Hospitality 2.0 at the Hyatt Regency Sofia
Tempus receives the warmest possible welcome from the staff at this luxe offering in one of Europe’s unsung hipster hotspots
Walking from the airport to the city centre was a mistake. From the detached, idealistic view of the world offered by Google Maps, Sofia Airport looks like one of the most convenient in Europe at just over four miles from what could be considered ‘downtown’, and with our two-year-old son asleep in his pram, we thought better than to allow the screeching wheels and blinding strip lighting of the train to wake him up, opting instead to take in the sights of suburban Sofia on foot en route to our hotel.
And so, due to my decision to not peruse Street View prior to our arrival, my wife and I started our relaxing family weekend in the Bulgarian capital with a sweat-drenched hike up and down the relentlessly undulating terrain of labyrinthine residential districts, each one with pavements less suited for a baby-filled pram than the last. Routinely hauling him over potholes and occasionally crashing him feet-first into the base of bizarrely placed mailboxes, it was a miracle he didn’t wake up.
But then, after crossing the enormous Sitnyakovo Boulevard, we could sense that we had reached the promised land as night fell. We wandered deeper into the Oborishte District, where the sidewalks and roads were immaculately paved, cosy yellow lighting emanated from the lampposts, and inviting wine bars occupied every street corner. The place teemed with warm, welcoming life, like if Soho had gone through a hygge phase. And then, flanking one side of a roundabout featuring a monument dedicated to Bulgarian revolutionary Vassil Levski, we stumbled across the Hyatt Regency Sofia: our home for the next two nights.
Constructed in 2020 during the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Hyatt Regency is a rather unassuming building, featuring large windows and blocky, quadrilateral beige cladding seen in most ultra-modern minimalist urban designs, but with a rather tasteful curved facade to help it slot onto the adjacent roundabout like a jigsaw piece. Stepping inside, the lobby is a rather unique space, with strikingly high ceilings and an elegant but stripped-back monochromatic colour scheme. It should on paper feel cold and unfamiliar, but the hotel has avoided this in two ways: implementing small flourishes of interior design magic (a sculpture here, a carefully manicured plant there), and hiring perhaps the friendliest hotel staff this side of the Carpathians.
We wandered into the lobby, the receptionist and duty manager welcoming us with the warmth and familiarity of a pair of old friends, cheerily fawning over our toddler to help get him settled in this strange, exciting new environment. Having handed him a much-appreciated cookie and briefly informing us of the hotel’s facilities, the staff keenly sensed our fatigue, jokingly ordering us up to our room to relax – an welcome development after such a lengthy journey. Having been given a room near the top floor, my partner and I spent the substantial elevator ride and subsequent walk to the room discussing whether or not we had ever met such friendly hotel staff (we concluded that no, we had not), before our conversation was cut short with me blurting out “wow…” as we opened the door to our room.
We walked through the small antechamber that greeted us, complete with the normal trappings of a five star hotel – minifridge, coffee machine, bath robes – and through a sliding door which revealed our gigantic room, the bed perched at the edge of an enormous space-filling rug on which our toddler immediately began hopping around with pure elation. On the wall to our right was a TV, large enough to compensate for its considerable distance from the bed on the opposite wall, while the wall ahead featured a row of floor to ceiling windows with vistas of Sofia’s considerable urban sprawl stretching to the horizon, stopping only upon meeting the base of Mt Vitosha, the gargantuan peak which towers over the city. Upon further inspection, we realised that one of said windows was in fact a door leading to a balcony with a set of comfy chairs; we had found our drinking hangout for when the toddler was asleep inside.
