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.
The Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia's ritziest avenue, and comes in 32nd worldwide when it comes to the most expensive shopping streets. It's still worth a stroll - after all, you don't need to buy everything you see. That would be quite expensive, indeed, because the brand portfolio of the posh street is no different from the Parisian Champs-Élysées or the Via Montenapoleone in Milan. Versace, Bulgari, D&G, Escada, Max Mara, Van Laak, Ermenegildo Zegna, Moreschi, Marella, Armani, Ferré, Boss, Baldinini and, of course, also the slightly more modest colleagues such as Sisley, Bennetton, Hilfiger, Lacoste, Pepe und Levi's. Once you've had enough of this glamour world, check out the side streets. You will find many nice boutiques with an ample choice.
With their 2009/10 collection the designers of Ambitsia propose fashion that is elegant and casual at the same time. And you know what that looks like?. just as it feels: Incredibly casual. The material of choice this time are knitted and woven fabrics. The colours are modest, which makes the patterns come into their own. This fashion has been created less for the catwalk but rather for every day. For the office and the drink afterwards, or stretching out in front of the TV. Well, true, for the latter you would actually be a bit overdressed, even if it would be comfortable enough. Again, the Ambitsia has also jumped on what seems to be the growth engine of the Bulgarian fashion industry: It also designs uniforms for companies.
EAT in Sofia:
There is none more modern and trendy, at least not in Sofia. Almost everyone finds happiness here and the perfect ambiance for their projects: For lunch you can still come with the entire, if elegant, family. In the afternoon at the latest, they should cede to best friend, when the first cocktails are mixed. At night it gets romantic - with Italian cuisine and excellent wines from Chile, Australia and New Zealand. The centre of the restaurant is the bar, with room for a whole swarm of bar flies and the perfect surrounding for a good start on the night. The barkeepers know the ins and outs of their work, putting on the perfect show with a drink. Once you've looked and drunk enough, you can turn your back to the living barstools and go back to one of the more intimate tables.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.