Why Bulgaria is perfect for sands-on experience

JUST like that TV advert for door stain, the resorts of Golden Sands and Sunny Beach do what they say on the tin.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 13th September 2007, 3:38 pm
Updated Friday, 14th September 2007, 10:50 am

Except where their names might conjure images of tranquil bays and hours of solitude, the reality is two of the liveliest holiday resorts available to us fun-seeking Brits.

It's about the only sense of the old Soviet directness. The Bulgarians have long since adjusted to the highs and lows of capitalism.

The highs are available at a myriad of clubs and bars in each resort where hedonism and warm nights combine to enable these sunspots to challenge their more famous rivals for nocturnal thrills.

The lows come in the form of the prices; where many other highly popular tourist locations jack up the cost of drinks and grub, these destinations make going out easier on your wallet, if not your head the morning after.

Take Sunny Beach, for example. The buzz of the constant parade of tourists along the promenade drifts up to the balcony of the Globus Hotel to compete with the sound of a dozen hotel cover acts.

So the soundtrack begins for a night that can be as calm or as lively as you like. There is a family atmosphere, but when the sun drops from view the emphasis seems be much on the youthful and carefree.

And the impact of them and the British in particular on this part of the world is indelible be it the names and nature of the bars, clearly aimed at the influx of young thrill-seekers soaking up the Black Sea resort's budget booze. Or the plethora of estate agencies enticing sun-burned Brits to "live the dream" of owning one of the thousands of apartments pushing up everywhere towards the blue sky.

Sunny Beach has grown from around 20,000 beds to 150,000-plus in a generation, stretching along the coast to almost join a neighbouring village one side and the old town of Nessebur around the other stretch of bay.

It is here you’ll find an example of the real Bulgaria with clothes drying on balconies of old wooden homes, old men chatting in squares or divining the warm Black Sea waters with their fishing rods.

Close by a batch of fish restaurants line part of the bay to give uncluttered views of the setting sun as huddled groups wait for bait to be taken.

Sozopol is another easy excursion, via a peaceful trip to see the turtles on the Ropotamo River.

This town of cobbled streets and quaint cottages is 40 minutes drive from the resort but, in places, 100 years the other side of the sometimes crass aspirations of its more tourism-driven neighbours, surely defined by the eye-popping contortionist at the Hanska Shatra cabaret high above Sunny Beach.

Bulgaria has, of course, had it’s own influence on the outside world aside from providing cheap skilled labour.

It was in this country of just 8m that Spartacus was born to later lead a slave uprising, encapsulated in the film starring Kirk Douglas. It was also where two brothers devised the cyrillic alphabet, later adopted by the Russians.

But that is only part of the story. A couple of hours drive away one of the many hotels fronting Golden Sands is the large but classy Kempinski Hotel, Grand Hermitage, a fresh-looking five star minutes and just far enough away from the apparent peak season bedlam of this party strip.

Offering respite as well as intriguing fusion food is its Apple Green restaurant, which pulls off some daring dishes but achieves the biggest surprise with its charlotte aubergine and tomato ice cream.

They also serve a cocktail here named Fallen Angel - appropriate considering some of the scenes just down the road.

Mixing up other ingredients is the Ministry Of Cocktails which jostles with dozens of other bars and a newly opened restaurant apparently perched on half of the Eiffel Tower.

Again the beaches are sandy, groomed and well punctuated with parasols and loungers and there are plenty of shops and booths to relieve you of yet more of your hard-earned Lev. If you need to escape the masses, however, Cape Kalinkra takes you back to a time before holidaymakers flooded into this former Soviet republic.

While the swallow-ridden cave yields some of the secrets of the fort ruins the peninsula is famous for, the walk past those remnants offers dramatic sea views to make this a worthwhile day out without the history. The cafe there offers some of the most rewarding panoramics in the region.

Elsewhere you will find places serving a cocktail called Cloud. A mix of the national spirit mustique and another drink; locals say the first sip puts your head in the clouds and by the time you get to the third you can speak Bulgarian. A lot more palatable is the local wine. Once fairly widely available in the UK it is now hard to get hold of at home so a visit here offers the chance to try indigenous grape varieties that may be unfamiliar, such as Rubin and Melnik - often for as little as 2.50 a bottle.

You could do worse than cart a few home via Varna, a sizable city a short drive from the resort and location for your airport home.