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Alternative Travel Destinations – Varna, Bulgaria

So it’s already 2014, when did that happen? Midnight of December 31st 2013, you might say, but don’t be a smart-ass. 1988, the year I was born, is as far away as 2040, and if that isn’t depressing then I don’t know what is.

But not to worry, because there is still cause for optimism – the long winter seems to be finally drawing to a close, half of the UK is no longer under water (or maybe it is and the media just got sick of showing it) and the year is still young. This is it, the time to get away to that dream destination, spin a globe and pick somewhere random, go to an airport and take the first bloody flight out of here.

Or, and this is the more sensible option, you can read my series of alternative travel destinations in 2014. Forget about the crowds and inflated prices in Brazil, the overcrowded Greek islands and the Costa Brava, and head instead to,

Varna, Bulgaria

So Bulgaria isn’t exactly a traveller’s secret anymore, as anyone who has been watching Channel 4’s ‘What Happens in Sunny Beach’ will know, it is still a brilliant place to visit. Varna, on the northern Black Sea coast, is an incredible and still relatively little-known location.

Known as Bulgaria’s “summer capital”, it’s extremely affordable – a pint in one of the beachfront bars will probably set you back about a pound – has a lively nightlife scene, a long sandy beach and a surprisingly pretty old town. I say ‘surprisingly’ because if you’ve been to the capital city Sofia – or any of the ex-Soviet states for that matter – then you’ll know that architecture isn’t exactly their strong point. And while it’s true that Varna has its share of ugly buildings, it also has a lovely cathedral and a smattering of charmingly crumbling buildings clustered around the pedestrianised main square.

Varna Church - Bulgaria

The beach, of course, is the main draw. It is within walking distance and is a nice little location. Like a lot of European beaches it is slightly compromised by having sun loungers all over it, but if you can look beyond that then you’ll have a great time, especially as summer temperatures average 25-30C.

If you’re looking for a slightly more secluded location then you can hop on a bus and head to any of the surrounding beaches. My favourite was Cabacum, about 20km north of Varna, which was quiet, peaceful and much more spacious.

And what about the city’s ballet scene? Well thanks for asking, because if you are a fan of the ballet then you’re in for a treat. In July 2014 Varna is hosting the International Ballet Competition’s 50th anniversary, so there will be a series of events over the course of the month.

Now for the details: you can get Sofia for about £80 return, or can fly straight to Varna for about £100 (if you don’t mind flying in Wizz Air’s garish pink planes). Sofia isn’t a bad place to begin a trip – it has a few nice boulevards, some interesting buildings and good bars, but in all fairness it’s not worth more than a day or two. If you are interested in some extra travelling in the area then Istanbul, Bucharest and even Athens aren’t too far away.

That’s it for part one, for those of you who aren’t already packing your bags and snapping up flights to Varna, part two will be coming soon.