21 Jan 2020

Surprising Bulgaria – Part 4: Beautiful Beaches

January 21, 2020


It’s good to know that the Black Sea Coast was named not after the sea, the beach or the shore, but in ancient times, after the dangers of crossing the waters. Nowadays, the vast majority of visitors to Bulgaria seek it out because it has long sandy beaches, almost all of which are gently sloping, and therefore which hold a huge appeal to families, couples, and anyone who just wants the simple pleasures of a day in the sun. The water is azure blue, clean and sparkling.

Here are eight examples of great beaches on the coast. There are all types from remote and quiet (Sinemorets) to lively and bustling (Sunny Beach). Whilst many have lifeguards, some don’t and at all times, Balkan Holidays asks guests to respect the possible dangers of swimming in the sea.

Most beaches offer parasols and sunbeds to rent, and a ‘free’ zone, where you can just drop your towel. Many have beach cafés and bars on hand. Whilst some beaches are well-equipped and busy, there are wild beaches. Topless and nudist sunbathing is often permitted and it is most popular in the quieter more remote beaches.

Whilst most beaches mentioned here are easily reached from our hotels, one or two will require a bus trip or a hire car to get to. Please ask at time of booking for further information. In terms of average temperature, the Bulgarian coast bathes in hot and sunny mid-twenties to mid-thirties all summer, and for those who are curious, yes, snow does fall some winters. It’s a climate of two halves.

1. Sinemorets

Mention Bulgarian beaches to anyone in the know and Sinemorets always come up. Try two beaches, the main one, Butamyata Beach or the quieter Veleka Beach. You’ll need a hire car to reach here.  It’s in the far south east of the country and comprises a small village and seaside resort. Here is where the River Veleka flows into the sea and the pace of life is slow and gentle, a world away from Sunny Beach and Albena. In the background, the mountains of the Strandzha Nature Park provide the backdrop. Whilst here, try a tour by boat and be sure to find fish, birds and turtles, many not found elsewhere.
 


2. Pomorie

This beach is 18 kilometres north east of Bourgas and there is a good range of accommodation to choose from with Balkan Holidays. The resort of Pomorie with its wind it is ideal for windsurfing and paragliding. What’s more, the healing qualities of the mud here make it popular. The mud is extracted during the production of salt in Pomorie Lake. The beach itself is 5 kilometres long.
 


3. Sunny Beach

The biggest, best-known and most popular beach in Bulgaria, this has a magical appeal. It’s 8 kilometres in length, sandy with azure blue waters. There is so much to see and do here, and it boasts a Blue Flag beach, which means it achieves high standards in water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety. In Sunny Beach there’s jet-skiing and paragliding to enjoy. Nearby there’s an excellent choice of Water Parks for a day away from the beach. The beach shelves gently into the sea making it safe for everyone. (But please heed all safety advice).
 

4. Albena

Head north to Albena for a casual feel, which is popular with our younger and/or fun-loving guests. The beach is 4 kilometres long and 100 metres wide. It’s stunning, and shallow up to 150 metres from the shore. Albena celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, being opened in 1969 and was named after the beautiful heroine from the play of the same name, written by Bulgarian playwright and author, Yordan Yovkov. There is plenty to do with all manner of water sports on offer here. Not to be missed.
 

5. Primorsko

Here the beach is long, attractive and sheltered and therefore ideal for swimming and boating. Take a bus or hire a car to reach Primorsko (which means ‘by the sea’). The water is shallow at low tide, so it’s perfect for families.
 

6. Sozopol

There are two superb beaches in our popular spot of Sozopol. Balkan Holidays has plenty of accommodation choices here, and there’s lots of other things to do if being on a beach for too long is not a holiday!  The two choices are Harmanite Beach, which is wide and clean and Town Beach with good facilities. A short distance away there is Kavatsite Beach 3 kilometres south of Sozopol. Whilst it can get busy, it has beautiful views out to sea.
 

