Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Luxury Travel in Bulgaria Is Totally Affordable

Bulgaria has something for everyone. There are sandy beaches on the shores of the Black Sea; a metropolitan lifestyle in Sofia; art shops and galleries in Plovdiv's Old Town. Historical villages dot the countryside showcasing renaissance architecture from the mid-19th century. In the winter months, the mountains are perfect for skiing; in the summer the hiking is breathtaking.

I have long been a proponent of how inexpensive it is to travel to Bulgaria but discerning western visitors don't have to compromise on their accommodations. Luxury travel in Bulgaria is totally affordable.

Although there are fancy resorts along the Black Sea, I will skip those due to their glitzy mass appeal. Instead I will focus on four high class establishments where my wife and I have stayed, all at reasonable prices.

Villa Gela - luxury accommodations in the colorful Rhodope Mountains.

Crystal Palace – although listed as a four-star boutique hotel in downtown Sofia, the Crystal Palace offers very comfortable accommodations. Its location is a major selling point. A seven-minute walk brings you to the city's iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The rooms are modern and equipped with high speed Internet; most have views of the lovely Doctor's Garden across the street. Breakfast is a buffet with a good, tasty selection. We were surprised that our waitress identified us as Israelis and said good morning in Hebrew.

The Crystal Palace in Sofia - excellent location, affordable prices.

The Crystal Palace provides guests with professional service without being pretentious about it. Our stay cost €75 a night with breakfast.

Grand Hotel Sofia – when celebrities come to the Bulgarian capital, this is where they stay, but that doesn't mean that the hotel is too pricey for other guests. The five-star service begins when a valet parks your car and continues with the friendly bellboy and the professional front desk staff. Rooms are huge. You get the feeling you're in a suite even when staying in a standard double room. While we only ate one breakfast in the hotel, the Shades of Red restaurant offers upscale dining.

The Grand Hotel is where celebrities stay in Sofia, but you can afford it as well.

Our view was towards the lovely City Garden. The hotel's location is perfect, right around the corner from the Ivan Vazov National Theatre and walking distance from all the major sites in the center of Sofia. Our room-only accommodations cost €89 a night.

Villa Gella – a small family-run villa in the Rhodopes Mountains has four very comfortable bedrooms, each of them with unique furnishings. Don't expect televisions next to the fireplaces – this resort gives you a break from the urban hustle, although there is Wi-Fi throughout the premises.  An indoor swimming pool, a steam room, a badminton court, and an elegant living room-dining room complete the picture.

Villa Gela - affordable luxury, warm hospitality.

More than anything else, guests enjoy the warmth provided by the hosts: Darina, who manages the villa; her uncle Ivan who bought and renovated an old farmhouse in 2005 and transformed it into the ultra-modern villa; and Dimka, who cooks the most amazing adaptations of Rhodopes cuisine. Darina speaks perfect English and has a wealth of information about tourist sites in the area.

Villa Gella is the perfect base for winter activities. It was chosen as the Best Ski Chalet in Bulgaria by an international online vote two years in a row. Visitors will find sitting on the villa's patio with snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance incredibly relaxing. All of this luxury is available for the price of £100 per person, half board.

Modus Hotel – this small, boutique hotel in Varna just a short walk from the Black Sea beaches was so enjoyable that my wife and I stayed there twice. The six-story structure seems small from the outside, but the rooms are cozy and modern, with glass dividers between bedroom and bathroom.  Some of the suites have a Jacuzzi, while others have balconies overlooking the city's large Sea Garden Park and the shoreline beyond.

Modus Hotel in Varna - just across the street from the Sea Garden park.

What really made the Modus special for us was the white-gloved service in the chef's restaurant, where we dined on some of the best lamb and fresh salads we've ever had. It also was a pleasant surprise to arrive and see the reception clerk and bellboy dancing in the lobby, although I doubt this dance is staged for all guests. The price for a standard double room is €70 a night, including breakfast; Wi-Fi in the room; and use of hotel's fitness room and sauna.

We look forward to our next visit to Bulgaria when we will return to these hotels and other very affordable locations.

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