Ever heard of Sandanski? Well, anyone interested in vacationing in Bulgaria certainly should. This charming town has been known for a long time by Bulgarians for its warm, sunny weather and the therapeutic virtues of its air and mineral waters. Under communism, sanatoriums offered a wide range of treatments for asthma and other respiratory diseases. Since the beginning of the ’90s, Greeks have also discovered Sandanski, which happens to lie just over the border, and have been visiting it in large numbers. Even though it is surrounded by mountains, Sandanski has a certain smoothness in the air, a certain nonchalance in the atmosphere, in short a distinctive Mediterranean flair. On a summer night, it seems like the whole town is busy leisurely strolling on the main pedestrian promenade, enjoying cafes and restaurants, and relaxing by the pervasive, sweet sound of water.
And indeed water seems to be everywhere: from the stream that happily cascades down the beautiful public garden, to the many fountains, pools and spas, it offers a sense of harmony and peacefulness.
Still the city takes its name after a revolutionary, a hero of the fight for Macedonian independence against the Turks on the eve of the XXth century. Yane Sandanski was assassinated in 1915 and was buried close to the Rozhen monastery, where he had found shelter. His tomb lays in the stunning landscape surrounding the monastery – a jewel in itself.
For Sandanski is enshrined in beauty, at the foot of the Pirin mountain, and offers endless opportunities for nature and hiking lovers. In the winter, it is one hour away from the ski resort of Bansko. It is also close to Melnik, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful villages in Bulgaria, also famous for its wineries and for the uniqueness of its natural settings (the “pyramids”).
It is no wonder then that former communist dictator Todor Jivkov had one of his residences built in Sandanski. After the fall of communism, the residence was converted into a hotel and “christened” under the name “Sveti Vrach”. It still hosts, though, a makeshift museum of communism – an unexpected reminder of the former tenant. The hotel overlooks the city from a distance. Its architecture is more interesting as a testimony to the style of the 60’s, than actually beautiful. But the vast surrounding park is certainly worth visiting, especially in the spring.
Todor Jivkov had an improbable neighbor in the person of Baba Vanga. Baba Vanga lived in a nearby place called Rupite and received numerous visitors attracted by her reputation as a saint, a healer and a clairvoyant. A church has been built to honor her memory – she died in the middle of the 90s – and hot springs abound freely about. Sandanski, the peaceful little town named after a revolutionary, was thus lying at the crossroads between a dictator and a saint.
There is a certain magic in Sandanski, probably due to the combination of natural beauty, soothing waters and mild climate – it is known to be the sunniest and warmest town in Bulgaria. It may also be the best spa city in the country. The lush city park along the river is a local treasure people love to spend time at. Many modern upscale residences are rising around it offering a new lifestyle for a fraction the cost of similrar offerings in the West. Often swimming pools, spa and wellness centers are available on site or a short walk away.