Bulgaria - Sun, Sea and Raykia

by : Nick Cox

When considering a holiday in the sun, Bulgaria is not the first destination that springs to mind. But many first-time visitors to this former Eastern Bloc country are left pleasantly surprised at just how much it has to offer.

Bulgaria lies in south-eastern Europe and is bordered by Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south and the Black Sea, which takes up nearly the entirety of its border, to the east. It has a civilized history going back 6,600 years, and throughout the country you will find ancient Greek sites, Roman amphitheatres, hundreds of monasteries and 40,000 listed archaeological treasures.

The Mediterranean climate, during the summer months, attracts many thousands of tourists to Bulgaria's largest holiday resort, Sunny Beach. Since its construction in 1958, the resort has continued to expand and is now home to an ever-increasing amount of , bars, restaurants, discos and numerous live music bars that stretch the length of the coastline.

In recent years the resort has undergone large-scale construction that has seen the development of several luxurious hotels looking over unspoilt beaches, reported to be among the cleanest and safest in Europe.

Immediately after its construction and development, Sunny Beach attracted mainly Bulgarian and Russian visitors. But since the fall of communism, the resorts popularity has grown among German and, more recently, British holidaymakers who see Bulgaria as a cheaper alternative to other, possibly more popular, Mediterranean destinations.

The increase in the amount of >Cheap flights being made available by budget airlines has also played a part in helping to make Eastern Europe a more accessible and appealing option to tourists.

So what is there to do once you've arrived? The hotels in Sunny Beach offer a great range of facilities and even if the hotel where you're staying doesn't provide everything you need, then chances are the one down the road will. On my recent stay we were facing a luxurious five star hotel that offered Turkish baths and a variety of massages, all reasonably priced.

If you feel inclined to check out the nightlife then the city centre is easily accessible. A train stopping at most of the main hotels every 15 minutes will take you to the centre of Sunny Beach, or it is pretty simple to jump on the public bus for the equivalent of a few pence. Once in town you have the choice of plenty of bars, pubs and restaurants.

If taking the family, then be warned of the neon-signed, exotic-named clubs as they provide services of a more risque nature. There are a few areas that are slightly seedy, but on the whole the main part of Sunny Beach is safe for all the family.

The food on offer is of a generally good standard in most places, and you will be surprised at how reasonably priced eating out is. A meal for two, with a bottle of wine will rarely cost you more than 7 or 8 pounds.

Local food is something of a treat, and I highly recommend trying out the Bulgarian dish called 'Karvarma'. This was eaten on almost a daily basis, and was the perfect dish for lining the stomach before sampling the fine Bulgarian beer, which incidentally, will cost you about 50 pence a pint.

If you fancy getting out and about and seeing more of Bulgaria, then hiring a car for a few days is a must. It is fairly cheap and there are plenty of good-value car hire companies that will give you a good price.

The Bulgarian countryside is stunning, but unless you can read the Cyrillic alphabet - some signs don't include the English translation - expect the possibility of seeing more of it than you had planned.

While trying to decipher road signs perhaps your passengers would like to take the opportunity to sample Bulgaria's most famous alcoholic beverage "rakyia", which you will occasionally find being sold by locals at the roadsides. Distilled from plums, cherries or whatever sweet fruit the locals can find, no Bulgarian trip is complete without sampling this unique liquor.