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Varna - The Black Sea Capital

Varna, the summer capital of Bulgaria, is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city bursting with life. Bulgarian royalty endorsed this notion by choosing the city of Varna for their summer residence.

The Independent newspaper dubbed Varna "Europe's new funky town, the good-time capital of Bulgaria". It enjoys a nationwide reputation for its rock and hip-hop artists and related events such as the July morning rock festival. Libby Gomersall puts the Black Sea capital under the microscope.

Varna has a population of 530,000 and is the county's third largest city. It is a major tourist destination with in excess of 20 kms of golden sandy beaches and thermal mineral water sources.

Varna also acts as the gateway to the purpose-built beach resorts. Tourism is one of its most important revenue sources and is bursting with activities to suit all ages.A vibrant,sociable and inexpensive city that continues to catch the attention of more and more visitors each year.


The city centre has a quaint ‘shabby chic' retro style, a city in part languishing in the old glory of the twenties, yet embracing the spirit of a new millennium.

The emerging Bulgarian middle classes rebuilt the downtown area in the late 19th and early 20th century in Western style with local interpretations of Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, Neo-classicism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco and many of these buildings have undergone a tasteful restoration.

In Nezavisimost Square, the heart of the city, there is a refreshing fountain, which seems to cool down its summer visitors with its jet sprays.

Pavement Café's and restaurants surround the square and it is a great place for sipping on a coffee and watching the world pass by. Off the main square, there are many delightful boutiques and shopping here is a pleasure.

During the rapid urbanisation of the 1960s to the early 1980s, large, concrete, Soviet-style apartment blocks sprung up on land formerly covered by small private vineyards or agricultural cooperatives. These grim monstrosities still loom in the background but they are fading as the volume of new blocks done in a varied, tasteful pastel palette overshadows them.


Location

Varna lies on the Northern Black Sea coast 470 kms northeast of Sofia; the nearest major cities are Dobrich (45 kms to the north), Shumen (80 kms to the west), and Burgas (130 kms to the south-west). The city's horseshoe shape envelops the bay of the Black Sea creating a perfect natural harbour. Its backdrop is the creamy limestone cliffs topped by the Frangen Plateau. A series of lush terraces descend downwards to what locals call Varna Lake. It's proximity to the sea means that it enjoys a mild continental climate with a long, mild autumn and spring, hot, sunny summers and a short unpredictable winter.



 

CULTURE VULTURE

Varna is among Europe's oldest cities and it has belonged to many great Empires in it's time. The Milesians who named it Odessos founded it as a trading colony in 570 BC. For centuries, it was a trade route for the Ionians and the Thracians and by the 4th century BC, it was predominantly a mixed Greco-Thracian community.

By 5 AD, the Romans inhabited the city. Odessos lost its political independence, preserving only an appearance of self-administration. It did however maintain its military, economic and cultural importance. The Roman legacy is still visible today in the ancient vestiges of the fortress wall of the city and impressive ruins of the Roman baths, the Thermae, the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria.

 

In the latter part of the 6th century the Slavs conquered the Balkans and the city was renamed Varna which means ‘Black One'. By the late 13th and 14th century, Varna had turned into a thriving commercial hub frequented by Genoese, Venetian and Ragusan merchant ships. Indeed Varna became the most important seaport between Constantinople and the Danube delta. Today, the Bulgarian Navy has it's headquarters in Varna.

The Russians temporarily took over the city in 1773 and again in 1828. The British and French campaigning against Russia in the Crimean War (1854-1856) used Varna as one of its headquarters and principal naval bases. In 1866, the first railroad in Bulgaria connected Varna with the port of Rousse on the Danube and linked the Ottoman capital Istanbul with Central Europe; for a few years, the Orient Express ran along this route.

By 1878, Varna was an Ottoman city of mostly wooden houses in a style characteristic of the Black Sea coast, densely packed along narrow, winding alleys. A stone walled citadel surrounded it. It was surrounded by a moat with a vaulted stone bridge leading across the River Varna up to a pair of enormous ornamental iron gates, which were protected by towers. The place abounded in pre-Ottoman relics. Russia finally liberated the city on March 3rd 1878 and the Treaty of Berlin relinquished it to Bulgaria.

 


 

 

GETTING AROUND

The city is accessible by air with Varna International Airport lying conveniently close to the centre. You can reach Varna by sea and from here; you can travel from the Port Of Varna Cruise Terminal to exciting destinations including Istanbul and Odessa.

The Central Train station lies to the south, close to the port and offers travel to and from many European destinations. Travel by car is easy, most roads have been resurfaced and the A2 and A5 motorways lead out of the city. There is a bus station 2 kms to the northwest of the city centre offering coaches to destinations all over Bulgaria.

It is easy to explore the city on foot; however, public transport is extensive and reasonably priced. There are dozens of local and express buses, fixed-route minibus lines and a large fleet of taxicabs, most of which stand in front of the Cathedral.

 

WHERE TO STAY

Dallas Business Club - Set in 6,000 square metres of parkland, this modern Bulgarian Revival style hotel opens to an antique-filled interior and is set 200 metres from the beach and four kilometres from the thermal baths.

Art Hotel Capitol - Art Nouveau style situated off the main square.


Splendid Hotel - Situated at the very centre of Varna, across the road from the Cathedral. Classical, cosy atmosphere with facilities to satisfy all needs of business travellers and guests.


Musala Palace Hotel - Impressive architecture echoing the spirit of the 1920's. Off the main square in the heart of the city.


Divesta Hotel - Situated in the city centre and within easy reach of everything. Helpful staff, clean rooms and good food at reasonable prices. There is also wireless internet available in the lobby, bar and the first floor bedrooms.


