There is a resort town located on the south-east coast of Bulgaria, huddled together on a narrow peninsula, that exudes so much charm that you will wonder how it managed to escape from the chaos of modern life. Its beautiful cobbled streets meander all the way out to the sea, pushing forwards into the ocean and forming a stunning marina, full of charming little boats bobbing in the water.
This is Sozopol, one of the most traditional resort towns in the country, and you're going to thoroughly enjoy your holiday here.
At a Glance
Sozopol's resort status has made it a tourist hotspot. Luxurious hotels, access to plenty of necessary facilities and five-star restaurants all have their attractions. The beaches are well cared for and there is no shortage of things to do for holidaymakers keen to make the most of their time here.
But in other ways, Sozopol has remained surprisingly resistant to the influx of visitors. Certainly, the new town - known to the locals as Harmanite - to the south of the miniature bus station - is a commercialised affair, formed mainly of imposing hotels. This is where you come to sleep, and also to sample the excellent beach. For a taste of traditional Bulgaria, we must take a short walk to the edge of the peninsula where the old town lies, stretched out in the sun.
The change in atmosphere is tangible from the moment you set foot here. Gone are the characterless white towers with their intimidating altitude, replaced instead with a cluster of muddled walkways and cobbled roads that ooze charm aplenty thanks to the terracotta-roofed buildings on either side. Away from the five-star restaurants and glitz and glam of Harmanite, you start to understand what life is really like here. Locals can be seen nodding to one another in the streets, and the whole place is dominated by a sleepy laid-back feel that you'll find is highly conducive to the holiday spirit.
Continue your stroll down to the water's edge, where you can see the islands of Saint Ivan and Saint Peter on a clear day. The rocky area that separates the Old Town from the sea is a great place to get a new perspective on Sozopol, or to stretch yourself out on a warm surface and dangle your legs in the idyllic Black Sea. This really is paradise.
To eat and drink
Its contrast between the commercial tourist sector and traditional Old Town is easily Sozopol's greatest strength, and that includes the cuisine served here. Visitors find it very useful to enjoy lunch in a convenient pizzeria near their hotel before strolling into town for a more traditional Bulgarian meal at dinnertime. What's more, many of the restaurants in Harmanite transform into nightclubs at night, making it more difficult to enjoy that traditional family meal if you've chosen to eat late.
Particular highlights include Kirik, named after the nearby island, which is located close to the marine base. Get a reservation the day before - this is a very popular restaurant - and ask for a table out on the terrace underneath the fig tree. Here, you'll be treated with panoramic views of the stunning seafront, as well as a number of local specialities including roasted mackerel, octopus salad, tsiganaki clams and more.
For good value, try harbourside Bizhou, which specialises in a variety of fresh fish dishes. It also serves up Bulgarian staples like kebapcheta, which is a spicy sausage. For those who intend to eat out primarily in the more modern districts, Diamant is one of the better offerings. You'll find traditional grills, soups, fish and a reasonably priced three-course lunch deal - all done very well indeed.
As are most of Bulgaria's resort towns, Sozopol is remarkably well-connected, with plenty of transport options to and from international airports. Getting there doesn't present a problem, and neither does the transportation once you're here. The place is small enough to walk easily from one side to the other, and there's plenty to see.
Taxis are the best option for those who can't or don't want to use their own two feet. They can be easily hailed at any hour of the day - the drivers are most regularly found outside the big clubs in the early hours of the morning. Be sure to agree on a fare before you set off and don't be afraid to haggle - prices are often hiked for tourists.
Things to do
Sozopol isn't short of things to do, with plenty of action going on down by the seafront and in the centre of town. Be sure to ask at your hotel if they know of any concerts or cultural activities going on - the locals are always looking for an excuse to get a party going and the majority of these are entirely free to attend. During the day, consider exploring the many churches that characterise the Old Town, as well as the nearby Amphitheatre Apolonia.
Aside from the lively cultural scene, you have the natural resources to enjoy. Flump down on the beach or take a dip in the crystalline waters. If you want to get out of town for a bit, consider taking a quad bike safari around the village of Marinka - this offers a different experience and a bit of an adrenaline rush.
In a nutshell
There is no doubt about the secret to Sozopol's success; a balance of traditional Bulgarian charm against ultra modern amenities and luxurious hotels can hardly go wrong, especially when you throw in an active beach atmosphere as well. Not only do you have the convenience of being close to five-star restaurants, comfortable hotels and a plethora of attractions, you also have the opportunity to experience the olde worlde charm of a place that feels like it hasn't changed in years.