Nessebar is one of my favourite little gems along the sea coast of Bulgaria. I haven’t been there for ages, but I still remembered it from the numerous times I visited it in my childhood. It’s not only a seaside town, it’s a place where you can find traces from a distant past, marks left by cultures and civilizations who settled on this small peninsula.
I remember when I was little and my parents would take me on a summer holiday to the seaside. We never used to sunbathe for a whole week and get bored – we travelled instead. My mum would find a hotel in one town and we would be exploring a different town each day, finding a new beach, walking the new streets and checking the local restaurants. No need to say that my mum’s first profession was a tourist guide.
This summer, two of Robert’s cousins decided to join us for a week of our summer holiday to Bulgaria, so I planned a whole week of trips for them. If we only stayed at one beach resort, they wouldn’t see anything from Bulgaria.
Now, let me take you on a trip to Nessebar.
Nessebar has two parts – old and new. The old town (more than 3200 years old) is built on a small peninsula. Remains of its ancient walls still surround it and the fortification would greet you at the entrance. It was the Thracian fishermen that settled first on this piece of land, but the Byzantium and Ottoman empires left their signature as well.
The ancient Thracian remains have formed the structure of the town, whilst traditional wood and stone Bulgarian houses fill the gaps, and created cozy, cobbled lanes. You can walk on those tiny streets and still feel the spirit of our Bulgarian revival ancestors who wouldn’t bend down in front of the Romans or the Ottomans.
The Roman Bath Thermae
One of the main landmarks is the Roman Bath, dating from the VI century. Although not the whole building was preserved through the years, its skeleton of arches and brick layers continue to impress with their magnificence.
It’s a small peninsula, so you could walk the zig-zag streets in an hour, but if you stop to admire the views above the water, you’d need days. Turn north and you will see how Sunny Beach and its madness is trying to get closer and closer to Nessebar. Look to the South and you will see the beaches of Pomorie – and on a good day – even Burgas.
Another symbol of the town is the windmill (see the title photo) which has proudly stayed in front of the town since the Ottoman era. It’s a great feature for hundreds of pictures made every single day.
Bars and Cafes
There are plenty of cafes and bars open during the day, but one really impressed me. Michael’s Eco bar looks like a regular traditional house on the outside, but as soon as you step through the front door, you feel like you’re in a different world. It resembles the interior of a cave with its stalagmites and stalactites, ups and downs. You can enjoy the cool shade with a refreshing cocktail, sitting between the rocks and watching the tortoises. Yes, they are real!
The old town is surrounded by water, but doesn’t really have any beaches. It’s more a place for the fishermen and their boats. The new town though has two – the North and the South beach. The North beach is full of attractions, bars, kids playgrounds, etc. If you walk for long enough, it will lead you to Sunny Beach. The South beach is the place to put your towel, drink a shandy and enjoy the company of your friends.
How to find it? Walk out the old town, turn left as soon as you get on the main road, walk a bit further after the remains of the old pirate ship and you’ll see a long and beautiful sandy stretch.
As you may have guessed, there are many fish restaurants all around the small peninsula. Most of them offer a good variety of traditional Bulgarian food. We visited a few restaurants which were in very old (200 yr old) buildings and the second floor had a museum, where you could see the rooms, original clothing and interiors of the fishermen families living there.
One of our favourite restaurants is the Captain’s Meeting. It has an amazing view, very good service and delicious food. Don’t forget to ask the waiter which fish is local and fresh today – they will tell you with pleasure – add a fresh salad and you will taste the real Bulgarian seaside.
When you finish your dinner, make sure you go upstairs to look through the balcony and see the museum. We spent just as long up there as we did during our lunch downstairs. Don’t worry – the guns were empty!
You can’t describe Nessebar without mentioning its 40+ churches. Some of them were built by the Thracians and Greeks and date from the early and pre-Byzantium times. Later on – when Christianity became the official religion in Bulgaria – more Orthodox churches appeared. The best preserved ones were turned into museums and galleries, so don’t miss your chance to visit them.
One of the evenings we went to the Khun’s Tent restaurant which is located on top of a hill above Sunny Beach. The view from there at night is no less than incredible and you can see the whole of Sunny Beach, up to Nessebar and its peninsula.
It’s how it was formed centuries ago and Nessebar is still a fisherman’s town. You can easily see this from the many boats moored there during the day.
I don’t know many of the hotels, but I can tell you in which one to NEVER go to – Prince Cyril Hotel. I asked my mum who has a tourist agency to make the booking for two double rooms for us for 4 days. At the reception no one knew the exact price and availability, so after a week of conversations with the owner, she finally got the information. She even prepaid the rooms on my behalf and sent me the receipt. We arrived with our taxi in front of the hotel, only to find out they had never heard of my name and had no available rooms at all!!!
After another set of phone calls to the owner, he simply switched his phone off and left the cleaner deal with us. The lady was just as shocked as the four of us, and started running up and down the small streets to check with the local hotels and guest houses for rooms. Just spitting distance from the hotel, there was a souvenir shop whose owner had a large modern apartments to let above his shop. He was extremely polite and helpful and offered us a stay there for all 4 nights, whilst sorting out the payment with the cleaner of Prince Cyril hotel.
In the days that followed we not only enjoyed the apartments that Ianaki and his lovely young family let to us, but also heard the story how he knocked down the walls between the tiny rooms in his 100 years old plus building to create a modern flat for tourists, fully equipped for a comfy stay whilst preserving certain architectural features. If you ever decide to go to Nessebar, get in touch with Ianaki Ianakiev on Facebook (he is a very nice guy) or check how to book one of his apartments.