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Fast asleep in the forests of the Rhodope mountains, this former miners' town, like a lot of other near-forgotten places in Bulgaria, is hoping for an EU financial kiss to waken from its slumber and start pulling in the tourists.
'We've got ancient Thracian sanctuaries, mineral water springs, a mine that's been turned into a crystal museum and even an ostrich farm,' Zlatograd's deputy mayor Elvira Ugurlieva told AFP.
In a bid to revitalise the area, town authorities have applied for cash from the European rural development fund.
In communist times, the local Gorubso mine complex, a producer of non-ferrous metals, was the biggest employer in the region. But most of the mines have since been closed.
Still visible on the mine's now deserted buildings are signs with communist-era slogans, such as the one in the town of Rudozem: 'This plant is a product of Bulgarian-Soviet friendship.'
The miners are pinning their hopes on tourism as a new source of income.
'Tourists are discovering our region where the mountains are beautiful and nature has been unspoiled by industry,' said Pencho Rusinov, a miner-turned-cafe-owner.
'A new crossing point (on the Bulgarian-Greek border) is being opened which will hopefully bring in lots of Greek tourists,' he says.
In fact, it was Zlatograd's proximity to the border with Greece that made it such an isolated place during communism, when access was restricted so as to prevent illegal crossings.
Nowadays, local authorities are considering turning the barbed-wire fence that divided the one-time Cold War enemies of Bulgaria and Greece into a tourist attraction.
But they fear bad roads could hamper tourism's progress.
'These winding and potholed roads will put the brakes on any influx of tourists,' says Zarko Durev, a former mining engineer who now runs a small hotel in Rudozem.
The head of Bulgaria's State Tourism Agency, Anelia Krushkova, agrees.
'Bulgaria's cultural and natural heritage is precious, but inaccessible,' she said.
Now, following EU accession, 'it's up to the municipal authorities to take the initiative and make their tourist sites better known,' Krushkova said.
A number of towns in Bulgaria's world-famous Rose Valley at the foot of the Balkan mountains have already started to improve infrastructure.
And summer festivals celebrating the Damascus rose, whose precious oil is used to make some of the world's leading perfumes, have increased in number throughout the valley.
This region, in central Bulgaria, is also called the Valley of the Thracian Kings thanks to the large number of ancient burial sites scattered around. The Thracians inhabited the area that is now present-day Bulgaria between 4000 BC and 300 AD.
The sites were hardly accessible at all to tourists until just a few years ago. But that has now improved thanks to infrastructure improvements paid for by the European pre-accession programme PHARE.
EU cash could also be used to restore tourist sites and promote tourism. But corruption concerns have recently prompted the European Commission to freeze payments to some Bulgarian beneficiaries of its pre-accession programmes.
Otherwise, Bulgaria has plenty to show tourists.
The small Balkan state situated on the crossroads between Europe and Asia is home to some 45,000 historic monuments, a number exceeded only by Greece and Italy, Krushkova said.
Nine Bulgarian culture and nature sites feature on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Bulgaria also has some 160 monasteries. And two of Europe's oldest, but still working churches, St. George and St. Sophia, are to be found in Sofia.
In 2007, tourism revenues from the country's Black sea and mountain resorts amounted to 2.3 billion euros (3.6 billion dollars), equivalent to 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
by Arab Times
Bulgaria » Smolyan News
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