Best of Bulgaria
13 days, 12 nights: Sofia (2 nights) - Rila Monastery - Plovdiv (2 nights) - Veliko Turnovo (1 night) - Mechka (1 night) - Osmar (1 night) - Tyulenovo (2 nights) - Varna (1 night) - St Anastasia island (1 night) - Sofia (1 night)
Available tour dates: 11-23 April, 2020 (free 10 spots) | 11-23 April, 2021 (free 12 spots)
Day 1, Saturday
Welcome to Bulgaria! For those who arrive early there will be a welcome pack with maps and a list of restaurants and places to see and explore on your own. Your transfer from the airport to our downtown hotel is included. Some time to rest, and an afternoon walk in Sofia, which will include the Synagogue, highlights of the National Archaeological museum (housed in the city’s largest and oldest Ottoman mosque), the catacombs under the St Sophia church, and the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. Dinner in a fine restaurant.
Overnight at Arena di Serdica Hotel, Sofia, two nights. Dinner.
Day 2, Sunday
After a late breakfast we will drive to the outskirts of Sofia, the foothills of Vitosha mountain, to have a look at Boyana church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its medieval frescoes. Then we will drive nearby to have a look at the National History Museum, housed inside the former communist-era government residence. We will take lunch in a village nearby. Afternoon at leisure - rest or explore the city, and come to our office for a home cooked meal!
Overnight at Arena di Serdica Hotel, second night. Breakfast.
Day 3, Monday
We will get up early, in order to arrive earlier at Rila Monastery, and have the place to ourselves, before any other tourists arrive. Rila is Bulgaria’s largest monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and boasts a spectacular location deep in a mountain valley. We will look at the small monastery museum, the old kitchen, the tower, and the main church. Then we will continue to Pirin Mountain, another UNESCO site, and will have our picnic lunch in the foothills of the mountain. We will take the last functioning narrow gauge train from Velingrad to Varvara, and enjoy a local music band play for us on the train. Then we continue to Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, and 2019 European Capital of Culture. We check in at our hotel in the heart of the old town. Some time to rest, and dinner at a fine restaurant.
Overnight at Hebros hotel, Plovdiv, two nights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 4, Tuesday
After breakfast we will have a tour of Plovdiv’s most interesting sights: the Klianti House Museum, the Roman Amphitheatre, the recently excavated Small Roman Basilica, and the ruins of a Roman house, decorated with some fine mosaics. We will stroll along the main pedestrian street of town, and stop for lunch at a good restaurant. Free time in the afternoon to rest or explore the city on your own.
Overnight at Hebros hotel, Plovdiv, second night. Breakfast.
Day 5, Wednesday
We drive north, towards the town of Kazanlak, the heart of the Rose Valley. We will drive along Bulgaria’s Primeval Beech forests, our fourth UNESCO Site on this tour. Then we will stop at the Kazanlak Thracian tomb, our fifth UNESCO site. We will have a look at a violin maker’s atelier, at the Russian church in Shipka, and have our picnic lunch atop mount Buzludja, which boasts one of the most impressive abandoned communist monuments in the world. Then we head across the Balkan mountains to Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria’s medieval capital. We will have some time to rest, and in the later afternoon do a tour of Turnovo, ending the evening with dinner in a fine local restaurant, and watching the light and sound show over the medieval citadel.
