At the turn of the Millennium, word started to reach an increasing number of British skiers that Bulgaria was an excellent option for a high-quality, lower-cost holiday. You got many of the same attractions as the chic French and Swiss resorts, just at half the price. Now Bulgaria is a serious player on the ski scene and a real threat to Chamonix, Val d’Isere et al. And the same scenario is threatening to repeat itself in golf; look out Algarve, Majorca, et al.
A decade ago, it simply wasn’t an option in the mind of the travelling British golfer. There was more chance of a visit to Iceland to play golf than Bulgaria (incidentally, Iceland has quite a nice collection of raw-terrain courses). The story is very different now, with the Cape Kaliakra area putting Bulgaria firmly on the golfing map. It is the new Millennium’s mini version of Belek. For evidence, look to the 2012 IAGTO awards. These gongs are handed out by experts, people who travel widely and assess strongly. Bulgaria was voted the ‘Undiscovered Destination of the Year’ at the prestigious awards that year. Bulgaria’s interest in golf is a sign of their full integration into the European Union and away from the communist era that ended in 1989. Bulgarians, indeed, are noted for their friendliness, especially in comparison with other East European countries. Helping it prosper is the value it offers. Bulgaria is arguably Europe’s best-value travel destination. The currency is the lev (BGN) and one Bulgarian lev is equal to 45p. So your money goes a long, long way! It means beach resorts such as Golden Sands and the ski resorts of Borovets and Bansko, are busy, and Cape Kaliakra’s golf is rapidly following suit.
Located 500km east from Sofia in the north east of the country and sitting right on the coast, Cape Kaliakra is a beautiful spot, overlooking the Black Sea with views across the magnificent bay to Cape Galata. Now it is also home to three splendid courses: Lighthouse (opened September 2008), BlackSeaRama (opened in May 2008) and the star of the show – Thracian Cliffs. Thracian Cliffs is the name which has really caught the attention, helped of course by its hosting of the World Matchplay in early summer last year. Gary Player designed the course and is pleased with his work, suggesting it can be as good as Pebble Beach. Brave words, but certainly plenty of judges have been impressed already, with Thracian Cliffs entering prestigious Continental Europe Top 100 lists immediately. It is laid out over 164 hectares of spectacular clifftop terrain with the course stretching 4.5km along the coast. Inevitably, such a dramatic landscape makes for some ‘interesting’ holes but the occasional baffling test is more than surpassed by the breathtaking nature of the overall experience.
Off the course, Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort has 151 deluxe, spacious and convenient suites in two peaceful villages, which are separated by a beautiful lake and offer views of the sea. It is the most impressive course in the area, but is certainly not alone. You could play and stay at Thracian while also venturing to nearby BlackSeaRama and the Lighthouse for a very well-rounded week’s golf. BlackSeaRama, which won the ‘International Courses’ category of the 2009 Development of the Year Awards, also offers incredible sea views from fairways perched high on the cliffs – a common theme. Being close to the sea, the wind is predictably often a significant factor, making holes such as the superb closing four even more challenging. It’s another charismatic Player creation. The Lighthouse, designed by Ian Woosnam, is built on the top of towering cliffs and offers those same exhilarating views.
Finally, the former Masters champion is also the man behind Pirin Golf & CC, set in the beautiful Bansko-Razlog valley, in the heart of the Pirin Mountain range of south-west Bulgaria. Another emerging inland attraction is Peter Harradine’s Pravets GC, an impressive parkland layout supported by a smart on-site hotel. It surrounds the eponymous lake town, and is handily located 40mins from Sofia.
A hole you would relish: Thracian Cliffs, 6th, Par 3, 232 yards
The longest of the par 3s at the 2013 World Match Play venue, but with a 40m drop in elevation it plays a little shorter in reality. The green is cut out of the cliff edge and surrounded by the sea on the right-hand side… Spectacular stuff!
Bulgaria's ‘Best Golf Hotel', Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, looks set for a bumper 2015 after announcing its UK bookings are already 50 per cent ahead of last year.
The stunning Black Sea Resort - named Bulgaria's ‘Best Golf Hotel' at last year's inaugural World Golf Awards - is primed to receive an unprecedented increase in the number of guests travelling from the UK, buoyed by a number of factors.
A spokesperson for Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort said: "The UK is the largest market in Europe for travelling golfers and the reputation of the resort has increased recently with the various multi-platform activities, and the honours bestowed upon it.
"We have invested wisely at the resort to enhance the visitor experience, not only on the golf course, but across the facilities and it would appear this is being recognised by the industry. And that has, subsequently, been reflected in the massive increase in the number of bookings we have already taken from the UK for 2015 - and we expect the numbers to rise steadily throughout the year."
Attractions for the non golfer too…
Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort comprises amazing sea-view properties, wild natural beauty and 2km of private white beaches. It is the only Bulgarian golf resort which has its own private beaches – Bendida Beach and Argatha Beach – which makes it suitable not only for golfers, but also for family holidays.
The resort offers luxury hotel facilities as well as high-end real estate properties while the complex has a village-like atmosphere offering two different villages within walking distance of each other – Marina Village and Hillside Village.
Thracian Cliffs also offers a well-equipped Spa, sports facilities and fine gourmet restaurants, where guests may experience the great taste of Bulgarian natural organic products and a great selection of Bulgarian wines. While at Thracian you can experience the famous sunsets of Cape Kaliakra; the word ‘Kaliakra’ is of Byzantine Greek origin and is a combination of the word ‘beautiful’ and ‘headland’ or ‘fortress’.
Visitors can also visit the Balchik Palace – the favourite summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania – and the adjacent Balchik Botanical Garden. Rock music fans would love the Kavarna Rock Fest, which takes place every year in Kavarna.
The climate: Expect warm weather from May until as late as October inclusive, with a really hot sun in the middle of summer.
Getting there: Bulgaria Air and BA fly from London to Sofia, and WizzAir – from London to Sofia and Varna.
Time difference: GMT +2