Sofia Spontaneity & Wild Nights

No itinerary. Mostly, it’s how I travel. I also thought “No Itinerary” would work great as the name of our television show. Allowing for spontaneity traveling with a loose schedule leaves room for possibilities and lets you take advantage of opportunities that you may discover. In fact, there’s no reason I need to leave Sofia tonight. Is there?

With secure parking at the Sofia Place Hotel, I inform the receptionist I would like to extend my time in Sofia by a day. This gave me more time to work on this blog and an opportunity to attend a tasting event with Pavlin at Wine&Co., and one more meal in the capital.   

I wasn’t as much interested the Italian wine tasting as I was to see Pavlin again and meet local wine lovers attending the tasting. Pavlin assured me they would lead the tasting in Bulgarian, but he would do the best to translate.   

Wine&Co. has an impressive collection of wines from Bulgaria and all over the world. They also have spirits offerings, including Japanese whiskeys, Cognacs, and Bourbon. It’s as much of a wine bar as it is a retail store, and they serve small plates and tapas.   

They hold tastings in the lower level cellar, and tonight it was a standing room only crowd while the Italian specialist took us through a tasting of six Italian whites. It impressed me that such a large group showed up for the tasting. Another sign that the wine culture in Sofia—and Bulgaria—is strong. This is a good sign given the long history of homemade wine and Rakia and where many consider bottled wine too expensive.  After the tasting Pavlin introduces me to Adriana Ghiuso, a Sofia-based food blogger and founder of In Food Veritas who just returned from a trip to NYC and a few weeks prior visited the country of Georgia. We trade contact info and promise to stay in touch. She has tips for me for Georgia.

Locals from Sofia in the tasting room in Wine&Co. cellar for a formal Italian wine tasting—all in the Bulgarian language.

After about an hour-long tasting in the cellar, I walk outside of Wine&Co. and find a large crowd sipping wine on the sidewalk around Wine&Co. The place is buzzing. Though several people recommend for my last meal to try the food at Niko’las0/360, when I walk by I don’t see anyone in the restaurant, so I make my way to Grape Central. Later I learn that there is a terrace not visible from the front of Niko’ las 0/360, and a big crowd filled the patio.  

But my last evening in Sofia took a big turn and had I seen the terrace or ventured inside Niko’las 0/360, and I would have never found myself out until 3:30 AM in Sofia.   

Let me explain.  

I walk to Grape Central and find a table, and after a couple of tastes of more of those seductive and aromatic Bulgarian white wines, at the suggestion of my server, Andon, I order the chef’s specialty, a roasted pork dish with a bottle of Edoardo Miroglio Mavrud. Just as the wine bar was closing down, I meet Kristina one of its owners. I move from the table to the bar where she pours a few tastes of other exciting wines and introduces me to Giannis, a Sofia restaurateur from Greece. Giannis is making waves in Sofia. He opened Carnivale, one of Sofia’s hottest new Greek restaurants with incredible cocktails, wines, beers and artisan hookahs. Tonight, he’s with Lora Peneva whose family since 1934 produces wine at Varbovka Winery in north-central Bulgaria—and also available at Carnivale.

Grape Central | Sofia, Bulgaria

It’s all about local varietals—and international—in Bulgaria. Try everything and be amazed at what’s happening here.

It makes sense that I share the EM Mavrud with my new friends as we share stories of wine, travels, and dreams and take plenty of photos. Kristina finds the perfect place for her WorldRider sticker: on her nifty electric scooter.  

With intense eyes, a natural smile, spiked hair, several facial piercings, and a large tattoo on his neck, Giannis is engaging and exudes passion as he tells me about his restaurant and the authentic and fresh ingredients he uses. Lora wears her hair pulled back, is soft-spoken and reserved, while Kristina moves about the bar like a tornado, multi-tasking with a smile and a laugh. Everyone has a story, and we soon realize that while it’s the end of the evening at Grape Central, it’s just the beginning of the wild night to come.  

Yours truly with Grape Central legends Kristina and Andon

After Kristina closes up shop, we all walk to The Cocktail Bar, a cozy bar that sits in a park just across the street from Wine&Co. Here over a bottle of sparkling wine courtesy of Giannis, I meet a bunch of their friends all from the wild world of wine, cocktails, and culinary arts. Even more surprising, I meet Vasco, the chef from Zornitsa Family Estates. Amazingly, I saw him just a few days ago when wandering around the grounds of the resort. Though we acknowledged each other, we did not formally meet until tonight. Then, there’s also Viktorija who works as a chef at Nikolas0/360, the place I decided against for dinner choosing Grape Central instead though I do need to dine there someday! It’s a lively and young group, and for the next few hours, we embark on a pub crawl of sorts that ends up at the Beach Bar, one of Sofia’s wild late-night bars.  

Before I order a beer, there’s a bottle of Vodka sitting in a large ice-bucket on our table at the Beach Bar. The beat of the music has many nodding their heads up and down, while my new friends talk shop. Seems most work in Sofia’s burgeoning culinary, cocktails, and wine scene.   

Viktorija and Kristina outside at The Cocktail Bar in Sofia.


Friendly bartenders at The Beach Bar in Sofia

The gang at Beach Bar in Sofia

After some time, I look at my watch. I’ve got a meeting in Plovdiv tomorrow at noon, and it will take two hours to ride there. I feel the night just started, but it’s time to go. Hugs and promises to connect in the future are all part of the long goodbye at The Beach Bar. Sofia sucked me in, and after the wild whirlwind evening, I feel like a need one more day here. I’d like to extend my stay one more day. But I can’t. For this traveler, tomorrow’s itinerary is locked and rules. I’m off to Plovdiv and meeting with Dragomir and Zagreus wineries.

Tonight I discovered more possibilities, made new friends, and found yet another experience and memory that will coax me back to Sofia soon.


Mentioned In This Post

Angel Kantschev 7
1000 Sofia
+35 088 607 4444

Grape Central
45 Tzar Samuil St.
+359 889 820 444

bulevard vitosha 190
+359 2 423 6096

Varbovka Winery
Str. Dvanadeseta №17
5233 Varbovka
+359 87 867 3135

The Cocktail Bar
ul. “Angel Kanchev” 9
1000 Sofia Center, Sofia
+359 87 715 1152

Beach Bar
ул. “Г.С.Раковски” 106

Sofia Place Hotel
ul. “Hristo Belchev” 29
1000 Sofia Center, Sofia
+359 2 481 1400


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