With more than one hundred independent restaurants and cafes in Varna on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast, you might be inclined to avoid hotel-based ones.
If you do, you’ll miss out indulging in chef Stefan Stefanov’s delicious cuisine at the four-star, 74-room Swiss-Belhotel Dimyat. Dining there is just one of several highlights of this recent addition to the international hotel group’s management network.
This 11-floor, glass-paneled property occupies a wonderful location immediately across from the port city’s oldest and most attractive woodland park, beyond which is a recently renovated historic seafront filled with lively beachside restaurants, bistros and bars. A glass-encased elevator offers panoramic views over the sea, the park and an impressive domed sports complex nearby.
Established in 1987 and with a portfolio of more than 135 hotels, resorts and properties in China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Georgia, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, Swiss Belhotel International is bringing its vast management experience to its first hotel operation in Europe. It took over the Varna operation within the last year and has already made key improvements to service and staffing, with renovation of the roof terrace to be completed soon. It will manage a second Bulgarian property, Swiss-Belresort Mount Orpheus in the Rhodope Mountains, set to open next year.
Being located on the main road into and out of Varna, hotel parking is convenient, with both street-side and guarded parking-behind-barrier offered. An open-air terrace, Sea Garden, fronts the hotel where patrons enjoy breakfast, dine or simply relax with a leisurely drink. Traffic is far enough away not to be interruptive and a glass screen creates added privacy. Immediately behind the terrace, close to the check-in desk, is the lobby bar with friendly English-speaking bartender, Kalin Todorov, offering pleasant, efficient service and his insights into changing Bulgarian lifestyles, as well as local events and activities. In terms of drinks, the bar is fully-stocked including a wide range of my favorite tipple – gin. As a bonus, local owners of the hotel offer their own brand of wine called ‘Enira,’ as well as craft ales from their recently-opened micro brewery, ‘Glarus.’
The hotel’s crescent-shaped restaurant on the first floor – where a hearty buffet breakfast including fresh honeycomb, is served – is a combination of lighted glass pillars and curved ceiling mirrors. Oil paintings, mainly seascapes, adorn the walls – not just of the restaurant but also throughout the hotel. The menu is a diverse one that should please most tastes. Being a coastal location, fish and seafood dominate and include such dishes as sautéed shrimps flavored with Pernod and whole grilled sea bream with a refreshing lemon and dill marinade presented creatively in a cocktail glass. Carnivores will not be disappointed either with moist knuckle of roasted lamb with mint yogurt sauce and a terrific ossobuco with porcini mushroom risotto on offer.
The latter is proof of chef Stefanov’s precocious talent not only for blending flavors so well but also for creative food presentation as the succulent meat arrives at table with a smooth wild thyme gravy in a grappa glass perched atop. Desserts are also a treat, the challenge being choosing a fluffy, creamy cheesecake on a perfect biscuit or a semifreddo of salty caramel, nuts and dried fruit. Fortunately, there were two of us.
For relaxation, hotel guests have free access to a small swimming pool and gym in the basement area, with entry to other facilities including sauna, steam room and whirlpool at a nominal additional cost.
Due to the hotel’s strategic location, absorbing the sights and sounds of Varna is easy, with no need for a car. The city’s bustling historic center with its attractive central broad boulevards, lively street-side cafes and bars and its many retail stores is an easy 15-minute walk away. Offering a contrasting ambience is the serenity and delightful landscapes of the Seaside Garden the city’s oldest and best known public park, said to be the largest landscaped park in the Balkans, which lies directly across from the hotel. Here, night and day, teenagers, retirees and parents with young children, amble past colorful flower arrangements, exotic plants and trees or enjoy the quaint cafes and playground activities.
Within the last four months, the leaders of Varna have also completed a new multi-million dollar attraction to the city’s diverse entertainment offerings – a revamped 90-year old seafront bathing area now home to a myriad of bars and bistros beside and on a stretch of soft-sand beach.
Side-by-side along a road several kilometers in length, these include El Kapan, offering creative, inexpensive cocktails and calypso music; Ernie Hemingway, with interesting photographs of the American novelist adorning its lobby; and Cubo Bar.
For a taste of Varna’s expanding cultural and entertainment options – one reason the city is often referred to as ‘the Nice of the Balkans’ – the Swiss-Belhotel Dimyat offers the comfort and convenience necessary for either a relaxing vacation or a business venture.