Spa tourism in Bulgaria starting to pick up steam

Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:57am EDT
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By Irina Ivanova

HISAR/VELINGRAD, Bulgaria (Reuters Life!) - The town of Hisar boasts one formidable collection -- hundreds of kidney-, bladder- and gallstones which have been expelled after treatment with water from the 22 mineral springs in the region.

"We use the water as medicine," says Doctor Svetya Tuzharov from the rehabilitation hospital in the town, where spa and wellness hotels have mushroomed in recent years.

Hisar, founded by the Romans and once surrounded by high walls to protect the healing springs, is among dozens of resort towns in the Balkan country trying to revive their traditions in balneotherapy and attract well off tourists.

From the Black Sea resorts of Albena and Pomorie in the east to Velingrad and Sandanski in the southwest, new luxurious hotels have already gained a reputation among Bulgarians and foreigners alike for the high quality of their services.

Tourism, which accounts for about eight percent of GDP, remains one of the few sources of foreign revenues for the poorest European Union nation, whose economy shrank five percent last year and is expected to stagnate this year.

Revenues from international tourism were roughly unaffected last year at 2.6 billion euros ($3.46 billion).

Officials registered an annual 7.8 percent increase in visitors to ski resorts in the first two months of this year. Early bookings for the summer season were on the rise, too, with more visitors expected from Germany, Russia and Israel.


<p>A masseur gives a woman a massage at a spa centre of a hotel in the town of Velingrad, central Bulgaria, March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov</p>