Vintage Bulgaria – Steam
Balkan country with spectacular mountains and a coastline on the Black Sea, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman empire for around 500 years, although the Orthodox tradition remained strong. Bulgaria is full of ancient man made wonders and stunning natural scenery.
Join us on a rail based tour around the central region in our private steam hauled train. Our week-long excursion is sure to feature some stunning scenery, bucolic villages, colourful culture and tradition, complete with haulage throughout by the majority of the state railway’s operational
fleet of steam locomotives with their period coaches.
Saturday 21 September (D) Choice of scheduled morning flights from Gatwick, Heathrow or Manchester for our 3-hour flight to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. On arrival we transfer to our 5-star hotel and check in. We will have a Short panorama tour of Sofia followed by our welcome dinner.
Sunday 22 September (B,D) Boarding our special train we head out eastwards from the capital with steam loco 05.01 at the helm, threading the Balkan massif through many tunnels and spectacular alpine scenery to Koprivshtica where we will break. This museum village is synonymous with the 1870s struggle – the years of the country’s fight for independence, and is a quaint clutch of rustic stone Ottoman-era cottages straddling a crystal clear stream. Several notable people connected with the 1876 uprising against the Turks lived and plotted strategies here, and their houses remain as delightful period pieces. Further east, we descend into Karlovo and the Valley of the Roses – an area so called because it is one of the world’s largest producers of rose oil for cosmetics. Karlovo was the birthplace of one of Bulgaria’s most famous revolutionary heroes, Vasil Levski, and his white-walled house is now a museum. The town nestles in the shadow of the mighty Balkan range, and has a very rustic and interesting old centre with its cobbled alleyways. We then continue to Kalofer, the birthplace of Bulgaria’s other famous hero, Hristo Botev, where the 2,376m mountain peak bearing his name looms on the skyline. We will have time to explore this charming, rustic village followed by a coach transfer to Stara Zagora where we will stay overnight.
Monday 23 September (B,D) With a different seam locomotive in charge, this time 03.12, we head east to Nova Zagora before taking the freight-only route through the opencast coalfield region to Simeonovgrad. You will now meander through much flatter countryside along the plain of the Marica River to the industrial city of Dimitrovgrad. We then take a southern turn towards the city of Haskovo, where we will stay the night.
Tuesday 24 September (B,D) With steam loco 03.12 still in charge of our special train we will head southwards to the end of the line at Podkova, just before the border with Greece. On the way we skirt the Studen Kladenec Dam, one of the largest in the country and fed by the damming of the Arda River as it flows from the border region of the Rhodope Mountains. We will break our journey in Kardzhali, with its interesting centre, and even a Communist-era Childrens’ Railway in one of the town’s parks that has been recently repaired and restarted. Once we arrive back in Haskovo, we will transfer to Plovdiv by coach for our overnight stay. Plovdiv has 6,000 years of history and was once the capital city of Philip the 2nd of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great). With its innumerable art galleries, winding cobbled streets and bohemian cafés, it would be no exaggeration to call today’s Plovdiv (Plov-div) the Paris of the Balkans. Plovdiv’s appeal derives first from its lovely old town, the Stariot Grad, largely restored to its mid-19th-century appearance and full of winding cobblestone streets.
Wednesday 25 September (B,D) This morning steam loco 03.12 will takes us north, through the industrial suburb of Filipovo to Panagjurishte. This meandering branch line re-opened a few years ago with the introduction of new Siemens DMU trains. It lies in a pleasant part of the Sredna Gora foothills, an area with some interesting recent archaeological finds, including the magnificent Thracian burial chamber at nearby Starosel. Panagjurishte itself is a town once again linked with the 1876 uprising, with its period museum houses in the old centre. The town was the scene of an important treasure find in 1949, when three tile factory workers unearthed the “Panagyurishte Treasure” – a clutch of priceless gold Thracian vessels and ornaments that had lain undiscovered for 1,500 years entombed in clay!
After re-tracing our steps, the evening will once again be spent in Plovdiv, where more time will be available for those wishing to explore the old town and its world-heritage centre.
Thursday 26 September (B,D) Today we explore the delights of Bulgaria’s last surviving narrow gauge passenger railway with steam loco 609.76. We depart southwards from Septemvri, through the dramatic Cepinska River gorge and clinging to the foot of the craggy escarpment, before climbing full-circle at Dolene to scale the Pirin Mountains. A series of spirals and tunnels takes the line up to its highest point at Avramovo, at 1267 meters the highest station in the Balkans.
We now pass the town of Razlog before arriving at Bansko, now vying for its place as one of Bulgaria’s premier ski resorts – a town that in the space of little more than a decade has grown from the small, rustic settlement of old. Here we will transfer to our hotel, with ample time to discover the town’s charming old buildings and quiet, cobbled alleyways, with some excellent traditional restaurants, fine Bulgarian cuisine, wine and music.
Friday 27 September (B,D) Our day will start with a transfer by coach to the Rila Monastery. This is a UNESCO world-heritage site, and the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It lies surrounded by the Rila Mountains, 1,147m (3,763 ft) above sea level, and is named after its founder, the hermit Ivan of Rila (876 – 946AD). This spectacular site is regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments and is a key tourist attraction for both Bulgaria and Southern Europe. A narrow-gauge branch line once linked the monastery to Kocherinovo on the main line, but this closed over fifty years ago.
After our visit, we will transfer to Kocherinovo by coach, where steam locomotive 01.23 will take us back northwards to Sofia for our last overnight stay.
Saturday 28 September (B) Free time and transfer to the airport for flights back to the UK.
We have a road coach shadowing our train trips and transferring our luggage between the hotels for us.
Generally nice, sunny weather. So everything should be green, fresh, and full of life. During the day expect temperatures up to 18-20 degrees C. In the mountain regions the evenings are a bit cold. Due to a special microclimate Sofia has (because of the winds crossing the mountain) – short rainfalls can be expected.
Photo: Rila Monastry, steam hauled charter, Bansko lake, Steam loco 609.76.