Oct212017

Sofia Hotel Balkan Luxury Collection feeling marble

Feeling Grand Walking the Staircase

I felt compelled to walk the stairs every step of the way to and from the lobby and my room simply for the wonderful feeling when gliding my hand along the wide Italian marble handrail along one hundred-plus marble stairs from my room at the top 5th floor of Sofia Hotel Balkan, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sofia Balkan ext-1

Sofia Balkan Marble-1

Sofia Marble3

Arrival

For a tourist arriving from Sofia Airport, the Sofia Hotel Balkan  is conveniently located directly outside Serdika Metro station, the central city connection station for Sofia’s two Metro lines.

As I did when arriving in Sofia for the first time last February 2017, I exited Serdika station on the wrong side of the street, probably 200 meters from the hotel. The only way to cross the major central intersection of roads at Serdika is underground through the Metro tunnels. The tunnels themselves are a museum experience walking through 6th century excavated ruins of Serdica, a significant ancient Roman city, uncovered through Metro construction and delaying the opening of Sofia’s Metro system for years.

Serdika metro ruins 1

Metro ticket price is 1.60 BGN (0.93 USD) to ride from Sofia Airport to Serdika station or any station on the Sofia Metro system. You insert your Metro ticket to enter the station and there is no need to use your ticket again when exiting at any station. The ride to Serdika is about 25 minutes from Sofia Airport.

Sofia Metro ticket

Location

The main pedestrian promenade mall in central Sofia is about 200 meters from Sofia Hotel Balkan and lined with retail shops, restaurants and cafe-pubs. This is a very convenient and tourist friendly place for a newbie in Sofia with plenty of English speaking staff and a wide selection of places to dine and shop.

I arrived at Serdika Metro Station from Sofia Airport and stepped outside with a view of The Largo, three immense buildings considered the best examples of Socialist Classicism architecture in Southeastern Europe.

The Largo seen from outside two different street exits of Serdika Metro Station.

Sofia Largo

Sofia Largo

The center building of the Largo is the National Assembly of Bulgaria, originally occupied by Bulgarian Communist Party headquarters. To the left, TZUM Central Department Store, an upscale retail outlet that has held that location since 1957. The building on the right holds the Ministry of Education on the side shown, President’s Offices in the back and Sofia Hotel Balkan in the front. The hotel building and government offices complex surrounds a courtyard holding the Church of St. George, the oldest building in Sofia from 4th century Serdica.

The Largo was constructed in the 1950s as a focal point for the bomb damaged city center of Sofia, where thousands of buildings were destroyed by Allied bombings in 1943-44 when Bulgaria was used by Germans for assaults on Greece and Yugoslavia. 

Sofia Church St. George

Sofia Balkan courtyard view

Sofia President's Offices

Sofia Hotel Balkan, Starwood Luxury Collection

Sofia Balkan Hotel ext2

Sofia  HotelBalkan opened in 1956. The hotel in 1986 was contracted to Sheraton Hotels management, the first western managed hotel in Soviet-bloc Europe.

Sofia Balkan ext2

Sofia Balkan Hotel

Sofia Hotel Balkan Rooms

I stayed two different nights at Sofia Hotel Balkan, one night upon arrival from Athens and three nights later, the night before flying back to Athens on my way to Prague with Aegean Airlines.

The rooms were similar in layout with front side location, however, the first night 3rd floor room 329 was definitely less stylish and dated compared to the last night 5th floor 517 room.

Room 329 Photos

Sofia Balkan 329 door

Sofia Balkan 329aSofia Balkan 329bSofia Balkan 329cSofia Balkan 329dSofia Balkan 329eSofia Balkan 329fSofia Balkan 329gSofia Balkan 329hSofia Balkan 329iSofia Balkan 329j

The curtains give a nice general appearance, but were worn upon closer inspection. My main complaint about this room is the curtains left a gap on the side, which from the bed resulted in the neon lights from a building outside reflecting off the mirror all night. That light drove me crazy, but I did not get out of bed to try and cover the mirror.

The panel beside the bed seemed so 1986 to me.

Another comment about the room regarding the coffee maker is I was caught off guard when it turned out to be the first pod machine I have used that did not stop pouring coffee automatically. It only stopped when I manually turned off the machine. That was a potential disaster, if I had walked away from the machine.

Archaeology in Sight

The morning following my first night at the hotel, I watched work on an archaeological dig in front of the hotel. Talk about tedious work.

Sofia dig-1  Sofia dig 2  Sofia Dig 3

There seemed to be a bit of excitement when most of the workers gathered around and someone brought a plastic bag and placed a small object inside.

Room 517

Room 517 was much more stylish and better furnished. The room also had balcony door windows that opened.

