Bulgaria – Varna and Golden Sands September 2017

Mum and I decided to have a break in the sun in September but took a long time to decide where; neither of us were particularly flush and wanted to go somewhere with value for money so we looked outside the box from the normal greek/italian/spanish breaks and decided after much deliberation on Bulgaria.

A quick browse on Skyscanner came up with quite reasonable flights from both Easyjet bul1and from Wizz air.  We picked a combination of going out with Easy Jet from Gatwick to Varna and returning Varna to Luton with Wizz; as we had a lift both ways this was not a problem.  The flights came to £67 each this way.    We decided to forego the busy resort of Sunny Beach which from reviews was a little rowdy and a bit 18-30’s style and go to Golden Sands instead.   From what we read it would still be lively but not as raucous as Sunny Beach.  After some online research we decided to stay at Hotel Erma, a decent looking accommodation which included breakfast and was £149 for the week with sea view.  We also decided to hire a car for the week as the price of transfers nearly equated half the cost of the hire and it gave us more freedom.  This was £110 for the week from Top rent a car.  Excitedly we set off on our adventures from Gatwick on our 16:45 flight.

We arrived at Varna airport at 22.45 local time and headed straight to our car hire desk where we left our card details for the 200 euro deposit and were shown to our car.  We had picked a ford fiesta which was bright red so we wouldn’t easily lose it.  Armed with a sat nav borrowed from a friend we headed into Golden Sands to try and locate our hotel.  Whilst getting into Golden Sands was not so bad actually finding our hotel and then the entrance to it was not easy.  After waking up a sleeping policeman to ask for directions we finally made it there just after midnight and checked in.  There was a free car park which is manned 24/7 so this was reassuring After a quick trip to the supermarket next door we headed to bed for the night.    The next morning we were greeted by this view which was a nice surprise as it was pitch dark when we arrived:

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We headed down to sample the breakfast at Hotel Erma and were pleasantly surprised by the copious amounts of food available for breakfast; there were cooked options, cold meats, fruits, cakes, yogurt, cereal and even gelato!  I can honestly say it was the best breakfast selection I have ever had when travelling abroad.   The weather was around 30 degrees which we were told was unusual for this time of the year and was certainly a little hot!  After breakfast we checked out a bit more of the hotel before heading down to the beach where we stopped for a drink.

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We decided against swimming in the sea and after browsing some shops we stopped at abul16 nice restaurant called Steakhouse Old Oak for a salad and some fried cheese on the way back to our hotel. We were roasting so when we got back we decided to check out the swimming pools at our hotel.  Whilst the main one one by the restaurant was busy we managed to find a smaller and quieter pool on floor 4 of the hotel.    It appeared that as soon as we said we were English we were immediately welcome; the area it appears is frequented more by Germans and Russians which made us something of a novelty; We chilled out for an afternoon at the pool before heading out later that night to check out the local area.   We had a nice meal at another steakhouse called Prima which again was just up the road, checked out the ‘Eiffel Tower’ at night time and then headed back to our hotel for a relatively early night.

The next day after breakfast we decided to head out in the hire car to check out the local town of Varna; not really knowing what we were looking for in the town we thought there would be a central area we could park out and explore but we were wrong! driving in Varna is not a recommended experience; the roads are very narrow in place especially the side roads and car parking very limited.  We managed to find the Grand Shopping Mall we had a look round.

After some googling of car parking we decided to head down  to the Primorski Park which is a large greenland overlooking the sea which spans 8km.  The park is said to be one of the largest of its kind in Europe and also offers facilities such as a planetarium.  We were able to find a carpark very close by and headed in with our packed lunch we had brought into the park. Mum even made a feline friend who wanted to share our lunch!

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 We headed back after lunch to our hotel and took advantage of the nice weather with a nice dip in the pool.  After chilling out a bit we headed down to the ground floor bar where we discovered happy hour which was 2 cocktails for 14BGN (approx £6.50).  Very tasty they were too!

We headed up to the rooftop bar for sunset which was run by the only English person we had come across since we had been there.  The views were nice and we had a game of pool but the hospitality wasn’t so great and we didn’t particularly feel welcome.   We headed on out to the steak house just up the road where we had a lovely meal, headed back to the hotel bar on floor 4 and a little squiffy headed to bed for the night.

The next day we decided it was time for a trip out again in the car so after breakfast and a bit of a chill out we headed to Golden Sands Nature Park and hot springs.  We were a little off season and it was only a 5 minute drive so armed with our picnic we headed off in the hope of seeing the fauna and flora Bulgaria has to offer.  We found a spot which looked like a central meeting spot and a couple of paths leading off.  Unfortunately we must have picked the wrong one but had a nice brief walk in the woods; we never found the hot springs and given mobility difficulties we didn’t venture too far; nevertheless it was a pretty environment and we enjoyed it.

It was however really bloomin hot so we took our picnic back to the hotel and sat on the balcony having it before heading to the pool to cool off! There was a really chilly breeze however and we were so cold we had to give up on the idea of a swim and headed back to our room.  After chilling out we decided to visit ‘happy hour’ again.  Different flavours this time but still very nice

After the excesses of the night before and a few drinkies we were a little tired and therefore we decided to head back to our room for an early night.

