A country often described to lie at the crossroads linking the East and West, Bulgaria was the centre of Slavic Europe during much of the Middle Ages, exerting considerable literary and cultural influence over the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world by means of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. Bulgaria is also the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet, the second most widely used alphabet in the world, which was developed in these two schools in the tenth century. Bulgaria is well-known for its rich folklore, distinctive traditional music, rituals and tales, but the country's contribution to humanity also continued in the nineteenth and twentieth century, when individuals such as John Atanasoff - born in USA with Bulgarian origin, regarded as the father of the digital computer, a number of noted opera singers (Nicolai Ghiaurov, Boris Christoff, Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova) and successful artists (Christo Javacheff, Pascin, Vladimir Dimitrov) popularized the culture of Bulgaria abroad.
In winter, Samokov, Borovets, Bansko and Pamporovo are popular ski resorts. There are summer resorts on the Black Sea at Sozopol, Nessebur, Golden Sands, Sunny Beach, Sveti Vlas, Albena, St. St. Constantine & Helena and many others. Spa resorts such as Bankya, Hisarya, Sandanski, Velingrad, Varshets and many others are popular all over the year. Bulgaria is becoming an attractive destination because of the quality of the resorts and prices below those found in Western Europe.
Bulgaria has enjoyed a substantial growth in income from international tourism over the past decade. Beach resorts are popular with tourists from Germany, Russia, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. The ski resorts are a favourite destination for British and Irish tourists.
Bulgaria has over 2.7 million visitors yearly and the number is increasing. The tourism in Bulgaria is one of the major helping improving tools for Bulgaria's economy and growing GDP of 6%-6.5% every year.
National and natural parks
Bulgaria has 3 national parks, 10 natural parks, 90 reserves, 429 reservation areas and 350 natural landmarks. The best known and most popular of these are listed below. In the European Union, Bulgaria is at second place (after Spain) by the number of the UNESCO Biosphere reserves, 16. The first nature reserve in the country was Silkosia in the Strandzha mountain, declared in 1931; followed by Parangalitsa, Rila in 1933.
As of 2007 the economy of Bulgaria is growing at a steady pace of above 5% a year with budget deficits and shaky inflation. Future prospects are tied to the country's increasingly important integration with the European Union member states. The country is expected to join the Eurozone between 2010 and 2012.