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19 Day Romania-Bulgaria Tour, 2022

Exploring Plovdiv Exploring Plovdiv

                                                                      

Tour cost:
Minimum number of guests: 2 guests

Romania portion:
Per person in double/twin room sharing: € 2 400

The price includes:
1. Accommodation 9  nights at 4* hotels centrally located (taxes included)
2. Meals: all breakfasts at hotels.
3. Transportation by private A/C car, fuel and taxes included.
4. Bilingual local private English speaking tour guide-driver throughout. The guide will drive.
5. Entrance fees to museums and sites as per itinerary

Bulgaria portion:
Per person in double/twin room sharing: € 2 300

The price includes:
1. Accommodation 9  nights at 4* hotels centrally located (taxes included)
2. Meals: all breakfasts at hotels.
3. Transportation by private A/C car, fuel and taxes included.
4. Bilingual local private English speaking tour guide-driver throughout. The guide will drive.
5. Entrance fees to museums and sites as per


Day 1: Arrival in Bucharest: Bohemian Bucharest Markets Tour

Welcome to Bucharest!
Upon arrival you will be met by your tour guide and you will head to the hotel for the check- in formalities. Please note in order to be done the tour for the day we advice that you arrive no later by 11:30 a.m.
Almost 30 years ago the communist era ended in Romania, but its marks are visible to this day. Visit Bucharest for an insightful one-day tour through the city streets and discover how the lives of Romanian people looked like under the Ceausescu Regime.
The first stop is at the famous Palace of the Parliament, one of the world’s largest buildings. Discover what inspired Ceausescu to build it and what story it hides. Did you know that its construction was part of a larger project called “Project Bucharest”?
Please have in mind that this attraction could be replaced with the Spring Palace if we are unable to visit the Palace of the Parliament.
Afterwards, you will be having a Walking Tour of Bucharest, where you will admire the most beautiful attractions in Bucharest and have a taste of this beautiful country.
Overnight in Bucharest

Day 2:  Bucharest - Curtea de Arges - Poenari Castle - Vidraru Lake

Breakfast
Our day begins in Bucharest and will be driving to Curtea de Arges and our first stop is at the legendary Curtea de Arges monastery, at the foot of the Carpathians. We will drive through the Olt Valley and you will enjoy nature’s beauty admiring the amazing landscapes.

Perched atop a cliff like an eagle’s nest, at an altitude of over 800 m, the Poenari Castle was built in the 14th century on an isolated peak. It can only be reached by climbing a stairway of 1480 stone steps. The Fort was used at some point by Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian prince at the origin of the Dracula character. Vlad’s Castle, is a place that breathes history and beauty, its fame being overshadowed only by that of the legend of the Bran Castle. However, the historical evidence connecting Poenari castle with Vlad’s life and legend turns this site into the real-life “Dracula’s Castle”.

Vidraru Dam is considered by specialists a real jewelry of engineering. It was built, with many human sacrifices (about 80 persons lost their lives during its construction) between 1961 and 1966. 42 kilometers of subterranean galleries were drilled, about 1 768 000 cubic meters of hard rocks were excavated (of which one million had to be extracted from the undergrounds), 930 000 cubic meters of concrete were used and 6 300 tons of electro – mechanics equipment were set up for its construction.
Overnight in Vidraru

Day 3: Vidraru - Cozia Monastery – Balea Lac - Sibiu

Breakfast
After a relaxing night at the hotel, we will departure to visit our first attaction for the day, Cozia Monastery. It was built between 1386-1388, being one of the most important foundations of the ruler Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Ancient). Initially, it was known under the name of Nucet Monastery, because it was built in an area proper for walnut trees to grow. The name of “Cozia” was given to it later, after the name of the mountain in its vicinity.
You will drive up to Balea waterfall, park and then take a cable car trip to the top, and admire the beautiful Balea Lake.
Afterwards, we will head to Sibiu, elected European cultural capital in 2007. Sibiu has a particular charm, everyone will agree, blending history and multicultural elements. Built by German settlers in the 12th century, the city was ruled for several generations by the most influential guilds. The city tour includes the old town whose attraction is the main Square sheltering the Brukenthal Museum and the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and it continues with Huet Square where we’ll visit the Evangelical Church.
Afterwards we’ll go through the passage of stairs and cross the famous Bridge of Lies.
Overnight in Sibiu

