SIGHTS in Sofia:
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.
Built on a necropolis, abused as a gladiators' arena, extended as a mosque and finally restored to a church: The history of St. Sofia is just as long as it is fascinating. The classic Byzantine masterwork from the 6th century is the oldest Orthodox church in Sofia and was then built on the highest elevation of the settlement. In the course of several bouts of destruction and rebuilding efforts the church has changed, but retains its basic structure: Even today the three-nave basilica shines in the classic Byzantine look. Unfortunately, most of the frescoes have suffered severely over the years, however, you can still admire many icons and three impressive altars. And since you are already there: Just pay a quick visit to the grave of Bulgaria's national poet, Ivan Vazov, on the Eastern side of the church. That's the gentleman with the book in his hand.
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.
STAY in Sofia:
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.
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.
SHOPPING in Sofia:
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.
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.
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.
EAT in Sofia:
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.
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.