Overnight at Studio hotel, Veliko Turnovo, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 6, Thursday
We will depart north, with a convoy of trabants (the legendary East German vehicle, manufactured from 1957 to 1991, made of plastic, with a two-stroke engine!), to the island of Belene on the Danube river. Belene was the harshest Bulgarian communist-era concentration camp. We will visit the camp grounds, our guide being a former political prisoner, and have a look at the nearby modern-day prison. The island is connected to the mainland by a rusting old pontoon bridge. This is the poorest and eeriest part of Bulgaria. Then we continue to the city of Ruse, Bulgaria’s largest town on the Danube. We will have lunch and a walk in Ruse, formerly a most prosperous city, trading with other towns along the Danube. In the afternoon we will stop to have a look at the Ivanovo Rock-Hewn churches, our sixth UNESCO site on this tour, and at the nearby village of Pirgovo, where the ladies of the village will show us how to dye Easter eggs. We will stay overnight in the village of Mechka. Mechka has a curious winery and hotel, built by a Bulgarian-American who escaped communism hiding inside a train’s loo. Once in America, he was been able to achieve the American dream and become a millionaire - before eventually returning to his homeland. Dinner and wine tasting at our hotel, with some of the finest Danube river views you can get!
Overnight at Seven Generations Hotel, Mechka, one night. Breakfast, dinner.
Day 7, Friday
After breakfast we will continue east, driving along the Danube river. We will stop at the little known tekke, or shrine of Sabri Hussein, a seventeenth-century Naqshbandi holy man, born in Bukhara. Then we continue to Srebarna lake, on the UNESCO site for its rare migrating birds. We will stop at the village of Aydemir, to visit the local Lipovan, or Russian old-believer community, which escaped religious persecution in the Russian Empire. We will have lunch in a Lipovan home. Then we continue south, stopping at the remarkable Sveshtari Thracian Tomb, our eight UNESCO Site, and head to the village of Osmar, where we will stay overnight. Once upon a time Osmar prospered on its pelin, or vermouth wine. Now it’s one of the most quaint non-touristy villages in Bulgaria. Dinner at our hotel, and perhaps a look at the village kazan, or distillery - where they produce rakia!
Overnight at Osmarskhi Houses, Osmar, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 8, Saturday
After breakfast we head to the nearby town of Shumen, to see the gargantuan socialist-era monument dedicated to 1300 Years Bulgaria. We may drive to the top, or hike the 1300 steps up! Then we will see the Madara rider, Europe’s only early medieval rock relief - and our ninth UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then we continue to the Black Sea coast. We will have our lunch at Shabla Lighthouse, the easternmost point of Bulgaria, and oldest lighthouse in the Balkan Peninsula, dating back to the 1850s Crimean War. Lunch will be cooked by the few remaining fishermen on that stormy coast. We will learn about their dangerous, disappearing craft. Then we drive to the nearby Tyulenovo village, in the wildest part of the Bulgarian Black Sea. We check in at the fine Tyulenovo hotel, overlooking a tiny fishing harbour, and have an afternoon to rest or walk along the scenic coast. Dinner at our hotel. After dinner we will go to the nearby town of Shabla to attend Easter Mass at the town’s church.
Overnight at Tyulenovo hotel, two nights. Breakfast, dinner.
Day 9, Sunday
After breakfast we will head to the nearby Yaylata nature preserve, to have a walk trying to spot rare birds, rare flowers, prehistoric burial sites, the ruins of an old Roman trading fortress and winery. Then we continue to Bulgarevo village, to join a local Gagauz family - ethnic Turks who have converted to Christianity - in their Easter lunch. Free time after lunch to rest at our hotel or explore the coast. In the late afternoon we will head across the border to Romania, to the small town of Mangalia, to have a stroll along the seaside promenade, have a look at the sixteenth-century Ottoman mosque, and have a fine dinner. Then we return to our cosy hotel in Tyulenovo.
Overnight at Tyulenovo hotel, second night. Breakfast, lunch.
Day 10, Monday
After breakfast we depart south, stopping at scenic Cape Kaliakra to have a look at the medieval fortress and caves (once inhabited) perched high atop the rocky shore. Then we continue to Balchik, to see the palace of Romanian Queen Mary and the Botanical Gardens that have one of the world’s largest cactus collections. We will take lunch in Balchik, before continuing to Varna. In Varna we will check in at the Euxinograde government residence and winery (pending permission). Some time to rest, and then a tour of the residence grounds (normally closed to outside visitors) - including the Euxinograde royal palace and the ruins of a Roman fortress. Dinner at the residence restaurant with some of Bulgaria’s finest white wines and rakia!
