Culture, Enthusiast

Steam & Spa in Bulgaria

3 to 14 October
Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a Balkan country with spectacular mountains and a coastline on the Black Sea. For around 500 years it was part of the Ottoman Empire, although the Orthodox tradition remained strong, and today has ancient history, a favourable climate, varied cuisine and hospitable people.

Join us on a rail-based tour around the central region visiting the best of the ancient and cultural sites. You will see wonderful monasteries, Thracian tombs, the ancient capital of Bulgaria, Europe’s oldest inhabited city and much more, as well as travelling on some very fine railway lines, including the “Alpine railway in the Balkans”.  From the lively capital city of Sofia, to small remote picturesque villages, known for superb folk art, we guarantee that Bulgaria will entrance you.

Highlights

  • Steam hauled charter train with a window seat for everyone (min 2 seats per person)
  • Four different steam locomotives
  • Narrow gauge train Septemvri – Dobrinishte
  • UNESCO sites, museum towns and villages
  • All hotels are 4*
  • 10 dinners included
  • Sofia – National Museum of History
  • Visit to BDZ depot in Sofia
  • Plovdiv – Ethnographic museum in the Old town
  • Melnik – Kordopulov House + wine tasting
  • Bansko – St. Trinity Church

From: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester

Our tour manager is Marion  marion@ptg.co.uk

Itinerary

Day 1 Friday 2 October (D) Flights from Heathrow (08:05 or 15:00), Gatwick (06:15), Stansted (13:10) to the Bulgaria capital city of Sofia. For those on the morning flight you will have the rest of the day to relax and for your own exploration. For flights from Birmingham (18:35) and Manchester (06:25) you need to fly out on Thursday 1 October.

Day 2 Saturday 3 Oct (B,D) City tour of Sofia – the capital city of Bulgaria, which Emperor Constantine the Great once called “My Rome”. The city covers ancient Serdica, founded 4,000 years ago by the Thracians, while its numerous monuments and buildings reveal as well Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Russian influence. Visit the National Museum of History with its golden and silver Thracian treasures, Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, St. Sofia 6th c basilica, the Parliament Square, the Old City garden and the former Royal Palace, National Theatre, Presidency, St. George rotunda (4th c, the oldest building preserved in Sofia ), the ruins of Ancient Serdica and Arena di Serdica.

Visit a depot of BDZ. Free afternoon for own discoveries. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 3 Sunday 4 October (B,D) Departure by charter train with steam loco 01.23 via Iskar gorge to Cherven Briag.  We will travel on part of the longest rail line in Bulgaria, which is regarded as the busiest passenger line, crossing the country from west to east, up to the Black Sea coast (at Varna) with total length 543 km, opened in 1899.  In the section from Sofia to Mezdra Railway station (88 km) we will cross the picturesque Iskar Gorge, where the railway follows the course of the Iskar River through a winding, scenic canyon of the Balkan Mountains. There are many small villages with railway stations bearing names from the legends and history of the region. Opposite Lakatnik railway station you will see the magnificent rocky massif with vertical walls. The lime here is cut by many caves, entrances and galleries at an altitude of 250 m. Leaving the Balkan Mountains, we will pass via Mezdra – the 2nd most important railway station in Bulgaria after Gorna Oriahovitsa. Transfer to Lukovit. Overnight with dinner at your hotel.  

Day 4 Monday 5 October (B,D) Breakfast and transfer by coach to Svishtov – a city located on the right bank of the River Danube. Svishtov is identified with the Roman colony Novae mentioned by Ptolemy (1st -2nd c AD) and served as a base of operations for Roman campaigns against Barbarian tribes. Svishtov is included in the list of 100 top tourist sites in Bulgaria and its main landmarks include the old fortress, the clock tower from 1764, St. Trinity Church and the port of Svishtov is the southernmost harbour on the Danube river. Board our steam train hauled by locomotive 16.27 from Svishtov and depart to Troyan via Lovech. The decision for connecting Svishtov port with central Bulgaria and Varna port had been taken in 1897. The first section till Levski was constructed in 1909 and the section till Troyan was completed only after the 2nd WW (1948) with the voluntary labor of 12 000 young men and women from all over Bulgaria, with full support of the local population. Future plans suggested the continuation of this line from Troyan to the south station on the Sub-Balkan railway line, which required the construction of a 12,860 m long tunnel. Overnight and dinner at the hotel in Troyan. If time permits – visit Troyan monastery nearby (the 3rd largest in Bulgaria).

