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Bulgaria: how to spend your holiday

Source: The Times, Article by Andrew Eames
Published Date: 27 Jan 2006

BULGARIA'S Black Sea coast is sunny and sandy, and an inexpensive alternative to Spain and Portugal. Bulgarians are willing hosts, and have made great strides in replacing unprepossessing Soviet-era hotels.
Inland tourism has been slow to develop. Sofia, the capital city, is not in the same league as Prague or Budapest, but has enough interest for a weekend break (see opposite) and the ancient hilltop capital Veliko Turnovo has charm.

Rural Bulgaria was badly affected during the communist years, when the focus was on factory work, and much of the countryside is unkempt and overgrown. Happily, wildlife has flourished, particularly in the mountains, where several monasteries offer charismatic accommodation.
If you're single...

...and holidaying with mates
You need a resort with nightlife, and Golden Sands is the best choice, a 20-minute drive from Varna, Bulgarias third largest city. Golden Sands is the older of the two major resorts (Sunny Beach near Burgas is more family-orientated).
Alcohol is cheap and the main drag comes alive after dark with shows and fairground attractions (bungee catapults, bucking bison). The big discos are up in the woods.

...and want lots to do
Kudu Travel runs 12-day trips focusing on birds, flowers and archaeology. The settings range from mountains and upland meadows to steppe and Black Sea wetlands. Group sizes are small, and there are excursions to Roman ruins and frescoed medieval Orthodox monasteries.
...and travelling solo
A family-run hotel in the beautiful village of Gela in the Rodopi mountains, mythical home of Orpheus, is the base for Explore Worldwides Rodopi Rambles. Explores groups 12 to 16 people are ideal for singles and the hikes are not arduous. Day trips will be out via old mountain paths to villages and monasteries through terrain inhabited by bears, wolves and eagles.

If you're a couple who... to do very little
Head for the five-star Arbanassi Palace Hotel in a village outside Veliko Turnovo. The hotel has steam baths and a spa, and the village is known for its elegant holiday homes. to do a lot
Guerbas eight-day Bulgaria Trails trips mix hill-walking and cultural visits. Starting from Sofia, the route heads for the Vrata Natural Reserve, and on to the Danube via historic towns.

...enjoy a bit of culture
Andante Travels Thracian Treasures and Mountain Monasteries examines the great plain between the Balkan and Rhodopian mountains. Guided by Britains leading specialist in Bulgarian archaeology, this tour coincides with the Orthodox Easter processions.

If you're a family with...

Nessebar, one of the quieter resorts ideal for families with younger children. The town dates back 2,500 years. It can get busy with day-trippers, but Nessebar Palace Hotel is at arms length, with its own beach. Theres a playground and the pool has a childrens section.
...teenage terrors
Theyll love Sunny Beach, with its discos, waterslides and go-karts. Make your base one of the newly built hotels at the quieter part of the seafront, the Hotel Victoria Palace. Fronted by mini Venetian lagoons, it has leopardskin chairs in the Safari Bar and starlets on the walls in the Hollywood restaurant., grandpas, kitchen sink
Elenite is a quality all-inclusive resort with a villagey atmosphere, close to Sunny Beach. There are watersports for teenagers, kids clubs, and sufficient refinement for the grandparents. The Hotel Royal Park has a kids club and creche run by First Choice, which also organises activity programmes for older children.
Top tips

- Look for a hotel that has been recently built or refurbished. Some of the old ones are awful.

- If youre renting a car, get a map that shows both Roman and Cyrillic script. Many roadsigns are Cyrillic only.

- Get your dentistry done. Its cheap, good and available in all resorts.

- Until now the coast has been dominated by package tourism, but this will start to change from March, when British Airways ( starts scheduled flights to Varna.