Whether you are there to see stunning nature, the remains of Europe’s oldest woman, a museum dedicated to Bulgaria’s “Henry Ford,” or some of the most interesting caves and rock formations in the world, Vratsa and its environs have it all. There will be something for all: families, adventure seekers, tourist groups, and tranquility hunters.
Vratsa sure is heritage rich, but what it has most of all is personality and people. The Open Vratsa platform aims to reveal that wealth, changing perceptions of the region and encouraging development through tourism.
At OpenVratsa.bg, visitors and locals alike will find abundant information about things to do and see in town and its surroundings. Looking for the best coffee in town? A homey bed-and-breakfast? The most knowledgeable museum guide? A lesser-known hiking route? Or a fun way to spend your day? OpenVratsa will have some ideas for you.
But OpenVratsa is more than just a tourism portal. It is a living, breathing organism, the work of determined individuals who yearn to see their town transform into a lively hub of culture, history, and community. People like Boriana Statkova and Ivaylo Yordanov, who after spending years away decided they wanted a future in their hometown. Today, in addition to running successful businesses, they are helping transform their community by mentoring youth and ensuring Open Vratsa is a success.
Twenty-six-year-old Boriana Statkova lived in Blagoevgrad and Rome before returning to Vratsa three years ago. She has been in business for as long as she can remember or, more precisely, “from the age when you start doing additions up to 100 without a calculator.” Experienced in commerce, writing, photography, and youth program coordination, Boriana is Open Vratsa’s event and people manager, dealing with companies, institutions, and community members interested in supporting the project.
His successful career and comfortable life in the capital notwithstanding, Ivaylo Yordanov, 28, yearned to go back to his hometown. He took the plunge a year ago, entering his life’s most active and gratifying phase. In addition to promoting the Open Vratsa platform in the online space, he is the founder of Vratsa’s first full-service digital marketing agency, a lecturer in digital marketing at Vratsa Software Academy, and a mentor in Teenovator’s youth entrepreneurship network.
What is Open Vratsa?
Boriana Statkova (B.S.): Open Vratsa is a dream. A long-awaited project collecting in one place all necessary information about events, activities, attractive places to visit, natural, historical, and cultural tourist destinations. It isn’t just a job but a cause we champion.
Ivaylo Yordanov (I.Y.): A project that is long overdue. The site shows Vratsa in a new light. I believe it will be useful not just for tourists, but for people looking for a good place to live. Open Vratsa will show a majority of our town’s best qualities.
Why did you join Open Vratsa?
B.S.: Because this is a long-awaited project, and when I attended the launch, I was really excited, and as a Vratsa native, I naturally had opinions about some of the activities. I was really happy when Kliment [Yonchev, from Key Events & Communication, ed.] contacted me so that we could put together a team. Because no one will work for Vratsa the way we will—we who have made the conscious decision to come back and live here and have over time proven that Vratsa is a cause for us.
I.Y.: I had a similar idea even before I moved back to Vratsa. I found out by chance that the America for Bulgaria Foundation and Vratsa Municipality are working on this project, and we decided to join efforts.
Please describe Vratsa in three words.
B.S.: Beautiful, authentic, tranquil.
I.Y.: Calm, opportunities, and beautiful nature.
What is your region’s greatest wealth?
B.S.: The Balkan mountain and the people.
I.Y.: The healthy environment. The local lifestyle makes it possible.
Vratsa’s best kept secret?
B.S.: Truly good Vratsans.
I.Y.: I don’t think Vratsa is the kind of place to keep secrets. If you want to live, develop, or just visit the city, there will be no surprises. Most people are open and would help you find out everything you want to know.
Your favorite spot in Vratsa and the region?
B.S.: Hizhata (“The Hut”), a place at once tranquil and full of life. It is a place where you can be alone with yourself and your thoughts, but you can also meet an old acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while, or a friend. A beautiful spot inextricably connected with the town.
I.Y.: The walking trail to the Vestitelya (“The Messenger”) Complex, or as we call it, The Hut. I live nearby, and the thick shade on my way up to the top every morning helps me keep my thoughts and to-do list in order. As a reward, after the tiresome climb up the stairs, a panoramic view of the whole city is revealed, one you never tire of seeing.
If I have a day in Vratsa, where should I go?
B.S.: To the so-called Ledenika Amusement Park—in other words, the scenic route that takes you to the Ledenika Cave and its surroundings, as well as the ethnographic complex [featuring authentic nineteenth-century architecture, ed.] if you are interested in the region’s cultural heritage. In the courtyard of the complex, there are small artisanal workshops where you can make your own clay pot or observe a carpet being woven.
I.Y.: If you are driving, leave your vehicle at the parking lot located at the main square, Hristo Botev Square. Take a stroll along the long pedestrian downtown area, choose a place from the Coffeeshop & Bars section of OpenVratsa.bg, and linger in one for an hour to have a look at the platform and choose what downtown sites to visit. You can visit almost all of them because they are close to each other. Then return to your vehicle, but don’t get in. Instead, head away from the square and upward, toward the Messenger Complex. Enjoy the views from up above, and on your way back don’t walk down the stairs, but take the walking trails. A fork off the main road will take you toward the towering 400-meter rocks of the Vrattsata Pass. There is a really pleasant spot for lunch there, where you can take a break after all the walking. Afterward, go back to the car and in about 20 minutes, in normal traffic, you can cruise around the city and stop wherever you like. Don’t forget to check out the Events section to see if there is anything interesting happening while you are in Vratsa.
What should I see and do in Vratsa if I have a whole weekend?
B.S.: If you are coming to Vratsa for the weekend, then you are not in a hurry. Stop in the Iskar Gorge: you can take your time there and see the Ritlite rock phenomenon, the Lakatnik Rocks, and the monument Grandpa Yotzo Is Watching. At OpenVratsa.bg, you can find interesting information about all these places. Don’t miss the rock monastery St. Ivan Pusti, just a few kilometers away from Vratsa, the Regional History Museum, or the Skaklya Waterfall, Bulgaria’s highest waterfall, depending on whether you want to be more active or take it easy, listening and taking things in slowly.
I.Y.: In addition to my suggestion for a day-long trip around Vratsa, if you decide to stay, look up the Accommodation section at OpenVratsa.bg and choose a place to stay, or check out any of the popular accommodation sites. In the evening, make a plan to start early the following morning and do a trek in the Vrachanski Balkan [the Vratsa part of the Balkan Mountain Range, ed.]. A good option is the Borov Kamak ecotrail (five hours return trip). Enjoy nature in the mountain, and then you will be ready to leave, recharged. But you will definitely want to come back.
What changes do you want to see in Vratsa in five years’ time?
B.S.: Our region’s main disadvantage, and an obstacle to its development, is the perception about people from Vratsa. This is why I want to have the opportunity to see my friends and acquaintances, particularly those who are middle-aged, infected with an enthusiasm for visiting Vratsa. There are many people who are skeptical, and it is them I want to see in five years and hear what they have to say. I would like to see the town and region become better known among the rest of Bulgarians.
I.Y: I don’t want it to change much. It would be sufficient to have the trend of people returning continue. Returnees changing the environment by supporting the local economy. The effects of that can already be felt.
Please finish the sentence: If you haven’t been to Vratsa…
B.S.: … you need to come over!
I.Y.: … it hasn’t occurred to you to do it yet. Now, with the Open Vratsa platform, you can find your reason!
OpenVratsa is an initiative of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, Vratsa Municipality, Key Events & Communication, Evol Digital Marketing, and countless enthusiasts from Vratsa.