Day 5 Tuesday 6 October (B,D) Breakfast and transfer from Troyan to Veliko Turnovo. Panorama tour, with the coach, of Veliko Turnovo – the medieval capital city of Bulgaria, picturesquely located on 4 hills above Yantra river. Transfer to Gorna Oriahovitsa railway station and steam locomotive 16.27 to Stara Zagora. We will cross the central and highest part of the Balkan range enjoying a panorama of mountain peaks, small river valleys and picturesque villages. Our train will stop at Triavna – a museum town, regarded as main centre of woodcarving and icon painting in Bulgaria. Old Triavna was the cradle of Bulgarian craftsmanship. In the mid-19th century there were 40 icon-painting workshops there, hence the epithet “the Bulgarian Florence” that foreign travellers attached to Triavna. We will proceed south by our train to Tulovo and Stara Zagora to spend the night. Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Stara Zagora.  For those who do not wish to see Veliko Turnovo it should be possible for you to travel on the steam train between Troyan and Gorna Oriahovitsa. Please request this at time of booking.

Day 6 Wednesday 7 October (B,D) Breakfast and departure hauled by steam locomotive 05.01 to Dimitrovgrad and further to Plovdiv. The section to Dimitrovgrad was constructed in the beginning of the 20th c with the idea to be extended further to the Aegean sea – a project which has been stopped with the beginning of the 1st WW. We will change direction and depart west towards Plovdiv – the 2nd largest Bulgarian city, considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe.  City tour of the Old Plovdiv architecture reserve, awarded golden medal for architecture by UNESCO. Admire the remains of the Roman forum, Stadium, Ancient Amphitheare, the complex of National Revival houses and churches.  Dinner and overnight at your hotel. There is the option to return to Sofia this evening and fly back to the UK on Day 7 Thursday 8 October. Flights to Heathrow (14:20), Gatwick (11:55), Stansted (12:05). Birmingham (16:45) and Manchester (12:30).

Narrow Gauge Steam and Spa

Day 7 Thursday 8 October (B,D) Breakfast and transfer by coach to Septemvri railway station. Steam locomotive 609.76 + cistern and carriages 901, 558 and 502 along the narrow gauge (760mm) to Velingrad. Check in at the hotel in Velingrad, time to relax, use the spa facilities and the swimming pools with mineral water of the hotel, dinner and overnight.  Beautiful nature and deposits of mineral waters make Velingrad one of the leading balneological resorts on the Balkans. Velingrad is No1 location in Bulgaria in terms of abundance and diversity of mineral waters, the temperature of which varies between 28°С and 91°С. Velingrad is also famous for the largest karst spring in Bulgaria, called Kleptuza. Its output is from 600 to 1200 l/sec, and supplies two ponds with a separated resting area with water wheels on the side. Use of: indoor and outdoor swimming pools with mineral water, sauna, steam bath, whirlpools at the hotel.

Day 8 Friday 9 October (B,D) Departure by steam locomotive 609.76 + cistern and carriages 901, 558 and 502 from Velingrad to Avramovo, Bansko and Dobrinishte. Along the route you will cross 3 mountains (Rila, The Rhodopes and Pirin) and 7 municipalities.  Along the narrow-gauge line there are 35 tunnels, 11 stations and 10 stops, among which is the highest Railway station in Bulgaria – Avramovo (1267 m above sea level). You will enjoy the varied relief of southern Bulgaria with the forests of the Rhodope mountains, small river valleys and stone bridges, the breath-taking alpine panorama of Pirin Mountain National Park (UNESCO site) near Bansko museum town. Arrival at Dobrinishte station and transfer by coach to Bansko museum town, located at the foothills of Pirin Mountain National Park (UNESCO).  Bansko is an an international centre for winter and summer tourism.

