SIGHTS in Sofia:
Museum of History
Romans, Greeks, Turks - each of its changing masters has left traces in Bulgaria that shaped the country. Those traces were gathered in a laborious effort and are now on display in the biggest museum of the country, 650,000 pieces altogether. Aside from the internationally renowned gold of the Thracians you can admire Bulgarian traditional dresses as well as arts and crafts and traditional pieces of work. Unfortunately the exposition only spans the time up until the lead-in to World War II, yet the sheer number of treasures make up for the missing parts of history. The museum was founded in 1973 and is today one of the biggest in the Balkans. Since you have already delved into Bulgarian every-day life, here you have a chance to get to know Bulgarian history.
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.
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.
EAT in Sofia:
A brasserie in Sofia? Here you go - the name: Deja Vu. The location: the centre of the Bulgarian capital. The dishes: pasta, risotto and salad - among other things. A déjà vu, the feeling that one has experienced a new situation already before, is known to us. With this new restaurant on Aksakov Street, directly in the centre of Sofia, yet located quite quietly, it might be linked to the food: Caesar's salad, salad with rucola, pasta and risotto. The Mediterranean part of the menu is known and dear to us! Likewise on the menu: Balkan dishes, fish and more sea food, and of course sugar-sweet desserts. At the Deja Vu you can also have a peek over the cook's shoulder. From the second floor which seats 90 persons that might get a bit tricky though. By the way - smokers and non-smokers are separated in the black-and-white restaurant, according to the regulations. All good reasons for everyone to come back again!
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.
The opera club is definitely the place to be. For the cosmopolitan, bon vivant, music lover and every one who wants to chill after a day in the city. The way it's sitting there, in the city centre of Sofia, it's not so far from the flair of the equivalent clubs in London, Paris and Vienna. Modern style meets baroque patterns; minimalism harmonizes perfectly with ornamental knick-knack. The menu lists delicious dishes, with influences from all over Europe, artfully combined. Whether for lunch or brunch, coffee or cake - the Opera is always a busy hot spot. After dinner, when the garden becomes enchanted, the DJ sets the colours of the cocktails to lounge music. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday people party and enjoy till the morning hours.
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.
Mushrooms don't spring up like these small, lively shops à la Muhomorka. This one is the oldest of its kind, selling clothes and accessories from all over the world since 1999. The focus is on items from India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. The clothes are made for colourful peacocks, but even some grey mice or friends of a more classic style could need one or the other colour speck in the form of a multi-coloured hat, a scarf, a bag or a piece of jewellery. The accessories that are sold in the shop are perfect souvenirs and gifts: Lamps, lights, candles, water pipe kits, rattles, drums and flutes. According to their own declaration, the shop-owners sell anti fashion here. True, their stuff doesn't have to do much with fashion; more so with a taste of the big wide world. Whatever: It's fun to rummage.
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.
STAY in Sofia:
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.
Grand Hotel Sofia
There is none more classic. More luxurious neither. The Grand Hotel is one of the most renowned hotels in Sofia, and at a prime location: Just go outside for a bit. You are near the National Theatre, the City Art Gallery, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the great Concert Hall. The VIPs who go here do this less because of the location but because of the stars. The Grand Hotel is graced by five of them, and each one of them stands for pure luxury. The façade is imposing with its marble, granite and glass. Inside you have sumptuous curtains, classy and old-fashioned upholstery and colourful glass doors. Thus it's no surprise that the Grand Hotel also features a museum: The in-house collection has over 400 oil paintings. Originals, of course. Doubles start at 79,- euros a night.
If you've ever slept in a Kempinski hotel, you'll have to admit: One could get used to it. And why not? The advantage is that each one is designed differently, and so each experience will be unique. Naturally, this top class elegance has its price. Yet it's easily forgotten as soon as you dive into your giant luxury bed. Kempenski Zografski is almost a city within a city. The area covers 30,000 square metres - more than enough space to stretch your legs. The latter is particularly enjoyable in the garden: A unique, deep green jungle, with small ponds, labyrinthine paths and enchanting bridges. And a walk into the city? No problem. Compared to that the rooms are almost boring - provided you are used the classic luxury. You will be impressed by the presidential suite, however: Lie down in the freestanding bathtub and enjoy the night view of Sofia. A standard room starts at 50,- euros a night, while the presidential suite costs around 1,690 euros.