“A walk in the mountains remains an indispensable pleasure for me.”
The Bulgarian king Simeon II had a dream he keeps striving to achieve. To see how Bulgaria becomes a country that values, loves and makes full use of its wonderful nature. A country that knows how to show the world the greatness of its rich history. The experience of His Majesty King Simeon II is invaluable, he was also a special ambassador for the World Tourism Organisation, based in Madrid. In an extremely frank interview, the Bulgarian king shared not only his ideas for the future, but also his innermost personal memories.
– Your Highness, a question that may surprise you. It’s no secret that you’ve spent much of your life on the road, but do you know the number of countries you’ve visited
– I’ve travelled a lot in my life. The countries I have visited are approximately 80.
– The last two years were marked by a pandemic and unprecedented measures restricting the free movement of people. This has affected hard also the tourism business. How successfully did Bulgaria cope as a country with this very complicated situation?
– I would say that Bulgaria has done relatively well in this crisis with the virus in terms of measures and system, but the level of vaccinated people is horribly low! It is strange that in the 21st century, when science is so advanced, the resistance in our country is so great. Is it based on superstition and prejudice? Compared to other European countries, the percentage is shockingly low. People need to be convinced that a proper response to the pandemic will be beneficial to everyone. It will make life in general, travel, easier.
– Like any other crisis, the coronavirus pandemic has created also opportunities. The difficulties related to travel abroad caused many more Bulgarians to spend their holidays in the homeland and even to rediscover it. What are your favourite places in our country?
– Many people actually decided, and this is not only in Bulgaria, to have a holiday and to travel in their own countries. And that’s not bad. So they got to know their countries better and helped the local economy. I myself am rather a mountaineer, and although we have a wonderful seaside, for me, walking in the mountains remains an irreplaceable pleasure for me.
– It is known that your father King Boris III loved the Bulgarian mountains very much. What are your childhood memories of walking in the woods with him?
– My memories of that time are both few and many. My father died when I was 6, but I remember our outings in the Iskar Gorge, the numerous routes in Rila, as well as our last ascent, together with my sister, of Murgash peak in Stara Planina, in the distant 1943.
– King Boris III has a rich collection of hunting trophies. Do you practice hunting tourism or do you prefer the silence and seclusion of mountains?
– I was a hunter before, but since 1983, I don’t hunt anymore. What I really miss are the countryside, nature and friends. Now I can no longer catch fish – I have become definitely more pitiful over the years. Here I want to emphasize that the majority of hunters truly love nature, take care of it, protect it. It saddens me that today they are often subject to assault and unjust
– Many Bulgarian classical authors – from Ivan Vazov to Yordan Yovkov and Aleko Konstantinov – left us unforgettable pictures of the Bulgarian nature in their works. Do you have a favourite literary work or excerpt related to the beauty of your homeland?
– I am a man who reads many and varied books, although I adhere mostly to historical, theological and biographical readings. And that’s why it’s so hard to share a specifically favourite one. From Bulgarian authors however I especially like Aleko Konstantinov.
– The park of the Vrana palace, which is open for visitors on weekends, Saturday and Sunday, quickly turned into a preferred place for Sofia’s residents and guests of the capital. What is your favourite place in the park that your grandfather King Ferdinand created?
– One of the big lawns in the park. But it is also difficult to choose here – the park of Vrana is so beautiful and varied! Even today, more than 100 years after my grandfather, King Ferdinand, built it, the layout of the areas is still the same.
– You have numerous contacts and friends all over the world. When members of your family visit our country, what is the advice do you give them most often?
– I usually avoid giving advice. And if I say something, it would be – not to be prejudiced, to make their own assessments, but especially to pay attention to our beautiful nature, which alas… we take for granted here and do not appreciate enough.
– We Bulgarians take justifiable pride in our national cuisine, which is also appreciated by many foreigners who were lucky to taste it. What is your favourite Bulgarian dish?
– Our cuisine is diverse, so it’s hard to choose just one particular favourite dish. But since the time when I was in exile, something that always brought me back to Bulgaria was our bean soup. I could say that the bean soup and the Bulgarian yoghurt, which is so famous, are my favourite dishes.
– It seems as if everyone in Bulgaria is unanimous that tourism should be a national priority and the basis of a long-term plan for development and prosperity. But what should we do for our country to make the best use of the wonderful natural resources that we have?
– We need adequate and targeted advertising of the types of tourism offered here. And to benefit from the experience of successful countries in this field such as Austria, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, for example.
– Is there anything you regret that you were unable to finish in the field of tourism during the time that you were Prime Minister of the country?
– In four years we achieved quite a lot, but there is always more to be done. An example of our achievements is the signs that we initiated – writing the names of sites, localities, information in museums in the Latin alphabet. Today, years later, this process unfortunately seems to have stopped. In many places there are no Latin inscriptions or explanations, while there should be such explanations at least in English! How do we expect foreigners to visit us here if they can’t understand anything? Or take for example infrastructure – should it be an ad or anti-ad of a country. I’d say that Bulgarian infrastructure is not a very good ad of Bulgaria. No roads, not even other basic domestic amenities.
– In which areas of tourism do you think our country has the greatest unexplored potential?
– Cultural tourism. Skiing and maritime tourism have been developed. But cultural and balneo-medical tourism, which has huge potential, is either underdeveloped or poorly advertised!
– You have always said it is important to look ahead into the future and think in a broader perspective. How do you see the development of tourism in Bulgaria over the next 10 or 20 years?
– This future depends a lot on the individual efforts of everyone – an individual restaurant, hotel, resort, responsible institution, so that we make a joint effort and no small tricks. We have to do our best. There are quite a few examples of countries that have failed in tourism precisely because of poor practices and poor treatment of tourists. The right price to product ratio, better respect for guests, the quality of service – these are the ways. And let’s not forget that 1 negative assessment is much stronger than 100 positive ones. In general, I also notice a deficit of smiles.
– Are you still optimistic about Bulgaria today despite the difficulties we face?
– You have to be realistic. The chance for Bulgaria to succeed is not small. Especially now, as a Member State of the EU!