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Bulgaria driving the road to Greece

 

‘On The Border’

 

 

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 1.5 hours.

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 you.

 

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 bar.

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 section.

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:

 

http://www.hotelpetreliiski.info/en_index.html#

 

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 border crossing.

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 through.

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 harbour).

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 business.

 

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 this time).

 

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!

 

Useful Links:

 

Hotel Petreliiski:

 

http://www.hotelpetreliiski.info/en_index.html#

 

Hotel Valentino:

 

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.

Address: Continuation of Dunav Str., Gotse Delchev 2900
Phone/Fax: +359 (0)751 60750, 60751, (0)888/7605604; Fax:+359 (0)751 60750
email: valentino_pgm@abv.bg

 

Hotel Delta:

 

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.

 

www.hoteldelta-bg.com

 

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!

www.eurocar.bg

www.hertz.bg