WINTER NESEBAR

by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

With the cold in and the tourists out, old city gleams undisturbed

winter nesebar.jpg

Winter is not only the time to head to Bulgaria's ski resorts. It is also the best time to enjoy some of this nation's most crowded tourist spots, such as Nesebar. In the warm months this UNESCO listed town of ancient fortifications, mediaeval churches and Revival Period mansions is packed with visitors from the nearby Sunny Beach resort and from the whole of the Bulgarian Black Sea area.

The winter cold, however, utterly transforms it.

Visitors are nowhere to be seen and, if you do not mind that the cafés, bars and hotels are closed, you have the old town all to yourself. Winter sets you free to explore the snow covered remains of the 2,600 years of history that have been accumulating in Nesebar since the ancient Greeks founded a colony on this rocky promontory which provided a secure trading and seafaring location on the Western Black Sea coast.

The most impressive remains of the times when ancient Greeks and Romans as well as Bulgarians, Byzantines and Ottomans used to control Nesebar include the 5th century Old Bishopric church, the wood-and-stone mansions from the 18th-19th centuries, and the 14th century Christ Pantocrator with its delicate brick-and-stone façade.

Nesebar's true delight, though, is not in visiting a particular building, but in immersing yourself in the old town's labyrinthine lanes, and enjoying the cold salty air, the smell of ageing wood, and the hungry cries of the gulls. The hush of winter makes this place more charming than on even the best day of summer. The stalls with kitschy souvenirs no longer obscure your view, and the boats in the harbour are picturesquely covered in snow and ice.

In such circumstances it is easy to forget the crowds in Nesebar in high season and the threats the town faces. Since the early 2000s, the tourism boom has led to overdevelopment, which has turned the new part of Nesebar into a nightmare and seriously damaged the Old Town, which is an architectural reserve. A century-old windmill has been incorporated into an ugly new hotel, and many locals who let rooms in the old city have illegally rebuilt old mansions to create more rooms and pack in more customers. UNESCO is unhappy with this development and on several occasions has threatened to strike the city from its prestigious World Heritage list, if more rigorous measures for the protection of Nesebar's heritage and landscape are not taken. Locals, for their part, are unhappy with UNESCO's requirements.

Will the desire for greater profits or the preservation of a gem of history, architecture and old-time charm prevail? Having lived in Bulgaria for long enough, one is sceptical about the outcome of this conflict but, while winter rules over old Nesebar, why not enjoy the tranquility of a town that looks as if the past century never happened?

  • COMMENTING RULES

    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

FROM BLACK ROCK DESERT, NV, TO NOVO SELO, BG
Organisers of the notorious Burning Man festival seem to have heeded the lessons of 2023 when festival-goers, paying uprwards of $500 for a ticket, had to wade, owing to torrential rains and flashfloods, through tons of mud in the northern Nevada desert.

AMAZING PLANTS & ANIMALS OF BULGARIA
In Bulgaria, nature has created a number of little wonders. They might not be spectacular or grandiose, but they constitute a vital part of the local wildlife, create a feeling of uniqueness and are sometimes the sole survivors of bygone geological epochs.

THE MANY FACES OF PALIKARI ROCKS
Next time you visit Sozopol, pay more attention not to the quaint houses in the Old Town, the beaches around or the quality of food and service in the restaurants. Instead, take a stroll by the sea and take in... the rocks. 

MOSQUE OF LEGENDS
Bulgaria's Ottoman heritage is the most neglected part of the rich past of this nation. This is a result of the trauma of five centuries spent under Ottoman domination additionally fanned up under Communism and up until this day.

CITY OF EAGLES
As the official symbol of Bulgaria, lions can be seen everywhere, from the national coat of arms to architectural ornaments to "patriotic" tattoos.

SOFIA'S STRANGE MONUMENTS
Some monuments impress with their size, artistic value or historical significance, and some have a hidden history to match.

KUKERI AND THEIR DANCES
From Venice to Rio, carnivals are a time honoured tradition to celebrate the end of winter with a riot of noise and dance, with masks and a temporary subversion of established social roles.

THE VELCHOVA ZAVERA HIKE
Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

SHIPS OF ROCK
Sinemorets, at Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast, remains one of the most idyllic and calmly beautiful spots around.

TOP MUST-SEES IN 2024
When wanderlust grabs you in 2024 but deciding on your next destination is hard, here is a list of places to whet your appetite. Some of them are millennia old and others are new, but they are all remarkable and most are one-of-a-kind.

BRUTALIST BULGARIA
A white mammoth dominates the upper part of Boulevard Todor Aleksandrov in central Sofia. Its massive, concrete surfaces are imposing.

LES FRANÇAIS EN BULGARIE
Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.