Royal Escape: Balchik Botanic Garden
The summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania lies just a 50-minute scenic motor coach from Varna. You're headed to the white cliffs of Balchik to visit the Royal residence, which was constructed between 1926 and 1937, when Romania ruled this part of Bulgaria. The house is a far cry from the huge, monumental buildings of typical royal residences -- rather it is a complex of small, simple buildings, whose architecture is an exquisite blend of Balkan and Oriental style. The famous Italian architects Americo and Augustino called upon the perfect balance of eclectic style and grace to create an elegant summerhouse for Queen Marie, and surrounded it with beautifully landscaped botanic gardens to be tended by the caring hands of her Swiss gardeners. The terraced park-like grounds are endowed with age-old trees, creeping shrubs, and delicate flowers. Today it is a state-owned botanic garden, with more than 3,000 rare and exotic plants, including more than 200 tree species, fabulous flowers and a unique collection of about 250 species of large cacti arranged outdoors. During your walking tour, your guide will acquaint you with the rarest of species, and provide insight into the style of the villas, originally meant to host Romanian aristocrats. You will see a Byzantine Orthodox chapel, Roman-Arab rotunda, fountains decorated with fine marble, and statues of mythological figures. You will then step inside the Queen's residence -- a relatively small three-story building built in Oriental style on three terraces beside the sea. This is the only building that combines a minaret with an orthodox Christian cupola in such a close proximity. Following your guided visit, spend some free time near the arched walkways by the golden beach, and relax in the cool shade of the trees before heading back to Varna.