We arrived into a semi-deserted Sunny Beach late September 2017. The sunshine was fading, the winds were picking up and Autumn was definitely on its way. What we didn’t realise is that Sunny Beach runs very much on seasonal bookings and that most hotel doors had been locked and their pools had been drained.
After waiting for three hours in a Bulgarian car park attempting to gain entry to a Russian owned AirBNB property in a closed resort, we gave up, cancelled the booking and found the first open hotel we could find.
Here’s a funny little story of how we spent two days in Sunny Beach and then drove away quickly.
Sunny beach sits on the Black Sea coast and is dubbed ‘Bulgaria’s summer house’. It looks like a slighty more upmarket version of Morecambe Bay and is home to a gazillion hotels, holiday apartments, hostels, B&B’s and any other type of holiday accommodation you can think of. Hotels line the coast for about 5km and it’s estimated that some MILLION people will visit every summer.
I’d hate to have visited during the summer as that is my definition of a nightmarel!
My definition of hell!
I am not adverse to staying in an apartment within a complex but I generally think hotels are soulless, environmental disasters and exploiters. I don’t like them and the thought of going to an all inclusive beach resort makes my skin crawl. So, why on earth did we book time in one?
Negotiation & compromise!
In the name of negotiation with the kids (our apartment supposedly had a pool, gym, sauna and spa within the complex) and considering it was the very last week of holiday season, we booked a week there to appease them. We’d just returned from three months backpacking south-east Asia & they wanted a bit of R&R. I guess I can’t blame them.
But wait, where is everyone?
After a leisurely drive via The Wonderful Rocks and a castle on a big rock that we accidentally found en route, we arrived at about 4pm and the place was deserted.
If you’ve ever watched the start of a horror movie and it’s located in some eerily empty town, that’s exactly what this was like! Tower blocks, hotels, shops, casinos lined the main road, shoulder to shoulder, as far as the eye could see but they were all were closed. No lights, no open doors, no cars, no people…
Rich and I look at each other, looked back at the road and then I think he mouthed to me ‘WTF’. Finally we saw a supermarket with its lights on and a smattering of people inside.
Arriving at the appartment complex
The map for the AirBNB wasn’t exactly correct which heightened our fears of being stranded in this weird place and when we finally arrived there, the pools were all drained, the doors firmly locked & all the lights off. Nobody answered the front door so I made my way around the back where a smoking Bulgarian man shouted at me in German that they were closed.
He locked the gate behind me with a chain and padlock and shouted again in German. I have no idea what he was shouting but it was all very hostile so I took the hint and left.
Trying to call the owner
It turns out the owner, based in Russia, only speaks Russian so we had to sit in the car park, call AirBNB and ask them to intervene. AirBNB have always been good to us, so far, and even though it takes a while for them to sort things out they eventually do.
On this occasion the whole palava took about three hours while we tried to track down the complex manager, speak to the owner, cancel the booking and arrange a refund.
Booking into a hotel
As dusk fell and with three very grumpy children in the back of the car we drove down the strip looking for any hotel that showed signs of still being open. Eventually we found one with its lights on and booked two nights to give us enough time to change our plans.
We were the ONLY people staying at the hotel and they gave us an appartment at a discounted rate given there were no staff on site and thus no restaurant, bar, sauna, spa, working pool etc…
Oh dear, our kids were not happy & Sunny Beach was not looking very sunny!
The area is just bizarre. It’s not somewhere I’d probably go again either so I’ll try to describe it as best I can remember it.
Imagine a beautiful hotel with a lovely pool and facilities built on waste land surrounded by half built roads, derelict caravans, weeds, stray dogs and rubbish. The main road gives a pretence of grandeur but behind the shiny facades lies squalor.
Vast sections of beaches were privately owned and charged for use. There were just a few elderly locals who braced the wind to take a walk.
A town for tourists
I have no desire to visit somewhere that is a seasonal town for tourists. Where is its charm? I’m not sure, I didn’t find any and I wasn’t going to stick around in a deserted town to find out either.
Sunny Beach was not sunny when we arrived and it was pretty miserable when we left! Good thing for us we drove up to Veliko Tarnovo and explored the ancient walls en route to Sofia where we hiked the Rila Mountains.