Yonka Bakardzhieva-Agalova – My Story Travel (Bulgaria)

Yonka Bakardzhieva-Agalova, My Story Travel

Founded by the Creative Tourism Network®, the Creative Tourism Awards select every year the initiatives, companies, and destinations worldwide that are betting on creative tourism to create a virtuous circle around their authentic heritage, creativity, and human values.
My Story Travel (Bulgaria), was rewarded among hundreds of proposals, as BestCreativeTravelAgency2019, for the originality and the authenticity of the experiences they design.
We have met Yonka Bakardzhieva-Agalova, owner of My Story Travel, to know further about this creative travel agency!

The creative content in our products is in the meetings with the local people, the visits of workshops and factories of rose oil, yogurt and cheese, wine cellars, dance classes, local gastronomy, chocolate workshop, carpet workshop, visits to local markets, etc.

– How would you introduce your project? 

In the workshop of our agency My Story travel we design local and meaningful trips and experiences. Starting with Bulgaria, we have then expanded and today we also work on products in the Balkans like Macedonia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc. We took our first steps in 2003 in collaboration with a travel agency in Barcelona (Agama – travel workshop), the professional Guru who was guiding me is one of the great masters in the field of tourism, and his name is Francesc Nolla. Today, I can say that I was taught to fly in Barcelona. When you have a perfectionist looking at the details alongside your ideas, enthusiasm and creativity with a strong Balkan accent and when you rely on a product that nobody knows about – you get unique results with your own creative design line.

In 2003 Bulgaria was a totally unknown destination, Tierra Incognita. People only knew Hristo Stoicov and nobody was offering trips to Bulgaria. For us, that was a challenge and a great opportunity, a door we had to open. From this door, with time, came My Story Travel – the local agency specialized in trips and charming experiences in the Balkans.

Our products are based on authentic and very local experiences, meetings with interesting people, places that are not in tourist guides, but bring you closer to a different world, show you what is popular and known in another way… We also try to work within the framework of sustainable tourism.

Our travelers are always surprised and that’s what I like very much – they are surprised by how well we eat here, by the Thracian civilization, the links with the Egyptians. They do not know that Bulgaria is the country of the roses, the world leader in the production of rose oil, that it has the most natural yogurt in the world, is one of the most energetic places on the planet (compared to India, Nepal and Tibet).  They do not know that here is the origin of the Cathars, that it is the land of Orpheus and Spartacus, neither that it has an impressive cultural heritage and spectacular nature… Well, with these resources we create our products.

Today it is very difficult to surprise the traveler and the objective for us is to always offer trips that surprise, that are deep in their way and that awaken the senses. That’s why most of the trips we offer are thematic and author’s trips. We do art residencies, business trips and retreats, we organize talks, we collaborate with schools and universities, etc.

– What does your creative tourism offer consist of?

The concept, the product design is creative. We always create a content base with local stories – every person we meet, every site, every facade, every dish tell stories and they are not the stories told in the books… They are life stories, so a trip for us is like a “reality”. The creative content in our products is in the meetings with the local people, the visits of workshops and factories of rose oil, yogurt and cheese, wine cellars, dance classeslocal gastronomy, chocolate workshop, carpet workshop, visits to local markets, etc. According to the profile of our travelers and groups we look for the creative touch and local experiences.

– How do you involve the local communities?

In each place we have our local protagonists and we leave ourselves in their hands. For example, in the Rhodopes mountains we visited a very feminine workshop of ladies who make some of the best kilims and carpets in the world. It is from this workshop that Queen Elizabeth and all the Royal family, including the nobility of London, order their carpets and kilims. It is something extraordinary and super interesting that is not commonly known… And it is not touristic at all. It is a WAW that surprises and leaves you speechless… We met singing grandmotherschocolate and wine producers, we entered yogurt and cheese workshops and then we prepared our own yogurt. We went in the rose fields and we discovered with local experts the world of the Bulgarian rose, we entered distilleries where the rose oil was produced… We met paintersphotographersfriendly neighbors who invited us into their own garden and we tasted their giant tomato and rakia (Bulgarian liqueur). Then we appreciated it by toasting and we repeated until sunset… Sometimes, we met a nun who opened the doors of a totally different world for us or we talked to a priest of the neighborhood church who explained the Orthodox world to us.

We organise the dance classes with local groups, not in restaurants or tourist centres – where they put the flag of your country on the table. We go to villages, to neighborhood centres where local people take their dance classes 2 or 3 times a week instead of going to a gym for example. The Bulgarians and, in general, people from all over the Balkan area dance and sing a lot. The workshops and classes we do are a very local experience and give us very special encounters. Clearly, not everyone wants to have a workshop, but the creative thread and the authentic line in the design of a trip is something important and we always manage to get it.

– What makes your project unique?

We believe that a creative product is always unique. It’s like the story of a love that has no equal. In our workshop we design trips, experiences and events in a personalized way and we always find the most appropriate and original line to implement the creative detail. Finding the local protagonists, having the balance between discovering, creating, enjoying and relaxing on a trip always give travelers a special meaning. This meaning is the unique value that each product consists of and that we always seek.

In guided tours, in fact, the expert guide is the key. The best trips are with good expert-guides and author travels. The guide manages encounters with other interesting people and teaches the signs that are beyond the obvious.

We have another project that can define us as original. In Bulgaria you will find some of the most energetic places on the planet, along with Machu Pichu, Easter Island, Stonehenge, the Bosnian pyramids, etc. For us this is a great challenge and an incredible resource as people still do not know much and do not know us. We create very special experiences for different centers and schools of yoga, Mindfull products or personal growth. We connect their activities with energetic places like the Lakes of Rila, Belintash, Perpericon, stories of the sites and creative experiences. For example, we have women’s groups that have on a trip: yoga classes, traditional dance classes, gastronomy classes and have theme talks with locals. We cross the Mindfull with creative tourism and cultural content.  The result and the meaning are unique.

– Which are your target markets?

About 50 % are tailor-made groups. We design their trips or experiences according to the travelers’ profiles.  Most of our travelers are from Spain, as we have started with this target, but we already have collaborators from all over the world.  We collaborate with centres, travel agencies, incentive travel companies, universities, etc.  We design many trips or thematic events so we have very specific targets. This way we prepare trips for photographers, women’s trips, writing residences, industrial trips, personal growth trips, archaeology trips, etc.

– What’s your definition of creative tourism?

Creative experiences are undoubtedly the best way to connect with the local community and understand the cultural context, their habits and values. Creative tourism is a dimension that makes possible the synergy between art and traditions, local population and travelers. Traveling in this way gives you the advantage of learning by having a unique experience and feeling like a local, not a tourist. Be creative and live like a local is the essence of these products. Also acting in the framework of sustainable tourism, in this way we support the local economy and that is something fundamental.

More information: mystory-travel.com

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