EAT in Sofia:
The motto is many's favourite place, and after a long workday it's the perfect place to loosen the tie for a bit. The first motto is: Reserve beforehand. After that there is nothing that will come between you and a relatively relaxed evening. Not even the not-so-easy Bulgarian language, because the staff speaks English and happily explains the cryptic menu to you. The trendsetters of the city meet here for an international dinner: tuna risotto, goat cheese in honey, creative pasta dishes and much more - at a reasonable price. The food and the atmosphere are in a constant battle with one another: Which of the two lures more guests? Obvious candidates, aside from the delicacies on your plate, the wonderful garden, the cosy sofas and the design furnishing. And after you have finished all the food, it's still much too early to rush off - now the beautiful restaurant turns into a stylish cocktail bar.
If you want real good fish, then Captain Cook is the restaurant you can rely on. Not because the restaurant is at all fancy, but because you can get fresh, local, exotic and just great seafood. The furnishing doesn't cast the shadow of a doubt on where you are and what you'll find on the menu. Looking into the aquarium with its many colourful fish you even get the feeling that this might be the slightly impractical menu. The whole is complete with nautical knick-knack on the walls. It doesn't matter, when the friendly staff serves to you what previously had been swimming in the salt and fresh water. Grilled, fried or rolled in seaweed in front of your eyes - we won't recommend anything, because everything is simply delicious. We can, however, recommend where to sit down: In the beautiful restaurant garden.
If you've come to Sofia overland, you might have been a guest in one or the other of the monasteries. Often you can experience arts and culture there, maybe even stay for the night. Yet the food is mostly reserved to the pious permanent residents of the monastery. But don't think luckily so. In the Manastirska magerniza, the monastery kitchen, you'll eat food cooked according to monastic recipes. Not only from the area of Sofia, but all over Bulgaria. The cuisine is simple but made from fresh ingredients and authentic. The hungry pilgrim is welcomed with bread and salt, thereby experiencing the traditional Bulgarian welcome greeting. If you come as a couple, you can try a telling wedding rite: Break the bread in two. The one who gets the bigger piece, wears the breeches in the relationship.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
The St. Georges Rotunda was first a martyr's shrine, then a church, then a mosque, and then once again a church. Whatever it was, the perfectly kept monument from the 4th century never quite fit into the cityscape. Today it is perched on a less than picturesque spot between communist architectural eye-sores and the Sheraton Hotel. The small brick church deserves 100 points for its charm - neither of the other contenders can compete. Another 100 for being so unique and dignified in age: You won't find another building in town that is so old, yet good-looking. Since 1998 the hoipoloi can visit it again, in order to enjoy small but interesting exhibits.
The eponyms of the square have been sitting on a bench for years without batting an eyelid. Petko and Pencho Slaveykov are made of bronze. Before it came to this, father and son made a name for themselves as the most gifted writers in the country. The square, which the two of them observe benevolently, has been known since the 16th century. At the time there was a coffeehouse, a mosque and an outpost of the Ottoman police force. Whether or not the square was as popular then as it is today, we don't know. We do know, however, that it experienced a lot of upheaval before reaching its current form in the 1930s. The Slaveykov Square exerts a magical attraction on the locals, especially the book lovers among them. The public library is located here, as well as many bookshops. The open-air book market was a popular target for bargain hunters for many years. According to the latest rumours, however, it is to be moved elsewhere.
Built on a necropolis, abused as a gladiators' arena, extended as a mosque and finally restored to a church: The history of St. Sofia is just as long as it is fascinating. The classic Byzantine masterwork from the 6th century is the oldest Orthodox church in Sofia and was then built on the highest elevation of the settlement. In the course of several bouts of destruction and rebuilding efforts the church has changed, but retains its basic structure: Even today the three-nave basilica shines in the classic Byzantine look. Unfortunately, most of the frescoes have suffered severely over the years, however, you can still admire many icons and three impressive altars. And since you are already there: Just pay a quick visit to the grave of Bulgaria's national poet, Ivan Vazov, on the Eastern side of the church. That's the gentleman with the book in his hand.