7. St Konstantin

This is a small beach resort 9 kilometres north east of Varna. It’s less commercial so good for quieter break. The resort of St Konstantin is full of oak, beech and pine trees and small sheltered sandy beaches, with lots of rocky coves and inlets ideal for exploring and sunbathing.
 

8. Golden Sands

The second biggest beach in Bulgaria after Sunny Beach. In Golden Sands there’s 4 kilometres of sandy beach with plenty of hotels within walking distance of the beach. It’s just 18 kilometres north of Varna, so fly direct here with Balkan Holidays’ charters to minimise stress and maximise convenience.
 


Whatever you choose, you can rely on our local knowledge to help you find the right beach for you. Balkan Holidays currently has savings of up to £240 per couple.

13 Jan 2020

Surprising Bulgaria – Part 3: Festivals & Fun

January 13, 2020


When it comes to Bulgaria the first thing many people think of is its stretches of beautiful golden beaches, sparkling lakes and lush mountains sweeping the countryside. But if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find there’s even more to this special country than first meets the eye.

During the summer months the resorts, cities and towns of Bulgaria come alive with a host of festivals and events to suit almost every type of visitor. In this article we’ll introduce you to some of the most popular summer events across Bulgaria and some of our personal favourites!

Bourgas Sand Sculpture Festival:
The thought of memorable moments from our childhood will always bring a smile to our faces and it’s here at the Bourgas Sand Sculpture Festival where visitors are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in another world where time stops and everything is carefree, joyful and spontaneous.
 


Having welcomed its first visitors back in 2008, the festival has grown into a firm favourite amongst visitors to Bulgaria who pay just 3.5 Leva (approx. £1.50) for a day ticket during July and August each year to explore and admire the talents of over 200 sculptures from across the world. Free entry is available for children under 7 years old making the festival a must for families.

Cacao Beach, Sunny Beach:
For anyone who loves a good party, Cacao Beach is a must when visiting Sunny Beach resort. Having played host to some of the world’s top DJ’s over the years such as Basshunter, Tiësto, Carl Cox and Adam Beyer the night comes alive with thumping tunes and beats that will keep you on your toes until the early hours of the morning.
 


Located on the beach with views across the bay, Cacao Beach offers amazing music, tasty cocktails and food, all at great value non-euro prices.

International Jazz Festival Bansko:
As the biggest summer musical event in Bulgaria, the Bansko International Jazz Festival is hugely popular. Ever since its foundation in 1998, the quaint old town of Bansko becomes a meeting place for emblematic figures of today’s music world. The concerts are free to the public and held every year from August 8th to 13th.
 


Traditionally, the programme features styles and groups representing almost all jazz trends. The evening concerts draw huge crowds to the open-air stage on Nikola Vaptsarov Square in downtown Bansko. Throughout the festival week jazz is also played during the day and late at night on various smaller stages in the large resort bars and restaurants.

The Sozopol Apollonia Festival:
The Apollonia Arts Festival is a major Bulgarian event held every year at the end of the summer in the seaside city of Sozopol. Lasting for 10 days, visitors enjoy over 70 events including plays, open-air concerts, chamber music, jazz concerts, and films.
The art gallery in Sozopol’s Old Town organizes exhibits and literary evenings as part of the festival. There are also master classes in various disciplines – singing, piano, jazz improvisation, and acting. There are activities and performances for children at all of the events.
 


Usually held from late August into early September, ticket prices cost 20-25 Leva (approx. £8 - £10).

Check back next week for Week 4 of Surprising Bulgaria – all about the beaches. Savings of up to £240 per couple are available online now.

3 Jan 2020

Surprising Bulgaria - Part 2: Bulgarian Food & Drink Specialities

January 03, 2020

Great food and drink are integral to a memorable holiday. Many visitors to Bulgaria are surprised by the high quality of ingredients in dishes in Bulgaria, and the sheer variety on offer. Here is our list of unmissable choices to help any holiday here start on a high.
 
