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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
The Casa Boyana is located in an idyllic neighbourhood, only a stone's throw away from the city centre. The eponym of the boutique hotel is the Church of Boyana, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you'll find just around the corner. The distance to the city has two advantages: Absolute calm and a great view onto the city and the Vithosha mountain range. With only 14 rooms and 2 junior suites, the hotel is among the smallest, thus offering a perfect service: You are a VIP 24/7, luxury is with you everywhere. If you feel like Italian cuisine, you should definitely dine in the hotel restaurant. After that you will lose your extra pounds with ease in the fitness room. Aside from sauna, solarium, as well as a whirlpool in the bathroom you'll have a wellness bonus of a different kind: Throughout your stay you have access to free fruit and mineral water. 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.
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.
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.
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.