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Bulgaria: how to spend your holiday


Date: 27 Jan, 2006
BULGARIA'S Black Sea coast is sunny and sandy, and an inexpensive alternative to Spain and Portugal. Bulgarians are willing hosts, and have made great strides in replacing unprepossessing Soviet-era hotels.
Inland tourism has been slow to develop. Sofia, the capital city, is not in the same league as Prague or Budapest, but has enough interest for a weekend break (see opposite) and the ancient hilltop capital Veliko Turnovo has charm.

Rural Bulgaria was badly affected during the communist years, when the focus was on factory work, and much of the countryside is unkempt and overgrown. Happily, wildlife has flourished, particularly in the mountains, where several monasteries offer charismatic accommodation.
If you're single...

...and holidaying with mates
You need a resort with nightlife, and Golden Sands is the best choice, a 20-minute drive from Varna, Bulgaria’s third largest city. Golden Sands is the older of the two major resorts (Sunny Beach near Burgas is more family-orientated).
Alcohol is cheap and the main drag comes alive after dark with shows and fairground attractions (bungee catapults, bucking bison). The big discos are up in the woods.

...and want lots to do
Kudu Travel runs 12-day trips focusing on birds, flowers and archaeology. The settings range from mountains and upland meadows to steppe and Black Sea wetlands. Group sizes are small, and there are excursions to Roman ruins and frescoed medieval Orthodox monasteries.
...and travelling solo
A family-run hotel in the beautiful village of Gela in the Rodopi mountains, mythical home of Orpheus, is the base for Explore Worldwide’s “Rodopi Rambles”. Explore’s groups — 12 to 16 people — are ideal for singles and the hikes are not arduous. Day trips will be out via old mountain paths to villages and monasteries through terrain inhabited by bears, wolves and eagles.

If you're a couple who...

...like to do very little
Head for the five-star Arbanassi Palace Hotel in a village outside Veliko Turnovo. The hotel has steam baths and a spa, and the village is known for its elegant holiday homes.
...love to do a lot
Guerba’s eight-day “Bulgaria Trails” trips mix hill-walking and cultural visits. Starting from Sofia, the route heads for the Vrata Natural Reserve, and on to the Danube via historic towns.

...enjoy a bit of culture
Andante Travels’ “Thracian Treasures and Mountain Monasteries” examines the great plain between the Balkan and Rhodopian mountains. Guided by Britain’s leading specialist in Bulgarian archaeology, this tour coincides with the Orthodox Easter processions.

If you're a family with...

...under-fives
Nessebar, one of the quieter resorts — ideal for families with younger children. The town dates back 2,500 years. It can get busy with day-trippers, but Nessebar Palace Hotel is at arm’s length, with its own beach. There’s a playground and the pool has a children’s section.
...teenage terrors
They’ll love Sunny Beach, with its discos, waterslides and go-karts. Make your base one of the newly built hotels at the quieter part of the seafront, the Hotel Victoria Palace. Fronted by mini Venetian lagoons, it has leopardskin chairs in the Safari Bar and starlets on the walls in the Hollywood restaurant.

...kids, grandpas, kitchen sink
Elenite is a quality all-inclusive resort with a villagey atmosphere, close to Sunny Beach. There are watersports for teenagers, kids’ clubs, and sufficient refinement for the grandparents. The Hotel Royal Park has a kids’ club and creche run by First Choice, which also organises activity programmes for older children.
Top tips

- Look for a hotel that has been recently built or refurbished. Some of the old ones are awful.

- If you’re renting a car, get a map that shows both Roman and Cyrillic script. Many roadsigns are Cyrillic only.

- Get your dentistry done. It’s cheap, good and available in all resorts.

- Until now the coast has been dominated by package tourism, but this will start to change from March, when British Airways (www.ba.com) starts scheduled flights to Varna.
Source: The Times, Article by Andrew Eames
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