Shopska Salad

Widely available, this is no ordinary salad. On offer in restaurants and cafés such as on the open-air veranda at the Hotel Venus, a little gem in the middle of Sunny Beach, this salad can be eaten either as starter or a light main course. It’s made of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, covered with slivers of salty white cheese called Sirene, or feta. The key is the freshness of the ingredients, and the large chunks of the moist vegetables. Lots of cheese on top is vital to this tasty dish. By the way, the name comes from the Shopluk region and the colours of the salad are said to represent the white, green and red of the Bulgarian flag. 




Bean Soup (Bob Chorba)
Bean Soup is a hearty traditional Balkan soup delicately flavoured with dzhodzhen (spearmint). This is a simple but filling soup. Its ingredients include beans, onions, tomatoes, carrots and sweet peppers.  There is a wide variety of beans available in Bulgaria, and the most popular for this soup are white beans or kidney beans. A variant is Green Bean Soup, which is prepared with runner beans, marrows and courgettes. Another variant for meat-lovers is to add pieces of pork meat, spiced with crushed chilli peppers.

Kapama
Kapama comes from the area around Bansko, in the mountains, and comprises meat, rice and sauerkraut simmered and served in a clay pot. The meat includes pork, chicken and veal. Spices are key, including pepper, paprika and bay leaves. On top of all the layers, goes a lid of dough!  Once all the elements are assembled, the pot needs a long time in the oven, up to five hours. Often served at Christmas and New Year, it’s wonderful year-round. It’s meaty, hearty and filling.

Banitsa
Banitsa is incredibly indulgent and moreish. You have been warned!  The basic ingredients are filo pastry, crumbled cheese and eggs. Banitsa can in fact be sweet or savoury, both delicious, and eaten hot or cold. Many in Bulgaria eat it for breakfast, but of course, it’s delicious at any time of the day and moreish.  Savoury versions could include spinach or pumpkin flavours.




Coffee
Bulgarians love coffee, and drink it morning, noon and night at kiosks, cafés and bars across the country. Good espresso coffee is available everywhere.




Rakia
This is the unmissable national spirit and is a clear and potent kind of brandy. There are many brands available. Traditionally distilled from plums, today Rakia is often made from grapes.  It’s served with ice in restaurants and bars. The alcohol content is normally around 40%. Many say it’s best sipped slowly with Shopska Salad at the beginning of a meal. But it can be drunk either as an aperitif or a digestif with the gloopier varieties working well at the end of a meal.




Wine
The production of wine in Bulgaria is an ancient tradition dating back to the 6th century BC. Bulgaria today is among the world’s most prolific wine-producing nations. There are five recognised wine-growing regions, producing decent red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and whites include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The most important region is The Thracian Valley centred on Plovdiv. The climate plays a big part in the success of wine production here, with hot summers and icy winters. In total there are around 300 wineries in Bulgaria and demand shows no sign of slowing down.




Beer
Beer, translated  ‘bira’ in Bulgarian is very popular and served everywhere. The beer brands brewed in Bulgaria have a superb quality and an excellent taste. The leading nationwide brands are Zagorka, Kamenitsa and Astika.
Regional beers include Shumensko and Pirinsko.
Since 2010 there has been a rise in craft beers in the country. Now, beer lovers have a much bigger choice and the number of micro-breweries is on the rise. Quirky choices can even be found, with experimental beers emerging, featuring radish, plum or pumpkin flavours. Look out for so-called ‘gypsy brewers’ who do not own a brewery but brand beer and create recipes, relying on other companies’ breweries.

7 nights’ foodie retreat, from £495 per person, at the 4* Sol Luna Bay Resort, Obzor, Bulgaria, departing 17th May 2020, and including return flights from Cardiff, transfers and 7 nights’ All-Inclusive accommodation, based on 2-sharing.

Check back next week for Week 3 of Surprising Bulgaria – all about Festivals and Fun.

Savings of up to £200 per couple are available online now.

