The border crossing at Zlatograd, near Smolyan, near Pamporovo opened January 2010!
Greeks will now be able to take advantage of low cost skiing in Pamporovo and Bulgarians
living in the area will be able to drive from the border to the Greek coast in under
We returned from a superb touring holiday in Bulgaria and Greece (myself, wife and
14 year old son). With all the hype about Bulgaria and the close proximity of the
southern ski resorts to Greek border, I thought I would drive from Bulgaria to Greece
and see the distances, road quality and realities and share these experiences with
The desire to do this was driven partly by curiosity as to whether Greece was really
accessible by road from Bulgaria and partly by us wanting to visit Greece again,
which is one of our favourite destinations. We also plan to spend some time in our
apartment in the ski resort Pamporovo in the summer months during our future retirement.
We caught an easyjet flight to Sofia (booked early in the year to get the best price
- 1st to 12th August 2009).
Please note that we crossed the border at Gotse Delchev, before the nearest border
to Pamporovo (Zlatograd) was opened.
Our itinerary was:
Sofia – Gotse Delchev (Bulgaria near the Greek border) – Drama (Greece) - Kavala
(on the Greek coast -– Micra Volvi – Thessaloniki - Kasandra (Halkadiki – Hanoitis
) - Xanthi ( Greek town near border crossing that will be opened in the future )
– Drama (Greece) – Gotse Delchev (Bulgaria) – Pamporovo – Bachkovo monastery (Bulgaria)
– Plovdiv – Sofia
Day 1 (Bulgaria)
Leaving Sofia early on Saturday morning we drove up to Gotse Delchev, about 2 hours
drive and booked into the Valentino Hotel 3* near the Greek border. This was a good
hotel with swimming pool and good restaurant 55 leva per night total for 3 people
in a very large air conditioned triple bed room, with en suite bath, fridge, mini
It was 26 degrees and sunshine. An A’ la carte meal for 3 with starters bottle of
wine and drinks was 40-50 leva (£20 - £25), limited English was spoken by the staff,
but we soon learned some more key Bulgarian words such as bla-go-dar-yuh (thank you)
and mol-yuh (please). You can see a list of essential list in the Bulgarian phrases
We searched and found several other beautiful hotels clustered next to a nearby river
7 km from Gotse Delchev, some were fully booked, the best was the Petreliiski Hotel
at Ognyanovo – 2 outdoor natural hot spar swimming pools, 1 large indoor pool with
full glass cover, bars, restaurant 68 leva per night for a double room, it was constructed
with natural stone, great architecture and some English speaking staff. The details
of the hotel can be found at:
I was up early and had a swim in the outdoor pool before breakfast, very invigorating!
Then followed a breakfast of cold meats egg cheese, butter and toast and freshly
baked bread. A pot of hot coffee and fresh orange juice was enjoyed. We stayed on
a previous visit at the Best Western hotel in Sofia at which the buffet breakfast
was below average and the advertised room service non-existent. So the meals at the
Valentino were a pleasant surprise. We then packed up and headed for the nearby Greek
Day 2 (Bulgaria)
We drove to the old style border crossing 15 min's away from Gotse Delchev where
we were stopped at a ‘James Bond’ style security border control with several uniformed
armed guards – we were routinely questioned and had to open our car boot, then allowed
We then came to the Greek border control and our passports were checked again, before
we drove on towards the Greek coast beach resorts. It was a 1.5 hrs drive to Kavala
(Scenic city built into the hillside overlooking the bays and beaches with a small
The roads were of a surprisingly good standard, some B and mostly 60 mph + ‘A’ roads.
I have previously scoured the Internet to find information on the best route, and
accounts of the road condition varied from below average to poor. I wondered if the
Bulgarians did not want to encourage tourists to cross the border, to avoid losing
The best beaches were Neo Paramus and Keramoti, with fine sands, very shallow shelved
bays, good for children, warm water with the Greek Island of Thasos in view. Azure
Blue skies and seas were breath-taking, my family we all love beautiful scenery and
architecture. There regular car and passenger ferry crossings to the Greek Island
of Thasos, which we would like to visit next year, judging by the queues of cars
at the ferry terminal, a very popular destination.
Day 3 – Day 10 (Greece)
After driving 2 hours from Kavala to Halkadiki, we booked into the Kassandra Palace
Hotel 4* (free upgrade, including breakfasts for us all, from the Niredes 3* apartments
we had originally booked, due to a computer over-booking error). We stayed 8 nights
and toured Kassandra and Sitonia peninsular's, absolutely superb.
The kasandra Palace was fantastic and newly refurbished, Olympic sized pool, acres
of gardens with palm trees, leading straight to the private beach. You need a car
though, (or take a taxi). We went out most evenings to enjoy the nearby resorts,
such as Hanoiti, Polychrono and Sivin.
