In 2013 I moved to Sofia with the conviction that I know Varna very well and it can no longer surprise me. Eight years later I realize how little I know about my hometown, how I have taken it for granted and how much it has changed lately.
I am really grateful to Visit Varna for challenging me to be a tourist in my own city and helping me to look at Varna with different eyes and rediscover its charm. The experience aroused quite mixed feelings in me – love, pride, nostalgia, even a small dose of guilt. However, in the end it convinced me once again how remarkable in architectural, cultural and historical sense Varna is actually.
The reason for the visit was the 100th anniversary of Varna as a holiday destination which is celebrated this year.
Development of Varna as a sea resort
Over the years, Varna has been part of various empires from Antiquity to the present day – Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Byzantium, the medieval Bulgarian state, the Ottoman Empire which have all left their cultural and architectural imprint. During all this time it has always been a cosmopolitan city and home to a variety of nationalities – Bulgarians, Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Jews. All of them, as its inhabitants, appreciated the potential of the sea as a means of healing but only after the First World War did it become a conscious policy for the development of the city.
After the Liberation Varna underwent intensive modernization and could compare with other developed European cities. It relied mainly on maritime trade and its proximity to the granary of Bulgaria – Dobrudzha. However, after Dobrudzha came under Romanian rule, the city was hit by a severe economic crisis and flooded with refugees.
The mayors saw an opportunity to develop Varna as a seaside resort and taught us valuable lessons in tourism from which we could learn to this day.
Extremely modern sea baths, many new hotels and restaurants, as well as a casino in the Sea Garden were built. A sanatorium and a hydrotherapeutic institution were founded around the monastery “St. Constantine ” (now Complex “St. St. Constantine and Elena”) and 63 of the monastery’s rooms were rented to holidaymakers. Not long after, the first grape healing station in Bulgaria was built there which combined grape healing and sea healing. The Varna Opera, an aquarium, a puppet theater and a dolphinarium were opened. Holiday resorts for various public institutions were being built and pioneer camps were being organised for children from Bulgaria and other socialist countries.
In 1972 The Chalcolithic necropolis of Varna was accidentally discovered and proved the existence of an ancient civilization older than the Egyptian and Sumerian ones that had inhabited our lands. The oldest processed gold in the world, dating back from 4400. BC which was found in the necropolis is a remarkable prehistoric monument of world importance. You can have a look at it in the Archaeological Museum of Varna. In the past its building was home to the former high school for girls.
There was always a rich cultural program for the guests of the city, including festivals such as “Varna Summer” and “Golden Rose”, International Ballet Competition and Rally “Golden Sands”, and for larger events you could turn to the Palace of Culture and sports and the Festival complex.
The development of Varna as a resort is gradual but all these steps have put it on the map and cemented it in the minds of tourists as an attractive holiday destination.
Talyana – the art district of Varna
If you want to feel the spirit of Old Varna and immerse yourself in the most glorious days of the city as a resort, then Talyana is your place. If you are not from Varna and you hear it for the first time, I do not blame you. “Talyan” or “Dalyan” is a fishing net anchored on the seabed and is the name of our own art district similar to “Kapana” in Plovdiv.
You can find it locked in the triangle between Preslav and Tsar Simeon streets which connect the Stoyan Bachvarov Drama Theater and Nezavisimost Square with the transport arteries of the city – the railway station, customs and the port.
After the Liberation these were the main shopping streets and here was the economic heart of the city.
That is why in this region there is the highest concentration of beautiful old buildings with mostly commercial character – banks, offices, shops, warehouses and expensive hotels which hide curious urban legends.
Fortunately, in recent years the facades of many of the buildings have been completely renovated and now we can enjoy them in all their glory. Some of the old hotels, such as the Grand Hotel London, the Musala Hotel and Hotel Royal, are still in use today and an original lift from 1926 has been preserved in the Musala Hostel.
Where to eat and drink in Talyana
There are also very interesting bars and cafes in the area with a mission where you can have a really good time.
In the Social Teahouse you can stop for a cup of aromatic tea or homemade lemonade and attend various cultural events, while supporting young people from social homes to work.
In Hashtag Studio, in addition to good music and refreshing cocktails you can also enjoy a rich cultural program during the week – stand-up comedy, tastings of craft beers and wine, literary performances, unplugged concerts and alternative theatre performances. The building where the bar is now housed used to be home to the first department store in Varna.
Looking for peace and quiet away from the city noise in order to indulge in your favourite book – The Bookstore offers you just that in combination with aromatic coffee and chill music coming from the old gramophone.
43.12 Cafe – the pearl in the crown, located in the building of the former Bulgarian Commercial Bank. The coffee is first class from all over the world. They also offer brunch. The view is to the impressive building of the Naval Headquarters, and the interior is very modern with color accents. I recommend the place with both hands.
The Royal Hotel 1905 and the Baroque-style Burov Café have a recently renovated façade and are furnished with luxurious French furniture. Going inside, you can immerse yourself in the refined atmosphere of Old Varna and see a rich collection of paintings by famous authors.
In conclusion, I challenge you to become a tourist in your own city for at least a day – you do not know what hidden treasures lurk on every corner, and in the meantime you can take a virtual walk around the sights of Old Varna with the short videos on the Youtube channel of Visit Varna.