Overnight at Graffit Gallery Hotel or Euxinograd Residence, Varna, one night. Breakfast, dinner.
Day 11, Tuesday
A morning at leisure to explore the residence park. Then we continue to Varna, stopping to see the fine Archaeological Museum, with the world’s oldest human-crafted gold. We continue south along the coast, crossing once again the Balkan mountains. On the way we will stop and see an eighteenth-century German-made lemonade machine - which still works - and have lunch in a remote, picturesque village tucked in the mountains. We will stop at the old town of Nessebar for a walk, exploring the town’s old Byzantine churches. That will be our last, tenth UNESCO World Heritage site in Bulgaria! In the late afternoon we will charter a boat, if the weather allows, to the small rocky island of St Anastasia. We will have dinner and stay overnight at the former monastery on the island, now refurbished into a small and cosy hotel. The only other people will be the cook, making food for us, and the two soldiers staffing the lighthouse. If the weather does not allow, we will stay overnight at the equally small and cosy St Anastasia hotel, located on the mainland, just south of Burgas, and facing the St Anastasia island.
Overnight at St Anastasia island or St Anastasia Hotel. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 12, Wednesday
In the morning we head to Burgas - by chartered boat if we stayed on the island, or by bus if we stayed at the shore hotel. We will visit the salt lakes on the Atanasovsko lake, and learn more about how salt has been made here since ancient times. Then we continue inland, stopping briefly at Akve Kalide, an ancient (Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman) spa town, having a look at the restored old Ottoman bathhouse. We will have lunch in the town of Yambol, at the old Ottoman covered market, where an opera singer will perform for us! In the afternoon we drive back to Sofia. Some time to rest at our hotel, and then a farewell dinner on the top floor of one of the highest buildings in Sofia.
Overnight at Arena di Serdica Hotel, Sofia, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 13, Thursday
After breakfast depart home, or where the heart takes you next.
Available tour dates:
11-23 April, 2021
- Accommodation in carefully selected hotels.
- All meals according to programme (13 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 9 dinners).
- Transportation with an air-conditioned minibus and Bulgaria’s best bus driver.
- Airport transfers on first and last day.
- Guide throughout the tour.
- Domestic flight from Varna to Sofia using Bulgaria Air.
- Mineral water on the bus and during activities.
- Sound and light show in Veliko Turnovo.
- A welcome package including a booklet, maps, postcards, etc.
- The use of a wifi hotspot while on the bus.
Price does not include:
- Personal medical/travel insurance.
- Tips for driver and guide.
- Any other additional personal costs: laundry, phone calls, etc.
€3347 per person, €420 single supplement.
The cost is per person sharing double or twin room.
We accept payment by bank wire, credit card and cash (in our office in Sofia, Bulgaria!).
- Tour of Sofia.
- Visit to Rila Monastery.
- Lunch with old Bulgarian grannies, showing us the craft of mummer masks making.
- Muslim wedding or some similar very colourful and wild activity.
- Narrow gauge train ride through the mountains.
- Tour of Plovdiv.
- Visit to Buzludzha, the most spectacular communist monument in the world.
- Tour of Veliko Turnovo.
- Sound and light show at Veliko Turnovo.
- Visit to Bulgaria’s most spectacular Thracian tomb.
- Visit to a Shia shrine.
- Visit to a rakia distillery.
- Visit the Madara Horserider, Europe’s largest medieval stone carving.
- Enter the Balkan’s oldest lighthouse.
- Lunch with Bulgaria’s few remaining fishermen.
- Tour of Varna.
- Visit to the Boyana church, boasting Bulgaria’s prettiest medieval frescoes.
- Six out of the ten UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bulgaria.