19 Dec 2019

Surprising Bulgaria - Part 1: Affordable Luxury

December 19, 2019

The Balkans are firmly on everyone’s wish list for travel. An area of striking natural beauty, many historic sites and cultural events, together with welcoming local people make that inevitable. For 2020, Balkan Holidays, the award-winning specialist holiday company to the region, outline what to discover in Bulgaria, the country found in the sunny South East corner of the Balkans.

But what does everyone already know about Bulgaria? It consistently tops the charts of ‘Best Value’ destinations according to the Post Office, in their worldwide ‘Holiday Costs Barometer’. This compares the costs of frequently-bought items in resorts. In Bulgaria, Sunny Beach was the winning resort, with a bundle of items bought locally being far less expensive than its nearest rival in Portugal. A bottle of local beer is less than £1, a glass of wine just over £1 and a three-course evening meal for two, including a bottle of wine, just under £22. The value for money in Bulgaria is officially unbeatable!

Less well known are the new hotels popping up along the coast. Big name brands such as Melia Hotels International and Barcelo Hotel Group are now available and bring a whole new level of luxury yes, but affordable luxury to Bulgaria. Balkan Holidays’ top-seller the 4* Melia Sunny Beach is the perfect choice for holidaymakers looking for a high-class base for a week or two. It’s situated just steps away from the sandy beach and close to the resort centre. Everyone is on an All-Inclusive basis, so will definitely eat well and feel great here.
 
The 4* Melia Sunny Beach is the perfect choice for holidaymakers looking for a high-class base.
Sol Hotel Nessebar Palace epitomises the term ‘Affordable Luxury’. Prices for 5* comfort start here at £559 per person, to include flights, 7 nights’ accommodation on an All-Inclusive basis. As an added bonus one dinner can be taken in the wonderful Osteria del Golfo Italian restaurant with its delicious choice of authentic dishes. It’s a real treat. The whole complex has a fun and relaxed vibe, with lots to do from pool fun, nightly entertainment and ball games galore.

With Balkan Holidays’ Premier Selection, which is a range of 13 very high-quality hotels, guests receive an extra luggage allowance of 8kgs (total 30kgs), priority transfers (for speedy drop off) and the services of a senior representative. Top choices include 5* Hotel and Residence Barcelo Royal Beach, in the very heart of Sunny Beach. This 5-star complex has one of the largest gardens and pool areas in the resort, as well as the largest shopping mall in the resort within its grounds.

New for 2019 was the 5* Wave Resort in Aheloy south of Sunny Beach. A very high-quality complex, everything is here to ensure you and your family have an extraordinary holiday. For a start, the view from the hotel, across all the pools and down to the beach is spectacular. Foodies will love the choice of restaurants at Wave, from traditional Bulgarian, to Asian and Mediterranean.
 
The 5* Wave Resort in Aheloy offers families a high quality holiday with everything you need.
Up in Golden Sands, the finest choice is the Grifid hotel selection. There are six to choose from, all of which guarantee comfort and style. The chain has excellent green credentials, minimising their impact on the environment. What’s more, wellness is a watchword for Grifid, with outstanding spas and treatments on offer.

In the southern part of the coast, Duni Royal Resort is top notch. Many don’t leave the complex as everything anyone could possibly want in terms of relaxation exists here. After a day at the pool or beach, or taking part in the range of activities, there is entertainment at the main stage, and then plenty of bars from which guests can watch the sun go down.  Many try the local tipple of Rakia: it’s a clear and potent kind of brandy, usually made from grapes, although versions made from plums can also be found. It’s served with ice in restaurants and bars.
 
Many don’t leave Duni Royal Resort as everything anyone could possibly want exists here.
For more information on our range of luxurious holidays, please visit our Premier Selection page. Savings of up to £200 per couple are available online now.

Check back next week for our Food and Drink blog, for more on Rakia and other local tipples and treats.

28 Oct 2019

Top 3 Spooky Attractions In Bulgaria

October 28, 2019
Being so rich in history, it is hardly surprising that Bulgaria is also a hub for hauntings and scary activities. We have put together our top 3 of the spookiest locations in Bulgaria to visit if you're brave enough...Happy Halloween!

