Introduction to Varna

Monday, October 29, 2007

449km (278 miles) east of Sofia

Long the premier summer destination for the Eastern bloc, this heavily developed coastline is now also playground to hordes of package tourists from the West, keen to dance the night away to the pulsating beat that emanates from the numerous makeshift summer clubs that seem to range almost continuously along the coast. But when the sun rises, and the shadows draw back to reveal the monstrous hotels that line the beaches, and rows of large pink bodies start to sizzle off their hangovers, it's a far from attractive sight.

Bulgaria's once pristine coastline has largely been ruined. Despite municipal bans stating appropriate distances between beaches and hotels, and specifying the times of the year that building can take place, greedy developers keen to cash in on the huge foreign interest often build year-round, so even those who aren't offended by the existing developments are by noise and dust. But that's not to say that a trip that incorporates a few days on the Black Sea coast is without merit. Besides blowing off steam on the coastal capital's beachfront, it's worth coming this far just to view the "oldest gold in the world" in Varna's Historical Museum, vying with the National History Museum as the most fascinating museum in the country, then heading south to stroll past Byzantine churches and charming 19th-century timber houses in the UNESCO-listed village of Nessebar. Admittedly Nessebar's cobbled streets can get clogged with day-trippers, but this is just the reason to head south to the gorgeous old town of Sozopol, with its plethora of seaside restaurants -- time your visit for lunch and, mesmerized by semitranslucent twinkling sea views, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were on the Riviera. Only better, you realize, when the bill arrives.

Evksinograd Palace

Euxinograd (Bulgarian: Евксиноград [ɛf.'], also transliterated as Evksinograd or Euxinograde) is a former late 19th-century Bulgarian royal summer palace and park on the Black Sea coast, 8 km north of the city of Varna. It is currently a governmental and presidential residence.

The construction of the palace began soon after the land which it occupies was given to Knyaz Alexander of Bulgaria as a present by the Greek bishopric on 16 March 1882. There had previously been small monasteries called St Demetrius and St Constantine at that place, the buildings of which were subsequently converted into another small residence.

Viennese architect Viktor Rumpelmayer designed the palace, which was named Sandrovo in 1885 after the Italian diminutive of Alexander's name — Sandro. Later the knyaz extended the estate to its contemporary area of 80 hectares.
The Unification of Bulgaria was proclaimed in Euxinograd in 1885 by Alexander, and after the knyaz's abdication the palace was bought by the state for 1,400,000 gold leva. It was eventually finished under Tsar Ferdinand, to whom the palace was awarded. He invited the Swiss architect Hermann Mayer and Bulgarian architect Nikola Lazarov. The palace was renamed Euxinograd in 1893 on the insistence of Knyaginya Marie Louise, Ferdinand's first wife. The name comes from the Ancient Greek term for the Black Sea, Εuξεινος Πόντος (Euxeinos Pontos, "hospitable sea") and the South Slavic suffix –grad, meaning "town" or, historically, "fortress".

Tsar Ferdinand's second wife, Tsaritsa Eleonore, died in Euxinograd on 12 September 1917.

After the abolishment of the monarchy in Bulgaria through an illegal referendum held in the presence of the Soviet army in 1946, Euxinograd became a summer residence of the then-Communist authorities. The democratic changes in 1989 made the former royal palace a presidential and governmental residence and opened it for the public.
The Euxinograd park, the arrangement of which began in 1890 and took several decades, is home to over 310 plant varieties from Asia, South America, North Africa and Southern France, said to be picked out by Ferdinand himself. It occuipies an area of over 550 decare. The park is a combination of English and French styles and was finished by Édouard André. It has two bridges, a metal one and a cement one, which imitates a felled tree. The area is surrounded by vineyards.

The tiny Kestrichka Bara River flows through the park. The park also features a small lake full of lilies, French-made bronze figures and a sculpture of Neptune. More than 50,000 trees were purchased from Marseille and fertile soil was brought from the mouth of the Kamchiya River.