Day 4:  Sibiu - Hunedoara (Corvin Castle) - Alba Iulia Fortress - Turda Salt Mine - Cluj Napoca

Breakfast
We begin our day driving to Hunedoara, in order to reachCorvin Castle (Castelul Corvinilor), also known as Hunyad Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and an important piece of history for Romania. Many refer to it as one of the seven wonders of Romania, and it had a big impact on popular culture, inspiring people such as Bram Stoker in their work. Its name derives from the name of the one who ordered its construction, John Hunyadi, and his son, Matthias Corvinus. The Corvin family had a great impact on Europe during the 15th century, with John Hunyadi (commonly known as Iancu de Hunedoara) becoming famous for stopping the Ottoman Empire from conquering Belgrade and advancing towards Western Europe. The Corvin family was related to the family of Vlad the Impaler, but their story is one filled with conspiracies and betrayals.
Our travel continues in Romania’s largest fortress surrounded by 12 km of walls in the shape of a star: Alba Carolina fortress was successively a Roman fort, a fortress during the middle Ages and later a Vauban type citadel provided with bastions.
We will continue our tour, reaching Turda, with a visit to a spectacular and quite unique site, due to its strange form: a huge subterranean cave carved in salt, a former salt-mine turned into a tourist attraction. Hundreds of meters of galleries open into halls, one of them 90 meters tall, with a lake at the bottom. The sights inside the mine are otherworldly, attracting artists in search of spectacular views.
The journey continues with the largest city in Transylvania, Cluj Napoca, proclaimed city of the arts.
Overnight in Cluj Napoca

Day 5: Cluj Napoca - Breb - Merry Cemetery – Sighetu Marmatiei

Breakfast
The first hours of the day will be devoted to a city tour. St Michael’s Gothic Cathedral overlooking the city’s central square comes first on our list of attractions of the Classic Romania Tour, and then, the former mayor’s hall and the so-called Mirror Street.
From Cluj we’re heading to the north west of Romania, to Maramureș – a region resembling a fascinating museum in the open. Lacking rights and privileges for hundreds of years, the dwellers of these places have managed to overcome hardship by following two simple rules: live your life to the full and cherish, above all, the richness of the soul.
Maramureș people are considered to be the most hospitable Romanians and their traditional wooden houses are a living part of their history. We will visit Breb, one of the best preserved traditional villages from Maramures and explore the locals way of living by coming in contact with them and visiting an authentic house. For lunch, we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy fresh products and delicious fruity liqueurs.
Not far from Sighet – our final destination – is Săpînţa, the world’s one and only community with a merry cemetery. The wood carved crosses painted in bright colors display witty, humorous quatrains inspired by the lives of those who are no longer with us.

Overnight in Sighetu Marmatiei

Day 6: Sighetu Marmatiei -  Vadu Izei - Barsana Monastery - Moldovita  Monastery- Gura Humorului (overnight in Voronet)

Breakfast
Today we will pass through Vadu Izei commune, located in the north part of Maramures County, 60 km away from Baia Mare and 6 km away from Sighetu Marmatiei. Vadu Izei, known for its craftsmen and wood carving, is situated at the confluence of two major rivers Iza and Mara. In the morning we’ll visit two ancient wooden churches that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Fund: Poienile Izei (Iza Meadows) and Barsana, the latter being one of the largest Orthodox architectural ensembles in Romania. Perfected across generations, the art of wood carving remains the chief craft of the local community, as we shall see in the workshop of a local artisan.
Our next stop will be at Moldoviţa, an excellent example of a strongly fortified monastery compound. A short walk up the nearby hill will give you a splendid view of the whole monastery with its stout stone walls and corner towers. Apart from the church itself with its stunning murals inside and out, there is a small but fascinating museum in the north west corner, which houses several fine tapestries woven from pure gold and silver thread.
In the evening we will reach Gura Humorului.
Overnight in Gura Humorului