SHOPPING in Sofia:
The list of celebrity customers of Andrews' is long. Yet outside of Bulgaria most of them aren't really well-known. But probably they all have good taste. For men there are mainly shirts and more shirts. Even that can be exciting, when you are looking for the perfect piece and then find it in the end. There're also the suit to go with, the tie, the shoe, the wallet and much more. The women's collection is a feast for the eyes and offers much more variety. The flattering dresses and suits bestow an almost doll-like elegance to the woman, along with a lot of self-confidence. The perfect outfit for people of the brand young and successful. Information on the side: Andrews Fashion, too, creates uniforms for companies and hotels. Which ones, that's up to you to find out.
Mirella Bratova is a local heroine, who contracts exclusively with local craftsmen. The designer works with natural materials only: Silk, linen, hemp, cotton and wool. Maybe the odd thread of rayon. Along with the dresses she also sells bags and fine jewellery, designed by Maria Ivanova and Daniela Andreevska. Mirella Bratova is on her way to conquer the world with the fashion she designs in her Sofia studio. Her clothes are sold in Florida, and even in London there's a shop. Be ahead of your times and take a knitted dress home with you.
Souvenir hunters will find their luck in the most varied corners of the city, but in the Maxido Shop everything is at one spot. Icons, bronze statues, paintings and crystal art - a little bit of kitsch doesn't hurt. Aside from that there is a good choice of newspapers, maps and postcards. Much of it is rather quirky, other stuff is charming, some rather helpful. Smell some of the rose oils, try Bulgarian natural cosmetics, admire traditional dolls? Rummage, find and buy. Tip: The shop is located directly inside the Hilton Hotel. If you feel like it you can also take a look into the KULT shop next door. It reminds one a bit of the wild mix of duty-free shops, yet it may harbour one or the other jewel.
STAY in Sofia:
The Greenville complex not only combines apartments with hotel rooms, but also city with wellness holidays. The hotel was opened in 2004 and offers about 100 suites, rooms and apartments. Most of the rooms are fitted with balconies, with a view onto lush nature or the tennis court. No, you haven't misread this. The hotel looks like a mixture between enchanted castle and grandiose country house, providing all sorts of pastime activities that you wouldn't expect so close to the city: Pool, Jacuzzi, solarium, and massage temple. If you use the park for an extended stroll or morning run, you can easily skip one service in the hotel: the fitness room. Doubles start at 71,- euros a night.
In a historical building, in the centre of Sofia, you will find an extraordinarily charming hotel. Each room is different and named after varying metropolitan cities. Moreover, everything here is gay-friendly, however, open-minded heteros are just as welcome. The main thing is to be nice, it seems. The staff provides professional help around the clock, including tips on sightseeing and going out. In a way, you'll find everything you need or would want to see around the corner: shops, markets, and mineral baths. Another proof of the diversity: A synagogue, the famous mosque, and the Catholic cathedral are all within walking distance. Yes, all three. Doubles start at 80,- euros.
The Casa Boyana is located in an idyllic neighbourhood, only a stone's throw away from the city centre. The eponym of the boutique hotel is the Church of Boyana, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you'll find just around the corner. The distance to the city has two advantages: Absolute calm and a great view onto the city and the Vithosha mountain range. With only 14 rooms and 2 junior suites, the hotel is among the smallest, thus offering a perfect service: You are a VIP 24/7, luxury is with you everywhere. If you feel like Italian cuisine, you should definitely dine in the hotel restaurant. After that you will lose your extra pounds with ease in the fitness room. Aside from sauna, solarium, as well as a whirlpool in the bathroom you'll have a wellness bonus of a different kind: Throughout your stay you have access to free fruit and mineral water. Doubles start at 105,- euros a night.