Head off the beaten path to the beautiful Bulgaria this Summer

by Sylvia Pownall

Have you ever thought about visiting Bulgaria? And if not, why not?

It’s less than four hours from Ireland, boasts some of the most popular beach resorts on the Black Sea, and brings the phrase ‘cheap as chips’ to a whole new level.

If those reasons weren’t enough, the former Communist country is also bursting at the seams with fairytale forests, traditional fishing villages, historical cities and world-famous monasteries.

Despite its 80 miles of golden sandy beaches Bulgaria is still a relative newcomer in the tourism stakes – and with that comes many benefits.

It remains the best-value sun holiday destination in Europe, ahead of Portugal’s Algarve, with a three-course dinner for two including wine coming in just over €20 and change from a euro for a bottle of beer.

There’s also a lovely mix of off-the-radar beaches and relatively unspoilt mountain scenery, along with Unesco-protected World Heritage sites.

The resort of Varna, just north of Sunny Beach, is a foodie’s heaven with a string of cafes and restaurants serving fresh fish from the Black Sea.

But the beaches and fishing villages are just for starters. Its highest mountain range, Rila, offers an endless series of picture-postcard hikes.

There are also more than 120 monasteries, with the Rila Monastery proving the most popular.

Founded in the tenth century, the Unesco-protected site was destroyed by fire two centuries ago but hailed a “masterpiece” after it was rebuilt.

Perched atop the peak of Buzludzha mountain in the Central Balkans is the House Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

It commemorates the early beginnings of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1891 and opened 90 years later in 1981. Despite its derelict status, its interior is still a sight to behold.

The country’s capital Sofia features the heaviest dose of Stalinist architecture, and is home to an ensemble of three Socialist Classicism buildings known as the Largo.

It was commissioned in 1951 and finished in 1957, with the original statue of Vladimir Lenin replaced in 2000 by one of St Sophia.

And if the beaches, mountains and cities are not enough to keep you occupied, there’s always the skiing.

Bansko, set in the scenic Pirin National Park, is one of Europe’s finest, and cheapest ski resorts.

Fuel up for a day on the slopes with some kyufte (Bulgarian meatballs) or gyuvech (spicy vegetable stew) and wash it down with the country’s national drink of raika, a fruit brandy made from fermented grapes or plums.

Might be best to leave the raika for the apres ski though, since the shop-bought varieties are around 40% AVB, while the home brews can have anything up to 80% alcohol.

  • TUI is offering a last-minute deal departing Dublin on May 20, with seven nights’ self-catering at the Aparthotel Rose Village in Sunny Beach, from €279 per person sharing.
  • Click and Go is offering seven nights B&B at the Sunny Day Club Hotel, Sunny Beach, in June from €523pp based on two adults sharing.
  • Sofia city breaks, which include three nights’ B&B accommodation, a city tour and guided transfers, is priced at €469pp with Travel Department.
  • Highlights of Bulgaria including Sofia and Plovdiv is available from €799pp with Travel Department. The trip includes seven nights half-board and B&B accommodation, guided tours including an excursion to Rila Monastery, and guided transfers.

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