It rained in the evening in Sinemoretz. It rained in the night. It was still raining in the morning, a persistent downfall that precluded any thought of going to the beach. So we went to Tzarevo.
We hadn’t been there before. We hadn’t, to be frank, even heard of this small Black Sea coast town only a 25-minute drive from Sinemoretz. But number 86 on the 100 places to visit on the Опознай България (Know Bulgaria) site is the Tzarevo Municipal Museum of History so we went to Tzarevo.
For more than 700 years, the town was known as Vasiliko or Vasilikos (βασιλιάς), Greek for king. In 1913, after the Balkan Wars, the town became Bulgarian. By the mid-1930s, it was renamed Царево (Tzarevo, “of the king”). That seemed a direct affront to the Communist regime after the war. As was their wont, Bulgarian Communist leaders changed the name to honor a Soviet hero. Tzarevo became Michurin. Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin had some genetic theories that were suspect even in his own time, but Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin were supporters and that was what counted.
Not surprisingly, the town took only two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to change the name back to Tzarevo. To reinforce the message of its allegiance, the municipality wrote it in stone. At the end of the walkway in the city park leading to the sea, there is a large mosaic clearly detailing Tzarevo’s connection to Bulgaria and to Europe.
Some of the Black Sea towns have long been resorts, first for the Bulgarian nomenklatura and tourists from the Soviet Union and the East Bloc and then for the average Bulgarian and anyone else who cared to travel a bit farther east than Spain’s Costa del Sol. Златни Пясъци (Golden Sands) and Слънчев Бряг (Sunny Beach) are perhaps the most well-known, crowded with tourists searching for night life and cheap drinks. Other Black Sea towns have now developed into domestic and foreign tourist meccas, with the requisite lines of vendors selling Chinese-made Black Sea souvenirs and haunch-to-paunch sunbathers under rows of beach umbrellas. We have Bulgarian friends who now avoid their own beaches in favor of Greek package holiday deals in Halkadiki.
We chose Sinemoretz because there are no large hotels; lots of the семейни хотели (family hotels with very few rooms and personable hosts) we prefer; fabulous баничарници where the баници (banitza), кифли (kifla), софиянки (sofianka), and other delicious breakfast pastries are made on the premises and sold to you while still hot; and gorgeous landscapes of sea, river, beach, rock, meadow, forest, and cliff are all amazingly within steps of each other. We stayed nine days and enjoyed every one of them—the unexpected day trip to Tzarevo was a bonus.
Just before we reached our destination, the rain stopped and not long after the sun shone. The first thing we came upon was a sculpture with two figures visible from our vantage point. “Okay,” said my husband, “ here we have the usual partisan and worker. Where is the female collective farmer with her bountiful harvest?” Fortunately, the former Michurin government did not disappoint. The heroic female collective farmer joined her men on the third side of the sculpture. Nearby was a wall using sgraffito to display symbols of rural life, both in agriculture and in the wild. You can see sgraffito on walls in many towns and cities throughout Bulgaria.
Tzarevo has tourists, but not so many that they overwhelm the local residents. The municipality seems to have managed to have enough services to attract visitors without losing its soul. The city park is large, reached by a long pedestrian-only main street, and has two walkways that end in a view of the sea and steps that lead down to beautiful, white rocks that are flat enough to take an easy stroll up to the water. The park is full of people and includes the largest and most modern playground I’ve yet seen in Bulgaria. Appreciative children, parents, and grandparents were making the most of it as we passed.
When we tore ourselves away from strolling Tzarevo, we found the Municipal Museum of History. It is a three-floor building with the first floor devoted to regional archeological finds, particularly a Thracian treasure trove of coins dating back to 182 BCE and hundreds of extraordinary finely-wrought gold and silver jewelry ornaments found in an intact grave of a wealthy woman living in the late Hellenistic period. The third floor contained an exhibition of contemporary artists’ works on paper. The second was dark when we visited.
It was rain that prompted our unplanned visit to Tzarevo, but the town deserves to be an intentional destination. It’s a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.