Sandanski, 65km south of Blagoevgrad, is known to most travellers as merely the connection point for Melnik, 17km to the southeast. However, it’s a likeable, laid-back place, a notable spa centre and perhaps Bulgaria’s sunniest town. Like Blagoevgrad, it’s on the Sofia–Thessaloniki–Athens international train line, and so its numerous restaurants, bars and clubs are popular with visitors from south of the border as well. Indeed, rather than a town of no consequence, it’s a town of no consequences for the hordes of Greek sex tourists looking for something discreet and affordable on the side.
On the less lurid side, Sandanski makes a great alternative base for Pirin Mountain hikes, and has numerous wineries in the arid surrounding villages. Sandanski’s curative mineral springs, useful against ills such as bronchitis and asthma, attract local and foreign visitors alike.
The Thracians first settled here, in about 2000 BC. Macedonians and Romans followed. Sandanski may have been the birthplace of Spartacus, leader of the legendary slave revolt against the Romans in Sicily in 74 BC. Almost completely destroyed in the 6th century AD by barbarians, the subsequently rebuilt Sandanski became important during the First Bulgarian Empire (681–1018). Once known as Sveti Vrach, it was renamed in 1949 after Macedonian freedom fighter Yane Sandanski.