The Get-To-Know-the-Fatherland-To-Fall-in-Love-With-It slogan perhaps made sense at some point – back when Bulgaria's natural environment was still relatively unmolested, and potholed roads led to places of breathtaking beauty. Bulgarians getting to know their homeland today run the risk of wanting to disappear rather than fall in love – especially when exploring the Black Sea coast.
Bulgaria's eastern border is only 370 km, or 230 miles, long, but is covered with more concrete than you'll find in most of Sofia's hideous suburbs of prefab concrete developments. From Shabla in the north to Rezovo in the south the most eye-catching objects along the coast are the gigantic hotels, unfinished building sites and piles of construction waste. The road is peppered with billboards promising a "holiday in paradise," apartments with "heavenly views" and, of course, golf courses. Looming above them, however, are the ubiquitous construction cranes and scaffolding. Improvised dumps next to holiday complexes and rows of backhoes complete the impression that, indeed, the Bulgarian Black Sea coast can deliver an unforgettable vacation – memorable in the same way a bout of kidney stones is.
Given this massive overconstruction, it's downright astonishing that there are still places along the coast with pristine beaches, crystal waters and stunning maritime views. The villages north of Shabla, Irakli, the village of Varvara to the south and Silistar near Rezovo – untouched by contractors' and investors' rough hands – are like oases in a concrete desert. However, the grey tidal wave threatens to swallow them up, too, in the coming years.
The northern Black Sea coast still looks somewhat less ravaged by investors' enthusiasm. But not for long – the invasion is underway there too. The former fishing village near the Shabla lighthouse now resembles the most gruesome construction sites in Sunny Beach – during the summer, whole floors and extensions were added to houses, and villas appeared out of nowhere, which will certainly debut next season as family hotels. The villages of Kamen Bryag and Tyulenovo are currently favourite spots for campers, divers and climbers. The rocky coastline and absence of sandy stretches make them unsuitable for mass tourism – thanks to this, their natural beauty has been, for the most part, preserved. Near Cape Kaliakra, however, dozens of wind generators have been installed that not only are an eyesore, but also present a danger to the rare bird species whose migratory paths follow the coastline. Near the villages of Topola and Bozhurets, a few kilometres away from Kavarna, construction on a golf course moves full-steam ahead. In Kavarna itself, alongside the Godzilla-sized portraits of rock musicians painted on the apartment buildings, new hotels are constantly cropping up.
Alongside the road from Varna to Burgas, billboards advertising holiday estates alternate with "For Sale" signs – everything is up for grabs, including apartments, houses and undeveloped land. Near Sveti Vlas and Sunny Beach the landscape disintegrates into tacky hotels and unfinished construction sites. In the resorts themselves all you can see are glitzy restaurants and stalls selling "brand-name clothing" – a sure-fire draw for poor German tourists who've stretched their dole money to enjoy a cheap seaside holiday.
The situation to the south of Burgas is much the same. Once the favoured haven of artists and intellectuals, today Sozopol is hardly distinguishable from Kiten or Primorsko. The city has tripled in size thanks to the newly built hotels, many of which stand empty despite the cut-rate prices. The glut of new houses, stores and flashy signs advertising pubs and cafes has all but smothered the Old Town's romantic ambience. The main street in the town's modern district resembles a village fair – stands packed with cheap clothing and inflatable mattresses, the scent of grilled meat and every imaginable style of chalga, or pop folk music, bombard the tourists there.
Chalga and dyuneri lurk everywhere also in Primorsko and Kiten. In Tsarevo and Ahtopol you'll find a somewhat different musical backdrop, but the coastal view is the same – a swath of concrete. The further south you go, the less construction you see. Beyond Rezovo there's even an empty beach devoid of parasols.
That, unfortunately, is in Turkey, on the other side of the border.