“The biggest mistake people make about Sunny Beach is thinking it’s only for teenagers.” That’s what the Bulgarian tour operator Tanko Kovalev tells me.
Later, sprawled on a poolside lounger, idly speculating about the ages of my fellow guests, I think he might be right.
I see a good spread of retirees. The guy with a white walrus mustache, dozing under a tree, looks like a time traveler from the 19th century.
Affordable: Thomas W. Hodgkinson checks into the Riu Helios Paradise in Sunny Beach (pictured)
Thomas writes: “For about a decade, the central part of Sunny Beach — a pristine stretch of sand on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast (above) — has swarmed with sunburnt teenagers drinking two liters of beer. But stay low or high and you can avoid the wet t-shirt contests and brawls.
The Riu Helios Paradise is “a 597-room four-star giant in terracotta,” writes Thomas. A hotel that “a little resembles Harrods furniture warehouse by the Thames”
Thomas walks along the beach Funny pub (above) … ‘where the action is’. He says it’s ‘Brit-Central’. He adds: “I spot a garish looking restaurant nearby. “We never close,” reads the sign outside.
For about a decade, the central part of Sunny Beach — a pristine strip of sand on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast — has swarmed with sunburnt teenagers drinking two liters of beer. But stay low or high and you can avoid the wet t-shirt contests and brawls.
The biggest appeal is how cheap it is. Sunny Beach is considered one of the most affordable beach destinations in all of Europe.
Against this background, the appearance of the Riu Helios Paradise in which I am staying impresses me.
A four-star, 597-room terracotta behemoth that somewhat resembles the Harrods Furniture Depository on the Thames. I’m paying £40 a night all inclusive (alcohol too).
It has five restaurants. There are also four swimming pools. And if you’re feeling more adventurous, the Black Sea is on your doorstep.
Its water is oddly salty, making you feel more like you’re swimming in a lake. By the way, not black either. It owes its name to its violent winter storms, which are bad news for sailors.
My fellow guests are German and French but mostly British. John from Stoke Newington told me he bought a house nearby in 2005 for £12,000. Since then he has had nothing to do with it. He only comes to see it every few years. I strike up a conversation with two women from Bristol who are on their honeymoon. They have a lovely time but find it quiet in early May.
Thomas’ fellow guests at the Riu Helios Paradise (above) “include Germans and French, but mostly Brits”
Thomas reveals that one of his fellow guests “had her purse stolen from the back of her wheelchair”.
TUI offers week-long all-inclusive packages staying at the Riu Helios Paradise (above) from £520 per person including flights
One of them, Shelley, had her purse stolen from the back of her wheelchair. It’s “disappointing,” she says.
In the evening they recommend the Funny Pub where the action is. A half hour walk along the beach, it’s Brit-Central. I spot a garish looking restaurant nearby. “We never close,” reads the sign outside.
At the bar, I enjoy my two-pound pint of local Kamenitza and strike up a conversation with a man from Swansea named Russell. As a poetry fan, I ask him if he likes Dylan Thomas.
“Rather for drinking than for writing,” comes the reply. Russell has also bought a small house an hour’s walk inland in the village of Tankovo. Every evening he takes big steps to the beach to drink the cheap beer.
Bounce and Viking are two of the most popular nightclubs in Sunny Beach (above). When Thomas searches them online, he finds “photos of squirming, happy youth: images of heaven or hell, depending on your definition.”
A dip in the Black Sea (up on Sunny Beach) is like swimming in a lake, Thomas reveals, as its water is “oddly salty.”
Thomas visited the ancient city of Nessebar (pictured) which is twenty minutes from the hotel. “It’s easy to explore and has incredible Byzantine churches,” he says
TUI offers week-long all-inclusive packages staying at the Riu Helios Paradise in Sunny Beach from £520 per person including flights (tui.co.uk).
Funny Pub is loud. The live band will play Can’t Help Falling In Love, Losing My Religion and Wish You Were Here. I ask the barman to recommend a couple of clubs and he calls back, ‘Bounce!’ and ‘Vikings!’ When I look online, I find photos of squirming, happy teenagers: pictures of heaven or hell, depending on your definition.
If you’re in the mood for culture, Sunny Beach offers that too.
Twenty minutes away, on a small peninsula jutting out into the Black Sea, is the ancient town of Nessebar. It’s easy to explore and home to incredible Byzantine churches. The icons and murals are beautiful to look at.
While snacking on my doner kebab at Nessebar’s Hemingway Restaurant (gosh, word has gotten around about that guy), I reflect on how I made the right choice when I came to Sunny Beach.
Nessebar was a discovery. But the highlight is spending a whole day at Helios Paradise’s many pools — reading, daydreaming, and eventually getting hold of a banana ice cream cone.