Should you frequently find your heart longing for the Sea, for its wild beauty, its mystery, and unbounded spirit, you may be searching for unique sites close by her enrapturing shores, to spend even a few days of peaceful adventure.
Thus, you could stay with me for a little while, to discover one such blessed, untamed place by the Black Sea, exploring its splendors, and stoking your heart full of possibilities and anticipation.
Once a cherished home of Queen Marie of Romania, the small coastal town of Balchik dwells in northeastern Bulgaria, waiting to offer you wild, pristine beaches, rich culture, ancient history, and divine seafood. Plus, if you are a golf enthusiast, don’t miss the three world-class golf courses nearby.
Come, Dear Traveler, let’s learn more about this magical spot!
Balchik’s Fascinating Stories
As we look to uncover the mysteries of this ancient place, a multitude of stories reach out to awaken and entice our imagination, as the stunning piece of land belonged to many different cultures!
1. The Ancient City
At first, the mighty Thracians claimed it as their own and built a settlement here, around the 6th century B.C.
Soon after, it was colonized by the Ancient Greeks, who first named it Krounoi, after the nearby springs. As an enigmatic wooden statue of Dionysus, the mystifying ancient god of Wine, Liberation, and Revelry, was found close by its shores, Krounoi became known as Dionysopolis.
Around the 1st century A.D., it was assimilated into the Roman Empire, along with all of Ancient Thrace’s territory south of the Danube, being considered one of the main cities of the Roman province of Scythia Minor.
It is said that sometime during the 5th century A.D. a great earthquake caused the Black Sea to rise, swallowing most of ancient Dionysopolis and forcing the survivors to build a new fortress on higher ground.
But not all of the ancient city was lost to the mighty sea! In 2007, an incredible discovery was made on the construction site of a new hotel. An exceptionally well-preserved ancient temple of the mother goddess Cybele, dating back to 280-260 B.C., was discovered here, buried under the earth, probably by the same cataclysm that destroyed the archaic metropolis.
The mysterious Anatolian goddess of Life, Nature, and Fertility was worshiped throughout Ancient Thrace, Greece, and Rome, and according to the artifacts and inscriptions found inside, the Dionysopolis temple was active for over 700 years.
Though the temple itself lies on private property and can’t yet be visited, it offered one of the world’s largest collections of statues and cult items connected to the ancient mother goddess. Most of these magnificent artifacts can be seen in Balchik’s Historical Museum.
2. The Medieval City
After most of the ancient city was lost to the sea, the settlement was reborn on higher ground as a prominent Byzantine fortress, built to guard the road between the Danube Delta and Constantinople. Remnants of the Byzantine fort can be glimpsed today in Balchik’s “Horizont” residential quarter.
Later, during the 7th century A.D., it became an important Bulgarian stronghold under the name of Karvuna, which was meant to protect the Slavic country’s medieval capitals from sea invaders.
At the end of the 14th century, Karvuna was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, remaining under Turkish occupation until 1878. Yet another culture was tied to the ancient place, leaving its mark upon the land and adding fascinating legends and monuments for us to discover.
One such intriguing vestige, ready to amaze and transport its visitors to another world, dwells just 16 km from Balchik. A place bursting with myths and cherished by both Muslims and Christians, the Ak Yazula Baba Mosque, was built in the 16th century on the tomb of a revered dervish.
3. The Kingdom of Romania
In 1913, the city now known as Balchik, became part of the Kingdom of Romania, its wild beauty, peace, and mystery forever stealing the heart of its Queen.
An extraordinary woman, Queen Marie of Romania was a fearless warrior, ever fighting for her country and her ideals. She was a masterful artist, humanitarian, and diplomat, renowned for her strength and courage during World War I and the following Peace Conference in Paris.
Called “Mother of the Wounded” or the “Soldier Queen”, she visited and helped nurse countless injured soldiers, bringing them hope and peace during the horrid times of war.
And as she had brought peace and hope to so many, Balchik conveyed them to her, filling her soul with light and peace, and becoming her favorite place in the whole world. She loved it so much that she asked in her will to have her heart brought here after her death.
In 1940, when Balchik was returned to Bulgaria, the Queen’s Heart was brought back to Romania, now standing in the very room where she took her last breath, the Golden Chamber of Marie’s Castle in Sinaia.
The dwelling of so many different civilizations, Balchik grew into a fascinating blend that has something to offer every traveler, conquering many hearts and becoming a favorite spot to return to.
