OUT ON THE eastern edge of Europe, the small country of Bulgaria is high-stepping into its future. Ruled for centuries by the iron-fisted...



OUT ON THE eastern edge of Europe, the small country of Bulgaria is high-stepping into its future.

Ruled for centuries by the iron-fisted Ottoman Empire and locked behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain for decades in the 20th century, Bulgaria emerged into democracy and finally became part of the European Union in 2007.

Visitors now flock to its Black Sea beaches on cheap sun-and-sand tours. Yet Bulgaria, a Balkan nation of 7.5 million at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, offers a blend of history and culture that draws curious tourists from all over. Islamic mosques, Orthodox Christian monasteries and Thracian tombs dating to the 3rd century B.C. are scattered through the country.

Sofia, the capital city, mixes trendy nightclubs with drab Soviet-era apartment blocks. Some graceful older architecture endures, and in the heart of the city a traditionally dressed guard marches in a Statehood Day ceremony. While coping with rapid social changes and fighting corruption, Bulgaria still celebrates.

Kristin R. Jackson is the editor of The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler section. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.