The Mirror: Steeped in History and Local charm, Sozopol Continues to be a Hit with Tourists
Bulgaria's Black Sea coast has been a firm favourite with holidaymakers for years thanks to the sunny climate, sandy beaches and local culture on offer.
However, for those looking for a holiday that offers more than just soaking up the rays on the beach, then the ancient seaside town of Sozopol could fit the bill.
Located 35km south of Burgas, the Balkan resort has everything you could want for an adventure-packed holiday; and if you do end up wanting to relax on the beach, it has that too.
Steeped in history and local charm, Sozopol continues to be a hit with tourists who explore its scenic countryside and picturesque old town.
Sean Garnett went exploring to discover just why it should be on your travel bucket list...
The old military 4x4 stuttered to a halt at the top of the hill, miles from anywhere and surrounded by thick forest under a blazing sun.
As we stared around us at the seemingly infinite wilderness while trying to recall any survival skills training we may have learned (and wishing we had a case of beer), our guide declared: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
And with the bash of a hammer, the twist of some mole grips and a few choice swear words from the grease-covered driver, the engine sparked to life and we were saved from a potential walk through the baking wilderness.
Thankfully, and not for the first time, our guide was right.
We were on a thrilling safari through the tree-covered Strandja mountain in Bulgaria – an off-road adventure in a battered Soviet-era vehicle that took in an old charcoal pit, a woodland spot where unique manna honey is hived, a modern castle and a lovely village restaurant.
The honey is made by bees using pollen from the flowers of lime trees.
Our guides laid on a tasting session for us and I found it very different to normal honey, much thicker with an almost crunchy texture.
The highlight for us was stopping at a restaurant called the Village Guest House, at the back of a home in Fazanovo.
The lunch and drinks are part of the package and the hospitality of the owner – a former professional wrestler – and his family are well worth the stop-off.
Plus, I won a shooting contest among our group (which included Germans, so it was a sort of international match) in the forest and my prize was a bottle of fizzy wine.
Others included a river boat cruise – chilling on deck while enjoying a drink and the scenery – a ride up the Virgin River where you can get close to nature, a visit to nearby Nessebar on a speedboat with a guided tour of the historic town and a chairlift ride up a mountain, stopping at the ancient village of Zheravna.
Nessebar is worth a visit, which you can do anytime from Sozopol without the need of an organised trip.
It can be reached by catamaran which takes about 45 minutes, or by a more leisurely boat ride and there are also buses to the town.
It sits on a short peninsula with an ancient fort looking out to sea and a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with bars, restaurants and shops.
Burgas, where we flew into with Balkan Holidays, is also a great city.
A spot where history – ancient churches, traditional Bulgarian music and dancing etc – combines with the modern lifestyle of a vibrant metropolis, it’s just half an hour away by bus. And it has lovely beaches.
Many young Brits head to Bulgaria for hedonistic resorts such as Sunny Beach, which, with its late night clubs, ultra-cheap booze and anything-goes attitude, attracts stag and hen parties or groups of fun-loving 20-somethings.
But Sozopol, just a few miles down the coast, is a world away from those crazy goings-on. This is more of a family resort set around a sandy beach in a bay flanked by rocky spits on which bars and restaurants have been built to make the most of the views.
Sozopol is popular with Bulgarians and many of the restaurants put on traditional music and dance nights.
The old town is particularly charming with ancient wooden-clad buildings and shady narrow streets. If history is your thing, this town is steeped in it.
This was where the Thracians landed and colonised Bulgaria before the Romans moved in. All of this is documented in the archaeology museum, which is well worth a visit.
At the marina, boats set off for sunset tours (roughly £9pp), which sweep around the bay before returning past St Ivan Island, where John the Baptist’s remains were reportedly found in 2010.
We stayed in the central Hotel Selena right on the beach. It has a lovely terrace with a lawn stretching down to the sand where we had breakfast overlooking the sea.
There is also a small swimming pool and two bars, one with live, but very sedate, music while you eat dinner.
Eating and drinking is good value in Bulgaria and beer is only around £1 a pint. The Selena’s food was tasty and fairly varied for hotel food. Restaurants menus are largely meat-based but decent salads were easy to come by.
Bulgarians do seem to have a very laid back attitude. Maybe it was just the sun, sea and cheap beer.
As if to back up our safari guide’s assurance it would all work out in the end, as we arrived back in Sozopol an elderly woman took a fair old tumble on the pavement next to our equally veteran 4x4. As we all gasped, he took one look at her prone body on the pavement and declared: “Ah, she’ll be fine.”
Sure enough, within seconds, she sprung to her feet, dusted herself off, smiled at the concerned faces around her and waltzed off into the distance.
SOURCE: THE MIRROR
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