The ancient city of Nessebar is sometimes known as the Pearl of the Black Sea and, after visiting, I can certainly vouch for it being Bulgaria’s jewel in the crown.

The old town of the resort is connected to the mainland by a man-made causeway and has endured a turbulent history of more than 3,000 years, which led to UNESCO awarding it World Heritage status in 1983.

Famous for its medieval churches and architecture, the houses are stone-based with a wooden upper floor, and are under a preservation order as a living museum.

The best preserved church in the city is the Church of Christ Pantocrator, which was constructed in the 13th/14th Century and is now an art gallery.

The city, which was founded by the Thracians, has a very special feel, and walking along the narrow cobbled streets was a perfect way to end the day.

My wife Julie and I stayed at the Sol Nessebar Resort hotel complex, which is situated midway between Nessebar and the town of Ravda.

The complex comprises of three hotels, the five-star Palace, which is flanked by the four-star Bay and Mare and proved an ideal base for us.

The hotels are situated in picturesque parkland, which lead down to the beach and they are very family-friendly with plenty of entertainment going on night and day.

Each hotel has its own pool and restaurant and we found the choice and quality of food to be excellent.

Situated on the main road, we took advantage of the local public transport, and despite an erratic timetable and the buses being sometimes overcrowded, they were ideal to use to explore along the coast.

Rivalling Nessebar is Sozopol, one of the oldest resorts on the Black Sea Coast, dating back to the Bronze Age.

The town is very similar looking to Nessebar, with the same architecture and quaint cobbled streets.

The area made the news in 2010 when bones were found in a marble sarcophagus in the ruins of a medieval church on the island of Sveti Ivan.

They are claimed to be that of John The Baptist – after carbon testing by scientists – and are now on display in Sts Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in Sozopol.

Tourists are encouraged to rub a piece of cotton over the glass case where they are held and this is said to bring good fortune.

Art is also very prominent in the town and the Apollonia Art Festival is held every September.

We also visited the fourth biggest city in Bulgaria – Burgas – which has a very cosmopolitan feel to it.

Along with the airport, there is the largest port in the country, a huge oil refinery and the city also has a vibrant student population.

Walking along the fine sandy beach, we headed up to the Sea Garden, a huge park which runs parallel to the beach, which was beautiful.

After this, we made our way to the pedestrianised boulevard in the centre where there are a host of designer shops.

At one of the bars we sat and people watched for a while and enjoyed the ambience.

Afterwards we took the opportunity to cruise down the Ropatamo River.

The river has an abundance of flora and bird species and during our trip to the mouth of the river, where it flows into the Black Sea, we saw quite a few cormorants and turtles.

There are also several rock formations along the bank of the river, with the most famous resembling a lion’s head.

The lower section of the Ropotamo has been a nature reserve since 1940 and is a protected area.

From the relative stillness of the river cruise, there is the other extreme and that is the resort of Sunny Beach, which lies 42km north of Burgas.

Nessebar and Sunny Beach could not be more different, especially when you look from the old town across the bay to the bright lights of the largest and most popular resort in Bulgaria.

Construction in the resort began in 1958 and it now boasts hundreds of hotels.

The main strip backs on to the beach, and is several kilometres long, with many restaurants and bars and the resort is now rivalling the Spanish Costas for custom as it caters for all ages.

This is especially as prices are still very cheap, where a beer can cost less than a pound.

We spent a couple of evenings there and despite our teenage years being a long-distant memory, we didn’t find it too overpowering.

Yes, there were plenty of large groups of youngsters looking for a good time, but we found a fine Italian restaurant and then a good rock band in one of the bars, so we were happy.

Other seaside resorts worth visiting are Ravda and Pomerie, the latter has established itself as a centre of wine and salt production.

This was our first trip to Bulgaria, and despite suffering when a BMW driver reversed over my foot in Nessebar, we have very fond memories of our time there, and look forward to going back.


Balkan Holidays is the leading tour operator to Bulgaria and has operated specialist holidays to the region for 49 years.

It also operates to Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Romania.

A seven-night break at the Sol Nessebar Resort and Mare costs from £516 per person, on an allinclusive basis including return flights from Gatwick to Borgas.

For bookings go to or call reservations on 0845 130 1114