it can be very challenging to navigate as a non- native speaker. Certainly over the last 10 years the numbers of returning expats and higher education mean a lot more of the urban young speak a foreign language (usually English, sometimes German), it is by no means expected or common outside cities. Petty moves like short-changing visitors for cigarettes and taxi rip offs is also lamentably common, bordering on a national disgrace. The country is relatively poor, let us be frank, so opportunism does exist. Having a local guide removes all potential hassles. So with those caveats, let me share with you the best place I ever visited in 15 years of being on skate trips.
Alex Kyourkiev of Kool Events, known as the Godfather of skateboarding in Bulgaria, set up our trip as he has done on behalf of magazines like Sidewalk, Transworld, Kingpin and for teams ranging from Sweden’s Sour Skateboards to Switzerland’s Warriors Skateboards – as well as owning the OG Bulgarian skate brand Virus, from whence the Papa came.
It is of course possible to tour Bulgaria skateboarding without help, or through social media searches, but I wouldn’t see why when you can just do it with the people who built the scene there.
Every trip I have been lucky enough to go on there begins in Sofia, a beautiful small city of faded grandeur, superb restaurants, and home to what Epicly Later’d editor Patrick O’Dell once called ‘the best skatespot in the world’. The claim still stands, to my mind.
After a first few compulsory days skating the lovely open park spaces of the green city, we leave Sofia heading east along the arterial routes toward the endless beaches of the Black Sea coast. Most towns along the route have long- forgotten architectural idiosyncracies which double as ideal skatespots with their own small but devoted crews.
Over recent years, albeit at a much slower rate than in Western Europe, skateparks have begun to emerge throughout the country, some in unlikely locations. Samokov has a new concrete park, the tiny mountain village of Montana hosts an outsized vert ramp, but the two best recent outdoor concrete developments are close to the seaside, in Burgas and Dobrich.
Between those two towns lies Varna, once Bulgaria’s summer capital and which is charming in a great many ways: the pathways of her gently rolling sea gardens make a summer evening’s roll into people-watching paradise. With that said, the road between Sofia and Varna is certainly dangerous in parts whereas the newly opened motorway direct to less lovely but more lively Burgas is more or less a straight road to the seaside.
In truth, though, it would be a shame to miss out Plovdiv as a midway stop-off whichever route you take. The Roman amphitheatre is what Plovdiv is most famed for, but it has a good plaza spot, super friendly locals and and old town which is an absolute trip to walk around and have a cold Zagorka beer at the top.
Upon hitting the coast of the Black Sea whichever route your trip takes, make plans to stay. Your journey has been long, maybe you are rocking a heelbruise and a hangover- but everything noticeably drops down a gear when Bulgarians hit the seaside.
“The entire coast is amazing but Varna and Burgas would offer the best skating opportunities beside the sea”
Although if you want a day or two off skating altogether, I recommend going further south to Tsar Bay under the village of Chernomerets, where an unwalkable crescent of golden sands joins a promontory upon which sits Sozopol, and old Roman garrison town where the larger first floors of the houses are supported by bowed oak in the style of architecture which was part of a stunning Bulgarian cultural renaissance known as the National Revival, and where local artesans sell their wares amid jazz bars and fabulous mehana restaurants as the sea laps the rocks below. As a place to turn around and come back from, I can’t think of a better marker to say you had really done it.
However, friend- beware: the ubiquitous national drink rakia is nothing to do with the similarly- named Greek mouthwash. It is a white grape brandy which tastes very nice and will get you ripped off your tits faster than you say ‘Taxi!’.
If you are looking for an alternative skate trip from the usual Barcelona rhubarb, I can’t recommend it enough. Not for the faint-hearted or the home comforts posse, but for a sense of being somewhere and experiencing something through skating, it is top of my list. It is certainly the place to which I have returned most often and never not enjoyed. Can’t be bad to that.
Video by Red Bull
Feature Image: Alex Kyourkiev Frontside Air Montana Photo: Mihail Novakov
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