Published: 19:07, 26 July 2017
The purpose-built resort of Sunny Beach, on the southern Black Sea coast, is Bulgaria’s biggest and most popular summer destination. Voted best value European beach resort 2017 in a Post Office Travel Money survey, it’s just 30 minutes from Bourgas Airport.
The many high-rise hotels cater for the thousands of tourists who visit every year to enjoy the sunshine on the long stretch of sandy beach, with Blue Flag swimming, watersports and boat trips. And with just over two Bulgarian Lev to every pound – and in a country with a fairly cheap way of life - your money will go a long way too.
My 18-year-old daughter and I had booked with Balkan Holidays and were staying all-inclusive at the four-star Hotel Dunav, just a few hundred yards from the beach.
As well as comfortable rooms, complete with mini fridge and air-con, Hotel Dunav has a large pool, with a kiddy section, a pool-side bar, a garden with a grassed area that proves useful if you don’t get a lounger by the pool, a small gym and a massage parlour.
And at the Hotel Dunav all-inclusive means good food available in plentiful supply from 8am-8pm and drinks until 10pm. To my delight, every evening this included a Bulgarian option or two.
Meat is a mainstay of Bulgarian cooking, with surrounding regions such as Greece, Turkey and Russia all having an influence on the flavours. They also use yogurt and a delicious creamy feta cheese – sirene.
Over a week’s stay I enjoyed gyuvech, which is baked meat and vegetables, similar to ratatouille, with mushrooms, onions and herbs; kepabcheta – cumin-seasoned meatballs; spicy sausages; moussaka; a creamy pork risotto and my favourite – lamb slow cooked with vegetables and herbs.
Side dishes included cabbage rolls, stuffed vegetables and, something I’ve tried to imitate since coming home, baked aubergine slices in a rich, thick tomato sauce.
Desserts at the hotel included baklava, beautifully iced squares of sponge, yoghurts and fruit. I’d recommend garash – a cake made of ground walnuts with chocolate icing.
And try a glass of Bulgarian red wine or the local spirit, rakia, made from grapes or plums.
After a day sunning yourself there’s plenty to see and do both in the immediate neighbourhood and further afield.
Hotel Dunav is in a quiet location with mostly restaurants and souvenir shops nearby but the nightlife in Sunny Beach isn’t hard to find as it’s mostly spread out along one main boulevard. There are pubs and all-night clubs, as well as evening cruises and party boat trips from the bay.
Buses to many popular destinations stop behind the hotel. The service is cheap and reliable. One of the local waterparks also offers a free shuttle service from the same stops.
A short bus trip away is the ancient town of Nessebar, now Unesco-protected. Spend time wandering around what is essentially a living museum, taking in 3,000 years of history and culture, with cobbled streets, picturesque gabled houses – with stone walls on the ground floor and wood-covered first floors as protection from sea winds - and craft and souvenir shops. Arrive early morning and you’ll feel like you’ve got the place to yourself. In the evening, it’ll be a lot busier, but offer more of a buzz, with locals and tourists alike wandering round the shops or watching the world go by as they enjoy an ice cream, crepe or coffee.
Going on a break with Balkan Holidays means you have a hotel rep who can book you a wide choice of excursions. These include a night of traditional food and entertainment – including the incredible fire dancing. Or head to the mountains by jeep for a Balkan safari which includes a visit to a village home and learning how the Bulgarian brandy rakiya is made.
Caitlin and I opted for a day out which started with a tranquil boat trip through the nature reserve Ropotamo, created around the river of the same name. The reserve includes rocky shores, dense forests, wide sand beaches, dunes, swamps and sea caves. Some of the flora and fauna is endangered.
We we went to Sozopol old town, which dates back to 600BC and runs along a narrow peninsula. We saw the stunning interior of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius – they are credited with creating the Cyrillic alphabet – and the fragments of bones housed there said to be of St John the Baptist. There’s also the tiny Unesco-recognised Church of the Most Holy Mother which was built at the height of the Ottoman oppression of Christianity when to deter worship, churches couldn’t be taller than the height of a man on horseback. So all that’s visible from the street are two low roofs and what looks like a garden gate – the church and a tranquil garden are below street level.
Then it was back to laze at the lovely pool at Hotel Dunav for a last few hours before flying home.
Lisa travelled courtesy of Balkan Holidays www.balkanholidays.co.uk which offers holidays in Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Romania and Macedonia. A seven night break at the four star Hotel Dunav, Sunny Beach, costs from £428 per person based on two sharing including return flights from Gatwick Airport to Bourgas and transfers to and from the resort, departing September 10, 2017, bed & breakfast. For bookings go to www.balkanholidays.co.uk or call Reservations Tel: 0207 543 5555 or contact your local travel agent.
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