From the mountains to the sea, this journey is a dive into the turbulent history of Bulgaria, its lively traditions and attractive cultural monuments. Passing through a series of sites significant not only for the Bulgarian, but for the humankind civilization, we will understand how a small country on the cross road between Europe and Asia had a remarkable role in shaping nowadays European identity. The itinerary’s aim is in 12 days time to accomplish a lot: acquaint every guest with the most important attractions of the country; to offer firsthand experiences of the great variety of local and national Bulgarian manners; to make an account of today’s social and economic reality; to provide hearty hospitality and taste of Balkan cuisine specialties.
Day 1. Upon arrival at the airport, you will be greeted by our representative and transferred to a hotel in the center of Sofia. Last-minute questions can be dealt with immediately. If time permits you will have the opportunity to seize your first impressions without the influence of your guide.
Day 2. We start the day by acquaintance with the cosmopolitan Bulgarian capital. Besides its busy nowadays appearance and concrete districts erected during the socialist period, Sofia has preserved numerous fine monuments from its glorious past. The center is best explored on foot and we will visit: Alexander Nevski Cathedral, National Assembly Square, St. George Rotunda, Synagogue, and other outstanding places and buildings. The sightseeing tour continues with a short transfer to the foothills of Mount Vitosha, where we will enjoy the frescoes of Boyana Church (included in the World Heritage List) and observe the rich exhibition of the Bulgarian National History Museum. From Sofia, we head along the meandering road between the Balkan Mountains and Sredna Gora Moutain to stop at the poetical town-museum of Koprivshtitsa – a small settlement emblematic of its Revival period architecture and revolutionary spirit. It’s a fine introduction to the history of the bloody April uprising and the culture, crafts, and way of life of the Bulgarian people during the Ottoman yoke. The next stop is the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk (UNESCO), located in the rose valley region. Your guide will explain the prestige and fascinating burial customs of the Thracian tribes. Overnight in the town of Kazanluk.
Day 3. We depart north towards Etara via the picturesque Shipka pass. Just before the road starts climbing the Balkan Mountain, we will stop at the Russian-style memorial church (The Birth of Christ). Etara is an open-air architectural and ethnographic museum, where you can see authentic Revival period architecture and still practiced crafts dating from the 17th to the beginning of the 20th century – wrought cow-bell production, pottery, knives, goat’s hair articles craft, shoe production and other. Lunch and while still fascinated by the handcrafts of Etara, we continue to the town of Tryavna – the Bulgarian center of woodcarving and icon painting. Sightseeing in Tryavna: Painting School Museum, the Museum of Wood-Carving Art, the architecture ensembles Kapitan Dyado Nikola Square, Slaveykov Street, the church of St. Archangel Michael, and others. Overnight in the nearby picturesque town of Veliko Tyrnovo.
Day 4. Veliko Tyrnovo is the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12-14th century). Today’s sights will make you aware of the great cultural, ethnographical and spiritual transformation of the Bulgarian people from the times of prosperity of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom into the dark period of Ottoman occupation. We begin with “Samovodska charshiya” (the old trade street) and the fortress at Tsarevets Hill – the certain highlights in Veliko Tyrnovo, and leave other points of interest in the city for the late afternoon. Then we continue with Preobrazhenski Monastery (14th century), which was worshipped by King Shishman, the last Bulgarian ruler before the Ottoman occupancy. Next, we travel to the fortified museum village Arbanassi ( 17th century). Here the sightseeing tour includes Konstanzaliev’s house (17th century) and the unique Jesus Nativity Church (15th century). The humble outer appearance of the church does not hint at the unbelievable gallery of frescoes depicting over 2000 scenes with 4000 figures! Just before returning to Veliko Tyrnovo we will escalate our good mood with a superb wine-tasting experience in the village of Liaskovets. Back to Veliko Tarnovo for additional touring, dinner, and overnight.
Day 5. The tour takes us to the Madara Rider (UNESCO), a rock relief of a full-size horseman spearing a lion. The monument was hewn in the Shumensko Plateau vertical rock facade dates far back to the early medieval times and commemorates a Bulgarian military triumph. A short distance from there is the natural rock phenomenon “Pobitite Kamuni” (The Upright Stones) – a sandy field with projecting high stone towers. There is a great debate and numerous theories about their mysterious origin. This enigma does not spoil their beauty but attracts even more interest. We will overnight in Varna, the “capital” of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The city is a premier resort that has it all – great beaches, charming neighbourhoods, amazing gardens, fancy restaurants, bars and restaurants to suit every taste.