Day 7: Gura Humorului - Voronet - Bicaz Gorges - Red Lake- Sovata

Breakfast
The first Painted Monastery to be visited will be Voronet -actually the most famous one for its blue hues and a vast mural depicting the Day of Judgement on its west wall.
The road that slices through the Bicaz Gorges (Cheile Bicazului), 20km west of Bicaz, is among Romania’s most spectacular. The gorge twists and turns steeply uphill for 5km, cutting through sheer, 300m-high limestone rocks.
A few kilometers west, you cross into Transylvania’s Harghita County and immediately hit the resort of Lacu Rosu (‘Red Lake’, or Gyilkos tó in Hungarian). The lake gets its famous mystique due to the strange forest of dead tree stumps that juts out of its murky waters at 45 degree angles.
Legend has it that the ‘red lake’ or ‘killer lake’ was formed from the flowing blood of a group of hapless picnickers who had the misfortune to be sitting beneath the mountainside when it collapsed, crushing them to death. I’m not sure about the blood part, but a landslide did occur in 1838, which led to a natural damming of the Bicaz River, flooding the valley.
In the evening we will reach Sovata, a popular spa resort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, unlike some other Romanian spas, has seen considerable investment following the collapse of the Communist regime, even if some of its places to stay are rather spartan. Today the resort is a mix of attractive wooden-walled villas with little spires and large Communist-era hotel complexes that have undergone various degrees of refurbishment.
Overnight in Sovata

Day 8: Sovata - Sighisoara - Brasov

Breakfast
Today we will have a more relaxing day. An important highlight of our Tour is Sighișoara, considered the only medieval fortress within UNESCO that’s currently inhabited. Walking up the winding cobble stone streets lined with historical buildings, we reach the Clock Tower, a symbol of the city, atop of which you can admire the breathtaking views. The Tower shelters a museum of medieval weapons and the chamber of torture. After visiting the tower we’ll climb the three hundred wooden steps up to the Church-on-the-hill, built in the XIV century.
We will reach Brasov, a city founded by the Teutonic knights.
In Brasov we’ll walk on one of the narrowest streets in the world and cross the Council Square to reach the Gothic cathedral, famously called the Black Church.
Free time at your disposal.
Overnight in Brasov

Day 9: Brasov - Zarnesti – Bucharest

Breakfast
We will visit the bear reservation in Zarnesti, a wildlife sanctuary in the Carpathian Mountains. Here you will have the opportunity to see bears climbing trees, playing in the water pools or just lazing in the meadows.
The largest Bear Sanctuary in Europe and the second worldwide in terms of animal population, Libearty Bear Sanctuary’s construction started in 2005, and today serves as home for bears that lived their entire lives in captivity, imprisoned in cages. The 160 acres of luxurious oak and hazel forest, ponds and brooks in The Carphatian Mountains is the home for over 95 rescued bears from Romania, Albania, Georgia and Texas. Each bear has its own sad story but they all share the same happy ending.In the evening we will reach Bucharest. Next in our tour is Peles Castel, the castle was chosen to be the summer residence of the Romanian royal family. It was built in the 19th century, according to the specifications of King Carol I, combining German and Italian neo-Renaissance styles. Its 160 beautiful rooms were each furnished to reflect a different European country. The estate was used as a private retreat for statesmen from the entire world. Among the personalities that visited the Peles Castle are the American president Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Overnight in Bucharest

Day 10:  Bucharest - Giurgiu - Rousse- Veliko Tarnovo

In the morning we will head to the border with Bulgaria, where you will be meeting the Bulgarian tour guide.

About 10 a.m. Meet Romanian program staff and change car at Giurgiu, Romania.  
End the Romania portion of the tour.

Continue drive.
Sightseeing of Rousse called the small Vienna. Rousse is an ancient Roman fort and major Bulgarian port on the Danube River. The river influenced the character of the town, as Ruse owes its appearance to Vienna and Budapest influence. It has a wealth of baroque and neoclassicist buildings; most of them were designed by famous Austrian architects of the 19th century, combining features from diverse epochs.
Continue drive. visit the historical site of the rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo, which were inhabited by monks in the 11th-14th centuries. Picturesquely situated in the valley of the Rusenski Lom River Nature Park, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its valuable murals from various ages. They are all full of life and light, showing many figures in expressive and dramatic poses against the architectural background.
Arrive Veliko Tarnovo.
Overnight Veliko Tarnovo.