 

 

EATING & DRINKING


Restaurants

La Pastaria - Piccadilly Park Shopping Centre and on Dragoman. One of Varna's finest Italian restaurants in terms of food quality, wine list and service.

Guan Don - next to the hotel Splendid and close to the Cathedral. A huge selection of tasty Chinese food with enormous servings at extremely low prices.

Felice - situated on the Palah Centre Shopping Complex and on the waterfront. The upmarket arm of the Happy Bar chain of restaurants. Serves delicious Italian food including pizza and pasta dishes. The piece de resistance is the feature window where you can watch the chefs prepare your food.

Tambuktu - on the waterfront overlooking Varna beach. This restaurant offers a first class fish menu including well-prepared sushi dishes.

Mr. Baba - on the waterfront again. A great experience where you eat in an old wooden sailing ship. An excellent menu with a great range of seafood. Friendly service and usually packed of an evening as it is so popular.

Cafés

Delphin - is situated in the middle of the Kniaz Boris pedestrian precinct. It is a small café offering a stylish and modernatmosphere. Specialties of the house are cake Dolphin and cocktail Dolphin. There is seating for 80 people much of which is in the shade of the trees.

Coco Bongo - is situated off the main square, just behind the theatre, this café offers a massive range of ice creams. All seating is outdoors in a beautiful garden adorned with palms. There is also a place for children to play and designated parking too.

Mistral - On Preslav Street. This fantastic café offers 22 varieties of Italian ice cream. The speciality ice is called Fantastiko. There is also an excellent selection of cakes and puddings.


Bars

Viking - This bar offers a choice of 35 different beers and 15 different wines. Located on Ivan Aksakov Street, there is seating indoors and out and they also have a kids corner. The roasted pork fillet Viking is the food specialty.

The Red Pub - A beer house located on Tchatalja Boulevard, which has a fine interior with pictures of stars and sculptures are all around. It is open until 2 am and offers a good selection of alcoholic drinks as well as a snack menu.


The Three Lions - A typical English pub setting on Tsaribrod Street. There are a staggering 60 beers to choose from and there is a bar food menu.

 

Clubs

The Zone - Located below the sea garden and right on the beach, The Zone has a staggering 5,000 places. The music is great here and sometimes they have live music from well-known musicians. There is a varied programme, everything from R&B, Latin, folk, ballet and erotic shows. There is also a guarded parking lot.

Quasimodo - Just in front of the Varna Stadium on Vassil Levski Boulevard, you will find an interesting nightclub offering pop, rock and disco music. Its cheap prices means that people of all ages visit regularly. Many home grown Bulgarian rock bands play here. There are about 500 places and the entry fee is a mere 3.00 Leva. The room is air-conditioned.

Parfum - Located on Chataldzha Boulevard, this is a gay club with a beautiful interior and dancing area. There are a couple of bars and they play a wide variety of music.


 

 

SHOPPING

Varna is rapidly becoming a great shopping centre with Piccadilly Park, Central Mall, Varna Mall and recently opened Varna Towers. Possibly the best store in the main square is the Spanish clothes chain Mango. They offer an air-conditioned shopping environment on two floors and have some fantastic 70% off sales. Adidas also have a store on the main square, but their prices tend to be prohibitively high and you can find most sporting goods at their outlet store, a 15-minute walk from the centre.

Denyl have a large store close to McDonald's city centre restaurant and this offers a great range of male and female fashions including a good designer range. International chain Zara has just opened an outlet store close to McDonalds and offer many articles for a mere 10 Leva.

There are literally hundreds of independent boutiques offering a wide range of fashions at low prices, but beware, the quality is not always up to scratch. A couple of streets back from the Cathedral you can find the ‘Gypsy Market' which offers a wide range of items from suitcases and food processors to children's toys and there are some great bargains to be had here.

 

TIME FOR RELAXATION

Varna is a great place to relax. There are many spa hotels offering a wide range of massage and beauty treatments. Apart from conventional massage, you can get a massage with hot stones or hot chocolate. There are also many cosmetic surgeons and dentists who offer excellent treatment at half the price of the UK. There are many exciting activities to tempt the visitor. Casinos abound and some are open 24 hours. The Adrenalin Bungee Club offers jumps from the Aspauhov Bridge (www.adrenalin.bg). In the village of Vinitsa, 6 kms from the city there is an excellent Go-Kart track (www.varnakarting.com). They also offer off road buggies and chance to try your hand at sumo wrestling and shooting. Water sports from para sailing to jet skiing are on offer at the beach. In Vinitsa, you can also find riding stables. The Sea Garden has tennis courts and the Grand Hotel in St Konstantin has a bowling alley. You can watch many sports in Varna; most events take place in the circular shaped Palace of Culture and Sport opposite the Sea Garden.

 

PERFORMING ARTS

The opera house is in the main square and puts on many opera, symphonic, chamber music, ballet, and operetta performances throughout the year. There is also a Puppet Theatre and the Stoyan Bachvarov Dramatic Theatre is home to many talented choirs. There are many concerts, films, theatre and dance shows held at the Festival and Congress Centre and the Palace of Sport and Culture. Varna has several cinemas in the city and many show films in English. Every year the city holds an International Arts Festival called Varna Summer. The theatre festival starts at the beginning of June. June and July are dedicated to classical music and the Jazz fest and the International Folklore Festival are held in August. In autumn, Varna hosts two film festivals. The close of the Summer Festival is marked biannually with the International Festival of Puppet Theatres.

OUT AND ABOUT - Want to find out more? Read our article in the Travel Section where you can learn more about Varna.