PETIA WHITMORE, CONNECTING THE US AND BULGARIA

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Founder and "chief narrating officer" of Flying Raconteur, a travel resource and customised travel planning service for Bulgaria, is how Petia Whitmore describes herself. She was born and raised in Bulgaria, and has lived and worked in the United States for 17 years.

Most recently, she was the dean of graduate admissions at Babson College, where she frequently canvassed the globe in search of the next best and brightest candidates for the Babson MBA. "Wanderlust is my number one vice, liberally cultivated and indulged," Petia says. During a recent visit back to Bulgaria, she identified an unexplored opportunity to introduce the culture, history, nature, wine and food of her homeland to fellow US and world travelers. In 2017, she leveraged her entrepreneurial training as a Babson MBA to launch Flying Raconteur. Her goal is to help independent travelers discover Bulgaria and have a memorable, highly personalized travel experience. While Petia firmly believes that travel should incorporate a level of serendipity and chance, she also knows that with the right planning approach one can have a richer trip.

My travel venture, Flying Raconteur, is a custom travel planning service for independent travelers, interested in visiting Bulgaria. There are two components to what I do. First, I publish useful, relevant, carefully curated and researched content that can help travelers plan a better trip. The content is free and available on my web site. I also offer a paid travel planning service that includes highly customized advice. My recommendations are tailored to the traveler's preferences – interests, comfort level, preferred pace of travel. Both are based on my extensive knowledge of the country, personal research and wonderful network of friends and collaborators who help me source and arrange truly unique experiences. Also important is that I have business training so all I do is delivered with the highest standards for professionalism and customer service.

Suppose I am an American who's never been to Bulgaria. Convince me in five sentences that I should go.

Would you like to be able to take part in an early morning ritual of picking precious rose petals in the world-famous Valley of the Roses? Then spend time Thracian tomb hopping, going back to the 4th century BC, taking in exquisite Thracian frescoes and artifacts? Follow up by hiking to a UFO-resembling Soviet-era relic, perched on a breathtaking mountain peak, whose picture has been featured in every major world publication? End the day watching a stunning sunset over a beautiful lake while you dine on delicious locally grown food and drink wine from indigenous grapes? That’s just one day in one town in Bulgaria – imagine what two weeks could be like…

Once in Bulgaria, what should I be careful about and what is definitely a no-no?

Frankly, I can’t think of any particular caution that is unique to Bulgaria. As with any other destination, exercising common sense is advised – don’t venture into remote areas alone at night, keep your valuables safe. Perhaps the only advice that is country-specific is to be careful if you choose to drive – Bulgarian drivers can be quite aggressive in both speed and attitude on the road.

Suppose I approach you as a customer. What can you do for me?

First, I will listen to your needs and learn what kind of journey you dream about. Next, I will work with you to make that dream happen. I can recommend places to explore, stay, eat, and hike that are outside the popular tourist range and I have vetted most of them personally. Once you are in Bulgaria, I can serve as your on-the-ground virtual helper through my On Demand Consultation. As a result, you will have a highly customized, well researched and organized itinerary with sights to visit, places to stay, food to enjoy, and unique experiences to discover that will take the stress or uncertainty out of the process.

And I can source very personalized experiences for you. Interested in a private cooking session where a local grandma will show you how to make and enjoy delicious bread, cooked under a cover of live embers? Or discovering a wine that only grows in one region in the world and meeting the wine maker? Through my knowledge and my large personal and professional network in Bulgaria, I can discover and arrange experiences you won't be able to find on your own or through an organized tour.

Your top three favourite locations in Bulgaria? Your top three favourite locations in the United States?

In Bulgaria, I am very partial to Melnik and the region. It has a combination of scenery, sights and wines that is really hard to beat. I am also extremely fond of Plovdiv. It is so rich of history and culture, and so beautiful. I could spend weeks at a time there. It’s perfect for slow, indulgent travel. The Rhodope Mountains are also a definite top three. The views are magnificent and some of the little villages are so untouched by time in the best possible sense. I recently spent time in the village of Dolen and had a unique opportunity to be shown around by a local woman who was such a great guide – her knowledge, combined with her love for the region, made for an unforgettable experience.

In the US, I’m very lucky to live very near one of my favorite cities – Boston. It’s a very livable place, easy to explore and easy to love. I also have a very soft spot for San Francisco. Its beauty and culture are very distinct and so enriching. And I simply love the island of Nantucket. I must have been a whaler in a previous life because that place spoke to my heart in an incomparable way from the very first time I set foot there in 2001. The landscape and the ocean are so raw and powerful. I can never get enough.

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