Devil's Bridge, Ardino



Devil's Bridge towering shape makes the dark a little unsettling...
 
Constructed between 1515 and 1518, the Devil’s Bridge is the most stunning of the humpbacked bridges that cross the Arda River in Bulgaria. It was built over a demolished Roman bridge and cuts from the steep slopes of the Rhodope Mountains along an ancient road linking the Aegean Sea and the Northern Thracian Valley.


The reason some locals hesitate to cross over at night is rooted in darkness. One story is that the wife of the head builder died while under construction, so her shadow was encased in the structure. Another tale is that the footprint of the devil can be found somewhere on the rocks. While this is all the folklore myth, its towering shape makes the dark a little unsettling.


Devil's Throat Cave, Yagodina



Nothing carried by the river into the Devil's Mouth Cave ever surfaces on the other side...
 
Said to have inspired the tale of Orpheus descending to Hades to find his lover Eurydice, this exquisite geological wonder is undeniably myth-worthy.


The Devil's Throat Cave is a popular tourist attraction in the western Rhodopes of Bulgaria. Enormous and slightly malevolent, the cave descends straight into the depths of the hell, with the river waters plunging 137 ft. into “The Hall of Thunder”. The country's second largest cavern, The Hall of Thunder houses a funnel through which the water flows 500 more feet before it joins the underground river. This underground river presents the most interesting feature of the cave - nothing carried by the river into the Devil's Mouth Cave ever surfaces on the other side.


The walls are carved by men and demons and lead you up and out of the natural entrance into the impressive flora surrounding the diabolic mouth of the cave.


Buzludzha Monument, Buzludzha



At the Buzludzha Monument, it’s hard to shake the sensation that you’re being watched...
 
The peak itself was a battle site between Bulgarians and Turks in 1868. In 1891, a group of socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev met to plan the socialist future of Bulgaria. To celebrate these events, during the height of the Soviet influence, the government decided to erect a monument to commemorate the socialist communism. 


The site was abandoned after the fall of power in 1989 and left open to vandalism. The main entrance was sealed and thus closed to the public. However, there's still a little way to get into the building on the right side. In the Buzludzha Monument, the majority of the artwork was removed or destroyed, but the concrete structure still stands today against the elements.

21 Oct 2019

Skiing Made Easy - Part 6: What happens when I go skiing again?

October 21, 2019

Great decision, you want to return to the slopes! With Balkan there is a loyalty bonus of 5%, so you’re already saving.

Our advice for year two is to lower your expectations of what you learned last time, and take it slowly. Definitely prepare by getting fit (see our previous blog article). It’s a good idea to keep a Trello.com list of ‘stuff you’ll need’ for each day to help you avoid forgetting anything.

Lessons are great at any level, especially if you are unfamiliar with the resort you’ve chosen. You’ll get to know the slopes in safe company and then have spare time to explore your favourites.

You may want to upgrade any clothing that failed you last time, and if you’re getting into the sport, then paying for better equipment. The essentials are always a well-fitting helmet, waterproof goggles and gloves and the best socks and thermals you can afford.

Bear in mind that accidents happen on the first and last day and the first and last run of any day so just go carefully in the morning, and stop before the end of the day to avoid incidents.

It’s a good idea to pack deep heat or similar muscle relaxants to ease you from one day to the next. Also good are tube bandages for knees which need extra support.

In year two you’ll be further up the mountain and try out more lifts. Always carry a piste map with you or have an app with the same on your phone. Never ski alone, in case of incident, however tempting it is to get ahead of a group or take off for some solitary skiing in peace and quiet.

If you’re trying new boots and skis, there’s no problem to get adjustments in resort, and by the end of the week, check your skis in for a wax ahead of your next ski week. You can do this at home, but it’s messy.

16 Oct 2019

Skiing Made Easy - Part 5: Do I need to be fit and how do I prepare?