After cracking open a superb bottle of Bulgarian wine that had been generously left to us by the staff, we explored the room further, my partner poking her head into the extravagant waterfall shower while I sat on the bed, sifting through the ludicrous number of apps on the smart TV. But our toddler soon became restless, so we headed out into the night to explore the city, passing through the lobby to the tune of another jovial, hearty greeting from the receptionists and concierge. Although the hotel is not situated in downtown Sofia, it is within comfortable walking distance of it, and also happens to be on the doorstep of the city’s most famous landmark, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
After a brief look inside this beautiful, intimidating cathedral, one of the largest and most revered Eastern Orthodox churches in the world, we stopped for dinner nearby and retreated to the hotel for yet another cheery welcome, and some fascinating chit chat about the establishment and its locale. Without meaning to sound flippant, this is perhaps the only instance since I started this line of work in which I have been pleased – and even excited – about the prospect of standing in the lobby chatting to the staff; every interaction I had with them ended with me wondering if I could ever happily return to my old, lower standards of customer service. Once again, the answer was no.
The following day, after a self-guided tour of the city involving repeated attempts to convince a two-year-old that Byzantine ruins are more interesting than Cocomelon, we scaled the Hyatt for an evening drink on the hotel’s rooftop bar, which features an extensive outdoor terrace. Stepping outside into the freezing November air so as not to disturb the other indoor patrons with a hyperactive toddler, we were shortly followed by the manager who, rather than ridiculing us for sitting outdoors during a Bulgarian winter, retreated inside to fetch several extra cushions and blankets, before turning on multiple heaters to ensure our comfort. And, predictably, our son was soon inundated with more complimentary goodies, this time in the form of juice, snacks and a colouring book. The Hyatt does not advertise itself as a hotel which caters purely for families, but these endless demonstrations of Bulgarian hospitality – and their earnest love of children – puts most ‘family hotels’ to shame.
A peruse through the gigantic cocktail menu revealed an array of classic drinks with a unique twists. For example, my Bitter Margarita featured the predictable Olmeca Blanco tequila and a splash of mezcal and lime, but was topped off with Luxardo Bitter Bianco and a touch of matcha, making for a uniquely zingy, herbal take on the iconic cocktail. My partner, meanwhile, opted for full-caps offer THE SUN, comprised of Malfy Arancia gin, rose, Martini Rosato, grapefruit, pink pepper and – for that unexpected plot twist – a helping of saffron for a floral, fragrant drink that transported us straight back to summer.
A beaming smile or two as we departed sent us nicely on our way back downstairs for what would be the showstopper of our stay, a multi-course dinner at The Revolutionary Dining Room & Bar. Tasteful, muted Art Deco stylings and snappily dressed staff are the order of the day here, but there’s nothing stuffy about The Revolutionary, which welcomes children of all ages, conjuring a warm, electric atmosphere which only ratcheted up once we were handed our menus. Immediately I knew what I’d be opting for; a starter of burrata with pumpkin, zucchini and aubergine caponata, followed by the maître d's recommendation of the crab burger, featuring a full soft-shell crab in a deliciously soft brioche bun stuffed with avocado and chili jam. Full of crunch and spice without letting either overshadow the meaty, buttery quality of the crab. My partner, meanwhile, went for the New York Style Black Angus rib-eye steak, a truly delectable cut of meat served with the most indulgent, creamy mashed potato either of us had ever eaten. Combined with a few glasses of a Bulgarian red from Bononia Estate on the Romanian border, it was practically gastronomic heaven.
My stay at the Hyatt Regency Sofia marked the first time I have ever headed down to the lobby earlier than necessary in order to check out, just so I could have one last chat with the staff. Their friendliness is something that will last long in the memory – for weeks following our stay, my partner and I continued to reminisce about their treatment of our son, their welcoming homeliness and their willingness to bend over backwards to give us the exact stay we wanted. And that’s to say nothing of the hotel itself: chic, modern and ruthlessly stylish, this is the ultimate hiding spot for those looking to get to grips with this fascinating city. It is at once calming and strangely energising, away from the exhausting epicentre of Sofia but close enough to still feel the influence of its radiant, thrilling nightlife. When it comes to luxury in the Bulgarian capital, the Hyatt Regency simply can’t be beaten.