Day 11: All day in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s medieval capital city.

Breakfast: Hotel dining room.

The regal city of Veliko Tarnovo with its famed archeological sites was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 – 1396), when Bulgaria was one of the largest states in Europe, until the Ottoman Empire captured it. The city has been at the center of many important historical events and was the birthplace of the first Bulgarian constitution. Perched on steep hills overlooking the Yantra River, the Old Town’s narrow,  lantern-lit streets wind past ancient ruins and unique architecture. The Tsarevets Hill is a natural inaccessible fortress perched on a steep hill where the Royal Palace and the Patriarch Church once stood. There are also remarkable 12th–14th century medieval churches and monasteries, and also many historical buildings like the Town Hall (1872), where in 1879 the First Constitution of Bulgaria was proclaimed. Nowadays it houses the National Revival Museum.

 The Samovodene Market Street has been revived with its small workshops where master goldsmiths, potters, carvers, weavers and pastry cooks keep busy with their crafts. The nearby historical village of Arbanassi was known as the Royal residence of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It holds fast to the traditions of the Old Bulgarian architecture and its oldest stone buildings resemble inaccessible fortresses with their tiny windows like embrasures, but with richly decorated interiors of carvings and wrought iron, recalling the wealthy life of their former inhabitants. Of the 80 preserved houses, 36 have been declared national monuments of culture.

In the morning we’ll take a sightseeing walk in the Fortress at Tsarevets Hill and will visit the Museum of the National Revival, where the first Bulgarian Constitution was adopted in 1879. Afterwards we’ll take a short drive to the village-museum of Arbanassi, famous for its traditional architecture and the beautifully decorated Nativity church, dating from the 16th – 17th centuries. Dug into the ground with austere exterior, hidden domes and without a belfry, it is a genuine art gallery containing 3,500 figures painted by unknown masters of different periods. Our sightseeing tour continues in the afternoon viewing the architectural landmarks of the Old Town and in the Samovodene Market Street, a traditional 19th century artisan and shopping area.

Overnight in Veliko Tarnovo.

Day 12: Transfer Day: Veliko Tarnovo- Kazanlak- Plovdiv.

Breakfast: Hotel dining room.
Depart Veliko Tarnovo for Plovdiv.
En route visit  the Etara Museum of Architecture and Ethnography. This is an open-air village museum with numerous artisan workshops, the only one of its kind in Southeastern Europe. It displays the authentic atmosphere of a typical Bulgarian town from the period of the National Revival in the 18th – 19th centuries. In the authentic workshops of the museum more than 20 traditional Bulgarian crafts are being practiced in their traditional technological cycle.

We’ll continue our scenic drive through the historical Shipka Pass in the Balkan Mountains, which is one of the most important roads connecting the South and the North part of Bulgaria. It is a famous historical site, due to the dramatic events during the War of Liberation (1877-1878). A bloody battle was fought here in August 1877 when 7500 Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers, held the position against 30,000 Turks. On top of the peak is the Monument of Freedom (over 30 m high), which was built in the period of 1926-1934 honoring to the soldiers who fell in the fierce battle to defend the peak. 894 steps lead up to the monument. Balkan mountain that is situated mainly in Bulgaria gave the name to the whole Balkan Peninsula.

Later  we’ll stop in the town of Kazanlak to visit the replica of the world-famous Thracian tomb (4th century BCE), a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area around Kazanlak became particularly popular in the last two decades, as many new Thracian tombs were unearthed there, presenting the evolution of the Thracian culture in the 5th-4th century BCE. Bulgaria and the world started to speak about the Valley of the Thracian kings. The Kazanlak Thracian Tomb was the first cultural site in Bulgaria which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This mausoleum of 4th century BCE was discovered in 1944. The style is typical for Thracian tombs from the 5th to 4th century BCE, with a vaulted entrance corridor and a chamber topped by a beehive dome. The dome frescoes paintings are the greatest treasure of the tomb. They are a masterpiece of Hellenistic art and depict the civil and military life of a Thracian noble who was buried there. The original site is located inside a protected building, and the replica is right next to it and is open to visitors.

