STAY in Sofia:
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.
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.
If you've ever slept in a Kempinski hotel, you'll have to admit: One could get used to it. And why not? The advantage is that each one is designed differently, and so each experience will be unique. Naturally, this top class elegance has its price. Yet it's easily forgotten as soon as you dive into your giant luxury bed. Kempenski Zografski is almost a city within a city. The area covers 30,000 square metres - more than enough space to stretch your legs. The latter is particularly enjoyable in the garden: A unique, deep green jungle, with small ponds, labyrinthine paths and enchanting bridges. And a walk into the city? No problem. Compared to that the rooms are almost boring - provided you are used the classic luxury. You will be impressed by the presidential suite, however: Lie down in the freestanding bathtub and enjoy the night view of Sofia. A standard room starts at 50,- euros a night, while the presidential suite costs around 1,690 euros.
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.
If you're interested in Bulgarian fashion you might want to take a look in the Daka Style Shop. The focus is on stylish business fashion for women. The quality is good and the selection quite interesting. If you look around for a bit you'll find a few cool pieces that are classy and elegant at the same time. Blouses, suits, but also shirts and dresses, and all sorts of accessories, for example bags and scarves. For the quirky Daka Style offers a special feature: It also produces uniforms, which will certainly draw some attention. The clothes for chambermaids, Spa-employees and receptionists are nice and ideal for daily use. The brand has been around for ten years, and is now so popular that there are three shops.
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:
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!
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.
If you want real good fish, then Captain Cook is the restaurant you can rely on. Not because the restaurant is at all fancy, but because you can get fresh, local, exotic and just great seafood. The furnishing doesn't cast the shadow of a doubt on where you are and what you'll find on the menu. Looking into the aquarium with its many colourful fish you even get the feeling that this might be the slightly impractical menu. The whole is complete with nautical knick-knack on the walls. It doesn't matter, when the friendly staff serves to you what previously had been swimming in the salt and fresh water. Grilled, fried or rolled in seaweed in front of your eyes - we won't recommend anything, because everything is simply delicious. We can, however, recommend where to sit down: In the beautiful restaurant garden.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
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!
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 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.