by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Wind, waves and emptiness define Black Sea winter

winter black sea.jpg

If you have visited the Bulgarian Black Sea coast in the summer, calm is the last word you would use to describe it. At this season, the resorts and beaches teem with tourists, and suffer from noise and rubbish pollution. In such circumstances, the feeling that you have stumbled into some sort of a hell on earth is inevitable.

Visit the Black Sea in winter, however, and you will experience a very different place. Gone are the crowds, the bars are closed, the resorts empty. The sky is grey, and so is the sea. Driven by the strong, freezing wind, rumbling waves crash onto beaches, promenades and jetties, filling the air with foam and the tang of salt and seaweed. Even the gulls' cries are different in winter: deeper, hungrier, more menacing.

Winter also transforms the big cities, Varna and Burgas. Swept by the winds, these are now hushed, quieter, more pleasant places to walk around, discovering their fin-de-siècle architecture and their beautiful maritime gardens, their modern graffiti and their sites of interest, like the improved port at Burgas and Varna's Archaeology Museum, where the oldest gold treasure in the history of the world is on display. Walking around these cities in winter, sharing streets and empty beaches with locals, their children and their dogs, makes you feel part of the place, something impossible to achieve in summer, with all the souvenirs, bars and visitors.

This feeling of belonging grows stronger in smaller towns like Sozopol and Nesebar, Ahtopol and Balchik. They rely heavily on tourism and winter is the time for them and their inhabitants to take a break from the hospitality industry. They go fishing. They spend hours drinking (if male) or chatting (if female) with their friends. If you have ever experienced overt or covert hostility during the high season, the attitude towards visitors is now reversed. In such an atmosphere, it is much easier to succumb to the pleasures of these places: exploring the mediaeval churches and Revival Period mansions of Old Nesebar and the steep lanes of Old Sozopol, or surrendering yourself to the romanticism of Queen Mary's Palace in Balchik or watching the winter waves crashing onto the waterfront at Ahtopol.

Kaliakra Cape Bulgaria

Sad and scary legends about saints and maidens running from the invading Ottomans are told about the Cape Kaliakra fortress


Winter transforms the natural wonders of the Black Sea – and the fact that, out of season, many of them are free makes things even better. The Pobiti Kamani, a rocky phenomenon near Varna, look even more surreal when there is snow. The Yaylata Plateau near Kamen Bryag is but a barren nothingness, until you reach the edge of the cliffs and stop there mesmerised by the scary magnificence of the waves pounding against the red rocks dozens of metres below. In winter Yaylata, Europe's southernmost steppe, is a place of dark beauty, but it has a spot of warmth and shelter: Ogancheto, or The Fire. This natural gas leak burns constantly and several years ago visitors built a primitive protective wall around it from boulders. Having a picnic here is an excellent idea.

On the south Bulgarian Black Sea, winter is the time to visit the Begliktash Thracian sanctuary in the dense Strandzha forest, without being pestered by nasty midges.
Winter, in short, is the best season to get to know the Bulgarian Black Sea coast without the summer abominations. There is yet another reason: in the cold months your chances of eating fresh local fish, almost nonexistent in summer, rise significantly. Why? Because just like the savvy visitor, the schools of fish come here in winter.


Night in Burgas, Bulgaria

Burgas, the biggest city on Bulgaria's southern coast


Varna sea, Bulgaria

The winter Black Sea is often inhospitable, and is especially harsh on Bulgaria's north coast, like in Varna (pictured)


Pobiti Kamani phenomenon, Bulgaria

Winter makes the Pobiti Kamani natural phenomenon, near Varna, even more eery


Nesebar, Bulgaria

Nesebar is blissfully quiet outside the summer season


Tsarevo, Bulgaria

In summer, Tsarevo is abuzz with people. Outside the season, you will be the only one exploring the 1894 Assumption Church


Tsarevo, Bulgaria

Ogancheto, a leak of natural gas, brings warmth and light to the wind-swept Yaylata plateau


Balchik Palace, Bulgaria

The Quiet Nest Palace of the English-born Romanian Queen Mary is Balchik's major landmark


America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.


    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union.

The Rhodope mountains have an aura of an enchanted place no matter whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter. But in springtime there is something in the Bulgarian south that makes you feel more relaxed, almost above the ground.

There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth.

Karlovo is one of those places where size does not equal importance.

Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserv

How to celebrate like locals without getting lost in complex traditions

Small-town Bulgaria is a diverse place. Some of the towns are well known to tourists while others are largely neglected by outsiders.

Of the many villages in Bulgaria that can be labeled "a hidden treasure," few can compete with Matochina. Its old houses are scattered on the rolling hills of Bulgaria's southeast, overlooked by a mediaeval fortress.

Poet who lost an eye in the Great War, changed Bulgarian literature - and was assassinated for his beliefs

In previous times, when information signs of who had built what were yet to appear on buildings of interest, people liberally filled the gaps with their imagination.

If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy.