Bulgaria Eating Abroad Featured

Sofia – A #LuxuryForLess Weekend Getaway

August 4, 2016

If your geography is as bad as mine you might well be scratching your head a little to try and place Sofia on the map. I’ll give you a couple of clues – it’s around a three hour flight from London, their currency is called the lev, and they speak Bulgarian… dead giveaway right? Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria, which isn’t a hugely popular tourist destination just yet but we think a gem that’s definitely worth visiting if you’re after a relaxing time in a compact city with stunning architecture!

Within an hour of arriving in Sofia, I was sitting in the beautiful rooftop bar of our hotel with a glass of remarkably good local wine in hand, plotting what we could get up to that weekend. I know many of you probably do your planning before you arrive in a destination but that’s not really our style and I don’t see that changing anytime soon… Besides, it just made the challenge that Travelex UK set me just that extra bit more interesting. This weekend was all about finding luxurious experiences without breaking the bank and I think we did rather well…

Stay – Sense Hotel

We checked into Sense Hotel, a chic property which, considering the location and the fact it’s a Design Hotels member, is surprisingly affordable. Our room was super spacious, modern, minimalist in style but definitely not in comfort. After a late flight in, I couldn’t wait to sink into bed on our first night, but not before perusing the pillow menu and weighing up whether a memory foam or duck down would help me nod off better! We were also treated to use of a Nespresso machine, Molton Brown toiletries, and a turn down service every night – it’s the little things that add to the luxury experience.


Explore – Free Sofia Tours

You would think that two non-planners like us would be all over walking tours but then again, you usually have to book, and by the time we actually discover them, it’s often too late. Which is why we were excited when we came across the Free Sofia Tours; they run twice a day, every day and there’s no need to book – we just showed up and split off into groups of 15-20 people. Then for the next two-ish hours we followed our enthusiastic guide across town, weaving from landmark to landmark while she impressively shared facts and anecdotes about all of them. There are quite a few stops and a lot of information to take in but it’s a great way to start your visit and allowed us to narrow down the places we were keen to have a more in depth snoop around!


Relax – Sense Spa

After a long morning of sightseeing we treated ourselves to a pit stop at the Sense Hotel Rooftop Bar overlooking the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Both the drinks and food are great – we’d recommend a few glasses of wine or a cocktail with a fresh Caprese salad on the side. It was then time to head to Sense Spa where a certain someone and I enjoyed our hot stone massages before alternating between some time in the sauna, a dip in the pool, and a soak in the hot tubs!

Eat Traditional – Restaurant Shtastliveca

As we wandered around town, we noticed that Sofia’s dining scene was fairly diverse with lots of trendy cafes, sushi spots and burgers joints, but there is still plenty of room for restaurants serving traditional Bulgarian cuisine. Shtastliveca is one of the city’s most popular; the tourist-laden location of Vitosha Street would usually put us off but it came recommended by tourists and locals alike so we thought we’d throw caution to the wind and join the crowd.

I found the kitschy decor of the dining room a little too twee for me, but the food was far from it. Our dishes were hearty and quite frankly, just huge. There was a lot on the menu to choose from but once you look closely it’s pretty much various combinations of meat with vegetables so nothing too alarming. Our pork mains were rich and tasty, but the highlight was the traditional Shopska salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, roasted peppers and cheese – we became quite fond of these over the weekend!


Eat Modern – Secret by Chef Petrov

We stumbled upon one of Sofia’s newest fine dining restaurants quite by chance as it’s just a few doors down from our hotel. I love a tasting menu so when we spied the 15 course feast from Chef Petrov, one of Bulgaria’s well known celebrity chefs, I knew we had to indulge. Our experience was fantastic – all the dishes were creative, intricate and absolutely delicious.

We particularly enjoyed the delicate mackerel, the theatre of the ‘ice creams’ made at the table, and both the decadent desserts. Considering the quantity and quality of the dishes, and use of luxurious ingredients such as foie gras and truffle throughout, our meal including wine and port was an absolute steal at a fraction of the price for something similar in London.

So Make A Move

I can’t recommend Sofia enough for your next weekend getaway, especially if you’re looking for a destination where your pounds will stretch further and you can definitely find luxurious experiences for less!

  • Sense Hotel, Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd 16, 1000 Sofia – our Superior room was under £200 for 3 nights.
  • Free Sofia Tour run their classic city tours twice daily but they also have a range of other charged tours – we thought it was such a great experience we tipped our guide approximately £18.
  • Sense Spa, Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd 16, 1000 Sofia – our 30 minute hot stone massages were approximately £70, the use of the spa facilities are free for guests.
  • Restaurant Shtastliveca, Blvd “Vitosha” 27, 1000 Sofia – our two course meal with wine and beer was approximately £35.
  • Secret by Chef Petrov, Tzar Osvoboditel Blvd 12, 1000 Sofia – our tasting menu with wine and port was approximately £95.


Thanks to Travelex UK for challenging me to find #LuxuryForLess on our weekend getaway to Sofia – the £200 budget they provided covered the cost of our incredible dinner at Secret by Chef Petrov, afternoon cocktails at the Sense Rooftop Bar, and our relaxing spa experience! Everything else was paid for by us… 

Snappy mini-vlogs of my #traveluxury24 experiences are now live on Travelex UK’s youtube channel – go check them out, even if it’s just to laugh at my accent!

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  • It looks like such a gorgeous place for a short break! *adds to list*

    C x | Lux Life

    • It’s such a pretty little city – we loved the whole weekend and really treated ourselves to some much needed R&R!

  • Joanne

    I am so surprised to see Sofia as a suggested holiday destination and I will explain my reasons for saying this and please don’t get me wrong- you might had the best time since you were invited (and an agency was involved) but try going as a tourist without any agency involved and you will get a real treat of Bulgarians and their mentality….

    I have been there twice, once in 1997 as a teenager and then back in 2009. Both times we witnessed people stealing bags from tourists and in the second time our agency bus was opened and our luggage and anything else in the bus was stolen (on our first day). When we called the police and the officers arrived, we were treated with the worst ever behaviour. Apparently we found later on from people working in the embassy that Bulgarians are very poor hence even the policemen are involved in the Bulgarian mafia trying to get anything out of tourists. Believe it or not when the bus was finally given back to the driver more stuff were missing as the police officers stole the remainings!

    As for the people, I remember they were rude and the majority of Bulgarians I have met in the UK they have exactly the same mentality of taking advantage of any sort of situations. As sad as this may sound Bulgarian women are so desperate to leave the country they attempt to meet men of other countries via skype and when they come in France, UK, Germany they try to get pregnant as soon as possible, which just shows how bad the socio-economical situation in the country is but also the ‘ethics’ of people.

    Because it is a dead cheap country it doesn’t mean that is is a worth visiting destination-no one would want to witness prostitution or be a victim or any sort of stealing. I think it is something people should consider prior booking tickets if they do not want to end up regretting it.


    • Hi Joanne,

      Thanks for your comment; I’m truly sorry to hear about your bad experiences with theft during your visits and can understand why this might have caused you to feel the way you do. However, this was not our experience at all – we found the city to be safe for walking around and the people we encountered to be friendly and welcoming. Your comments about the Bulgarian people are not only sweeping generalisations but to my mind, inappropriate and offensive. Sadly, theft and prostitution are common in many countries, including the UK – if this was to put us off travelling, I don’t think there would be anywhere left to visit! For many countries, tourism is a vital part of their economy.

      For the record, we decided to visit Sofia on our own accord and we were excited to do so. We booked and paid for our own flights and accommodation not via an agency. The collaboration with Travelex UK was to spend a certain budget on activities of my choosing as part of their #LuxuryForLess challenge – they had no say or influence over what I chose to spend the money on.

    • Antonia Kotova

      Hi Joanne,
      I am so sorry you had such a bad experience in Bulgaria. I came accross this post while researching the restaurant of Chef Petrov and was honestly surprised by your story, since I have been living in Sofia for most of my life and my experiences are quite different. I understand that it is possible for someone to have a dissapointing experience here. I would say there are two Bulgarias – the Bulgaria of the modern, educated and polite people, and the Bulgaria of the rude, very poor and uneducated. In Sofia this division may become visible if you are unlucky, but if you stay in the center and better neighbourhoods I do not think it would be likely to see the “ugly face” of the city. But as mentioned by Connie, this is true for most countries. In conclusion, if you decide to visit again at some point, send me a message and I would be really happy to give you some tips on how to have a better time. And don’t worry, I do not wish to steal your husband, since I am happily married and have a great job. 🙂

      • Hi Antonia,
        Thanks for your comment and for sharing my sentiments – I don’t think one should or can judge a whole country and its people through one negative experience.
        As you can tell from my post, my boyfriend and I had a truly wonderful weekend in Sofia and we have happily recommended it to many people!
        We really enjoyed our meal at Chef Petrov – are you planning on dining there or have done so already? I’d love to know what you thought?

  • Ooooh I want to visit!

    • It’s definitely worth a little detour off the well-worn path for!

  • Gosh another place to add to the list! I love finding European places that are such great value – what a fab find!

    • Absolutely – especially now that the £ has suffered a dip shall we say! This weekend will be in stark contrast to our Copenhagen visit in a couple of weeks!

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