Sveti Vrach Spa Hotel, Sandanski, Bulgaria
+359 746 000 000
Breakfast from 8am to 10am daily.
by Nelson Griddle
Breakfast on the Continent can be a fraught affair.
The French, supposedly, revel in café au lait and croissants, although in my experience the latter tend quite often to be usurped by strange, dry, stick-like biscuits. The Germans have two breakfasts, but even with two goes they never seem to get it right. And one of the worst breakfasts I have eaten came courtesy of a youth hostel in Amsterdam (the exact details have faded mercifully from memory but sour coffee and indigestible cheese figured prominently).
So expectations of breakfasting in God’s Own Country of Bulgaria were not exactly sky high.
Especially when staying for a week or two at Sveti Vrach, a sprawling, neglected hotel in the hills above the southern spa town of Sandanski. Once a retreat for the Bulgarian Politburo, the place features a Henry Moore sculpture, a petting zoo, endless gloomy marble corridors, modernist chandeliers in which 90% of the bulbs don’t work, and a strange aura of repressed menace.
A cavernous, near empty dining room filled with wood panelling, pounding Europop and pistachio-coloured linen is the mise-en-scene for a breakfast as resolutely unchanging as the communist regime Todor Zhivkov imposed between 1954 and 1989. Each morning brings a fried egg, a couple of pieces of feta cheese, half a tomato, half a cold frankfurter, a slice of indifferent ham, a slice of tasteless cheese, two slices of toast with butter and honey and a choice of tea or coffee.
It’s a strange business being presented with exactly the same heavy-going assemblage, morning after morning after morning, and two months after leaving, the experience is etched uncannily on my memory.
Although I can’t say I wasn’t warned. In the guidebook it says Bulgarians usually begin the day with an espresso and a cigarette, and if that doesn’t kill the hunger pangs, they simply repeat the process.
If the alternative is a Sveti Vrach breakfast, one begins to understand why.