Cheap and cheerful in Bulgaria

by b18enk

With summer temperatures averaging 30C, the Black Sea Riviera of Bulgaria is proving popular with sun-seekers. For guaranteed rays, sea, sand and nightlife on a budget, head for Sunny Beach resort

Situated at the southern end of the Black Sea Riviera on Bulgaria’s east coast, Sunny Beach resort stretches more than 8km along a beautiful semi-circular bay facing east across the Black Sea itself. The closest airport is Bourgas International, about 35km away, but regular bus services provide easy access. Alternatively, you can take a taxi which will cost you about £10.

With summer temperatures averaging 30C, the Black Sea is a great place to go for a good dose of sun – hence its rising popularity with Europeans looking for a beach holiday. The resort itself is quite large, with more than 60 hotels to choose from – ranging from basic two-star accommodation to five-star luxury. All are within 1km of the beach, and most have a pool of their own – though some, at the lower end of the price range, share a pool with neighbouring hotels and can be busy at peak times.

The beach itself is clean and sandy, with no pebbles and no stones to make walking uncomfortable. Due to its vast size, it never feels full no matter how busy it gets. It is worth noting, though, that a 500m stretch is designated a nudist beach – something that escaped our notice until we were standing in the middle of it...

If you tire of nudity, water sports and beach volleyball, there is a water park nearby and a fascinating area of coast to explore. One essential visit is to the ancient town of Nessebar, on a small peninsula about 10km from the resort and easily accessible by bus (20p each way) or taxi (about £2). The town is secluded on its own islet, just off the coast of the main resort and linked to the mainland via a road bridge. Rich in architecture and history, it has many small, old-fashioned shops offering local crafts as well as a few modern ones. There is also an excellent fish restaurant on the edge of the islet which is arguably the best in the region. The Old Town is worth a look, though you will have seen everything it has to offer in a day. 

On our two-week holiday, we found Sunny Beach to be very friendly and, for the most part, quite relaxed – especially around the four-star Nobel hotel, where we stayed. Situated just 500m from the beach, the Nobel has its own private outdoor pool, bars and a spa centre with an indoor pool, fitness centre, sauna, Jacuzzi and solarium (some of which cost extra). The main restaurant offers a buffet service for breakfast, a selection of "fast food"-type meals (burgers, chips, pasta etc) for lunch and another buffet service for dinner. The hotel also has a smaller restaurant offering Serbian cuisine and we found it to be some of the best food in the resort. Finally, there is also a supermarket adjoining the hotel which comes in useful if you are arriving late at night when the restaurant is closed.

Away from the hotel, the resort has more than 150 bars and restaurants, mostly within three or four streets of each other in the centre of the resort – and 2-3km from the outlying hotels. While the restaurants themselves are for the most part fine, especially for the price, many have adopted a touting approach to lure customers in – so you may not get as far as the one you are seeking. Paid by commission, these touts can be extremely brash in their negotiation methods. If you're thick-skinned, however, it is perfectly possible to ignore them.

As far as prices go, the most we paid was about £20 for two courses plus two or three drinks each for two people – which is very reasonable. Holiday reps, as well as touts, will also hand out discount vouchers for many of the restaurants in the area. Those further from the centre of the resort are even less expensive, but the quality is just as good, if not better. The cheapest meal we managed to find was a lunchtime special of two main meals and two (alcoholic) drinks for less than £5.

Sunny Beach is family-friendly, cheerful and – above all – incredibly cheap. If you can see past the harassment of the restaurant touts, it’s a perfectly good budget resort with decent food and facilities. This part of Bulgaria is certainly worth a visit for some summer sun, but I personally wouldn’t make it a regular destination.