It's hard to find someone more passionate about their homeland than Stefan. As a guide for our Best of Bulgaria tour, he takes great pride in welcoming travelers to his country and sharing its rich history, art, and culture with them.
Stefan, tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, but was born and raised in Kazanlak. It’s a small town, known as the Capital of the Valley of Roses. I was raised in a family of public-school teachers, historians, and archaeologists. I studied physics, but graduated from law school. Now I'm a full-time tour guide.
How did you get into guiding?
I started when I was 16. My first summer job was working as a local tour guide at the Thracian tomb in Kazanlak, and it has been in my blood ever since.
What do you like about leading Rick Steves tours?
I love the tour members! Especially their curiosity, open hearts, and willingness to understand the world we live in through travel. I also like the fact that we emphasize the balance between organized activities and free time.
Do you have a favorite stop on the Best of Bulgaria tour?
Plovdiv! This is one of the oldest still inhabited cities in Europe, with a charming old town, bustling pedestrian zones, and a hipsters’ neighborhood with some fine examples of street art. It is the cultural capital of Bulgaria, and in 2019 was the European Cultural Capital. The ambiance is very special there. The locals call it ailyak — the art of not worrying too much and not being stressed, but simply being chill and enjoying life in all of its shapes and colors.
What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a guide?
At the end of a tour, when I have tour members approaching me and saying, "Now you have 24 more ambassadors for Bulgaria!" I won’t forget when, a few years ago, a couple told me, "Stefan, we are so lucky you didn’t become a lawyer, so that we have you here with us." Another rewarding moment was spending my birthday on the road with a group. I don’t know how, but my tour members discovered when it was my birthday. At midnight, I heard someone throwing small rocks at my window. I got up and to my surprise, it was my group in front of the hotel singing "Happy Birthday!"
You joined Rick on-camera for an episode of his TV show. What was it like?
I would be lying if I say that I was not nervous being on camera. But it disappeared quite quickly after we started filming. Rick and the crew are very professional, and this helps a lot to forget all the stress. It’s fun, and during the meals segment, we actually do eat the food and drink the rakia.
What do you do when you're not leading tours?
It maybe sounds surprising, but I travel a lot. I get rest from travel when I travel. I also love cooking and reading.
Tell us something about yourself that no one would ever guess.
When I was in law school, I was the head of our forensic science club. I also love poetry — not only reading, but writing it. I hope it’s slightly better than the Vogon poetry from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Here’s what Stefan won’t tell you…but his tour members will:
"Stefan was absolutely wonderful! He was friendly, funny, knowledgeable, and very organized. He made me feel welcome from the first moment I met him. He was passionate about his beloved Bulgaria, and he was great at explaining Bulgarian history and culture. Many guides just rattle off dates and facts and bore you. But not Stefan; he made Bulgarian history come alive. I learned so much about Bulgaria. I am glad I had Stefan as my guide."
― Susan in Bellevue, PA