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News 06 Sep 17

Bulgaria Woos Russian Tourists with Religious Tours

Bulgaria’s tourism ministry will create new religious tour routes that it hopes will attract more Russian tourists who want to go on a pilgrimage to the country’s holy sites. 

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
The Rila monastery in Bulgaria. Photo: Mark Ahshmann/Wikimedia.

Bulgaria is working on setting up a pilgrimage programme for Russians entitled ‘On Bulgaria’s Routes of Memory’ in cooperation with the Russian Federal Tourism Agency and the Russian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism told BIRN.

The ministry said that the demand for religious tourism has grown recently with several groups of pilgrims from Moscow and Yekaterinburg set to visit the country in 2017.

“The Russian tourists demonstrate a marked interest in cultural and historic tours of the country, with its numerous churches, monasteries and religious holidays included,” the ministry explained in a written statement.

The religious route, drafted in partnership with the Russian church, will include Bulgaria’s most popular monasteries, such as the ones in Rila, Bachkovo and Troyan.

According to the ministry, another place that draws thousands of Russian tourists is the house and church of the legendary Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga (Grandmother Vanga) in the scenic Rupite area of south-west Bulgaria.

The blind mystic, who passed away in 1996, was visited by many Bulgarian and former Soviet leaders who sought her counsel, including Leonid Brezhnev.

“Vanga is exceptionally popular and beloved in Russia, and for the Russians her name and everything related to her has special magnetism,” the ministry said.

Bulgaria and Russia will seek to boost their tourism relations at a bilateral tourism forum in Bulgaria’s seaside resort of Saint Constantine and Elena in October, which will be held as a part of the Days of Russian Spiritual Culture event.

Among the main topics of the forum are organised vacations for children, which traditionally bring thousands of young Russian to Bulgaria every summer, health tourism, historic and patriotic routes, as well as pilgrimages and religious routes.

The Russian market is the fourth largest in terms of importance for the Bulgarian tourism industry.

In the first half of 2017, the country was visited by 3.3 million foreign tourists, over 360,000 of whom were Russians.

In 2016, over 580,000 Russian citizens chose Bulgaria as the place to spend their vacations, marking a nearly 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

Russians visit Bulgaria mostly for summer holidays, as the country is considered an attractive destination for families.

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