Day 6. Today the program is more relaxed. First, we visit Aladzha Monastery – the best-known rock monastery on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. It is a protected historical site where you can see monk cells embedded in rock some 30 meters from the ground. The adjacent chapel still preserves 14th-century murals, but the place has been used for religious purposes as early as the 4th century. Later we return to Varna to explore the Museum of Archeology. It’s the most frequently visited and impressive museum in Varna. The reason is its unique collection of artefacts from prehistoric, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Bulgarian times. The most celebrated exhibit is the Varna Gold – the oldest gold in the World! Excavated in the year 1972, the precious metal adornments date back to 4600-4200 BC. The afternoon is at leisure. Overnight in Varna.
Day 7. After breakfast, we take the route tracing the Black Sea coast to reach the old town of Nessebar (included in the UNESCO World Heritage List). It is located on a fortified peninsula connected with the mainland through a tight isthmus. The natural beauty of its location adds up great value to the fascinating history and cultural significance of the site. It had been an important harbour and trading port during the occupation of the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans, and the Bulgarians. As a merchant’s center artefacts and influences from other civilizations are also visible. From Nessebar, we continue along the vast vineyards of Karnobat towards the town of Plovdiv. It’s a city with its own very specific charm and rhythm. You will be granted free time to mix with the locals, to go shopping or to have a refreshment drink in a restaurant with a fabulous panorama.
Day 8. Plovdiv is one of the oldest settlements in Europe and the second-biggest town in Bulgaria. We will tour the Old Town, which offers a cocktail of unbelievable stories, heroic legends, and breathtaking architecture from different historical periods. It is an authentic open-air museum preserving exhibits from Thracian, Slavic, Roman, Turkish, and Bulgarian times – all located within walking distance of each other. After lunch, we will travel to two of the notable attractions in the vicinity: Bachkovo Monastery and the nestled above it Assen’s Fortress. The monastery’s religious importance, miraculous icons, and richly decorated church attract pilgrims from all over Bulgaria and tourists from all over the world. Founded in 1083, the monastery is known and appreciated for the unique combination of Byzantine, Caucasian, and Bulgarian cultural symbolism, united by the common faith. High above, on the with limestone rocks is Assenova fortress, a strategic medieval stronghold providing unforgettable views of Cheplarska River and the Thracian Plain. Overnight in Plovdiv.
Day 9. A long program lies in front of us and an early morning start is necessary. Shiroka Luka is the first place, where we stop for rest and sightseeing. It is a proclaimed architectural and fundamental folklore reserve. You will already naturally start to notice, without the help of the guide, the similarities, and differences of the houses in Shiroka Luka from those in the Old Town of Plovdiv, Etara Reserve, and Koprivshtitsa. It is one of the dearest amusements of the tour, to be confident in your knowledge and to understand that you already have learned something to an almost expert level. The next stop is at the village of Dolen, where every house is a unique fortification of wood and stone. A short stroll is planned along the cobble streets to obey the pull of the village’s magnetic charm and to stretch our legs. The overnight is organized in Bansko, the finest Bulgarian ski resort.
Day 10. Bansko has been one of the richest Bulgarian cities in the 19th century and the monuments are still here to prove it. We tour the center and then head to the smallest Bulgarian town – Melnik. The road follows the separating line between Pirin and Rila Mountains and then continues along the stream of Struma River to feel and see how the Continental climate gives way to the Mediterranean. The white houses of Melnik are grouped in a valley among imposing sand pyramids. The pyramids are an adorable natural phenomenon. The town is famous for its red wines produced in embedded inside the sand pyramids cellars and commercial acumen. Wine tasting is included in Kordopulos house (the largest Rivaval period house in the Balkans). We depart from Melnik to pay a visit to Rozhen Monastery and learn about its intriguing history. Overnight in the nearby SPA resort Sandanski.
Day 11. After breakfast, we head towards the biggest monastery in Bulgaria, a true monument of Bulgarian monasticism and literacy. The more energetic ones can climb Hrelu’s Tower, which is the oldest construction in the monastery complex. The monastery’s museum is not to be missed. Moving from exhibit to exhibit, the guide will gradually construct the whole history of the monastery from the founder John of Rila to today’s symbolism and key religious role. The surrounding rugged peaks and the over-century-old beech and spruce forest of Rila National Park contribute to the spirituality and complete tranquillity of the area. A short walk is included in the itinerary. Lunch and we return to Sofia. Free time until the farewell dinner.
Day 12. Breakfast. Transfer to the airport according to your flight.
Price: 2-3 pers. – 2298 Euro per person in twin/dbl room; 4-7 pers. – 1650 Euro per person in twin/dbl room;
Single rooms supplement: 255 Euro
Best period: April-September
The price includes: transfers from/to Sofia airport and private transfers throughout the tour; an English-speaking guide (other languages can also be handled); accommodation on a BB basis; entrance fees; VAT and all local taxes
The price does not include: tips, other meals, alcoholic drinks, and personal expenses