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Vibrant Vama Veche

Vama Veche is the first town across the border in Romania for those who live close to or along the northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. So if you have not ventured as far as the Romanian border why not take a bus or car ride to the first quaint town across the border, Vama Veche. Vama is really no more than a village with a population of around 178 people, yet it is much visited and is well geared to serve the Bulgarian day tripper. It is a Bohemian resort with brightly coloured buildings and attracts plenty of arty types, but don’t let this put you off, it is worth seeing the village for its uniqueness and alternative environment and most of all its beach is untouched by mass tourism.

 Getting There

The road (known as the E87) north of Varna towards Balchik and then on to Durankulak takes you to the Bulgarian-Romanian border. This is more of a wasteland and you need to continue several miles further to reach the village of Vama Veche. There is also a daily mini bus from Varna to Constanta. Once you are there walking is the mode of transport!


In days of the Ottoman Empire the town was known as Ilanlık. It was founded in 1811 by a few families of Turkish origin known locally as Gaugaz. In 1913, after the Russian liberation, the village became known under its present name, which in Romanian literally means "Old customs point." During the Communist era, Vama Veche carried the reputation it has today; as a popular alternative tourist destination. It remained under developed in comparison to the concrete resorts of the Romanian Black Sea because it was deemed as an important border crossing, yet it became an unofficial hangout for intellectuals despite the repressive Ceausescu regime. Provided people had their identity papers with them they came to no harm in this Bohemian environment. Visitors at the time stayed in tents on the beach or rooms rented from peasants or fishermen.
The Romanian Revolution of 1989 strengthened Vama Veche’s position as a place students and arty types and  intellectuals and many people still choose to camp on the beach despite this being allegedly forbidden.


Vama Veche is not the place to visit with cultural tourism in mind; it is more of a stopover or day trip for those who want to see something of Romania without travelling too far from their Bulgarian home or for those who want to party. It is famous for its nudist beach and since the late 1990’s, the "Save Vama Veche" campaign has played a prominent part in keeping mass tourist development and construction at bay as well as lobbying for the area's environmental conservation.  To educate people on the Save Vama Veche campaign the organisers staged the Stufstock Rock Festival, which drew crowds of 40,000 in 2005. The campaign served to highlight the organisations cause and in 2004, legislation was enforced limiting the construction of new housing and roads. The rock concerts still continue on an annual basis today.
During July and August there are lots of little bars along the beach offering 24 hour service. At weekends thousands of people gather on the beach to party. The first weekend in May marks the opening of the party season and there are plenty of rock bands playing there with the  Stufstock Festival closing the season at the end of August.

The beach here is very clean and unspoiled by mass tourism and whilst the water is generally too cold for swimming during spring and autumn, it is perfect at the height of summer. The beach is also home to lots of local fishermen who are used to being approached for rides in their boat whilst they fish – they do however expect payment in the form of drinks and cigarettes.
There is also a dive base offering beach dives. There is a shipwreck about 150 m away from the shore at a depth of about 10 m down. If you have your own equipment you can generally get one of the lifeguards to row you there, but you need to be a competent diver to visit this wreck. It is not possible to enter the wreck but it still makes fascinating viewing.

Eating, Drinking and Where to Stay

During summer the place is full of bars, restaurants and nightclubs on the beach. Many beach stalls sell Hamsii - little fried fish served with lemon or a garlic sauce. There are also plenty of restaurants in the town offering good Romanian food including a creperie and several pizza parlours with the best pizza being served at Marina Park.

There is also plenty of accommodation and you are likely to be approached by the locals offering you accommodation in the spare room of their home. Most young people choose to camp on the beach during summer and there are toilets and showers available to make the camp more civilized. The Homestay Hotel is one alternative for visitors as is the Punk Rock Hotel located at the entrance to town. Despite its name it is probably one of the best choices in terms of hotels here with friendly staff and authentic wooden rooms. The Golden Sea Motel is more suited to more mature guests or those with families who want more comfort. It is also located at the entrance to Vama Veche and is a three star hotel with more facilities than the rest. It offers alfresco dining in summer with tasty barbecues. The rooms are spacious and the standard overall is clean and comfortable. Pets are welcome in this hotel and they have a good restaurant with a varied menu.

Pictures courtesy of Ian Farrell.