Bulgaria to woo tourists with cultural gems

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The Independent Online

Bulgaria will develop cultural sites including the Valley of the Thracian Kings with its ancient treasure-filled burial tombs to boost its tourist appeal, traditionally focused on ski and seaside resorts, ministers said Wednesday.

"We view culture tourism as a priority sector with great growth potential in the future," Ivo Marinov, deputy economy minister responsible for tourism, told reporters, as the government launched a new strategic plan for the sector.

"Bulgaria is the country with the third largest cultural heritage in Europe (after Italy and Greece)... but it hasn't made full use of it so far," Marinov said.

The tourism industry in Bulgaria is largely dependent on the country's summer seaside resorts and its mountain ski resorts, while cultural tourism accounts for just 15 percent of revenue.

A study commissioned by the government found that one in five tour operators said their clients wanted to visit more cultural sites.

Lack of infrastructure around the sites, however, was cited as a major obstacle.

"We have over 40,000 cultural sites. But we cannot develop all of them and should instead focus on the most attractive," said deputy culture minister Todor Chobanov said.

Among the priority sites is the so-called Valley of the Thracian Kings in central Bulgaria, the region around the magnificent Belogradchik Rocks to the northwest and the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon to the southeast.

Others included the capital Sofia and the central city of Plovdiv, as well as the Black Sea coast and mountainous regions which offer ecological and religious tourism.