EAT in Sofia:
No, the dream house isn't particularly fancy, stylish or hypermodern. Yet it's a secret jewel that will make the eyes of vegetarians sparkle. Yet first you have to find it: The house of the meatless dreams is pretty much hidden in a small shopping arcade. The advantage? Only few tourists find their way here. And when they do, they deserve it. The cuisine is full of the rich tradition of local, Bulgarian vegetables, including crunchy salads, tasty soups and local vegetable meals. At the same time, there is a touch of Asia: Here a piece of Tofu, there some Sushi and invisible spices from all over the world. Moreover you'll find delicate teas and a good selection of beer and wine. At noon the small, colourful restaurant wakes up, and you have to be lucky to still find an empty table. The very lucky ones get hold of one with a view of the alley.
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.
Bulgaria ranges among the oldest states in Europe. The gastronomic landscape of the capital is, however, anything but dusty. The Brasserie in the centre of Sofia serves as the best example for this claim. From the outside the restaurant behind the Slaveikov Square looks like its surrounding concrete buildings - apart from the padded bench standing at the wall. Inside you might spontaneously feel like being on a ship: the main entrance is long and narrow with wood panelling, and small tables on each side. Some might possibly think of allotment-garden cottages now, but the wooden walls in the brasserie are way to chic. Continuing straight on the room will open more and more - up to a glass wall in front of the small patio. In between there's a brick wall. That might not turn the venue into a hot spot but the stones still look pretty good. Just like the psychedelic green wall and the display that evoke 70s feelings. The perfect match: lounge and house music. Some might say that the tables and chairs resemble garden furniture. But that doesn't matter - they even add to the cult status of the Brasserie.
SHOPPING in Sofia:
Are you sporty or would like to look as if you were? Then go get a new outfit at Dielsport. Everything here is both functional and makes you look good. Thus it's the right place for ski-lovers and those who just want to make a good impression in winter without freezing to death. Cool hats and snowboard jackets, ski trousers, which will remain dry with a wild downhill style and therefore, falls, as well as practical backpacks. Dielsport is working on different slopes: Divine, Alpine, Ultra, Sport and Demon. The hallmark: Top materials and fair prices. And, not surprisingly, Dielsport also designs uniforms for snow-workers of all kinds - from the ski school to the mountain rescue service.
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.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
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.
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.
Once upon a time the omnipotent comrade Lenin stood here, today there is a twinkle-toed girl with the name of Sophia. Between Maria Louisa Boulevard and Todor Alexander Boulevard the patroness of the city finally got her space in the city centre. Despite her beauty, however, she wasn't welcomed by every one: Many locals clearly found her too erotic to be dancing around in public like that. The sculptor Georgi Chapkanov made an eight-metre high bronze, which is perfectly staged on the 16 metre high base. Next to herself the bright young lady has deposited three symbols: The owl for wisdom, the crown for power, the wreath for glory. A nice sight!
STAY in Sofia:
To sleep here introduces a flowery dimension to your stay in Sofia. The first eye-catcher is the mosaics in the entry-hall, which show giant flowers and petals. Kitsch? Certainly. Yet it's administered at the right doses. The hotel doesn't differ a lot from better-known places in town when it comes to luxury. But it does when it comes to size: Small and very nice, this is the motto. The hotel is located in the middle of the city, close to the Vitosha shopping street. The neighbourhood has just as much style as your room. Everything is said and done in a flowery way here, whether at the desk or on the big, cosy bed. When you are hungry you don't even need to go far, in order to gather the best aromas around you: The hotel restaurant Le Bouquet serves wonderful seafood with great wine. All non-smokers, who suffer from chronic coughing during their time in Bulgaria, will find a reprieve for their ailing lungs: The hotel is entirely smoke-free, from the roof down to the basement. Doubles start at about 110,- euros.
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.
If you look for a private alternative to staying at a hotel, check out the Sofia Inn Residence. Beautiful apartments in prime neighbourhoods are on offer. There are no annoying fellow hotel guests, and you can go to have breakfast in your pyjama. The apartments can be rented for short stays, yet they are also a good deal for long vacations and business travellers. The apartments are fully furnished, in a way that you can receive visitors with no problems. There's a choice between 1 to 3 room apartments, which are professionally cleaned twice a week. In case you still end up missing the hotel feeling including travelling acquaintances, then you can simply linger a little bit in the hallway. All the Sofia Inn Apartments are in the same building! A night in a studio (with sleeping accommodations for two people) starts at 30,- euros.