BULGARIA: This is a country that's now firmly on the map as a great golf destination. Boasting six first-class golf courses in stunning locations, it's a gem waiting for you to visit.
Bulgaria has gone through massive changes in development over the last few years, ski resorts have expanded at a rapid pace, a construction boom has tempted buyers, and the main cities like Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv have got rid of their tired Communist-era image and have become smart and lively, yet without comprising authentic charm.
Golf is booming too, and after a decade of tremendous investments and efforts on part of the Bulgarian Golf Association and private entrepreneurs, the country now boasts six first-class courses. Bulgaria is split into two golf destinations - Cape Kaliakra, situated some 50 km away from Varna and Sofia, the country’s largest city which has a motto ‘Ever growing, never old’.
WHERE TO STAY AND PLAY
Cape Kaliakra features the Thracian Cliffs Hotel & Beach Resort, located in a region where the traditions of the ancient Thracian civilisation can be traced, hence where the name originates. From every hole on the Gary Player- designed course there is a magnificent view of the Black Sea coast and quirky holes include the 6th which sits on top of the cliff with the green set some 40m below, followed by the 7th whose tee box is on a small island in the sea. This is the only Bulgarian resort which has its own beaches, and there’s also a luxurious spa, and a selection of one, two and three-bedroom suites that are spread across two village settings and separated by a lake.
Also in Cape Kaliakra is the five-star Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort, ideal for couples or families seeking to combine relaxation with a diverse range of activities. There are historical footprints for walkers to admire like the Balchik Castle, or the Stone Forest, a natural phenomenon that is unique to this part of Europe. The Ian Woosnam-designed course is promoted as challenging, yet generous, and can be enjoyed by both beginners and more experienced players. Visit: www.lighthousegolfresort.com
Thracian Cliffs and the Lighthouse courses are complemented by BlackSeaRama, just 30 minutes away from Varna airport and the city itself, which has extensive shopping facilities and a range of attractions. The course is another Gary Player design in the form of a classic links with stunning sea views and savour the 19th hole as own labels of wine are produced from the vineyards grown aside the fairways. Visit: www.blacksearama.com
St Sophia Golf Club & Spa was the first 18-hole golf course to open in 2003. Recently redesigned by Ireland’s Paul McGinley, it’s the closest golf club to the city – only 20 minutes from downtown. Water does not only feature on the course, but also in the spa where guests can benefit from the use of mineral water which is available in abundance in this area. Visit: www.stsofiagolf.com
Only 40 minutes away from Sofia is the Pravets Golf & Spa Resort which has a philosophy – ‘Anyone Can Play’. Host venue for the 2011 PGA Professionals Championship of Europe, the Peter Harradine-designed parkland course that surrounds the lake of the picturesque town of Pravets, includes a number of challenging holes like the signature 8th with its island green. The four-star hotel offers a cosy and relaxing atmosphere, in contrast to the bubbly ambience of the casino and bars on the resort. Visit: pravetsgolf.com
Ian Woosnam has also put his name to the course at the Pirin Golf & Country Club, a brand new 5-star resort that is near the well-known ski resort Bansko. Depending on your preference of accommodation, the hotel offers luxury bedrooms as well as apartments, and the spa is the largest in Bulgaria. The course is set against the towering backdrop of the Pirin Mountains and takes you on an adventure through the rough and rugged terrain. Advice is given to take the wind into consideration otherwise you’re likely to find yourself in one of 80 bunkers, many of which are pot-styled. Visit: www.piringolf.bg
There is, of course, plenty of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, and Bulgaria has also earned an international reputation among ‘foodies’, for its world famous yoghurt, wines and beers. Above all, a holiday to Bulgaria is great value and hospitality is unmatched, so it’s a good idea to visit!
HOW TO GET THERE
Bulgaria Airlines is the national carrier and offers flights to Sofia an Varna from Heathrow and to Sofia from Gatwick (www.air.bg). Easyjet flies to Sofia, British Airways flies to Sofia and Varna. Flights from the UK take three hours.
For details on golf holidays to Bulgaria, visit individual websites or BgGolf-VIP Holiday & Travel, www.vipholidaytravel.bg