When I was researching Varna, one thing I saw randomly was a picture of a fountain at the botanical gardens in Balchik. So of course I looked it up. It looked pretty, but I had some level of question because there were so few photos of it online, and not a ton of information.
The gardens were Queen Maria’s summer gardens around her summer palace, so they’re all set on the Black Sea. Balchik is about an hour north of Varna, and there are many minibuses that go between the two cities.
I was a bit on the outs about going – I knew it was going to be a bit of ride on a bus, and then some figuring out how and where to go in Balchik, so I was tempted to just stay in Varna and spend the day on the beach reading my book.
The night before I was considering going, I met a girl at my hostel named Iga, who asked what I was doing the next day. She’d been in Varna for a few days and was getting a bit bored (seriously, besides beach, gardens, and partying, there’s not just a ton there). So I asked if she wanted to go with me, and it made me happy to go when I had someone to go with!
I’m so glad I went! The gardens were absolutely stunning. It’s a hidden gem in the region for sure. The gardens are massive and you can stroll through them for ages. There are a number of benches and places to sit, and it would be a great place to take a book and watch the day go by. The University has apparently taken over doing a lot of the gardens, and they were in full bloom when we were there!
Funny enough, I saw the fountain in person that I’d seen in the picture online that prompted me to research it. And the fountain was not nearly as cool as the picture. But the rest of the gardens were so much more amazing than anything I found online, I feel like I lucked into finding that first picture.
You can see the buildings from the summer palace, and to be honest – feels more like a country house than a palace. But the architecture is cool, and the fact that it’s on the sea adds so much.
As a country, Bulgaria is trying to become more of a wine region. At the botanical gardens, they have a winery and they’re working to make it more of a destination. So they have a house on the property that they’ve converted to a wine store, and they sell their wine. And their wine is only sold there!
They also do free tastings! It was some of the most delicious and unique wine I’ve ever had, and I was so sad they do not ship things home. I realized I did not have it in me to buy a case there, go to a Bulgarian post office, and try to ship it home myself. So I savored it while I was there.
They had Watermelon Wine; Fig Wine; Pumpkin Rakia (which is kind of like schnapps); Rose Wine (which was crazy strong and tasted more like alcohol than roses); an almond-flavored red wine; and a few others. It was so unique and so cool!
After we finished at the botanic gardens, Iga and I walked along the beach in Balchik to find somewhere for lunch. I have to say – the beaches in Balchik are far nicer and far less crowded than the ones in Varna!
We went to a restaurant where I saw “fried shark” on the menu for lunch. I couldn’t help myself; I decided to order it!
I don’t think I’m going to be sad that it’s hard to find fried shark at home. The shark meat was really fishy-tasting and quite strong! I’m glad I tried it, though! Apparently it’s a special kind of Black Sea shark that’s a small shark and only lives there.
Overall, Balchik probably ties with Seven Rila Lakes as my absolute highlights of Bulgaria! Both of them just had astounding natural beauty, even though they were incredibly different!