Forget France and Italy – all you need is the Bulgarian Riviera

Bay of ancient seaside town of Sozopol, Bulgaria.  Black Sea Coast, Burgas Province.  - Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

Bay of ancient seaside town of Sozopol, Bulgaria. Black Sea Coast, Burgas Province. – Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

Look beyond Bulgaria’s mountains, monasteries and budget ski resorts and you’ll find almost 400 kilometers of sunny coastline lined with a succession of seemingly endless beaches.

Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast – all 220 miles – has strips of golden sand and summer temperatures comfortably hovering in the twenties, without reaching the extremes you can find further south in the Mediterranean. And the beaches are gorgeous (18 of which are Blue Flag certified), backed by a variety to suit every taste, with all-inclusive resorts, family-friendly swimming areas or something a little more untamed, salt marshes or undulating sand dunes.

Sun and sand aside, another big selling point for the Bulgarian coast is of course the price – a vacation here is much, much cheaper than on the French or Italian beaches, or even Greece or Croatia – and easyJet has direct flights. Both Varna and Burgas from the UK. The peak season on the Bulgarian riviera is July and August, but June and September are also nice, as the resorts are usually less crowded. If you’re combining beach time with a hiking holiday further inland, June’s warm temperatures also make it one of the best months.

Aerial view of Albena - Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

Aerial view of Albena – Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

Perhaps the most famous resort on the Bulgarian coast is Sunny Beach, near Burgas, which attracts travelers with its enormous sandy beach and numerous grand hotels – not surprisingly, it’s also one of the beach’s busiest spots. Those looking for a place to be a little quieter may want to check out some of the beaches further north, around Varna.

Take Albena, just north of the city. With a rugged forest behind it, this resort town with a gently sloping beach and plenty of facilities is a great choice for families – the White Lagoon sits on its own stretch of fine pale sand and doubles from £95 all-inclusive in September.

It’s a good starting point for exploring Bulgaria’s other coastal gems: just off Cape Kaliakra in the Kaliakra Nature Reserve, Bolata Beach is shaped like a stunning crescent surrounded by a steep-sided cove filled with reddish cliffs. There is also Krapets, one of the quieter beaches further north, backed by dunes and stretching from the small village of the same name towards the Romanian border. If you’re happy to replace sand with rock, head to the breathtaking cliffs in Tyulenovo, where the landscape includes an enormous natural rock arch and several underwater caves. The cliffs are popular for rock climbing and there are a few places to swim off the cliffs (not recommended during inclement weather) or you can just hire a boat and explore the beach.

But it’s not all about returning to the sand; There is so much culture in Bulgaria – and while some of its best-known historical sites are further inland (for example, the Rila monastery or the rock-cut churches at Ivanovo), there is plenty to see within a striking distance of the coast.

Bolata beach - CALIN STAN / Alamy Stock Photo

Bolata beach – CALIN STAN / Alamy Stock Photo

Take Sozopol, a fishing port with a beautiful unspoiled centre. It’s full of 19th-century wooden houses (more precisely, stone-walled and half-timbered at street level, with wooden upper floors), but with a history that goes back much further, as far back as the 7th century BC. Some of the town’s old fort walls and tower have been beautifully restored, including the old granary that has been converted into a museum. Blu Bay is one of the best hotels here, with double accommodation with sea views from £139 including breakfast.

A few hours’ drive to the north is Varna, the largest city on the Bulgarian coast. There’s a nice cosmopolitan feel to it here – a modern harbor balanced by fascinating museums, good restaurants, and extensive parks and gardens, all backed by heaps of history. The city’s second-century Roman baths are the largest in Bulgaria, and the excellent Archaeological Museum is one of the best in the country. The boutique Modus Hotel offers complimentary bikes to explore the beautifully landscaped Sea Garden, with prices from £93 including breakfast.

Summer on the beach in Varna, Bulgaria - 2F94MKE/Alamy

Summer on the beach in Varna, Bulgaria – 2F94MKE/Alamy

Nearby is the beautiful Nessebar, a historic town tucked into a small peninsula filled with Byzantine churches. Wandering around the cobbled streets and squares is a pleasant way to get away with a day – but due to its proximity to Sunny Beach it tends to get pretty busy, so it’s worth arriving early. Alternatively, check in to Meliá Sol Marina Palace from £124 all-inclusive.

And then there’s food. Bulgarian cuisine is a delicious blend of influences, including an important nod to its long Ottoman heritage, and the region has a winemaking tradition of more than two thousand years. Highlights include moussaka (the Bulgarian version uses layers of potatoes instead of eggplant), sarmi (cabbage leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice), banitsa (baked phyllo with layers of yoghurt, egg, and creamy feta cheese) and tarator. delicious chilled yogurt and cucumber soup. You’ll find many seafood dishes on the menu, from delicious fish soups to fresh local mussels or a simple plate of fried anchovies served with a slice of lemon.

And how does it coincide with the glow of the French or Italian riviera? You won’t find luxury accommodation and restaurants on the same level. But in terms of real value for money – miles of golden sand, reliable sunshine, a warm welcome and accommodation for all budgets – Bulgaria takes a bit of a beating.

Do you have any tips for visiting Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast? Let us know in the comments below…

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