The next day feeling more refreshed from an early night we had breakfast and headed out in the car to Balchik.  This was recommended by the hotel receptionist as a must visit place due to the botanical gardens there and the old palace.  They also make wine there which you are able to taste.  It was a 40 minute drive and we managed to park nearby.  There were copious restaurants and souvenir shops and it was obvious  this was a popular tourist destination.  Balchik is a small fishing port and gives a traditional bulgarian experience compared to the neighbouring resorts of Albena and Golden Sands.

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 The Palace construction started in 1924 and was completed in 1936 as a summer residence for the Romanian Queen Maria who died 2 years after its completion.  The garden complex was designed and built in 1926 by Swiss Botanist Jules Jani and made into a botanical garden 29 years later in conjunction with the University of Sofia.  It boasts 2000 plant species from 85 families and over 800 genera.  It was an interesting visit and certainly worth a trip to if you are in the area.  We did some souvenir shopping and grabbed a quick drink before heading back to Golden Sands to our hotel.

That evening Mum wanted to try out the train she had seen which goes down the seafront. We realised there was still plenty of Golden Sands we were yet to see so we headed on out down the promenade and grabbed a meal at the Old House restaurant on the seafront.  After some risotto and a beer we headed a bit further down and saw the famous Golden Dreams Restaurant.  As we had already eaten we grabbed some more souvenirs and another drink before heading back to our hotel on the choo choo train… as you can see it goes so fast it blurred the picture!

The next morning I woke up early and decided to go down to the beach to see a rather amazing sunrise!

Today we decided to stay local and not venture out too far; we had some souvenir shopping to do so we headed off down the promenade again in the afternoon on the train and checked out all the shops; checking into a couple of coffee shops on the way.  The joys of a big breakfast meant that we didn’t have to worry too much about lunch as we were still full!  We managed to get most of the things we needed before heading back late afternoon and chilling out. I headed out in the afternoon to buy some wine for the balcony and discovered a whole host of bars and restaurants we hadn’t seen before the other end of the strip.  There were copious souvenir shops and also several cocktail bars! we would have to check them out before we went home however the nights entertainment was a visit to the casino!

There had been lots of different places advertised as casinos however after reading reviews and knowing we were novices we headed to the International Hotel & Casino – just a few minutes from out hotel.   In order to register you just needed to show your passport upon entry, have your photo taken and be issued with a membership card.  No idea the size or scale of the casino off we headed hoping our luck would be in!

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 We headed in not really sure what was what; we had set a limit of 50BGN each however when we went to the cash desk they informed us that all bets were made in Euros and we could change our BGN into euros – 50 was 25 euros so we changed one 50 and played 10 euros each on the roulette machines.  Between us we made a profit of 60 euros and made a swift exit.  Unfortunately they would not change it back for us so we did so at the hotel and had an extra 110BGN to finish our holiday with whoo hooo. We decided as we weren’t particularly hungry we would have a quick look around the shops opposite and grab a subway which we took back to the hotel to eat. We headed back to the hotel cashed in our euros and headed to bed with full(er) purses and a full tum!

For our last full day we decided to head out in the car to visit a recommended spot at Provadia.  We were informed there were amazing views from the Ovech Fortress.  The town is in a gorge running alongside the Provadia river very close to the black sea coast.  We set off for the relatively long drive through Varna and on the motorway which was an experience….there would be some parts with tarmac, some without and numerous potholes! After an hour and a half we reached the restaurant which sits below the fortress called Obey and had a lovely lunch.  Unfortunately it was bloomin freezing and windy and given the fact there was no easy way to get to the fortress we decided to enjoy the views from the restaurant instead whilst making friends with the locals.

On the way back from our trip we had a warning light come on on the car warning about tyre pressures.  We got out and looked but no sign of a puncture; however we wouldn’t have been surprised if there was  given the state of the roads.  We carried on back to Golden Sands and checked the tyre pressures which were all fine luckily…. it appeared a pot hole had dislodged the sensor or so we hoped.

After a bit of a chill out we decided to head out to check out the newly discovered cocktail bars and souvenir shops;  it would be rude not to try the 3 for 1 cocktails which worked out approximately £3 each and packed a punch! It was really cold though so we needed something to warm us up!

We decided we best have some food to soak up this food and found a restaurant called Chiflishki Han – worth checking out if you are in the area.  After our lovely meal we headed across the road to an interesting and loud german bar which was quite an experience!  Mum also decided to try and make friends with the locals (lol)… a little tired and a little merry we headed on back to bed after a fun night out.

The next day we had a late check out as our flight wasn’t until the afternoon.  We had breakfast and made our way back to Varna airport (ironically enough after going over yet another pothole the tyre pressure warning went off).  The drop off for the car was painless and we were refunded our excess immediately as well as given a bulgarian souvenir (a fridge magnet).  We waited in the airport for a while before catching our Wizz flight back to Luton.

Bulgaria itself was definitely value for money; food and drink was very reasonable and we were able to make our money last well.  From speaking with colleagues who were in Sunny Beach at the same time as us I think we got the better deal as they found the locals unfriendly which was far from our experience! If I went back I would think twice about hiring a car purely because of the state of the roads; we were lucky we didnt have any major pothole damage or scratches to the car but we would definitely recommend Top Rent a Car for their service, friendliness and no hidden extras.  There was no pressure to buy extra insurance, we were given water on arrival and a souvenir on departure.

We also couldn’t complain about Hotel Erma which was a very nice hotel for a very reasonable price.  All in all it was a very enjoyable holiday despite the turn in the weather half way through the week and whilst I may not go back again to that same location I most certainly would not rule out another trip to Bulgaria.

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