SIGHTS in Sofia:
Lesson number one: Patriotism. That starts with this monument, hits the centre of the heart and doesn't get passed the history and personality of this man. To most Bulgarians, Vasil Levski is sacrosanct. He was the brain and ideologue behind the Bulgarian national freedom movement and lived from 1837 to 1873. In his 36 years he endeared himself to the Bulgarian people by fighting the Ottomans. His name is more than a word - it stands for dreams, hopes, potential and freedom. If you talk to locals ask about the local hero. You'll be surprised how people, in particular the younger generation, can still get excited about good old Vasil. The monument to the freedom fighter is located at an ominous spot: It's exactly where Vasil Levski was hanged by the Ottomans, on February 19th, 1873.
The Banja Baschi Mosque is an impressive monument to the Ottoman Era, one of the very few in Sofia. It was built in the 16th century under the Turkish master builder Hadshi Mimar Sinan, who was also responsible for the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque has two floors - the upper one is reserved for female visitors. The mosque is the only active one in Sofia: Every day the muezzin calls to the believers from the 15-metre high minaret. Visitors are welcome outside of prayer times. The neighbouring baths are also worth a visit. They were built in 1908 and harbour a big pool. Behind two separate entryways for men and women there are several small mineral pools.
The National Theatre is a jewel in the centre of Sofia, and the locals are rightfully proud of it. Even the Austrians can take some credit for its glory. The architects Helmer & Fellner, professionals for theatre buildings, were hired from Vienna. The opening took place in 1907, and only later the theatre was named after the great Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov. Just as many other great theatres this one wasn't spared the bad fate - in 1923 a fire broke out, and World War II destroyed large parts of the house. Yet it was rebuilt over again, grander than before. Today it provides space for about 1,000 spectators. Not only are the performances great, the façade is a feast for the eyes. It's 40 metres high and is supported by six marble columns ornamented with Apollo and the Muses.
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.
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.
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.
SHOPPING in Sofia:
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.
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.
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.
EAT in Sofia:
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.
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.
In the fast-paced club scene you can almost call the Tiffany Club an oldy - for five years now it's been one of the top places to party all night long. The restaurant offers a broad spectrum of European dishes, as well as creative and tasty sushi. The furnishing appears to be very retro at first glance, and ultramodern at the second: Crystal on the ceiling, cushioned benches, different easy chairs and stools, leather on the walls. One tends to order a Martini and feel like James Bond, yes, even as a woman. If you want to enjoy the bar at your ease, you should come for lunch. It offers the right framework for a business meeting or a nice chat with friends. At night it's getting louder, when the DJ starts to make everybody dance. Special parties and events keep people from getting bored.