SHOPPING in Sofia:
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.
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.
Central Sofia Market Hall is one of the most popular spots to go shopping in Sofia. Being situated directly in the city centre and opposite to the Banya Bashi Mosque it is also one of the most popular meeting points in general. It was erected 100 years ago. Back then in 1911 it was the city's most important trade centre. In 2000 the hall was refurbished in a neo-renaissance style. In the basement there are still traces of bygone times, i.e. remains of the Roman fortress Serdica. The market hall is divided into two levels: while the ground-floor houses mostly delicatessen stores, the first floor attracts with clothing boutiques and souvenir shops. Furthermore there are two stores that have specialised on rose oil and rose water. On the occasion of the centenary there will be a photo exhibition with pictures of the market hall from the beginning of the 20th century. By the way: the market hall is one of the architectural and cultural monuments of Sofia.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
Romans, Greeks, Turks - each of its changing masters has left traces in Bulgaria that shaped the country. Those traces were gathered in a laborious effort and are now on display in the biggest museum of the country, 650,000 pieces altogether. Aside from the internationally renowned gold of the Thracians you can admire Bulgarian traditional dresses as well as arts and crafts and traditional pieces of work. Unfortunately the exposition only spans the time up until the lead-in to World War II, yet the sheer number of treasures make up for the missing parts of history. The museum was founded in 1973 and is today one of the biggest in the Balkans. Since you have already delved into Bulgarian every-day life, here you have a chance to get to know Bulgarian history.
The eponyms of the square have been sitting on a bench for years without batting an eyelid. Petko and Pencho Slaveykov are made of bronze. Before it came to this, father and son made a name for themselves as the most gifted writers in the country. The square, which the two of them observe benevolently, has been known since the 16th century. At the time there was a coffeehouse, a mosque and an outpost of the Ottoman police force. Whether or not the square was as popular then as it is today, we don't know. We do know, however, that it experienced a lot of upheaval before reaching its current form in the 1930s. The Slaveykov Square exerts a magical attraction on the locals, especially the book lovers among them. The public library is located here, as well as many bookshops. The open-air book market was a popular target for bargain hunters for many years. According to the latest rumours, however, it is to be moved elsewhere.
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.
EAT in Sofia:
If you've come to Sofia overland, you might have been a guest in one or the other of the monasteries. Often you can experience arts and culture there, maybe even stay for the night. Yet the food is mostly reserved to the pious permanent residents of the monastery. But don't think luckily so. In the Manastirska magerniza, the monastery kitchen, you'll eat food cooked according to monastic recipes. Not only from the area of Sofia, but all over Bulgaria. The cuisine is simple but made from fresh ingredients and authentic. The hungry pilgrim is welcomed with bread and salt, thereby experiencing the traditional Bulgarian welcome greeting. If you come as a couple, you can try a telling wedding rite: Break the bread in two. The one who gets the bigger piece, wears the breeches in the relationship.
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.
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.
STAY in 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.
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.