Just a few miles from Nesebar lies Bulgaria’s most popular and much advertised seaside resort: Sunny Beach. A summer destination much favored by locals, Russians and many other Europeans who come in search of sand, sunshine and anything else usually associated with Spain’s Costa del Sol but at much more affordable prices.
After thoroughly enjoying Nesebar, I hopped in my little rental car and was on my way to Sunny Beach to see what it is all about. This, of course, was winter, so I didn’t expect any sunbathing tourist crowds; all the better to see the attractions, hotels, apartment complexes and famous beach.
As could be expected from the name, the major attraction of the place is — the beach. It became rather predictable that everybody I spoke to never failed to say, “Look, there’s the beach. It’s eight kilometers long and you can walk its length without interruption”. Indeed, the beach stretches around the sea in a half moon shape, with natural sand dunes, rare plants and birds, all well preserved and protected. The beach also proudly sports a blue flag, which is the European indicator of a particularly clean and unspoiled beach.
But, lovely as it may be, there is more to a seaside resort than just the beach. And that’s where it gets really interesting in Sunny Beach. During Bulgaria’s communist times, Sunny Beach was a vacation spot for the privileged who were allowed to have their holiday homes. The old soviet influenced buildings are still very much in evidence; horrible, square, one story blocks, run down, and now as always, an eye sore.
There is only one main street and the word which springs to mind when walking this street is … tacky. I was surprised by the abundance of strip joints, cheap night clubs and casinos. Most of them are closed during the winter but, as a friend told me, they are absolutely hopping during the summer season. Apparently, the Russians, who provide a great contingent of summer tourists, love to gamble, drink and watch striptease. Well, everybody to their own.
Since Bulgaria shed communism and joined the EC, efforts have been made to catch up with European tastes and luxuries. Dwarfing the old ramshackle ‘blocks’ are hundreds of brand new apartment complexes and hotels. No amenities are left out and the design is sometimes even breath taking and over the top. One five star hotel is a replica of nothing less than the famous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The overall impression is incongruous, but it’s also interesting to see how the Bulgarian developers have practically outdone themselves to catch up to the rest of Europe in as short a time as possible. In tune with that ambition, there is not only one but two aquaparks as well as other sport and water sport facilities open during the summer.
Quite a few of the new condos are occupied by expats year around, mostly Russians. They stroll around in the winter sunshine, shop in the supermarket and eat and drink in one of the gourmet restaurants. Bulgarian cuisine is very enticing. The emphasis is on meat, but as nearby Nesebar is also a port, fresh fish is available too. Add to this sausages, vegetables, spices and delicious goat cheeses and your mouth begins to water just thinking about it.
Plenty of vineyards are in the vicinity which produce the famous Bulgarian red wine, dark and very strong. Bulgaria is also a coffee drinking nation, therefore you can enjoy what ever kind of coffee you like. Just don’t ask for tea, all you get is hot water and a limp teabag. Sunny Beach is really a somewhat funny experience because it’s an education in contrasts and gives an interesting meaning to the word ‘progress’.
Written by and photos by Inka Piesga-Quischotte for EuropeUpClose.com