Friday, April 18, 2014

Travel Guide | The Southwestern Pearl: Sandanski, Bulgaria

Have you ever visited a place that lingers in your mind like a catchy song? A place that keeps drawing you back? A place you keep coming back to time and time again until you finally give up and make it your home?

Sandanski panorama

Welcome to sunny Sandanski, a charming spa resort in southwestern Bulgaria located 150 km south of the capital, Sofia, and 150 km north of Thessaloniki, the second largest Greek city. Amphitheatrically set among the green foothills of Pirin Mountain, and surrounded by 170 ha of parks and vegetation, it is fittingly known as the southwestern pearl. The city is named after the Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski.

A parade on Main Street, Sandanski on March 3rd, the Bulgarian Independence Day

Sandanski lies above the ancient ruins of a Roman city and a Thracian settlement dating back to the 2nd millennium B.C. It is generally agreed that this is the place where the legendary Spartacus, leader of the biggest slave uprising in the Roman Empire, was born.

Spring flower in the city park (the Sandanski Hotel is in the background)

The city has continental Mediterranean climate. Winter is mild, with little or no snow. Springs and falls are amazing, though summers are a little too hot. This wonderful climate and proximity to the Greek and Macedonian borders have made it one of the most preferred tourist destinations in the region.

Some tourists come for the healing mineral springs. Others for the crystal clear air with the least amount of allergens in the country. Still others come for the nice spa hotels and fine dining. Whatever brings you to this beautiful place, make sure you tick off all the essential attractions:

The early Christian Basilica (6th century A.D.) and the archaeological museum
The beautiful city park
The park and botanical garden with many rare plant species around the "Sveti Vrach" Hotel, 2 km east of the city
The Spartacus monument
The Popina Laka Waterfall in Pirin Mountain, 15 km north of the city
The unique historical town of Melnik, 22 km south-east of the city
The Rozhen Monastery, near Melnik
The St Petka Church in Rupite, 10 km south-west of the city

The restored basilica

The city park

The lake in the park around "Sveti Vrach" Hotel

The historical town of Melnik

A cobblestone alley in Melnik
Mount Sinanitsa, Pirin Mountain, as seen from Sandanski in the spring

After a long day of sightseeing, treat yourself to a nice meal and a bottle of local red wine in the chic Mediterranean restaurant at the Pirin Park Hotel, or some of the bistros on Main Street. If you're up for a night out, the Cacao Club, overlooking the fountains on Bulgaria Square is a good choice.

Sandanski night panorama