SIGHTS in Sofia:
It's reputed to be the most magnificent building on the Balkan peninsula, at least from the 20th century. And this not only according to Bulgarians. Absolutely convince yourself of the cathedral's beauty. It was built as a remembrance to an important historical event: After the Russian-Ottoman War at the end of the 19th century, Bulgaria broke out of the Ottoman Empire, and the building is a sign of gratitude. At the same time it is a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives. The Russian Tsar of the time, Alexander II, was and is known as the liberator king. The cathedral was named after the hero's patron saint. Construction started in 1904; however, it was only consecrated in 1924. The first highlight, its gilded domes, are visible from afar. The second is the size. As was the wish of the Bulgarian government, it has room for 5,000 people. This makes the never ending façade almost as imposing as the inside of the church, which consists of innumerable artworks: Frescoes, icons and mosaics.
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.
You won't find a bigger synagogue than this one in the whole Balkan region. Even if you extended your search to all over Europe it would be difficult to find a similarly monumental synagogue. Again, the Austrians left their mark: The building was designed by the architect Friedrich Grünanger, finished in 1909 and inaugurated by Tsar Ferdinand I. Experts immediately see elements of the Vienna Secession, while the ignorant get stuck with the Moorish style. Up to 1,300 believers would comfortably fit in the synagogue. Yet there are only few regular visitors, because the members of the formerly sizable Jewish community have been dispersed. Those who still live here are primarily non-practicing Jews. Since 1992 the Museum of Jewish History is located in the synagogue.
EAT in Sofia:
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.
When Audrey Hepburn graces the restaurant with a smile from the wall, then you can't go wrong, can you? The brasserie is a slice of Paris in the middle of Sofia; not overloaded with things, but the devil is in the detail, and here he makes it quite obvious that this is a step up from most places: Gilded frames, crystal chandeliers, intricate stucco. On the floor checkerboard tiles, along with simple bistro tables and wooden chairs. The mix makes you feel immediately at ease, making you want to stay longer every time you have to leave. On top of this you'll find a great variety on the menu. The French delicacies on the fixed menu are complemented by daily changing specials. For those who love greens, there is a separate salad menu, full of vitamins and interesting combinations. You combine that with the right wine, from Bulgaria or elsewhere, et voilà the perfect night.
If you really want to get a taste of Bulgaria you should just order up and down the menu for once. The tavern is just as authentic as the food that's in the pots and later on your plates. Vegetarians can pick and choose among the starters, which consist of fresh vegetables and salad creations. Carnivors can look forward to pork in white wine sauce and grilled skewers. The interior is wonderfully traditional. Dark wook, old walls, wooden sculptures and natural materials. If you have seen the Dance of the Vampires a bit too often, you should refrain from eating here - the interior looks exactly how you imagine restaurants that should be avoided by women with a delicious looking neck. It almost seems surprising that the place is not from the Middle Ages but counts a youthful 80 years. Tip: Friday and Saturday evenings there is live violin music in the garden.
STAY in Sofia:
The Radisson is located in the middle of the cultural and commercial centre of the city and provides the perfect refuge particularly for business travellers. If you enjoy elegance and the advantages of big hotels, this is the right one for you. The rooms are classic and cosy; the junior suite offers luxury at of the highest level. If you are lucky you'll have a room with a magnificent view of the nearby Alexander-Nevski Cathedral. Enjoy your stay in Sofia: Between tasteful and stylish, between marble bath and fitness room, between happening city life and relaxation in one's own home for a while. Tip: The in-house restaurant is top class. You still prefer to eat elsewhere? No problem, the great restaurants Motto and Egur are just around the corner. Doubles start at 105,- euros a night.
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.
The Sheraton is one of the best hotels in town and deserves every single one of its five stars. It's located at a prominent spot, in the centre of the city. Even travellers with limited time on their hands get a chance to explore the city and plunge into city life. The motto? Luxury of the finest kind. It starts in the hotel lobby, which welcomes you with sophisticated stucco, columns reaching to the ceiling and marble floors. It goes on with spacious rooms with ceilings so high that the chandeliers almost seem to get lost. Not enough? Enjoy the comprehensive programme in the fitness centre, the sauna or the beauty parlour. If you don't want to go outside after a tiring day, you don't have to get bored: You can lose your money in the casino or invest it in an elegant evening in the Stardust Restaurant or the Lobby Bar Pliska. The terrace is particularly beautiful; from there you'll have a great view of the city centre - and this is really an unforgettable experience, especially at night. Doubles start at 125,- euros.
SHOPPING in Sofia:
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.
If you take a walk through the shopping malls in Sofia you may doubt that Bulgaria once had anything to do with communism. Here capitalism reigns, and the Bulgarians who own the necessary capital enjoy every bit of it. The City Centre Sofia at the Arsenalski Boulevard is an impressive mall that extends over six floors. Included in the entertainment programme are bars, restaurants and an imposing IMAX cinema. Fashion lovers can buy French fashion at SInequanon and Turkish glass ware such as vases, drinking glasses and bowls. Highlights are the Nolita Shop, with unique fashion for unique women, and the Ra-Re Store, which not only offers clothes but also history and way of life along with it. Morover, there are Kookai, Energie, Fornarina, Stefanel, Missoni and other international brands. Kenvelo is a kind of Czech H&M and a Mecca for Bulgarian youth.
If you're interested in Bulgarian fashion you might want to take a look in the Daka Style Shop. The focus is on stylish business fashion for women. The quality is good and the selection quite interesting. If you look around for a bit you'll find a few cool pieces that are classy and elegant at the same time. Blouses, suits, but also shirts and dresses, and all sorts of accessories, for example bags and scarves. For the quirky Daka Style offers a special feature: It also produces uniforms, which will certainly draw some attention. The clothes for chambermaids, Spa-employees and receptionists are nice and ideal for daily use. The brand has been around for ten years, and is now so popular that there are three shops.