Lunch hadn’t been this relaxing for ages. On one side of the terrace was the sea, deep blue and sparkling; on the other was the restaurant, almost hidden by a huge fig tree surrounded by irises.
On the table was a plate of perfectly grilled sardine-sized fish, a bowl of salad and a glass of a local dry white wine: the ideal finale to a sunny morning of gentle sightseeing. My first day on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Riviera was already a good one.
The omens had been positive from the moment I’d opened my bedroom curtains and spotted two dolphins cruising in the bay below.
It wasn’t what I’d expected at all. When I had started my search for a holiday with guaranteed summer sun, Bulgaria had caught my eye mainly because it seemed so reasonably priced.
Wedged between Greece and Turkey, and just three hours flight away, it seemed too good to be true. I was worried that I’d end up in a bargain basement version of the Costa del Sol.
My fears were misplaced; there are large new resorts along the 125-mile coastline, but I wasn’t in one of them.
I was staying in the modern Hotel Festa Panorama in the newer part of the small seaside town of Nessebar near Burgas, perfectly positioned between the five-mile curve of golden sand backed by the cheek-by-jowl hotels of Sunny Beach resort and the old part of town.
The hotel is looking neat and chic after a change of ownership and decor over the winter, and I was tempted to spend my first morning by the large pool and practising the odd word of Bulgarian (mainly ‘thank you’) on the staff.
However, all the guidebooks agreed that Old Nessebar is one of the Black Sea coast’s loveliest spots, so I headed out to see if they were right. They certainly were.
Squeezed on to a peninsula no more than half a mile long and barely a quarter of a mile wide, Old Nessebar is a delight – cobbled lanes, Byzantine churches and weathered woodand-stone houses wrapped in the remains of its defensive ramparts.
I started my morning of explorations outside the walls, walking through the fish market to the harbour where I watched fishermen painting their boats while house martins swooped above.
From there, a short flight of stairs up into the heart of the town brought me to the best-preserved of Old Nessebar’s churches, Sveti Stefan.
«A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.» — Lao Tzu Copyright © Demetrios the Traveler
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