Blagoevgrad, 100km south of Sofia, graces few travel wishlists. But its leaf-lined squares, parks and dinky historic quarter are a nice surprise for travellers passing through. It also makes a convenient base to visit Rila Monastery, or a waystation en route to Melnik.

While many large Bulgarian towns have a harried vibe, Blagoevgrad locals are warm and approachable. An injection of foreign students into its student population of nearly 16,000, attending Neofit Rilski Southwest University and American University of Bulgaria, has shaped Blagoevgrad into a youthful and cosmopolitan place. Bisected by a small river and filled with grand squares, Blagoevgrad cannot brag about any A-list attractions but its minuscule Varosha district has charm and there are plenty of shady green spaces to dally in.