One of my favorite places on the Bulgarian coast is the small town of Balchik. However touristy it may have become, it still has its identity and the flavor of a royal residence. A half-day in Balchik could be enough to explore Queen Marie’s Palace and gardens. However, you can easily spend a long weekend here without getting bored.
Where is Balchik?
Balchik is a port-town on the northern part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It’s an hour’s drive south from the Romanian border at Vama Veche (65km). The closest airport is in Varna, about 50km away. It is also very close to some of the large resorts of the Bulgarian seaside. All in all, Balchik is a popular day-trip destination.
A bit of history
The story of Balchik as a tourist destination starts with Queen Marie of Romania. In 1913, after the Second Balkan War, Romania gained this part of the Bulgarian territory, including the small port of Balchik. Some years later, in 1921 the Queen of Romania visited the area and she fell in love with the area. Having the soul of an artist, she couldn’t resist the white cliffs descending into the blue sea, the light, and the pleasant weather. She imagined a “Quiet Nest”, where to escape from the duties of royalty.
Balchik only remained under Romanian administration until 1940, but Queen Marie lived her final years here.
The Palace and Botanical Gardens of Balchik
Marie Alexandra Victoria, Princess of Edinburgh married the Romanian heir to the throne, Ferdinand, when she was 17. By the time she started building her summer retreat in Balchik in 1924, she was a mature, well-traveled, and politically seasoned woman. She had hired two Italian architects to build the complex where she planned to spend much of her time. They imagined a place that incorporated a lot of Queen Marie’s travel memories, personal beliefs, and artistic views. They also respected the environment, adding buildings and elements to complement the terrain, rather than choosing to modify the grounds.
The Quiet Nest
The “palace” is a beautiful yet simple villa by the sea. It has Italian features, but also Arabic and Bulgarian influences. Perhaps the most surprising element is the tower that looks like a mosque’s minaret. Inside the villa, the bedroom, bathroom, and the living room remained exactly as they were used by Queen Marie.
The same mix of elements goes on throughout the complex. The Queen believed that all religions have the same core and the same unique God. The residence reflects a lot of her thoughts and personality. There is an Orthodox Chapel, a Nymphaeum, and different buildings that now serve as art galleries. Inside the Queen’s winery, you can taste and buy some good local wines here. Everywhere you go, you will discover something interesting: the silver well, the stone throne, stone bridges, and statues.
The Queen loved her villa in Balchik so much, that her dying wish was for her heart to stay in the Stella Maris chapel there. When she died at Peles Castle in Sinaia, her body was buried in Curtea de Arges next to her husband Ferdinand, but her heart was sealed in a golden case and returned to the chapel in Balchik. However, when the Southern Dobrudja region was returned to Bulgaria in 1940, the case was moved to Bran Castle in Transylvania.
The Botanical Gardens of Balchik
For the gardens, Queen Marie brought a Swiss specialist, Jules Jany. He had to adapt to the terrain, so the gardens are terraced on a few different levels. At the ground level, there’s a spectacular rose garden. The top-level hosts one of the largest collections of cacti in the world.
Between them, the different levels of the botanical garden host over 3000 plant species, in a paradise of stone walls, waterfalls, and also beautiful sculptures.
Today, the University in Sofia manages the botanical gardens. They are doing a great job, constantly enriching and extending Queen Marie’s gardens.
Useful info for visiting Balchik Palace and Botanical Gardens
The complex is open for visitors throughout the year. However, the best time to visit is from May to July, when the flowers are in full bloom. The opening hours are 8.30 AM to 5.00 PM during the winter and 8.00 AM to 8.00 PM in the summer.
At the entrance, you will pay for two different tickets, one for the villa and one for the gardens, as they are managed by different institutions. The total is 14 leva (about 7 Euro).
There are two entrances to the complex, one at the lower level, where the Queen’s villa is, and another at the top level. My suggestion is that you start at the top, it’s a lot easier.
You will receive a flyer, keep it as there are many things to see scattered around the complex, and it’s easy to miss some of them. It should take 3 to 4 hours to visit everything.
7 More things to do in Balchik
Most visitors don’t take the time to visit the rest of Balchik, but there are plenty of things to do outside Balchik Palace and the botanical gardens. What you need to know about Balchik is that it’s not a sandy strip along the sea, so it probably won’t be your first choice for relaxing on a beach. However, while in Balchik you should:
- Take a walk on the sea promenade between the city center and Balchik Palace.
- Stop for a cocktail at one of the bars along the sea.
- Take a bath..why not? As I said, it’s a rocky coastline but you can still enjoy the sea on a hot day.
- Enjoy a (sunset) cruise, you can find a few options close to the Balchik Marina.
- Spend the morning on the golf course. Close to Balchik, there are some of the best golf resorts in Bulgaria. Have your pick here: Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, Lighthouse Golf & Spa Hotel, or Club Residence at BlackSeaRama Golf.
- Walk or cycle to nearby Albena resort, it’s an 8 km road along the sea.
- Feast on the fresh seafood options in a restaurant with a view.
Where to stay close to Balchik Palace
Regina Maria Spa Design Hotel is right on the seafront, and 2 minutes from the lower entrance to Balchik Palace. There’s an outdoor pool during the summer and also a SPA center.
White Rock Castle Suite Hotel & SPA is a great option, close to the upper-level entrance. It also offers free parking and very good prices.
What do you think about this royal residence? Tell me all about it in the comments below.