7 Fantastic Experiences to Try in, and around, Balchik
1. Visit the Queen’s beautiful Palace and its famous Botanical Garden
As you arrive on this ancient ground, ready to take in its beauty, mystery, and grace, you’ll find yourself lured by Balchik’s enchanting Palace, calling to you from its place near the sea.
Queen Marie understood Balchik deeply and managed to capture its essence, the best in all its remarkable history, and illustrate it beautifully in the amazing complex she had created here.
The Balchik Palace Complex covers an entire hillside facing the Black Sea and offers its explorers stunning views and many hidden treasures, both architectural and botanical.
The Queen decided to build small villas instead of one great palace, so besides her chateau, the complex consists of six other mansions, one for each of her children.
The “Quiet Nest”, Marie’s nickname for her villa, was meant as a summer residence and a haven for the Queen, and is a work of art in itself, combining Italian, Arabic, and Bulgarian architecture. Inside you can admire some of Marie’s personal items, the lovely and surprisingly modern bath, a small collection of roman artifacts, and Christian icons, and you can even catch a glimpse of the Queen herself in one of the pictures displayed among them.
The Botanical Garden
Balchik’s rich history and culture are gracefully portrayed in the stunning gardens of the Palace, where fascinated guests can discover, among other wonders, a Water Temple or Nymphaeum, a Greek Labyrinth, an Arabic garden, and the lovely small Orthodox Chapel, called “Stella Maris”, that once sheltered the Queen’s Heart.
As Marie wanted to create a “Heaven of Flowers”, countless beautiful blooms and exotic plants cover entire terraces, connecting the different establishments and offering awe-inspiring views of the Black Sea.
The Queen’s Winery House
Among the Complex’s many treasures, don’t miss the fantastic wine cellar, “The Queen’s Winery House”, where visitors can sample and acquire some delicious and uniquely flavored local wines.
Some tips to make the most of this fantastic place:
You may want to buy a map of the vast Gardens, wear comfortable shoes and pack some water, especially during summer.
Oddly the Palace and the Gardens find themselves under distinct administration, so you’ll have to buy two separate tickets from two different places.
2. Explore the Beautiful and Wild Beaches in the Area
Having chosen to wander through this ancient site, you will undoubtedly be drawn by the mesmerizing Black Sea, compelled to spend some time exploring its enchanting shores and reveling in its wild and mysterious beauty.
Alongside the typical beach resorts, which can often be crowded, making it challenging to destress and connect to the Sea, the area around Balchik offers some lovely wild beaches that welcome the solitary wanderers, looking to escape the masses and get closer to the beautiful nature here.
The Durankulak Beaches
Next to the northernmost village in Bulgaria, the Durankulak Beaches are considered the wildest in the area, offering crystal clear waters and pristine, uncrowded sands, abounding with small sea treasures. The travelers wandering around this serene beach can also enjoy some picturesque sights of Durankulak Lake, separated by narrow dunes from the Black Sea. It takes about an hour to get here from Balchik, the last five kilometers on dirt roads, but the peace and beauty of the place definitely make it worth the effort.
A little closer to Balchik, Krapets Beach happily welcomes free-spirited wanderers looking to experience nature, a relaxed atmosphere, bohemian water sports, and delicious sea dishes. There is an awesome forested campsite next to the beach, perfect for those desiring to abide closer to nature. Just remember to pack some bug repellent, as mosquitos might be a problem in the area.
Dobrudzha Camping Beach
Another peaceful and genuine beach to explore is the Dobrudzha Camping Beach near Shabla, the first spot in Bulgaria touched by the sun each morning. Though the place is known for the curative mud of its nearby Shabla Lake, few tourists choose to come here, the coast keeping its unaltered wild beauty and serenity.
3. Pay a call to the Legendary Kaliakra Cape
Should you want to embark on another adventure and explore more of the gorgeous and mythical Black Sea Coast, merely 35 km from Balchik, you will come upon one of the loveliest capes in Europe – Cape Kaliakra.
Many legends are tied to this long and narrow headland that reaches two kilometers into the sea. Some speak of Saint Nicholas’s flight from the Turks and God’s will to extend the land under his feet, others of the 40 Maidens captured by the Turks that flung themselves into the sea here, and others more, of Alexander the Great’s general, Lysimachus, that hid great Persian treasures among its caves.
Remnants of a medieval fortress rise on the cape, enhancing its romantic charm, along with a small chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas. And on top of that, the Kaliakra Cape is also a beautiful nature reserve where dolphins and rare birds can be glimpsed by its curious visitors.
You can easily reach Cape Kaliakra from Balchik by car or by first taking a bus to Kavarna and then catching a taxi ride to the cape. Plus, if you are looking for a more romantic way to reach the cape, you can also choose one of the awesome sailing trips that include it, available from Balchik’s marina.
