Culture

Classic Bulgaria

17 to 24 June
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

  • Narrow gauge train Septemvri to Dobrinishte. One of the longest and most spectacular in Europe
  • UNESCO sites, museum towns and villages
  • Plovdiv – European capital of culture in 2019
  • Museum of Transport in Ruse with royal carriages dating to 19th century
  • Culinary lesson with preparation of Bulgarian yoghurt and banitsa with cheese (traditional pastry) at a local family home
  • Tasting of Rose products
  • First class train travel where possible
  • Wine tasting at a boutique wine cellar
 
Itinerary

Day 1 Tuesday 18 June Direct flights Stansted, Birmingham and Liverpool to Sofia for late night arrival. Transfer to our city centre hotel. Those flying from Heathrow and Gatwick have a pre-tour night at an airport hotel (arranged by PTG) before flying out to Sofia early the next morning. 

Day 2 Wednesday 19 June (D) Afternoon transfer and 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 Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Russian influences. We visit the Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, St. Sofia 6th century basilica, the Parliament Square, the Old City garden and the former Royal Palace, National Theatre, Presidency, St. George Rotunda (4th century and the oldest building in Sofia) and the ruins of Ancient Serdica. Dinner at the hotel and overnight.

Day 3 Thursday 20 June (B, L, D) In the morning we take the train from Sofia to Pleven via the spectacular Iskar gorge. Arrival in Pleven at noon then lunch in the centre of the town before transfer by coach to Ruse. Upon arrival in Ruse, visit the National Transport Museum, situated on the bank of the Danube in the country’s first railway station, built in 1866. Exhibits are laid out both inside and outside and among the exhibits outside the building are more than ten steam engines, including the oldest steam engine preserved in the country (a class P 3/3 z, built in England in 1868), and various railroad carriages, including the personal carriages of the Kings Ferdinand of Bulgaria and Boris III of Bulgaria, as well as the carriage of the Turkish sultan of 1866. Tour of the centre of Ruse – the largest Bulgarian Danubian city and once an important Roman port with the name “Sexaginta Prista” (the port of 60 ships). Dinner and overnight at a hotel located close to the Danube bank.

Day 4 Friday 21 June (B, D) Morning departure from Ruse to Gorna Oryahovitsa by train. On arrival we transfer by coach to Veliko Turnovo – the medieval capital city of Bulgaria, picturesquely located on four hills above the Yantra river. We visit the Tsarevets Royal Hill with its fortress and Samovodska Charshia street of crafts where a variety of craftsmen’s workshops can be seen, including a potter, armourer, coppersmith, carver, confectioner, weaver, icon-painter’s studio, photographer, a workshop where kadaif is made (kadaif is a classic Middle Eastern pastry), and a bakery. The centre recreates the atmosphere of the first decades of the 20th century. Free time for lunch and check in at your hotel.

Afternoon visit to the Arbanassi museum village. The village is mentioned for the first time in documents from 1538 and was so scenic that Greek bishops from Mount Athos and as far away as Jerusalem came to spend the summer. We will also enjoy tasting traditional yoghurt and banitsa with cheese at a local family home and have a look at Nativity Church – the oldest and most richly decorated church in Arbanassi, which has five chambers covered in kaleidoscopic frescoes dating from between 1632 and 1649. Transfer to Veliko Turnovo. Dinner and overnight at your hotel.

Day 5 Saturday 22 June. (B,L,D) Morning transfer to Gorna Oryahovitsa railway station and departure by train to Dubovo, crossing the highest part of the Balkan range via the small stations of Dryanovo, Tsareva Livada, Tryavna and Krustets, which is the highest station of the railway. Not far from the station is the most steeply graded section of railway in Bulgaria. The views from the train are regarded as some of the most picturesque and captivating in the country.

Transfer to the village of Skobelevo to visit an ethnographic complex where you will learn about the history of Rose production in the Valley of Roses (where once up to 75% of the world’s Rose Attar was produced), and taste high quality local Rose products such as Rose honey, Rose rakia (brandy) and Rose water. After lunch we continue to Kazanluk, calling at the Shipka memorial church en route. Finally, we visit the Kazanluk Thracian tomb, a vaulted-brickwork “beehive” tomb which is part of a Royal necropolis and a UNESCO World Heritage site, then transfer to Stara Zagora for the train to Plovdiv. Arrival, check in and dinner at the hotel.

