Black Sea coast preserves patches of un-overbuilt sanctuaries
Anyone who's visited Sunny Beach or the stretch of coast south of Sozopol will be amazed: Bulgaria's Black Sea shore, actually, is not just a concrete jungle dotted with multi-storey hotels, casinos and bars. The fact is that though overwhelming, what many locals refer to as the "unbridled" construction effort of the 2000s and 2010s has left a few usually difficult-to-reach areas untouched by the bulldozers. They still exist to this day.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Bulgaria's wild beaches. From the far north, the border with Romania, to as far south as you can go without entering Turkey there are at least a dozen unguarded and completely free beaches where you can go as close to nature as you wish. Some of them are not accessible directly by road, which means a fair amount of trekking may be involved.
Unnamed beach north of Durankulak
A dirt road just north of the village of Durankulak, the last Bulgarian settlement before you enter Romania, leads to one of this country's least known and most enchanting beaches. Look south and you will see the winding Black Sea coastline. And behind that promontory you see to the north starts Romania, with the Romanian town of Doi Mai looking at you from behind the trees. You are guaranteed to be completely alone on this beach, though the last time we visited a Scotsman from Glasgow (!) showed up out of nowhere. The man interrupted his walk on the beach to help us push our car out of a sand block. Something very similar had happened to us on the Isle of Skye a few years previously. Then a man from Scottish Water came with a shovel.
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. Don't expect any amenities, but that's what wild camping is about, isn't it?! A Second World War bunker built by the Germans remains on the beach, a poignant reminder of the area's turbulent history.
Many locals swear this is the best, though not the largest, beach at the northern Black Sea coast. It is situated just north of Cape Kaliakra, a major tourist attraction, but surprisingly few of the visitors to the notorious cape take the dirt road turn that will lead them to Bolata, possibly because they don't know it exists. There will probably be a few people at the beach besides yourself but spending a day there is totally worth it. The nearby village of Balgarevo has a few good restaurants for when you get hungry.
Not to be confused with the overbuilt village of Chernomorets south of Burgas this Chernomorets is a long though narrow stretch of sand south of Varna. Accessible by a dirt road it does attract a fair amount of surfers but it is still largely unpopulated in Bulgarian standards.
From the village of Sinemorets to Rezovo, at the border with Turkey, there is just 5 miles of coastline. In recent years the local council has organised an eco path, which we highly commend. As you walk through the sometimes uneven terrain you will pass through two fantastic beaches, the Lipite and the Listi. Both can only be reached on foot or by boat. You may meet some wildcampers, but generally you will be as removed from civilisation as you possibly can. Do spend at least a night and admire the southern Bulgarian skies. Light pollution is at a minimum here especially when you look east.
South of Chernomorets Beach Pashadere has been in the news recently as environmentalists protest against a local plan to erect a holiday accommodation facility there. So far, nothing has been built and Pashadere remains what it has always been through the centuries, a superb combination of a long, sandy beach and the shady hills inland.
River Kamchiya Estuary
When the Kamchiya 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.
Like Pashadere, Irakli, just north of Cape Emine, has been at the centre of a construction dispute. Unlike its northern cousin however, the constructionists 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 Balkan mountains before they disappear into the Black Sea. As you enjoy pristine Irakli, bear in mind that just a few miles to the south, as the crow flies, Sunny Beach starts. For all its worth it could have been light years away.
Alepou aka Drivers Beach
Between the 1980s development called Djuni to the north and a 2010s holiday villages called St Thomas to the south the old asphalt road runs parallel to the mile-long beach. Hence its unofficial name: Drivers Beach (drivers can just hop out of their cars and dip into the warm waters of the Black Sea). Many people continue to do just that but of course the beach is so large that it can never get crowded.
River Ropotamo Estuary
Presumably one of the best wild beaches in Bulgaria the Ropotamo Estuary is not easy to get to. You can either walk to it from Arkutino to the north, which involves trekking through a forested area, or try the approach from Primorsko in the south. If you go for the latter you can park by the turnpike on the northbound forest road and walk the last mile to the beach. Both the views and the tranquility are amazing. Do bear in mind that the odd eel that the river might bring into the sea is completely innocuous to humans.
River Veleka Spit
The views from both the north and the south are spectacular. The River Veleka, which starts its short journey to the Black Sea in Turkey, goes entirely through the Strandzha Mountains. It remains one of Bulgaria's least known rivers, possibly because almost all of it runs through a nature reserve. On the south side of the spit is the village of Sinemorets, one of the bigger construction sites at the Black Sea in the past 20 years. Fortunately, the Veleka Spit is (still) untouched, possibly because crowds tend to prefer Butamyata Beach to the south.
Vibrant Communities: Spotlight on Bulgaria's Living Heritage is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners