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SOFIA – A BRIEF VISIT

This is a highly lacking article about Sofia – possibly one of the most underrated cities in Europe – written by two visitors with no time to experience it fully. But our few days here made us want to return for more, and so should you.

Photo: John Harald Knutsson

VGAN – MADE IN SOFIA
Since the start of VGAN, Sofia has been the location of our production facilities. As we expand to other countries and continents we will establish facilities closer to these markets, but so far VGAN chocolate is made in this beautiful city in the western part of Bulgaria.

SURROUNDED BY MOUNTAINS
This is where we go to develop new and delicious products in collaboration with the skilled and experienced manufacturers of our vegan treats – and you could hardly find a more inspiring location for this purpose.

Vitosha // Photo: Stolichanin

The city is located in the Sofia Valley surrounded by mountains like Vitosha in the south, Lyulin in the west and the Balkan mountains up north. From its source Rila, the highest mountain in Bulgaria, through the Sofia valley the Iskar river runs past Sofia on the eastern side.

The river is popular for fishing, kayaking, recreation – and two hours south of the city at the Iskar Gorge there are even rafting operations. Sofia is also known for its many mineral and thermal springs.

Rila Mountain // Photo: Borislav krustev

A VIBRANT AND DIVERSE PLACE
According to official numbers (aka Wikipedia) the city population is close to 1.7 million including its metropolitan areas, making Sofia the 13th largest city in the European Union.

Having been an area of human habitation since at least 7000 BC you could safely say that life in Sofia goes way back. Today the city represent vibrant mix of old and new, and everything in between –including the gray concrete slabs of the communist era and several decadent cathedrals. Everything from ancient ruins to modern generic malls.

Sofie life is a vibrant mix of old and new, with popular parks and squares // Photo: John Harald Knutsson

The city has many green parks and open squares, one of them being The Square of Religious Tolerance. A powerful display of Sofia’s religious inclusivity. Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Jews can attend services a mere block or two apart.

The four different places of worship stand within sight of each other – a true sign of how diversity creates beauty – and Sofia is a prime example of this.

Photo: Deensel

NOT THERE FOR FUN, BUT STILL HAD LOTS OF IT
Unfortunately we where not there for mountain hikes, fishing, rafting nor submerging our Scandinavian bodies into soothing thermal waters. There was no time to visit palaces, museums or other tourist attractions – VGAN was there for chocolate developments.

VGAN CEO and main foodie Thomas Kraft is uncompromising when it comes to taste. // Photo: John Harald Knutsson

We did however stay in the city center and got to experience the quaint city streets with bars, restaurants, cafés and clubs. The city life in Sofia is worth a trip in itself. Quality cocktails, craft beer, specialty coffee, local Bulgarian wine and the food … the food is really something else.

The variety of bars and cafés are dizzying, and by a random coincident we ended up at Mc Carthys, an Irish pub on the second floor of Alabin street. We can not rate or recommend this place with any credibility, but the friendliness of the clientele and the hospitality of the staff was world class – we instantly made new and interesting friends.

SOUL KITCHEN – A VEGAN GOURMET EXPERIENCE
For vegan travelers there is no excuse for missing out on the fantastic restaurant Soul Kitchen. Established by a group of friends with a vision, a love of food and enthusiasm for ingredients.

Soul Kitchen was all manners of impressive // Photo: John Harald Knutsson

The place is relaxed and laidback, but there is no compromises made on the quality and attention to details. The food was amazing, and the Bulgarian wine pairings spot on throughout the meal.

CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE

DABOV SPECIALTY COFFEE AT LAIKA
For most chocolate enthusiasts the leap to coffee is short, and being a coffee enthusiast visiting Sofia you should look for the Dabov brand. Founded by Jordan Dabov in 2008 it has developed into the leading brand in specialty coffee in Bulgaria with global ambitions.

They now do barista courses, distribute coffee equipment and Jordan Dabov has been the only Bulgarian juror in Cup Of Excellence, the international competition for the best coffees in the world. We brought some Dabov coffee back to Norway, more on this in a later posting.

CHECK OUT DABOV

Dabov in the woods of Norway // Photo: John Harald Knutsson

LAIKA – A SWEETSPOT IN SOFIA
We tried the Dabov-coffee at the shop Laika where they also sell VGAN chocolate, and recommend it strongly. The V60 pour over hit the sweetspot at another spot worth dropping by if in Sofia.

CHECK OUT LAIKA

Try the V60 at Laika, you won´t regret it // Photo: John Harald Knutsson

WE WILL BE BACK FOR MORE
So this is a highly lacking article about Sofia, written by visitors who if anything felt like we where missing out on a potentially amazing experience. Sitting through hours and days for chocolate tasting while Sofia-life is happening outside is both fun and frustrating.

Krassimir Benjamin has a holistic approach to both life and chocolate. // Photo: John Harald Knutsson

Its an amazing experience working with skilled people developing what we believe are among the best vegan … no, among the best chocolates in the world, and we are truly looking forward to presenting the results of our efforts in the not too distant future. But seeing this beautiful city with the mountainous backdrop really left us wanting to get out and experience more of it.

We will be back for more.

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