In my 'Bulgaria section' you can find many more places to travel to!
Sandanski, just like Petrich which I visited earlier, has a southern atmosphere. Life seems to move at a slower pace, the air is warmer and the trees and plants are completely different than in Sofia. I walked through the main street and noticed the many terraces that were packed with people through the whole afternoon and evening. It might have something to do with the fact that these were the last warm days of the year but probably more so because Sandanski gets a lot of tourists. Most were Bulgarians, coming to Sandanski for the perfect climate or to get some wellness treatment. In addition, Sandanski is on the border with Greece and many people use it as a stopover on their way to the Greek beaches. Either way, it was nice and busy yet there was enough place to sit down for a Pirinsko beer. I enjoyed it while having a view on the Pirin mountains - just stunning. I had a good first impression of Sandanski. A pleasant, clean town with a long history and pretty surroundings. And even though that's not unique in Bulgaria, Sandanski does have the southern charm that other cities don't.
Interesting to see is the Early Christian Complex right in the center, a piece of antiquity amidst modern apartment blocks. What you can observe are the basilica and part of an ancient street, both dating back to the 5th - 6th Century. Mosaic floors that were found in this place are now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Sandanski, which in fact is right next to the Complex. Then if you walk on north, you'll get to the St. Vrach park. It's situated along the Sandanska Bistritsa river and it's a perfect place for a relaxing stroll. Along the main street of Sandanski, Macedonia Street, you'll find plenty of cafes, restaurants and hotels. In addition, there's many spa hotels on the outskirts of town. Some 4,5 kilometres northeast of Sandanski is the Hotel Sveti Vrach, it seems to be an excellent place to stay! The hotel has beautiful surroundings and offers services such as massages and bikes you can ride. Interestingly, this was one of the residences of previous Head of State Todor Zhivkov. The place has been kept in its original style, with a botanical garden and even the street lights just the same as when they were placed. It's located at about 4,5 kilometres from the center of Sandanski. It's possible to walk, even though there's no pavement along the steep road. If you don't have a car, best is to take a taxi.
The city's name
Sandanski is named after the revolutionary Yane Sandanski, a national hero. Sandanski was born in 1872 in Vlahi, back then the Ottoman empire and now Bulgaria. His father, named Ivan, played a role in the Kresna-Razlog Uprising against the Ottomans. This Uprising in 1878-'79 consisted of several battles. With incredible bravery, 400 men attacked the Turkish units at Kresna. In the following battles, they managed to re-occupy 43 villages and towns all the way to the area of Petrich, on the Greek border. Separate groups operated in Macedonia to reclaim the area from the Turks. However, the groups that branched off into Macedonia could not continue the Uprising because of organizational issues. This marked the end of the Kresna-Razlog Uprising. As typical for Uprisings during the National Awakening of Bulgaria, many thousands of Bulgarian volunteers fought under heavy pressure and many succumbed to the gruesome violence. During the Kresna-Razlog Uprising, they were not even backed by Russian forces so went at it alone.
After the Uprising, Sandanski's family moved to Dupnitsa. Sandanski served as a prison guard and that's where his name derives from - "Zindanski" comes from Turkish "Zindancı" (Dungeon Keeper or Jailer). Yane Sandanski himself got involved in revolutionary movements in Macedonia and Thrace. Years forward, Sandanski participated in the Ilinden–Preobrazhenie Uprising. This Uprising was crushed by the Ottomans, with overwhelming force. After the Uprising, thousands of local people were murdered and over 12.000 houses were burnt to the ground. As many as 30.000 refugees fled the area. Sandanski supported the Bulgarian Army during the Balkan Wars (1912-'13), then helped prepare the Ohrid-Debar Uprising (1913) and was eventually killed by political opponents in 1915.
Sandanski was on his way from Rozhenski monastery, where he lived, to Gotse Delchev city. He spent the night in the village Pirin. On 22 April 1915, In the morning, his mare horse refuses to leave the gates of the place he slept. His hosts saw this as a bad sign and told him not to leave. Yet he did. He was shot in the Blatata area by 7-8 men from the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. About 200 metres east of Rozhenski monastery is the church "Saints Cyril and Methodius". This is where Yane Sandanski was laid to rest. His tombstone mentions his words "Да живееш, значи да се бориш. Робът – за свобода, а свободният – за съвършенство." This translates as "To live is to fight. The slave - for freedom and the free one - for perfection."
Where to eat and sleep
If you come from Sofia, make sure to stop by in either Zemen, Kyustendil or Blagoevgrad. If you're near Kyustendil, stop by in Nevestino to see the Kadin Bridge over the Strimon river as well. Then, once you're in the south, Petrich, Pirin village and Gotse Delchev are quite close as well. By the way, Sandanski is quite easy to reach by train from Sofia. There's the train to Petrich that stops there, as well as international trains to Greece. Buses are available from the Central Bus Station. Send me a message if you have any questions!
The pictures right below are from the Hotel Sveti Vrach gardens, the place was once the residence of the former Head of State Todor Zhivkov. Below these pictures is the album of Sandanski city itself. Enjoy!