 We’ll take a scenic drive through the famous Valley of Roses. This is the home of Bulgarian Rosa Damascena, which is the source for the production of the exquisite and rare Bulgarian rose oil, also known as “attar of roses”, used as a key source for many of world’s finest perfumes. May and June are the most majestic months for visiting the Valley of Roses, as then the rose fields are blossoming and the whole valley is absorbed with rose fragrance. We’ll visit a rose oil distillery and plantation en route to learn about rose-growing and rose oil production in Bulgaria.
Rose picking lasts for about a month, from around May 20 to June 20, however this depends on the actual weather conditions. Rose picking is done early in the morning, from 5 a.m. till not later than 9-10 a.m. The process is very labor-consuming, for example a kilogram of rose oil requires about 300 kilograms of rose blossoms. A kilogram of rose oil costs about 5500 Euros on the international markets. Every first  Sunday of June the traditional Rose Festival takes place, which is unforgettable experience of Bulgarian beauty, merriment and hospitality.

Arrive Plovdiv.
Overnight Plovdiv.

Day 13: All day in Plovdiv

Breakfast at the hotel.
Plovdiv is majestic! If you love art and Roman archaeology- this is a fantastic place!

The ancient and picturesque city of Plovdiv has a history that dates back thousands of years, traces of which have survived to the present day. Recently, British archaeologists proclaimed Plovdiv to be the sixth oldest city in the world.
It was founded by the Thracians in the 2nd millennium BCE and called Eumolpia, and has had several names since then, like Philipopolis after Philip II of Macedon (342 BCE); Trimontium, i.e. ‘the City on Three Hills’ during the Roman times when it was the major city of the Roman province of Thrace (1st century CE).
The Old Town was built in the 18th-19th centuries as the center of the Bulgarian National Revival architecture. Along steep cobblestone lanes, behind stone walls and iron-studded heavy oak gates, one could glimpse at verdure and flowers, surrounding the typical Plovdiv symmetrical houses with their painted facades, oriels and jetties and grid windows. Every house here has its own style and atmosphere, its intimate world with carved ceilings and bright murals, window seats and fine furniture from Venice, Vienna and London.
During the day we’ll explore the historical, architectural and cultural landmarks of ancient Plovdiv.
In the morning we’ll see the 2nd century Roman forum and stadium, the fabulous Roman amphitheater, which was built during the time of Emperor Trajan (98-117), and the fortress walls of ancient Trimontium. We’ll also see from outside  Dzhumaya mosque which was built as an imperial mosque by Sultan Murad II in about year 1423. It is said to be one of the three examples of the oldest type of the Ottoman worship buildings still preserved on the Balkan Peninsula.
Walking sightseeing tour continues in the fascinating Old Town. We’ll see a charming house museum; the art gallery-museum of one of the most famous modern Bulgarian painters of the 20th century, and the beautiful St Constantine and St Helena church, completed in 1832, which contains murals painted by Zakhari Zograph, who was the best known Bulgarian artist during the period of the National Revival.
Plovdiv and the region around Plovdiv – attracts investors from all over the world. Plovdiv is the industrial Tiger of Bulgaria. About 140 modern, top class factories are built around Plovdiv. (Investment Destination Plovdiv  http://invest.plovdiv.bg/en/ )
In the afternoon drive to the beautiful Bachkovo monastery.
Bachkovo Monastery, second in size only to Rila Monastery . Inaugurated in 1083, it was restored many times. Its oldest building is its church, Sveta Bogoroditsa, which has a rich program of murals, including a powerful ‘Last Judgement’. Elsewhere, paintings depict a varied iconography such as a narrative of the monastery’s history and the slaying of a dragon, a Thracian archetype which was transformed by Christians into the personae of St George and St Demetrios. This image can be interpreted as symbolising the Bulgarian struggle against the Turks.
Drive back to Plovdiv.
Overnight Plovdiv.

Day 14: Transfer Day: Plovdiv- Velingrad- Bansko

Breakfast: Hotel dining room.
Depart Plovdiv.
Experience the gauge railway Velingrad – Bansko
 Drive via picturesque Rhodopa mountain to Velingrad . Velingrad is situated in the western part of the Rhodope mountain.
Today we will experience the narrow gauge railway from Velingrad  to Bansko. It is linking Plain of Thrace, Western Rhodopes, Rila Mountain and Pirin Mountain. This railroad is considered one of the most-beautiful in the world. The scenery is varied- you will pass through picturesque valleys peppered with farmlands and bordered by dense forests, Muslim villages with soaring minarets. It’s the slowest train in the Balkans, which is perfectly fine. You will be able to absorb your spectacular surroundings while having plenty of time to snap pictures.

