Report on Bulgaria 2004
The resort of Golden Sands (or Zlatni Pyasatsi)
Golden Sands is a purpose built tourist resort on the coast of the Black Sea, which incidentally, has no tides to speak of. During the communist era it was used by high party officials and many of those hotels still remain today, easily identified by their typically austere outside and functional inside. They might have been luxurious for communist brothers, but don't cut the mustard today any more.
Which is why there has been an explosion of development in Golden Sands (and Sunny Beach, which is even bigger) with new hotels, restaurants, bars, discos and karaoke bars. Imagine, if you can, Southend-on-Sea, about 3 times bigger and you get the idea, all quite modern and new-ish with running water, electricity, the lot!
If you're looking for the "real" Bulgaria, you won't find it here. You will find countless bars and restaurants that appear to have got the prices wrong, because they are so cheap.
Not including the hotels, a small beer will cost about 30p, a large one 50p. A meal (main course) can be had for between £2 and £4 absolutely anywhere (and £4 is at the top end of their prices). So we (3 people) could eat out with starters, main meals and drinks for £20 total bill without any trouble at all. This is all based on getting 2.84 levs to the British pound. More about changing your currency on my Tips & Traps page.
In the hotels the prices are, as you might expect, somewhat higher. Expect to pay about double the prices I mention above in the hotels.
Many tourist packages include half board whether you want it or not. But with prices so low, it is easy to forego the evening meal at least a few times and eat out. You'll find a far wider range of food (we had spit roast pork one night) than in the hotel, and the atmosphere is buzzing. Many restaurants and bars have a resident singer or band - pick your eating place wisely depending not just on the menu but on the entertainment too!
There's a fair bus service to and from Varna (see my Varna web site page) that runs from Golden Sands every few minutes. It costs the princely sum of 50p for a single single journey and is very easy to do.
The number 9 only goes so far as the Riviera Resort (Hotels Lotus, Nympha, Oasis, Imperial) but the 309 and 409 goes right to the end of Golden Sands. You can of course walk from the Riviera end of Golden Sands to the centre but if you live at the northern end of Golden Sands then we're talking about a good 25 minute walk.
If you go out walking in the evening into Golden Sands proper, a few yards away from the coast road you will find countless restaurants, bars and discos. You will also find countless young girls, not more than 20 years old, pushing leaflets into your hand about the current disco establishment they are promoting.
These girls know exactly who they are targeting and it's not middle aged men like me. It's the young and go-for-it crowd. It was particularly galling to have a pretty young girl come towards us with the latest "Bonkers Disco" leaflet, skillfully avoid my outstretched hand and place it into my teenage daughter's.
All I ever got offered was the "Muppet Karaoke Bar" leaflet. Do I really look that old?
It's a pity that when they designed Golden Sands they didn't take into account that where there are bars and restaurants there are people. Hordes of them. The place is almost like a pedestrianised zone with tourists walking on the pavements, on the streets, everywhere.
But it is not pedestrianised so you still get the kamikaze taxi drivers trying to get through and even worse is that tourist coaches use the same streets to drop off their customers outside their hotels. The roads are just not wide enough for all this traffic and people and one day there will be a bad accident. Just keep a sharp look out for traffic and on your kids too.
Golden Sands is built mainly into the hillside so unless your hotel is actually on the beach (as was ours) you will find you must walk up and down some fair slopes.
What we likedWell, the food was good, the drink was cheap, the cocktails were great.
What we hated
In short, the resort. It was so kiss-me-quick it was unbelievable.
If you're looking for a sun, sea and sand holiday (and many were) this is ideal.
If you're not, then try somewhere else to experience more of the real Bulgaria.