Dinner and overnight in Bansko – hotel with spa facilities.

Day 9 Saturday 10 October (B,D) Breakfast. Transfer to Simitli railway station – regular service train Simitli – Petrich, the last station, at the most south-western part of Bulgaria and close to both Northern Macedonia and Greece. Due to political reasons, after 1920, the 21-km section going to Zlatarevo, and the border, was dismantled.

Transfer by coach to Melnik – the smallest Bulgarian town declared a museum. The unique architecture of Melnik make it a popular tourist destination. The town is also associated with the impressive natural sand pyramids in various forms, resembling giant mushrooms, ancient towers and obelisks, spread in an area of 17 km² near Melnik, Kurlanovo and Rozhen. The town has also been famous for producing a strong wine since at least 1346. The local wine from the varietal Broad Leave Melnik Vine was reportedly a favourite of Winston Churchill’s. We visit Kordopulov House (1754) and tasting some red wines. In the afternoon – transfer back to Bansko for dinner and 2nd overnight at the hotel.

Day 10 Sunday 11 October (B,D) Breakfast. Morning walking tour in the centre of Old Bansko to see St. Trinity Church and the complex of National Revival houses with their typical architecture – thick stone walls, narrow and dark loop-holes, iron wires on the windows and the heavy doors. Transfer by coach to Rila Monastery UNESCO site. This is the largest monastery in Bulgaria, located at an altitude of 1147 m above sea level in Rila Mountain National Park.  Admire wooden balconies, azure fretwork, collonades, facades and colourful frescoes, silhouetted against a fantastic panorama of mountain peaks. The monastery was founded in the 10th century.  It is a National Historical Reserve since 1976 and part of UNESCO list since 1983. Transfer to Sofia. Farewell dinner at a traditional restaurant.

Day 11 Monday 12 October (B) After breakfast there is free time until the transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK (separate transfer for each flight). Flights to Heathrow (13:45), Gatwick (11:40), Stansted (12:05). Those flying to Birmingham (16:45) and Manchester (13:50) have an extra night in Sofia and fly out on Tuesday 13 October.

Steam Locos

01.23 – Built in 1935 by SLM Winterthur of Switzerland. 2-8-2

05.01 – Built in 1941 by Krupp-Essen in Germany. 4-6-2

16.27 – Built in 1948 by Wiener Lokomotivfabrik Floridsdorf in Austria. 2-10-0

609.76 – Built in 1945 by Berliner Maschinenbau in Germany. 2-10-2

 

Place(s) available

Prices (per person) for the full 11 days (HB)

  • From Heathrow (BA): £2,950 (£2,250)
  • From Gatwick (Easyjet): £2,950 (£2,250)
  • From Stansted (Ryanair): £2,900 (£2,200)
  • From Birmingham (Ryanair): £3,050 (£2,350)*
  • From Manchester (Easyjet): £3,050 (£2,350)*
  • From Sofia: £2,750 (£2,000)

The higher price is based on 25 participants. We hope there will be 50 participants and if that is the case then the lower price (the one in brackets) will apply. If we get, say, 40 bookings then the price will be between the two prices shown. To qualify for any price reduction you must book by 31/01/2020.

* includes a pre-tour night, and a post tour night, in Sofia (for single add £40) on bed and breakfast basis.

Options

  • Single room supplement: £125 (full tour), £75 (7-day tour)
  • Seven-day option to depart from Sofia on 8 October: deduct £300 from the main prices

Deposit

  • £300 (own flights), £500 (with flights)
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We recommend you also check the FCO website for the latest travel advice https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice