Journeys, Travel Guides

Road Trip in Bulgaria: Sandy Beaches, Lavender Fields & Rocky Shores

The scent of endless lavender fields, a cozy day spent at the beach in Albena, fresh mussels and fish in Balchik, and the thrilling experience of a windy Tyulenovo made this weekend road trip in Bulgaria one to remember.

Sandy beaches, lavender fields, good sea food and stunning rocky shores make Bulgaria a beautiful summer holiday destination.

I’ll share two of my favorite travel itineraries for a summer holiday on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast with travel tips about beautiful and secluded places,nice accommodation, food experiences and insights on the lavender fields in Bulgaria – the top producer of lavender oil in the world.


Travel Itinerary on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast (3 days)

Tyulenovo – Albena beach resort – Thracian Cliffs – Lavender Fields – Balchik 

Read on to discover highlights of this seaside road trip in Bulgaria >

Tyulenovo, a remote village on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast

Tyulenovo---remote-village-on-the-Bulgarian-Black-Sea-Coast

Endless sunflower fields on one side, waves breaking on the cliffy shore on the other, and a sandy road took us to Tyulenovo, a secluded village on the north side of the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.

This scenery is only disrupted by few oil wells gazing from the cereal crops, a reminder of the fact that Bulgaria has discovered its first oil field in these parts.

These oil wells are some of my most familiar sights since my father was an oil & gas drilling engineer, and I grew up seeing thousands of magazines featuring them on the covers.

But the villages leading up to Tyulenovo had nothing familiar about them, even if I’ve been here 7 years ago. The scenery somehow changed and we got lost for a while, then made the right turn and arrived near the shores of Tyulenovo.

This fishing village is now a tiny resort, it even has a decent hotel, but it’s still pretty secluded and quiet, at least on Mondays.

Tyulenovo is an old settlement, probably founded by the Thracians, but it was occupied by Romans, Ottomans and then Bulgarians, each empire giving it another name. Nowadays, it’s named after the seals that used to live here until the 80s – “Tyulen” means seal in Bulgarian1.

The landscape is the same as I remember: time seems to have stood still over the old boats docked in the tiny port, the fantastic rocky shores are covered in orange lichens, and cormorants are circling the air in search of a suitable mate – it’s their last chance as the mating season is coming to an end shortly (July 15th).

We stopped by the brand new hotel perched on the cliffs for a quick fish and mussels lunch while gazing at the waves clashing on the shores with thunderstorm sounds. The sea food is pretty good here, but don’t get your hopes up because Tyulenovo has only 60 permanent inhabitants and 200 during the summer, so not much to compare it to.

After lunch, we walked towards the magnificent cliffs and the stone bridge, barely standing on our own two feet because of the heavy winds.

*If you go, please don’t stand too close to the edges. It’s indeed a free diving spot, but it’s 20 meters high and the currents are so heavy in this area that you’d better settle for admiring the scenery rather than swimming here, especially since there’s no beach.

Tyulenovo’s cliffy scenery is breath-taking, and on a strong wind and high waves kind of day its force can render you humble and silent, but also smiling and feeling alive.

From March until mid-July, the colony of cormorants living here breeds on the impressive cliffs and adds to the magic vibe of this secluded village. As far as I’ve read, it seems there’ a certain species of cormorants living in this parts – they’re called the European shag2.

I’ve only seen a group of black ones standing on a cliff, the furthest from the shore, and some circling the salty air. If you happen to be in Tyulenovo during breeding season, it’s recommended that you don’t climb the rocks and let the birds have their mating ritual in peace. Seriously, there’s even a sign nearby that urges you to respect this natural order.

Tyulenovo is not a beach destination, but it’s pretty close to nice seaside resorts like Albena, Varna, Golden Sands, making it a perfect day trip (by car only) on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.

Tyulenovo-Hotel-and-the-tiny-port

Tyulenovo-village-on-the-Bulgarian-Black-Sea-Coast


Albena Beach Resort, Bulgaria

Black Sea resorts have some generous sandy beaches in Romania and Bulgaria, great for long weekends and summer holidays.

Albena is one of them and gets its charm from the scenic coastal setting, fine sands and the joyful atmosphere. The beach is wider than most in this area, making it perfect for lazy mornings and afternoons spent bathing in the sun.

Albena is now a dedicated tennis resort, so there are a couple of great courts in the park leading up to the beach. It’s  a family friendly place with a fair amount of entertainment for the kids. There are a few water sports facilities around, parasailing being my favorite.

Albena-Beach-Resort-in-Bulgaria---Black-Sea-Coast

ice-cream-and-Albena-Beach---Bulgarian-seaside


The Largest Lavender Fields in the World

Provence is no longer the world leader of endless lavender fields, nor is China, even if it used to second France.