Arrive Bansko.
Overnight at Bansko. Please note- if you love Spa- we can replace overnight at Bansko with overnight at Sandanski, a town with mineral water and spa resort.

Day 15: Gentle walk in Pirin National Park

Breakfast.

Spread over an area of over 27,000 ha, at an altitude between 1008 and 2914 m in the Pirin Mountains, southwest Bulgaria, the site comprises diverse limestone mountain landscapes with glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and predominantly coniferous forests. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. The extension now covers an area of around 40,000 ha in the Pirin Mountains, and overlaps with the Pirin National Park, except for two areas developed for tourism (skiing). The dominant part of the extension is high mountain territory over 2000m in altitude, and covered mostly by alpine meadows, rocky screes and summits.
 
Sightseeing walk in Bansko.
The architecture of the typical houses in Bansko from the period of Revival (18th – 19th century) can be seen in the rest of the museum complex on the territory of the town. The Velyanova house is one of the best models of the Revival architecture. It was built in the 18th century, and nowadays it is declared a monument of culture with national significance and a model of the architectural type of reinforced house. The unique wall paintings and fretworks on the ceilings are made by the artist Velyan Ognev.
The Benina House, in which the Museum House of Neofit Rilski is housed, is also impressive with its architecture.
An exhibition of icons of the Bansko icon-painting school was exposed in 1986 in the old convent, situated opposite to the monument of Paisiy Hilendarski.
 
Overnight in Bansko.

Day 16: Transfer Day: Bansko-Melnik-  Rila monastery, UNESCO Site- Sofia

Breakfast at the hotel dining room.

Depart for Sofia.

En route visit Melnik, the smallest town in Bulgaria  (208 residents), nested in the south slopes of the Pirin Mountains, among sand pyramids with queer forms. It is situated in the Sandanski Municipality and it is only 30 km from the borderline with Greece. The finds from the antiquity discovered upon the archaeological diggings testify for its centuries-old history.
During the 18th century, in the age of the Bulgarian Revival, the town was raised for new life. Melnik turned into a blooming, significant in size and population town, with a large market. The local trade people were selling their goods in Budapest, Wien, Genoa, and Venice. Melnik also became famous in entire Europe for its good wine, with which it is famous even nowadays.
The most vivid architectural monuments which testify for the economic upsurge of the town at that time are also from the age of Revival. We visit The Kordopulova House (declared an architecture and construction, art and history monument in Issue 25 of the State Gazette of 1998) is the largest building from the Bulgarian National Revival in our country. It was built in 1754 and it was owned by the rich Melnik family Kordopulovi, which were involved in wine producing. The cellars, excavated under and behind the house, with their constant temperature and ventilation, were used for preparing and growing the renowned Melnik wine. Later we’ll stop on our way for a visit to a wine cellar in the area and to sample the famous local wines.

En route visit Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Rila Mountains, which is an original national museum with a century-old history. The monastery dates back to the 10th century, but has been plundered and burned down several times. The present building was built in mid-19th century. Located in the gorgeous mountain scenery of the mountains, romantically nestled in a valley overlooked by a forest, it is considered the highest achievement of Bulgarian monumental architecture of the National Revival period.  Of particular interest are the Museum, and also the 1335 Hrelyo's Tower in the courtyard, which is actually the oldest preserved building, standing alongside the big five-dome church Assumption of the Holy Virgin, which has splendid frescos by some of Bulgaria’s finest artists of the time.
Continue drive to Sofia.
Arrive Sofia.

Overnight Sofia.

Arrive Sofia.
Overnight Sofia.

Day 17: All Day in Sofia

Founded more than 7 000 years ago, it has long been an important crossroads between Asia Minor and Europe. Situated in the foot of Mt Vitosha by curing mineral springs, the city is one of the oldest in Europe. Called Serdica in the age of the Thracians, Triaditsa under the Byzantines and Sredets under the Slavs, Sofia attracted ancient and later civilizations.