4. Uncover the Outstanding Artifacts in Balchik’s Historical Museum
For all those wanderers passionate about the past, Balchik’s Historical Museum is a real treasure trove, sheltering amazing artifacts from the town’s lengthy and diverse history.
Besides the extraordinary relics discovered in the ancient temple of the Goddess Cybele, considered by some to be “the archeological find of the century”, the museum displays roman statues, medieval pottery, collections of coins, and a highly-appreciated collection of photographs and documents, beautifully presenting the small town’s everyday life, between the end of the Ottoman domination in 1878 and its return to Bulgaria in 1940.
Should you want to learn even more about the lovely coastal town, make sure to take a stroll through the nearby Ethnographic Museum and its charming Art Gallery.
5. Discover Three of the Most Spectacular Golf Courses in Europe
If you find yourself among the passionate golf players don’t miss the three awesome signature Golf Courses next to Balchik, considered among the finest in Europe.
Set on top of imposing ridges next to the Black Sea, the three side-by-side Courses – Lighthouse, Black Sea Rama, and Thracian Cliffs – were designed by the internationally acclaimed golf professionals Ian Woosnam and Gary Player, offering astonishing views and extraordinary golf experiences for both beginner and experienced players.
6. Attend Balchik’s Bohemian Cultural Events
Balchik, with its rich history and dramatic beauty, has always attracted artists of all kinds, from poets to painters to famous filmmakers, such as the acclaimed director and producer Francis Ford Coppola, who chose Balchik Palace to film scenes from his film “Youth Without Youth”.
Today, Balchik Palace provides a splendid background for many cultural events, offering its guests the chance to attend various art expositions, ballet and theater plays, music concerts, or film screenings.
Should you find yourself in the lovely coastal town during the next few months, you can drop in at some of the following artistic happenings:
- 16-30 August 2022 – Exhibition of woodcarving, woodwork, and marble sculpture
- 20 August 2022 – “Brilliant”, a musical
- 21 August 2022 – “Summer Latino Fiesta”, dance performance with the participation of Alfredo Torres
- 5-9 September 2022 – Music and dance festival: “Talents of XXI Century”
- 1-14 September 2022 – Vera Peneva, Art Exhibition
- 1-14 September 2022 – Stefan Nadzi Nikolov, Painting exhibition
- 10-18 September 2022 – “Via Pontica”, an International festival of young people in Art
- 10-11 September 2022 – International Folk Festival
- 16-29 September 2022 – Milena Kosturkova, Painting exhibition
- 20-23 September 2022 – “Without limits”, International Art Forum
- 1-10 October 2022 – International Plein Air: “Artists, Balchik, Love”, XXI edition
- 1-15 October 2022 – Exhibition: “Costa Rica”
- 1-14 November 2022 – Exhibition: “Classics”, from the fund of the historical Panagyurishte Museum
- December 2022 – Traditional Christmas concert: “A glass of wine with Carols”
- December 2022 – Exhibition: “The Story of the Christmas Card”
Plus, Balchik Palace has often been chosen as one of the hosts of the awesome “In the Palace – International Short Film Festival”, and could be chosen again in the following years, so you might want to keep an eye out for the famous festival when planning your visit.
Another brilliant event held annually in Balchik since 1991 is “The Process – Space Art Festival”, an international Contemporary Art Festival that aims to gather and inspire young artists from all over the world. The 2022 edition was held in July and had as its theme and artistic challenge “Votive offerings”.
7. Enjoy a Delightful Traditional Meal at Bistro Kestena
After a long walk in the fabulous Botanical Gardens or some other wonderful site in the area, you’ll certainly be looking for a great restaurant to restore your energy and enjoy some traditional culinary treats.
If so, you could choose to walk into the exceptional Bistro Kestena, awaiting its hungry visitors right on the lane leading to Balchik Palace. With incredibly friendly and helpful staff, delicious traditional meals, fresh seafood, live music, and entertaining culinary fire shows, “the Chestnut” is the perfect place to have a meal in Balchik.
Among the many delicious dishes offered by the Bistro, don’t miss its famous local delicacies like “the Tarator” (cucumber and yogurt cold soup), the Balkan Stew Clay Pot, or the Eggplant and Blue Cheese Trout.
Dear Traveler, I hope you enjoyed reading about this ancient place and its many present-day offerings! Should you decide to see amazing Balchik for yourself, I wish it will bring you the same peace and inspiration it has brought countless wanderers before you.