‘Some people call it not Nessebar, but Messy bar.’ Our guide Stefan is almost apologetic. And indeed the first impression is not promising.
Was UNESCO being overgenerous when it handed this little Bulgarian peninsula a World Heritage listing?
From our ship’s berth we can see a blue and white fishing boats drawn up on a pebbly beach in front of crumbling stone walls. So far so good.
But as soon as we’re on shore we’re met by rows of gaudy ice-cream stalls, bars and pizza restaurants. Souvenir shops sell the predictable beachside fridge magnets and t-shirts with hilarious slogans of the ‘Sex Instructor – First Lesson Free’ variety.
Over the last twenty years, tourist numbers in this Black Sea resort have jumped ten-fold, to over 300,000 per year. When beach towns become holiday towns, ugliness is bound to follow.
Most people no doubt come here for the sun and the sea, rather than the ancient culture that holds more appeal for us sophisticated Australians. We have sun and sea back home and most of our coastal towns are not notable for their architecture or the beauty of their main shopping drags.
Stefan fills us in on some details of the town’s ancient Thracian and Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman origins, then after a quick dip into the museum we set out to visit Nessebar’s ancient churches.
This is where the World Heritage comes in. Nessebar apparently has more churches per capita than anywhere in Bulgaria, or was it the world? The tiny brick churches, built with alternate layers of brick and stone to help them withstand earthquakes, have survived many hundreds of years.
As it happens, Mevrouw T and I had been in Nessebar some years earlier, travelling with her cousin who was then living in Bulgaria. She arranged for us to stay in a family home which offered a very cheap ‘room’ – for about $5 a night, from memory.
We were squeezed into what was obviously a teenager’s bedroom, with the boy’s personal stuff hastily crammed into cupboards to accommodate us. All fine, until the lad staggered home at 2am and burst in on us, very surprised to find strangers in his bed.
This time our accommodation was far more comfortable. After a few hours strolling in Nessebar we could return to the luxury of our cabin on cruise ship l’Austral, and watch the sunset as we steamed towards Odessa.
The writer was the guest of Compagnie du Ponant.