Bulgarian Steam Weekend
You are warmly invited to join us for our annual “steam” visit to Bulgaria, featuring three very different steam locomotives types. This year it is a long weekend in order to bring the price into affordability for most people. This is much more than an “enthusiast” tour with excellent hotels, a spa, and visits to some amazing towns – to say nothing of the wonderful scenery.
This tour covers scenic routes through mountains and canyons, across wide and expansive plains and along river valleys; through a country steeped in history and culture.
Day 1 Thursday 5 October (D) Morning flights to Sofia from Manchester and Gatwick (Easyjet) and from Heathrow (BA). Arrival transfer, city tour of Sofia, dinner and overnight.
Day 2 Friday 6 October (B, D) Morning departure with steam locomotive 46.03. This 2-12-4 locomotive was built in 1931 by the Polish company Cegielski – Poznan. In the 30es, Nikola Vaptsarov, a famous Bulgarian poet worked on the locomotive at first as a stoker and later as a mechanic. His poetry has been translated in 98 languages throughout the world, including in the UK. In 1942, Vaptsarov was sentenced to death and shot down on the same evening by the Fascist regime. In 1953, he received posthumously the International Peace Award. This steam locomotive is considered the most powerful from the steam locomotives in Bulgaria. That is why, in the 60s the employees of BDZ called it “Grandma Bear”. It had been in out of use for more than 50 years before restored in 2015.
We depart from Sofia and head eastwards parallel to the Balkan massif through many tunnels and spectacular alpine scenery to Koprivshtitsa. En route we will pass via Bunovo village with the highest railway bridge on the Balkans ( 30 meters).
Koprivshtitsa is one of the most famous museum-towns in Bulgaria, declared national historical and architectural reserve, where one can still feel the spirit of the Bulgarian National revival. Narrow cobbled streets, arch-like bridges, stone fountains, high-stone walls with big gates, leading to picturesque houses create an inimitable romantic atmosphere.
We will arrive in Koprivshtitsa in the early afternoon, have some free time for lunch and proceed with the coach to Kazanluk – the centre of the Valley of Roses, Shipka memorial church and mountain pass, crossing the Balkan mountains at their highest part to Triavna museum town. Walking tour in the old part of Triavna, check in, dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 3 Saturday 7 October (B, D) Morning coach transfer from Triavna to Veliko Turnovo, from where we will depart hauled by steam locomotive 03.12. This 4-8-2 locomotive was built in 1942 in Henschell-Kassel Germany and is documented on pictures from 05 Sept 1943, leading the ceremony of the burial of Tzar Boris the 3rd (the last ruling king in Bulgaria) from Sofia to Rila Monastery. We head east, passing via Gorna Oriahovitsa train station, Turgovishte and Han Krum, we will break at Shumen.
In the afternoon we will continue our journey to the Eastern Part of the Balkan mountains – the lowest part of the mountain which reaches the Black Sea coast. This part of the mountain is rich in forests and reserve areas, its mild climate is favourable for viticulture and winemaking.
We will cross the small valleys of Goliama Kamchia and Luda Kamchia rivers and Tsonevo Dam. The rock phenomenon The Wonderful Rocks is right on the shore of Tsonevo dam – it consists of ten beautiful rock needles, 40-50 meters high, shaped like castle towers.
Upon arrival in Karnobat, we will take the coach for a transfer to Burgas – the 2nd largest Bulgarian Black Sea town. Based on the time of arrival – possible walk in the centre of Burgas and visit of the Sea Garden. Check in at the hotel in Burgas, dinner and overnight.
Day 4 Sunday 8 October (B,D) Morning panorama with the coach to see the seaside area, and transfer to Plovdiv. Arrival, tour of the Old Plovdiv and free time for lunch. Plovdiv is the 2nd largest Bulgarian city, once capital city of Philip the 2nd of Macedonia – the father of Alexander the Great. Plovdiv will be European capital of culture in 2019. In the afternoon we travel back to Sofia with behind 4-6-2 steam locomotive 05.01 – produced in Germany by Fr. Krupp Essen in 1941 and regarded the fastest steam locomotive in the history of the Bulgarian Railways with maximum speed of 75 mph.
Arrival, farewell dinner and overnight in Sofia.
Day 5 Monday 9 October (B) Breakfast and transfer to Sofia airport. Alternatively why not make a week of it and join our visit to the last narrow gauge line in Bulgaria. This spectacular line is so long that we cover it leisurely over two days. This line is always under threat of closure so travel on it while you can.
NARROW GAUGE and SPA EXPERIENCE (extension)
Day 5 Monday 9 October (B, D) Morning service train from Sofia – Septemvri. Change trains on to the narrow gauge line Septemvri to Velingrad South. A loco hauled service train. Arrival in the late afternoon. Walk to your hotel, located some 250 m from the train station. Check in. Enjoy the spa facilities, dinner and overnight. Beautiful nature and deposits of mineral waters make Velingrad one of the leading balneology resorts in the Balkans. Velingrad is also famous for the largest karst spring in Bulgaria, called Kleptuza ( just 5 minutes walk from the hotel ). Its output is from 600 to 1200 l/sec.
Velingrad is in No 1 in Bulgaria in terms of abundance and diversity of mineral waters, with temperatures of which 28°С to 91°С. The mineral waters in Velingrad have favourable influence upon the locomotory system, neurological disorders, hyperthonia, gynecological problems, renal and urological, respiratory and stomach, and intestinal illnesses.
Day 6: Tuesday 10 October (B, D) We depart by service train along the narrow gauge from Velingrad to Dobrinishte (the terminus), enjoying one of the most scenic rails in Bulgaria. Transfer by coach the short distance from Dobrinishte to Bansko. Free time for lunch (around 13:30 o`clock) and afternoon tour of Bansko museum town.
Bansko is the newest and fastest developing Bulgarian mountain resort, located at the foothills of Pirin Mountain and National Park ( the 2nd highest mountain in Bulgaria, the largest National park in Bulgaria ). The town rose up to its present location around 9th-10th centuries. We will visit Holy Trinity Church and one of the houses – museums – Velyanova, which is a typical example of Bulgarian National revival fortifies house from the late 18th c ( stone walls, huge iron studded gates of pine wood ). Alternatively free time to enjoy the spa centre and the swimming pool of the hotel. Dinner at a traditional Bansko mehana and overnight.
Day 7 Wednesday 11 October (B,D) Transfer by coach from Bansko to Rila Monastery UNESCO site. Tour of the monastery, incl. a visit to its church and museum. Admire wooden balconies, azure fretwork, collonades, facades and colourful frescoes, silhouetted against a fantastic panorama of mountain peaks. Altitude 1147 meters above sea level. Founded in the 10th century. National Historical Reserve since 1976. UNESCO site since 1983.
Transfer to Blagoevgrad train station and onward by train back to Sofia. Overnight in Sofia.
Day 8 Thursday 12 October (B) Breakfast and departure transfer.
This is a moderately active tour. To fully enjoy this program, participants should be able to climb a flight of stairs and walk at least a half-mile on uneven ground during several of the sightseeing trips.
Steam Locomotives Due to be Used on This Tour
Built in 1942 by Henschel-Kassel of Germany
Wheel arrangement: 4-8-2
Built in 1931 by Cegielski-Poznan in Poland
Wheel arrangement: 2-12-4