South Black Sea coast between overdevelopment, wild nature
The beaches on Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast are under threat: every year developers take new ground to build hotels and bars on. Sand dunes, which are protected by law, overnight turn into plots ready for the diggers to arrive, and new buildings rise right by the sea on the site of former cliffs, marshes and wetlands.
All of this, plus the fact that Bulgaria's busiest resorts are on this stretch of the coast, mean that calm under the sun is hard to find here. Still, there are some places between Cape Emine to the north and Rezovo to the south that miraculously resist the concrete.
Where: Rosenets park, south of Burgas
Under Communism, a dozen kilometres from Burgas, a forested peninsula was designated as a holiday ground for workers from different companies all over Bulgaria. In the thick oak forest, these employers built cheap holiday facilities for their staff. Today these pochivni stantsii, or rest homes, are still there – some are still company owned while others were sold off and now operate as no-frills hotels. There is a popular fish restaurant, along with two of Bulgaria's most infamous places: the so-called summer palace of DPS politician, Ahmed Dogan, and the heavily guarded LukOil sea port. Between the refinery and the sea there is also a beach – small, relatively calm and with some infrastructure.
Where: South of Sozopol
Until the 2010s, the beach of Veselie camping ground was quiet and pristine, a short but pleasant strip of sand defined by a picturesque rock in the sea and rising dunes with sand lilies. It was one of the last refuges for naturists in Bulgaria.
Overdevelopment has taken its toll. Today the beach is cut off from the road by a line of new hotels built right over the dunes, and sunbathing here is organised. The naturists are no more, but at least the rock is still there.
Alepou aka Drivers Beach
Where: South of Sozopol
Between a 1980s development called Dyuni, Or Sand Dunes, to the north and a 2010s holiday village called St Thomas to the south the old asphalt road runs parallel to a mile-long beach. Hence its unofficial name: Drivers Beach (drivers can just hop out of their cars and take a dip in the warm waters of the Black Sea). Many people continue to do just that. The beach is so large that it never gets crowded.
Where: Ropotamo reserve
Sand dunes, sand lilies, calm water and Snake Island rising from the sea, covered with wild cacti – Arkutino is considered one of the most romantic beaches on the Bulgarian south Black Sea coast. Particularly if you do not mind the bar and the fancy beach umbrellas. Nearby rise the remains of a holiday facility built during Communism for gifted children; the regime collapsed before the children arrived. Arkutino also has a Blue Flag international certificate.
River Ropotamo Estuary
Where: Ropotamo reserve
Regarded as one of the best wild beaches in Bulgaria, the Ropotamo Estuary is not that easy to get to. You can either walk to it from Arkutino to the north, which involves trekking through a forested area, or try the approach from Primorsko in the south. If you go for the latter you can park by the turnpike on the northbound forest road and walk the last mile to the beach. Both the views and the tranquillity are amazing. The odd eel or two that the river might disgorge into the sea are completely harmless to humans.
Where: North of Primorsko
Until the 1990s, only a select few could enjoy the sand and sea of a pleasant forested bay north of Primorsko. These were Communist officials holidaying in an exclusive summer residence, Perla. Today, the Perla residence is abandoned and going to seed, and the masses have taken over the beach – sort of. There are no organised sunbathing facilities, but there is a hip beach restaurant. The sea is not always good for swimming – a sea wall built during Communism obstructs the natural water circulation, leading to regular clogging with debris and seaweed.
International Youth Centre beach
Where: South of Primorsko
A long sandy strip and crumbling Communist-era hotels: the remains of the International Youth Centre, or MMTs as it is known in the vernacular, is a memorable setting for one of the best beaches in Bulgaria. The MMTs was built in the 1960s as a get-together resort for young people from the East bloc, and was one of the best things young Bulgarians could experience in the summer. After the post-1989 privatisation, some of the buildings still operate as hotels, but most of the MMTs is dilapidated and the oak forest is taking over. The beach is still there – pleasant, long and relatively quiet. You will see many middle-aged Czechs, Slovaks and Poles who cannot part with the glorious days of their youth.
Mouth of Karaagach River
Where: South of Kiten
Kiten's south beach is as crowded as it can be in this popular low-cost holiday destination, and deservedly so. It is long, sandy and calm. Bars and beach umbrellas for rent are dense in its northern parts, which are close to town, but farther south most of the sunbathers are people staying at the nearby camping ground. The beach ends in a picturesque cove by the shallow mouth of the Karaagach River.
Where: North of Ahtopol
Tucked under picturesque cliffs, with golden sands that gently slope towards the sea, the Delfin camping site advertises itself as the last genuine camping ground preserved in Bulgaria. It is located on a small peninsula and has some tourist infrastructure, including bungalows to rent. Right next to it is one of the few remaining strips of sand in Bulgaria where naturists can still get some tan undisturbed.
River Veleka Spit
The River Veleka, which starts its short journey to the Black Sea in Turkey, flows entirely through the Strandzha mountains and then enters the sea at a spit of sand. On the south side is the village of Sinemorets, one of the larger construction sites on the Black Sea in the past 20 years. Fortunately, the Veleka Spit is (mostly) untouched, with its short, but picturesque beach confined between the sea and the river. Careful here: the currents are treacherous.
Butamyata's name comes from the Bulgarian words buta, or pushes, and myata, or hurls, that describe pretty well the choppy sea here. However, in calm conditions swimming at Sinemorets's southern bay is easy and pleasant. Nice and easy to access, the beach is developed, with lines of beach umbrellas on the sand, a tavern booming out music, and the strong smell of fried fish.
Where: South of Sinemorets
Listi Beach is a long, pristine stretch of sand, protected by rising cliffs, the Strandzha forest and the fact that there is no road leading to it. Nature lovers and campers are a fixture here, staying for days in tents and, when you see the beach, you will understand why.
Where: Near Rezovo
Silistar Beach, the last beach in Bulgarian territory, is at the end of an eco path that starts from Sinemorets and runs south. However, it can also be reached by car, via the road to Rezovo. It is beautiful but more commercialised, with a camping site, a tavern and a forest of umbrellas taking up a good portion of the sand.