Vibrant Varna, the Bulgarian Summer 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 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.
Within the City
Varna has a population of 530,000 and is the county’s third largest city. It is a major tourist destination, and with in excess of 20 km of golden sandy beaches and thermal mineral water sources, it is the gateway to the purpose-built beach resorts. Tourism is one of its most important revenue sources and it attracted 4.74 million visitors in 2006, 3.99 million of which were international tourists.
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 ofa 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 has 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 urbanization 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 into the background as the volume of new blocks done in a varied, tasteful pastel palette overshadows them.
Varna lies on the Northern Black Sea coast 260 km from Istanbul, 202 km from Edirne, 172 km from Kirklareli and 204 km from Luleburgaz. There are regular coaches from Istanbul or you can drive and stay overnight in one of the city’s many hotels. The city is accessible by air with Varna International Airport lying conveniently close to the centre. You can reach Varna by sea from Istanbul to the Port Of Varna Cruise Terminal or by train, which arrives at the central train station. 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.
A Dip Back in Time
Varna is among Europe's oldest cities and it has belonged to many great Empires in its 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. In 335 BC, Alexander the Great captured the city and his successor Diadochus Lysimachus later ruled over it. In 339 BC, Philip II of Macedonia unsuccessfully besieged the city. Odessos was an early Christian centre and the ruins of early basilicas and monasteries are testimony to this. 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 late 6th century the Slavs conquered the Balkans and the city was renamed Varna which means “Black One“Many scholars believe that Kahn Asparuh, the founder of the First Bulgarian empire, sited the first capital city close to Varna.
By the late 13th and 14th century, Varna had turned into a thriving commercial hub frequented by Genoese, Venetian and Ragusan merchant ships. Two fortresses, Kastritsi and Galata protected the city. Wheat and other local agricultural produce for the Italian and Constantinople markets were the chief exports and Mediterranean foods and luxury items were imported. Shipbuilding developed in the Kamchiya river mouth. Indeed Varna became the most important seaport between Constantinople and the Danube delta. Today, the Bulgarian Navy has its headquarters in Varna. From the 13th century to the 16th, it was captured many times and by 1444, it belonged to the Ottoman Empire.
The city is packed full of hotels, bars and restaurants and offers a wide range of entertainment. Dallas Business Club is 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 offers exquisite luxury in Art Nouveau style situated off the main square. Splendid Hotel lies at the very centre of Varna, across the road from the Cathedral and offers a classical, cosy atmosphere with facilities to satisfy all needs of business travellers and guests of Varna. Musala Palace Hotel has impressive architecture echoing the spirit of the 1920‘s. Located off the main square in the heart of the city. The Divesta Hotel is situated in the city centre and within easy reach of everything and is noted for its 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.
Dining out in this city is a pleasure with plenty of good restaurants and bars. La Pastaria at Piccadilly Park Shopping Centre and on Dragoman. It is 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 offers 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 is an upmarket arm of the Happy Bar chain of restaurants. It 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 offers a first class fish menu including well-prepared sushi dishes. Mr. Baba on the waterfront again is a great experience where you eat in an old wooden sailing ship with an excellent menu with a great range of seafood.
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