October 16, 2019
 
Preparation for a ski/board trip is key. This is especially true if you are a beginner, as there will be many falls (on soft snow!), and lots of physical demands, such as carrying skis. So, to get most enjoyment out of your trip, the best advice is to prepare your body for a week on the slopes.

One of the key challenges is the strain put on your thighs as you ski. After a day many will find their legs complaining and shaking, and you can avoid this by being prepared. Core stability is also key, for balance, for a good ski posture, and to get up when you fall.

As with all sport, warming up and stretching at the end of the day are important. Some hotels will have saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs, all of which help to soothe aching muscles to get you prepped for another day.

Many UK gyms have pre-trip get fit courses, which target key areas for skiing/boarding. At a gym an instructor should be able to provide key exercises for you. Many swear by long runs to prepare you for long days on the slopes. Others swear by yoga to prepare, and during the trip to wind down of an evening.

You can find apps online and tips on these websites, skiclub.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk and welove2ski. You can buy equipment which will help you train, such as the Skier’s Edge T5 Big Mountain which mimics the movements of skiing to improve strength, stamina and muscle memory.

Another system to try is the Skia.com Ski Trainer, which is a series of blocks to put under your ski boot (you do try this at home or in your ski accommodation) to enable you to find the optimal position for your weight on your boots. It’s not at all easy, but a lot of fun wobbling around trying to balance.

If nothing else, one tip is to sit against a wall for increasing periods from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and more. Ensure you are sat low, with your bottom in line with your knees, and your back pushed hard into the wall behind you. You may need help to get up in the beginning, but you’ll thank us.


In truth, with all the excess of food and drink often consumed on a ski trip, you will likely not lose any weight, despite skiing all day.

8 Oct 2019

Skiing Made Easy - Part 4: Where should I go?

October 08, 2019

Your choice of ski destinations is vast, from Japan to Scotland, from New Zealand to Lebanon. (According to Wikipedia, a Lebanese engineering student returning from studying in Switzerland brought back the sport of skiing in the early twentieth century.)

Why choose the Balkans?

What Bulgaria offers is unique. It’s a down-to-earth, fun and great value ski/board destination. Many are sceptical, then return year after year, having fallen in love with the place.

It’s the ideal place to learn to ski, everything is easy and straightforward and you are not competing for slope time with many advanced skiers. There is a warm welcome from the teams in resort, and the après is inexpensive and fun. What’s more, there is accommodation for every pocket, from self-catering apartments to 5* luxury properties. Many hotels have indoor pools and gyms, and many are within walking distance of the resort centres.

Bulgaria is straightforward to get to with flights to Sofia, and speedy and simple transfers onward to a choice of three resorts.

Ski/board tuition is in English, with friendly and small groups and instructors. The mountains are not vast, so those who fear getting lost need not fear.

Choose from Bansko, Borovets or Pamporovo.

Bansko is the main resort, and where most skiers and boarders start. It combines breath-taking scenery, excellent ski facilities and warm hospitality. It is a traditional Bulgarian town which adds charm. The base of the lift can be busy in the morning, but it’s worth it.

Borovets can be even cheaper, and is considered the liveliest of the Bulgarian resorts. It combines great skiing/boarding by day with fun après.

Pamporovo has picturesque scenery and less crowded slopes. There’s something for everyone here, with perfect slopes for beginners and intermediates and more challenging steeps.

Slovenia

A beautiful place to ski with stunning landscapes and friendly resorts. It won’t challenge the very advanced, but many fall in love with the warm welcome and the good quality hotels and come back time and time again. Choose to stay in Kranjska Gora, Lake Bled or Lake Bohinj.

Romania

The majestic Southern Carpathian Mountains that cut through Romania have long been popular with international tourists heading for the skillfully prepared slopes.

Romania's most popular and most developed ski resort is Poiana Brasov, which continues to grow in popularity each year due to the continued investment in its infrastructure.

Early bookers will find numerous discounts and reductions. Christmas, New Year and half term book up very quickly. It’s easier to find availability in January and March.