The beach resort of Sivin had two excellent award winning sea food restaurants, we
had crab and prawns one evening, we had a table ‘on the beach’ at the edge of the
restaurant and watched the sun set over the Ageon sea.
Sithonia was quieter, and inspiringly picturesque, we toured around the island stopping
at a couple of beaches for an iced coffee (frappe). The road follows the coast closely
with superb un-spoilt views, all of the way! The South coast of the island was the
most beautiful. Kassandra peninsular was very busy, very friendly and 28-35 degrees
(an air conditioned car is a ‘must have’).
Continuous sunshine, one of the best Greek destinations we have visited (restaurant
meals for 3 people were 35 -.50 euro’s, including starters, drinks house wine and
free desserts at nearly all restaurants).
The third peninsular Agion Oroshas (with Mount Athos Holy Mountain ) is inhabited
by many hundreds of monks and holy orders inhabiting many monasteries, it can only
be viewed from the sea by boat trip, without special permission to enter, which takes
several weeks to arrange.
We then drove to Thessaloniki, this was too large a city and too busy for me to fully
enjoy, so we carried onto Micra Volvi at the fresh water inland lakes, and stooped
for a beer and walk en route then the beach resorts near Kavala.
We then visited Xanthi (Greece) near the border crossing that will be opened at Zlatograd
(Bulgaria) near Smolyan. When this is open it will be 1hrs drive from Plovdiv to
Pamporovo, then under 1 hrs from the border to the Greek coast, so we plan to stay
at our apartment and then travel down to the coast for day trips and long weekend
stays, by bus or car.
We found a small air conditioned apartment on the coast sleeping 4 people with landscaped
gardens leading down to the sea (35 euro per night – 7 nights) The average price
was 60-70 euro’s per night for 4 with swimming pool.
Day 11 – Day 12 (Bulgaria)
After travelling back to Drama, then Gotse Delchev, we drove through to Stoikite
and met Slavi, the manager at our apartments. He was as usual very helpful indeed.
He took us to the council offices in Chepalare, we presented our Bulstat Cards at
the counter and paid 90 leva (£45) to bring our council tax payments up to date (2008+2009).
If you have Bulstat Cards it is a simple 5 minute process. The offices are in the
centre of Chepalare where the road is blocked off to cars, as you drive in from Pamporovo
through the Rhodope mountains, at the start of the pedestrian only area and has a
flag outside. Open weekdays till 5.00pm.
Slavi’s family has lived in the area of Stoikite for many years and were amongst
the first people to ski in Bulgaria in the 40’s / 50’s. We cannot thank Slavi enough
for his help and advice over the last 2-3 years and we hope that the owners will
be able to continue his employment during the coming years.
We stopped as usual for lunch Old House Restaurant in Pamporovo (English prices,
but excellent atmosphere + food) and at the Market at Bachkovo monastery on the way
down the mountain towards Plovdiv, this is always 6-9 degrees warmer than the top
of the mountain and busy with cafes and good restaurants on the river (26 degrees
We did not have time to stop again at Plovdiv this time, for lunch and further exploration,
so drove through to Sofia stopping at some ancient monuments en route (not very exciting)
and had dinner before flying home.
Note: If you want to drive to Greece,from Bulgaria it is bet to email the hire companies
office directly in Bulgaria and negotiate car drop off at the terminal you are flying
into (otherwise you will need to catch a bus / taxi between terminals!). Also, you
need to email your passport and driving license 7 days before and pay a 45 euro extra
charge for extra documents to travel to Greece ( 21 days before if you want to drive
to Turkey) Car hire UK company offices will not tell you this!
This is the hotel near to the Greek border, that we stopped in overnight this year,
when we crossed the border into Greece. It was clean and has reasonably sized swimming
pool and gardens. We had a 3 bed room which cost us only 55 leva (£29) per night
! The details are shown below. I think that there are even better value hotels nearby,
but this is one of only a few listed on the Internet. It is a good hotel though,
and easy to find.
This hotel is about 7 km from the Hotel Valentino, we had a look around it and had
brunch there, it was fairly quiet and the natural spar pool has now been covered
with a barrel vaulted synthetic cover to keep in the heat for year round use. The
food here was good, but not as reasonably priced as at the Valentino Hotel. The website
below shows pictures and contact details.
Car Hire companies in Bulgaria that will allow driving to Greece:
It is important to remember that most local car hire companies are great for use
in Bulgaria, but will not allow you to cross the border into Greece or Turkey. Use
an international European company, such as the ones below, if you want to cross the
border and drive down to the cost. Email them well in advance, as you need special
papers to cross the border, or your insurance will be void, in the event of an accident!