“Serdica is my Rome!” By the early 4th century, chroniclers already described the settlement of the Thracian tribe Serdi as ‘a splendid and noble city’. This was in the days of Emperor Constantine the Great. Strongly attached to Serdica, the Emperor often called the city his Rome and even intended to proclaim it capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Ultimately, he did not – but he nevertheless built magnificent edifices for the grand ceremonies during his visits.
Sofia was proclaimed capital of Bulgaria in 1879, just a year after the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation of 1877-1878. It is the fourth Bulgarian capital after Pliska, Preslav and Veliko Tarnovo.

Morning:  Walking sightseeing tour through the downtown area: Roman Serdica Fortifications (3rd-5th centuries); St. George's Rotunda (4th century), famous for its original structure and unique frescoes. It is the only building to survive completely, famous for its original architecture and unique frescoes. Painted several times in different ages (4th, 10th – 12th and 14th centuries), the majestic figures illustrate the development of monumental painting over several centuries, making the Rotunda one of the gems of Bulgarian and East European culture;  St. Sophia Basilica (6th century), one of the most valuable pieces of early Christian architecture in the Balkans; The magnificent splendidly decorated Alexander Nevski Memorial Church built in the period 1904–1912 to the designs of the Russian architect Pomerantsev.

Drive to the outskirts of Sofia at the footsteps of Vitosha mountain to visit National History Museum, that treasures fabulous Thracian gold treasures.
Also, we will visit the 13th century Boyana Church, a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site. The murals of this famous church reflect both Byzantine and local traditions of the preceding two centuries. One of the portraits in the church is unanimously considered a genuine masterpiece of 13th century painting, created 200 years before the European renaissance
Overnight  Sofia.

Day 18: All Day in Sofia.

Drive to the beautiful Vitosha Mountain and enjoy wild nature and crystal-clear air.
Sofia is the only European capital with a mountain and ski area so close to Sofia downtown.
The imposing Vitosha Mountain stands next to the capital city of Sofia; it is only 20 minutes drive from downtown.
Vitosha Mountain is the oldest nature park on the Balkan Peninsula. Its gorgeous silhouette is visible from almost all positions in the city and is inseparable part of Sofia’ image.
In 1934 with the active involvement of the Bulgarian nature-conservation society, part of the mountain of 6,600 ha was declared a park. Its boundaries have been changed many times and today encompass the entire mountain of 27,079 ha area. On the park’s territory 61 types of habitats were identified; among them of greatest interest as far as nature conservation goes are the natural spruce forests, the peat areas, the moraines and the caves.
Its numerous alleys and paths have turned it in to the local favorite park for walks and picnics. Green pine and oak forests, Moraine Rivers and stunning views are what’s in store for the tourists.
Drive back to Sofia.

Walk along Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia’s upscale pedestrian avenue.
We’ll take a sightseeing walk through downtown area to view some more emblematic architectural an historical buildings that illustrate Bulgaria’s long-lasting traditional ethnic and religious acceptance.
We will see the impressive Sephardic Synagogue, which is the third largest in Europe (next to the synagogues in Budapest and Amsterdam). The building was completed in 1912 and was designed by the Austrian architect Friedrich Gruenanger in a Spanish-Moresque and Byzantine style, preserving precisely the rules of Jewish monotheistic religion, while the temple resembles the Vienna synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis. Adjacent to the Synagogue is the unique Jewish Museum telling about the truly amazing story about the saving of the entire Jewish population in Bulgaria, amounting to 50 000 people, during the World War II. The Bulgarian people, led by their Orthodox Church Metropolitans Kiril and Stefan, stood in the way of the Nazi machine and ultimately not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported to Nazi death camps. Anti-Semitism never had roots in Bulgaria and Jews have always been an integral part of the Bulgarian society.
Close to the Synagogue is situated the beautiful Banya Bashi mosque which is one of the oldest in Europe. It was designed by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan and was completed in 1576. The name ‘banya bashi’ comes from the neighboring natural thermal spas, as in the Turkish language it means “a lot of baths”.

Overnight Sofia.

Day 19: Departure.
Breakfast. Transfer to Sofai airport for departure flight.

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