BULGARIA'S BEST BEACHES, PART 1

by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

The North: Sandy, spacious and serene

bolata beach.jpg

Until the 2000s, the sandy beaches that dot the Bulgarian coast were among the best places around the entire Black Sea to stretch your towel. Covered in golden sands, they spread in long straight strips and form crescents along coves sheltered from the open sea by steep cliffs. Untamed vegetation and wildlife called them home, from thick floodplain forests to gentle sand lilies and migrating birds. There were beachgoers, but even in big resorts one could find a spot to bathe in relative calm.

After two decades of hectic overdevelopment, the once pristine Bulgarian Black Sea beaches are no more. They gradually lost their spirit and calm, suffocated by the concrete walls and the noise pollution of countless residential properties, hotels, restaurants and bars. Today, it is hard to find a strip of sand without overpriced parasols, scores of tourists and shacks in different stages of shabbiness booming lounge music. The smell of fried fish and sun oil has replaced the aroma of sea.

Shabla

This is why today Bulgaria's best beaches are not the ones which are the longest, or with the finest sand, or with the best scenery around. Bulgaria's best beaches in the 2020s are the ones where you can enjoy the sun, the sea and the sand in relative calm and quiet.

In this and the next issue of Vagabond we will give you a list of such beaches. We will start with the lesser known and less crowded part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast – the north one, from the border with Romania to Cape Emine. Due to geography and climate, the summers here are shorter and the waters are colder, but let this not discourage you – Bulgaria’s northern beaches compensate with their beautiful setting.

Chernomorets

Where: Near Varna

The mile-long strip of sand dotted with rocks that stretches by the Rakitnika holiday area and a fishermen settlement called Fichoza was for years the escape plan for people from Varna seeking refuge from the summer crowds in their city. Chernomorets was wild and free, a place where you could swim, dive and sunbathe even naked, if you wanted to.

Chernomorets has still preserved that spirit, mainly because it is far from good roads.

Durankulak

Where: Durankulak Village

The last village at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast before the border with Romania has three beaches. Few people visit. The Romanians who enter Bulgaria from the nearby checkpoint are in a hurry to the famed Aegean, and for most Bulgarians, Durankulak is too far to bother.

Durankulak's north beach stretches all the way to the frontier. The seabed here is very steep and deep, so be cautious when swimming. The south beach is over 6 km long and reaches as far as Krapets village. The two are divided by the beach of the Kosmos camping site, a preferred spot for parking one's RV and enjoying the sea and sand.

The waters in all three beaches are rather cold and unpredictable. Winds can appear out of the blue. For a group of people, this is not an inconvenience, but a blessing – lovers of kite surfing frequent Durankulak.

The main obstacle to camping here are the mosquitoes in the nearby Durankulak Lake – a marshy area inhabited by rare and endangered local and migrating fowl. On one of its islands are the unremarkable, but historically important remains of a fortified prehistoric settlement and an ancient temple to Cybele.

Еzerets

Where: Near Krapets village

About a mile of sand between the villages of Krapets and Ezerets remains totally unpopulated even in high summer, though in recent years it has become increasingly popular with Romanian tourists who just like to camp wild in the nearby grove. A Second World War bunker built by the Germans remains on the beach, a poignant reminder of the area's turbulent history.

Bolata

Where: Near Balgarevo Village

Bolata is often described as one of the most beautiful beaches in Bulgaria. While beauty might be in the eyes of the beach goer, the natural settings of this sand crescent are really remarkable. 

Rising red cliffs surround the tiny strip of sand just north from the stunning Kaliakra Cape and its medieval fortress. A narrow river gorge ending with a lush marshland is the only way to reach the beach. This rare combination of land, marshland and sea habitats is the home of many rare plant and animal species, hence the area's protected status.

This has not stopped a growing number of people from visiting Bolata in the summer. Some of them just enjoy the sun and the sand, others climb the steep cliffs, dive or try to navigate the treacherous waters around in boats.

Irakli

Where: North of Cape Emine

In the 2000s, Irakli became the centre of a construction dispute. Sadly, the developers prevailed and a resort has now sprung up at the northern end of the beach. Still, what remains of it south of the tiny River Vaya is as wild as it can get. Above it are the last reaches of the Stara Planina mountain range before they disappear into the Black Sea. As you enjoy what remains of pristine Irakli, bear in mind that just a few miles to the south, on the other side of Cape Emine, Sunny Beach starts. For all its worth it could have been light years away.

River Kamchiya estuary

Where: Near Staro Oryahovo village

When the Kamchiya river hits the Black Sea it is just a tiny stream, and it is difficult to believe that several dams upriver provide the drinking water to Burgas and Varna, with a combined population of over half a million. The area around the river estuary is densely forested and has been a resort for many years. Most recently a Russian development, including a school and a holiday site for Russians, has dominated the area. The Kamchiya beach is so large that it can never get crowded. And it has the added benefit of having a few good places to eat within walking distance.

The fact that you are in a nature reserve preserving Bulgaria's largest floodplain forest is a plus.

Shabla

Where: Shabla town

Most people know Shabla, the last town before the border with Romania, for its distinctive red-and-white lighthouse, built in the 19th century by the Ottomans. By it rust the remains of another infrastructure facility with less luck – a pier built in the 1960s for Soviet ships that were supposed to arrive here to load... crude oil. Yes, this is right – in the 1960s oil and natural gas deposits were discovered at Shabla. However, they were so meagre that large-scale extraction never started. Only the pier remained.

Shabla's beach is less popular but in good weather is a real pleasure with its fine sand and gentle slope towards the sea. It is by two lakes, one of which is salty and dries in summer, leaving a thick layer of supposedly healing mud. Whatever the real or supposed health benefits, covering yourself in a thick layer of black mud is fun, and makes some good photos. 

Shkorpilovtsi

Where: Shkorpilovtsi village

This is Bulgaria's longest beach – a strip of sand that is 12 kms long and at some places is 100 m wide. This means a variety of holiday experiences, from run-of-the-mill facilities close to the village to wilder places and spots for camping. A 300-metre peer that belongs to an ichthyological research station is a picturesque addition to the settings. The beach is windy and the sea often gets choppy. This might be unpleasant to the regular beach goer, but fans of sea sports love Shkorpilovtsi precisely because of this. The remains of a submerged bridge are of some interest to divers.

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