Many Israelis haven’t finalized their summer holiday plans yet, and are still deliberating whether they should fly overseas or vacation with their families somewhere here in Israel. It’s hard to find something nice to do without breaking the bank.
I recently had the good fortune to be invited to two locations that have become hot spots for Israelis: Burgas and Varna. While both of these Bulgarian cities are known for their exciting casino vacation packages, I discovered that in actuality they have a lot more to offer adults and children, and at extremely reasonable rates, too. In addition, it’s pretty easy to find deals that include low-cost, short flights.
Located about a two-hour drive from each other, Burgas and Varna both offer pristine beaches, a multitude of hotels, varied marine activities, hiking trails, good food, bustling bars and, of course, plenty of boutiques for shopping.
Touted as the largest resort town on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, Varna is the third-largest city in Bulgaria. Tourists visiting in Varna are greeted with an amazing mix of ancient and modern.
One of the most famous attractions in the area is the Golden Sands, a stretch of beach just 18 kilometers north of the city, which is home to a number of luxury hotels, quaint cafes, and crowded casinos and bars.
Although much of the excitement is focused in the beach area, there are a number of attractions in Golden Sands located inland, the most important one being the Dormition of the Mother of God Cathedral. Construction on the cathedral began in the late 19th century, and the interior walls are covered with beautiful frescoes. Visitors are also welcome to climb up to the bell tower, from which there is a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
Another site worth visiting in Golden Sands is the municipal theater, which is an impressive structure that was built in the Baroque period. There’s also an incredible fountain in the surrounding courtyard where delightful festivals are held every summer.
If you’re traveling with children, you’ll be happy to know that the Golden Sands Nature Park includes an 8-km. long sea park that spreads out along the beach and includes a dolphinarium, an observatory, a zoo and a huge playground.
If you prefer traveling with an organized group, you can book a trip with a travel agency that organizes day trips and outings such as sailing, visiting the port and a rakija distillery, and touring nearby villages, during which you can meet and talk with locals. Participants will also get to taste banitsa (Bulgarian cheesecake) and drink a hot beverage as they enjoy a lovely music and dance performance.
Sleeping options: There’s a wide range of options available for tourists, depending on your budget. If you were thinking of spending up to $400 a night, I recommend staying at the all-inclusive Prestige Deluxe Aqua Park Club in Golden Sands. This 4-star hotel is located near the beach and promenade, which is a huge plus. It has modern rooms, a spa, a pool, water slides, a kids’ bar and play areas. This special price is valid for three nights, July 5-8, and includes flight, hotel, transportation to and from the airport for two adults and two children.
Another hotel in the same price range that is very popular among Israeli tourists – perhaps due to the large casino that’s located inside the hotel – is the Havana Hotel Casino & Spa. The hotel underwent a complete overhaul this past year, and its rooms overlook the gorgeous mountain landscape. It includes a large pool and a fun kids’ area, too. Due to the large number of Israeli guests, the hotel is used to special requests, such as for kosher food.
Located about a two-hour drive from Varna, you’ll find the lively resort town Burgas, which is also located on the shores of the Black Sea. The city offers an extremely wide variety of entertainment options, tourist attractions, marine activities and cultural events.
Burgas is the fourth-largest city in Bulgaria, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe due to its incredible beaches – namely, Sunny Beach – which stand in stark contrast with the nearby mountains and green countryside. It’s also known as a popular clubbing town with a bustling nightlife, as well as for its great water parks.
Nearby, you’ll also find the picturesque town of Nessebar, located on a peninsula just north of the city, which has been officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has charming restaurants with views overlooking the sea, lots of cute souvenir shops, ancient churches and elaborate buildings that have been preserved from earlier eras.
Although there are endless attractions inside the city, I recommend taking at least one day to travel in the region outside of Burgas. There are a number of attractions available in the mountainous region, such as horseback riding, ATV and jeep tours and archery workshops. You can book day trips with the travel agencies in which you’ll visit authentic villages, eat a traditional Bulgarian breakfast, visit a honey museum, ride a donkey and see how clothes were made on traditional looms from eras long gone.
Sleeping options: There are plenty of options for hotels in Burgas, with a wide range of prices. One hotel that I recommend is Aqua Paradise, which is offering a three-night special for July 4-7 that costs $499 a person. The all-inclusive hotel is located next door to one of the largest water parks in the area (entrance is free for guests at Aqua Paradise). In addition, the hotel offers two pools, a sports facility, a spa and gym, a sauna, a bowling alley and three restaurants.
Another option, which is a little more affordable, is the Best Western Plus Premiere Inn, which is located about 100 meters from Sunny Beach. The modern rooms overlook a large pool with water slides, and there’s also a gym and a casino on site. For half-board pension on July 4-7, the cost is $379 per person.
If you prefer to stay a bit outside the city, where the atmosphere is a little calmer, you might enjoy staying at the 5-star Royal Castle Design & Spa Hotel in Elenite, which has its own private beach, as well as a pool. The luxurious resort has a gorgeous lobby area, and hotel guests are offered free entry to the nearby Atlantida Aqua Park. For a half-board pension, including entrance to the water park, on July 4-7, the cost is $499 per person.
The writer was a guest of Flying Carpet.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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