Day 6 Sunday 23 June (B, D) A day dedicated to Plovdiv and its region. Plovdiv will be European capital of culture in 2019, which is appropriate since it is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe and the sixth oldest in the world. The Eternal City, as Rome is often called, is much younger than Plovdiv, which is a contemporary of Troy, which it resembles in having many levels of occupation. We will visit the Old Plovdiv architectural reserve (awarded a gold medal for architecture by UNESCO), the National Revival houses complex, the ancient Amphitheatre, the Roman Forum and Stadium and the St. Constantine and Helena Church. In the afternoon we will leave the city to visit the Bachkovo Monastery (11th century, connected with the third Crusade) and then the Todoroff boutique wine cellar in the nearby village of Brestovitsa. In 2018, its wines yet again won several medals from the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Today Bulgaria grows over 3000 wine varieties which it exports to more than 70 countries, ranking among the 15 leading wine producing countries in the world. Return to Plovdiv for dinner and second overnight.

Day 7 Monday 24 June (B, D) We depart by train from Plovdiv to Septemvri where we change to the narrow-gauge railway to Dobrinishte. This is the only operating narrow gauge (760 mm) line in Bulgaria nowadays, built in the period 1921-1945 and a must for anyone interested in railways. Avramovo station, situated at 1267 metres above the sea, is the highest station in the Balkans and here you can understand why the railway is known as the “Alpine railway in the Balkans”. Along the route there are 35 tunnels, 11 stations and 10 stations. After five hours travelling through delightful valleys and impressive mountain gorges we arrive at the end of the line at Dobrinishte and transfer to Bansko by coach. We have a walking tour in the centre of this old museum town then dinner at a traditional Bansko mehana.

Day 8 Tuesday 25 June (B, D) Morning departure by coach to the Rila Monastery UNESCO World Heritage site, the largest monastery in Bulgaria, located at 1100 metres above sea level in the Rila Mountain National Park. This is a stunning location, surrounded by forests and high mountains. Transfer to Blagoevgrad for a train to Sofia. Late afternoon flights back to Birmingham and Liverpool. Those flying home tomorrow have a farewell dinner and hotel night in Sofia.

Day 9 Wednesday 26 June (B) Breakfast and transfers to the airport for those flying back to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

Flights

Out 18 June, back 25 June

FR6336 18.35 Birmingham to Sofia (arr 23.50)
FR6335 16.45 Sofia to Birmingham (arr 18.10)

FR6338 18.45 Liverpool to Sofia (arr 00.10)
FR6337 16.45 Sofia to Liverpool (arr 18.20)

Out 18 June, back 26 June

FR9967 16.25 Stansted to Sofia (arr 21.35)
FR9962 11.45 Sofia to Stansted (arr 13.00)

Out 19 June, back 26 June

EZY8973 06.00 Gatwick to Sofia (arr 11.10)
EZY8974 11.50 Sofia to Gatwick (arr 13.10)

BA0890 08.00 Heathrow to Sofia (arr 13.00)
BA891 14.00 Sofia to Heathrow (arr 15.30)

Place(s) available

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • Full 8 day holiday from Birmingham or Liverpool: £1,195
  • Full 9 day holiday from Stansted: £1,250
  • Full 9 day holiday from Gatwick: £1,275
  • Full 9 day holiday from Heathrow: £1,315
  • Full 8 day holiday joining and leaving in Sofia: £995

Options

  • Flight supplement might apply for late booking
  • Single use room supplement: £110

Deposit

  • Travelling by air: £500
  • Own travel: £200

Price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • En-suite hotel accommodation with breakfast
  • Services of our local tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted from Sofia
  • Accommodation at 4* hotels with breakfast and city tax included
  • 7 dinners (incl. traditional restaurant), 2 lunches
  • 1 wine tasting
  • 1 tasting of rose products
  • 1 culinary lesson (preparation and tasting) of traditional yoghurt and banitsa (pastry with cheese)
  • 1 bottle of mineral water per person per day in the coach
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