It might be a newcomer to the scene, but Bulgaria’s quickly building up a reputation as a top holiday spot. The Varna region is one of Bulgaria’s rising stars, and is our new destination for summer 2018. This place offers up a stretch of coast stuffed with sandy beaches, historical hotspots dating back thousands of years and bags of Instagram-worthy natural sights to gawp at. It also happens to be home to one of the country’s five wine regions. Read on to find out why Varna should be your next grape escape…
Bulgaria’s a hidden gem when it comes to winemaking. And this is surprising, really, because it’s one of the oldest in the game. Ancient Thracian tribes were stomping grapes here as early as 4,000 BC. The Thracians, who counted Spartacus among their legendary alumni, were big fans of the tipple – they had a dedicated wine god, called Zagreus. And, it seems like they weren’t half bad at making the stuff either. Their wine even got a shout out in Homer’s ancient classics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Bulgarian wine has counted some famous faces among its fans in more recent times, too. Winston Churchill was said to order 500 litres of the country’s plonk every year – that’s more than 650 bottles.
In the Varna region’s Black Sea Coast winemaking district, white vinos are top of the list. Dimyat is the most popular type of grape grown here. It makes a nice dry white, which wine buffs say has a characteristic vanilla aftertaste. The Black Sea Coast’s famous Varnenski Misket wine is made from a combo of the Dimyat and Misket grapes. The names might be a bit of a mouthful, but they’re definitely a tasty one.
The Varna winery’s a 15-minute cab ride from Golden Sands, where we’ve got a bunch of hotels for you to bed down in. At this place, you can tour the cellars and taste some of their tipples, before soaking it up at their restaurant. It takes 15 minutes by taxi to get to the Euxinograd Palace from Golden Sands, too. This 19th-century mansion has its own boutique winery. It’s set among pretty botanical gardens, so you can top off your tasting with a scenic stroll. The Salla Estate winery, meanwhile, is off the beaten track, but it’s a good excuse to head out into the Varna region’s countryside for a tasting. You’ll get a selection of reds and whites to try, accompanied by traditional Bulgarian cheese, which the owner makes himself.
Wine is such a big thing in Varna that there are 2 yearly festivals to celebrate it. The Varna Food and Wine Festival kicks off every April. For this, winemakers from all over Bulgaria flock to Varna city with stashes of their wares for you to try and buy. Plus, there’s plenty of delicious food on offer to go with your drink. Saint Trifon Zarezan is the country’s patron saint of wine, and he’s got a whole festival to himself. It’s celebrated all over Bulgaria on the 14th February, so if you don’t fancy getting loved up on Valentine’s Day you can join in with these boozy celebrations instead. Festivities include watering the grapes with wine, traditional folk dancing and crowning a wine king with a wreath of vine leaves. It wraps up with an all-night party hosted by the wine king, and fuelled by plenty of vino, of course. We’ll drink to that.