Although, a warning sign about seasonal insects was slightly concerning. My two trips to Sofia in February and October were insect free, although I still was sporting a nice lump on my forehead from an evening mosquito bite in Nice, France the day before Sofia.

The highlight of room 517 was waking up and seeing Saint Nedelya Cathedral in morning sunlight. While St. Nedelya is built on the site of a 10th century church, many forms of the church have been constructed over the centuries. The current cathedral dates from 1933 after a 1925 Bulgarian Communist Party terrorist attack blew the roof off the 1867 church during a major state funeral.

Sofia Balkan 517 St. Nedelya view

Sofia Balkan 517a Sofia Balkan 517b 

Sofia Balkan 517c  Sofia Balkan 517dSofia Balkan 517f

Sofia Blakan 517 g Sofia Balkan 517e

Room 329 did not have a rain shower head in the bathroom.

Appeared to be higher quality coffee maker in Room 517, but same issue with pour not stopping automatically.

Sofia Balkan 517i

Another similarity found in both rooms appeared to be a circa-1986 scale in the bathroom.

Sofia Balkan ancient scale

Sofia Hotel Balkan Spaces

The elevators are oddly small given the grandness of most every other aspect of the hotel design.

Sofia Balkan elevators

Each guest floor of the hotel had seating in the large space between elevators.

Sofia guest floor3 seats

Each floor had a different style of furnishings.

Sofia Balkan floor 4 seats

Sofia Balkan marble-2

Sofia Balkan guest floor chandelier

Chandeliers and paintings on guest floors are a nice feature.

Sofia Balkan painting

Sofia Hotel Balkan Lobby-Restaurant-Bar

One photo I do not have is a good lobby entrance photo. Here is the lobby photo from the hotel website.

Grand-Lobby-Sofia-Luxury-Collection-Hotel

The casino entrance wall was under wraps with remodeling. Gambling casinos are omnipresent in Bulgaria and most major hotels I have seen in Sofia and Plovdiv include a casino.

Sofia Hotel Balkan Restaurant and Bar

Sofia Balkan restaurant

Sofia Balkan harp

Sofia Balkan bar

Sofia Hotel Balkan Ballroom area

Sofia Balkan ballroom-1

The ballroom level floor is where many of the intricate details in the classical design of the hotel are seen.

Sofia Balkan ballroom-5

Sofia Balkan ballroom-2

Sofia Balkan ballroom-3

Sofia Balkan ballroom 6

Sofia Balkan ballroom-4

One of the odd aspects of the hotel is Club Gentleman in the basement level.

Sofia Balkan Club Gentleman

I know nothing about the place aside from a TripAdvisor review by a woman two years ago who stated she felt uncomfortable having drinks there with her colleagues after a conference at the hotel.

The public bathrooms are located on that same basement hotel floor level.

Sofia Balkan basement stairs

Sofia Hotel Balkan Fitness Center and Spa

The fitness center is also located in the basement level, accessible only by a separate elevator and then stairs.

Sofia Balkan fitness-1 (2)

I have seen spa treatments priced at less than 50% of Sofia Hotel Balkan prices at other locations around Sofia.

Sofia Balkan fitness-4  Sofia Balkan fitness-6

Sofia Balkan fitness-9  Sofia Balkan fitness-8

Sofia Balkan fitness-5  Sofia Balkan fitness-7

There is a sauna and spa bath.

Sofia Balkan fitness-3  Sofia Balkan fitness-2

Starwood Preferred Guest

Sofia Hotel Balkan is SPG category 2 for 3,000 points Fri/Sat and 4,000 points Sun-Thu for standard reward nights.

Sofia Balkan Hotel ext2

My stays were Thursday and Sunday night meaning the best deal for me was booking Cash & Points for $35 + 2,000 points per night, instead of spending 4,000 points for a weekday Category 2 standard reward. Friday and Saturday nights at 3,000 points for a standard reward night favor Standard Reward over Cash & Points.

Room rate for Thursday was 167 EUR prepaid when I booked the hotel in August for Cash & Points. Sunday night’s rate was only 93 EUR when I made the booking the same day in August.

Sofia Hotel Balkan TripAdvisor.com ranking is #19 of 133 Sofia hotels.

SPG also has a SPG Category 3 Sense Hotel, a Design Collection Hotel in Sofia. This hotel is new, modern style, fashionable and also a great location. I stopped in for a drink at the 9th floor bar and snapped photos of the bar, lobby and restaurant. TripAdvisor.com ranks Sense Hotel #7 in Sofia.

I will write up a piece on Sense Hotel in a few days and add links to this post.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. I stayed at the Balkan earlier this year as well and liked the location. I received an upgrade as SPG Gold and had a similar room as your 517. At the time, I thought “this is an upgrade” – now I know it was! 329 looks really, really old!
    Thanks for the detailed comparison!

Comments are closed.