The top producer of lavender oil in the world is now Bulgaria.

In fact, Bulgaria has been the leader for the past few years, ever since most lavender fields in Provence have been damaged and yet to be replanted. China, the second in line for the title, has replaced them with agricultural crops 3.

In Bulgaria, the number of fields only increases with each year, and now they’re planting more up North, thus making them more accessible to me. 🙂

Being so close to these beauties – 4h drive from my home in Bucharest, I couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing them for myself.

The aromatic lavender fields in Bulgaria are everywhere and yet, they’re hard to pin on a map.

We found one between two villages, few km away from Tyulenovo, after spotting the violet hue in the horizon, next to a sunflower field. The off-road drive in the middle of nowhere was worth it as we found a beautiful lavender field, wind turbines popping out here and there. We arrived at dusk, hence the low light photos, so we also visited it the next day.

The serene atmosphere of a lavender field at dusk was replaced in the light of day with the nagging thought of hunters being around, after we found a couple of used shotgun shells on the ground, probably from a winter rabbit hunt. It was cool, no hunters around, but it felt uneasy.

Lavender fields are now spread throughout the country and you can find them near Burgas, Nessebar, Tyulenovo, Kavarna, and many other regions.

Ana---Lavender-Fields-in-Bulgaria


Thracian Cliffs, Bulgaria
Thracian-Cliffs-on-the-Bulgarian-Black-Sea-Coast


Travel Itinerary for 7 days on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast

Balchik Castle & its botanical garden – Kaliakra Castle – Varna – Golden Sands – Nessebar – Ezerets

You can spend an entire week on the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria and not get tired of it.

Apart from the other beautiful beaches in Varna, Golden Sands, Nessebar and Sunny Beach (the largest and more entertaining ones), you can also visit Balchik Castle and its charming botanical garden or take another road trip to see Kaliakra Castle and the impressive Cape Kaliakra.

Ezerets also has a nice and quiet beach and you can get a great meal nearby, at the Wild Duck restaurant.

Hope I’ll travel again to Bulgarian coast, maybe during this summer; if so, I’ll post another article about Nessebar, the only place on this Bulgarian travel itinerary that I haven’t seen yet.

Balchik, Bulgaria

Balchik, Bulgaria


Typical dishes for the Bulgarian seaside & fish restaurants

Bulgarian cuisine is pretty good and varies a lot from the mountain side, where it’s more about veal and lamb meatballs served on hot “lava” pans (see my article on Veliko Tarnovo) to the Black Sea Coast, where it’s mainly about fresh mussels and fish.

There are lots of nice terraces in Balchik, Varna, and even in Tyulenovo, but there are few of them that I liked more.

  • Try Fresh mussels & safrid fish at Francis Drake Restaurant in Balchik,
  • Have a great culinary experience at Fouquet Restaurant – fish wrapped in zucchini with 2 types of frittata & handmade sea food pasta, at the Lighthouse Golf Resort & Spa (near Balchik),
  • Get a lunch or dinner with a view on the terrace of Tyulenovo Hotel & Restaurant – try a fresh local fish and mussels cooked in wine with garlic.

Lunch with a view in Tyulenovo, Bulgaria


Accommodation on the Bulgarian Coast

Lighthouse Golf Resort & Spa – a 5* resort that’s pretty affordable (around 100€/night).

The place is impressive by its size and good services, so it was our second time here. They have indoor and outdoor pools, some free spa services included and a small private beach (further away, so you need to drive there), large golf courses and great food at Fouquet Restaurant.

Other accommodation options within this resort are the apartments and the houses, both in big numbers, and costs can be a bit lower (around 70€/night).

This time we tried the apartments because we booked too late for the hotel and found them very nice, clean and spacious. The apartment and houses are scattered around the golf courses and are surrounded by trees, making this place even more serene.


When to Visit the Bulgarian Seaside

June, July and August are the best months to visit Bulgaria, if you’re looking for a beach destination.

If you want to catch the scented lavender fields in bloom, June and the first week of July are the best ones to visit Bulgaria. From what I’ve read, lavender is harvested in July for oil making purposes, so better plan your visit at the end of June or beginning of July to enjoy their scent.


How to get to & around Bulgarian Black sea coast

There are a couple of international airports close by: Varna, Ruse and Burgas. My recommendation is to rent a car from the airport and drive around because that’s the best way to explore the hidden beauties in Bulgaria.

There isn’t much information online about all the best places to visit in Bulgaria, so if you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll answer shortly.

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Road Trip in Bulgaria: Albena, Balchik, Tyulenovo, Thracian Cliffs, Lavender Fields | July 2017 | All Photography ©Ana Matei > Instagram: @MateiAna


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Ana
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