The Black Sea

SHIPS OF ROCK

Sinemorets, at Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast, remains one of the most idyllic and calmly beautiful spots around. Overdevelopment has not completely destroyed the pleasure of walking around the little village, once off limits because of its proximity to Turkey, or sunbathing on its popular southern beach. As for Sinemorets's northern beach, its setting is unbeatable: a sand spit, created by the mouth of the Veleka River and backed by rising rocky hills.

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WINTER NESEBAR

Winter is not only the time to head to Bulgaria's ski resorts. It is also the best time to enjoy some of this nation's most crowded tourist spots, such as Nesebar. In the warm months this UNESCO listed town of ancient fortifications, mediaeval churches and Revival Period mansions is packed with visitors from the nearby Sunny Beach resort and from the whole of the Bulgarian Black Sea area.

The winter cold, however, utterly transforms it.

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THE MOST POPULAR SEASIDE CONFERENCE DESTINATION IS BURGAS

Recently, Burgas has expanded its popularity from a favourite summer destination into a year-round event capital and a location preferred by the business. A growing number of entrepreneurs choose to hold their events here - from conferences to trainings and seminars. This is only logical and the explanation is by far not only because of Burgas's seaside carefree spirit. 

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BULGARIA'S BEST BEACHES: SOUTH

The beaches on Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast are under threat: every year developers take new ground to build hotels and bars on. Sand dunes, which are protected by law, overnight turn into plots ready for the diggers to arrive, and new buildings rise right by the sea on the site of former cliffs, marshes and wetlands.

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BULGARIA'S BEST BEACHES, PART 1

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.

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MICHAEL ZAIMOV'S SOZOPOL

Overcrowded, overdeveloped, simply put overwhelming: in summertime, Sozopol is the definition of a place you must avoid if you are looking for some semblance of tranquillity at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Off season, the town is more bearable, but reminders of the tourist industry are everywhere. In the picturesque old quarter, clinging to a narrow rocky peninsula, there is hardly a lane free from signs advertising rooms to let, or restaurants with plastic window frames closed for winter, or hip art galleries.

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WHY IS NESEBAR A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE?

If you visit Nesebar in high season, it will be easy to doubt the wisdom of UNESCO's 1983 decision to inscribe this town on the Black Sea coast into its World Heritage list. The crowds of holidaymakers on day trips from the overdeveloped resorts around, the stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs, the chalga music booming from overpriced, "traditional" restaurants are so overwhelming you cannot enjoy – or even notice – the beautiful medieval churches and the old wooden houses that are the reason all of these people and businesses are here.

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ST NICHOLAS DAY, SOZOPOL STYLE

In Western Europe, the 6th of December, or St Nicholas Day, is a time where the first whiff of Christmas gets felt. After all, the saint with his white beard and penchant for bringing gifts to good children is the draft of the modern Santa Claus. 

In Bulgaria, St Nicholas Day is equally important although in a different manner. Seen as the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants and bankers, the saint is celebrated by many people who carry the different iterations of the name Nicholas and their families. A particular food is also associated with this day. 

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BULGARIA'S VERSION OF CANNERY ROW IS IN CHENGENE SKELE

Any chance visitor who has detoured midway from the Burgas-Sozopol highway, on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast, will end up in an odd location. As you drive up the bad road to the infamous maritime oil terminal, now the property of Russian giant LUKoil, you will inevitably take in an assortment of buildings – some of them makeshift, others with a more stable construction, but none appearing as if designed by a professional architect. Then you are in for the first big hit, a road sign announcing "Everything away from sea is provincial," according to Ernest Hemingway.

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DISCOVERING STRANDZHA'S COAST

The Strandzha mountains coast, roughly everything along the Black Sea south of Burgas, is about 100 km long as the crow flies. Yet it is very varied. You will discover smaller and bigger bays, old towns and purpose-built modern resorts, a campsite or two, a number of picturesque rivers, inlets and... islands. In fact all of Bulgaria's islands are along the Strandzha coast. You will probably be underwhelmed, however. There are just four of them, not counting the St Kirik Isle north of Sozopol which was appended to the mainland, in the 20th century, with a quay.

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FEW SNAKES AND NO RUSSIANS

"Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!" When the Ukrainian defenders of Black Sea's Snake Island shouted out to the outnumbering Russian forces at the beginning of Putin's "special military operation," they hardly anticipated that they would coin a catchphrase that would define the conflict and become a global meme. Today everyone with access to unfiltered Internet is aware that somewhere in the Black Sea there is a piece of rock called Snake Island.

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LOOKING AT BURGAS, DARKLY

Despite some researchers' claims that Bulgaria's largest city on the southern Black Sea coast is ancient (related in some way to... Troy), most would agree that Burgas is quite new.

The first poverty-driven settlers came here at the end of the 19th century, only to find themselves in a swampy, malaria-infested area fit for little save fishing. Burgas began as a maze of squalid streets, randomly built harbour warehouses and tumbledown buildings. It took 13 years to approve the first town plan with its 289 small neighbourhoods and seven parks.

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SOZOPOL WITHOUT TEARS

Should I visit Sozopol? There is hardly a place that divides opinion more than this town on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Yes, by all means do go to Sozopol, will urge some of your Bulgarian friends. They will then lose themselves in nostalgic memories of strolling the quiet lanes of the town, the charm of the traditional houses under the balmy summer or early autumn sun, the buzz and energy of the Apollonia Arts Festival, the pleasure of sunbathing on golden beaches and jumping into the sea from the picturesque rocks around.

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SHABLA: HIDDEN GEM TUCKED BETWEEN SEA AND LAND

Some cannot get enough of its beaches, beauty spots and tourist amenities, while others lament that much of its calm and pristine nature has been lost to overdevelopment. History lovers point out that the ancient Thracians, listed among the forefathers of modern Bulgarians, were masters of the choppy waters of the Black Sea long before the Greeks arrived and settled along its coastline, in the 7th-5th centuries BC. Foodies can talk at length about the superior taste of its bonito, turbot and sprat.

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BULGARIA'S WILDEST BEACHES

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.

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BIRD'S EYE VIEW OF NESEBAR

Looking for some peace and quiet on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast in summer is a natural aspiration, even in a year of pandemic and reduced international tourism like 2021. But there are places by the sea where peace and quiet in summer are not to be found. Even in a "slow" tourist summer, they are abuzz with local and foreign visitors; lively and vibrant, sometimes vulgar and often irritating.

Nesebar is one of those places.

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BULGARIA'S SEA DAFFODILS

Some of the sand dunes along the southern Black Sea coast that have not yet been overbuilt with hotels and resorts are the home of a fine and very delicate wildflower, the sea daffodil. In fact, the southern Black Sea coast is the only location in this country where you can see sea daffodils in their natural environment. Some of the bigger colonies are near the beaches of Silistar, Tsarevo, Kiten and Primorsko.

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