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12 Day Tour of Bulgaria, 2021

Itinerary: Sofia (2 nights) –Plovdiv (2 nights)-Stara Zagora (2 nights) - Varna (2 nights)-Veliko Tarnovo (2 nights) – Sofia (1 night)

Day 1: Arrival in Sofia, Bulgaria

Arrive at Sofia airport.Transfer Sofia airport - your hotel in Sofia.

Day 2: All Day in Sofia

Breakfast at the hotel.

Sofia has an ancient history. Numerous Neolithic villages have been discovered in the area, and a Chalcolithic settlement has been recently discovered in the very centre of the modern city. The Thracian Serdi tribe settled here in the 7th century BC, and they gave Sofia its first recorded name – Serdica. The Byzantines called it ‘Triaditsa’ and the Slavs, ‘Sredets’. In the third century AD, the Romans built strong walls around Serdica, their capital of Inner Dacia and an important stopping point on the Roman road from Naisus (present Nish, Serbia) to Constantinople.
Today we explore the main sites of Sofia.

We see the ruins of the Roman town and walk along the Roman streets, passing the temples of several different religions, located in this part of the town -"St. Nedelia"  - Eastern Orthodox churche, "St. Joseph" -a Roman Catholic church, Banya Bashi mosque and the Synagogue. We  visit Sofia’s ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex, which opened in April 2016. This new complex offers visitors a glimpse into the Bulgarian capital city’s ancient Roman past. The complex, largely below street level and covering an area of about 9000 square metres, includes eight streets and an early Christian basilica .
We then continue along the massive administrative buildings created by one of the first great projects of the Communist Party and pass by the office of the Bulgarian President. From here we will visit one of the oldest churches - the Rotunda of “St.George”.

We visit Sofia’s  fabulous National Archaeological Museum, which occupies a former Ottoman mosque in the heart of the city. This collection has priceless treasures from antiquity as well as the first and second Bulgarian kingdoms.

We follow the 'yellow- brick' road and  we visit the magnificent splendidly decorated Alexander Nevski Memorial Church built in the period 1904–1912 to the designs of the Russian architect Pomerantsev. Gold-domed, it is one of the most ambitious and richly elaborated churches in the Balkans. The interior decoration, with Italian marble, Egyptian alabaster, Brazilian onyx, gold and beautiful mosaics, embodies the spirit of the finest Eastern Orthodox traditions.

We walk along Battenberg Square with its emblematic landmark The former Royal Palace.
We see from outside The National Theatre designed by the architectural firm of Helmer & Felmer from Vienna. The style of the building is a mixture of the neo-Baroque and Secession style.
We see from outside The neo-Renaissance building of the Bulgarian Parliament /1884-1886/ designed by architect Konstantin Yovanovic.
We see from outside The Central Military Club, built in the same neo-Renaissance style.
We see from outside The Sofia University, spectacular designed by the French architect Breansson.

Drive to the outskirts of Sofia, at the footstep of Vitosha mountain. 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 in Sofia

Day 3: Travel: Sofia - Rila Monastery, UNESCO Site – Plovdiv

Breakfast at the hotel.

Depart Sofia for Plovdiv. En route we’ll visit Rila Monastery, UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 120 km (75 miles) south of Sofia 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, 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 our scenic drive through the mountains.

Arrive Plovdiv and check in at your hotel.

Overnight in Plovdiv

D4: All day Plovdiv

Breakfast at the hotel.

Plovdiv is majestic! If you love art and Roman archaeology - this is a fantastic place.
Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest city and the sixth oldest city in the world.
The ancient Greek poet Lucian described ancient Plovdiv as “the greatest and loveliest of all cities”.
Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second biggest city, which treasures a history that goes back thousands of years, traces of which have survived to the present day. The Thracians founded Plovdiv during the Neolithic period in the 2nd millennium BC. Later, during the period of the Roman Empire, it was a major centre of the province of Thrace; many archaeological finds dating from the 2nd – 3rd century, testify for those glorious times.

Walk along the fascinating Old Plovdiv.
The Old Quarter was built in the 18th-19th centuries as the centre 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.
We will visit the Roman period archaeological finds and sites, dating from the 2nd – 3rd century: the Forum, the Stadium, the Fortress Walls, and, above all, the fabulous Roman Amphitheatre, which was built during the time of Emperor Trajan (98-117). It has 28 rows with tiers of marble seats, which can accommodate over 3 500 spectators and today is still functioning.
We will immerse in the majestic atmosphere of the Old Town with the spectacular architecture of the National Revival Period (18th – 19th century), will visit two house museums in the Old town.

Plovdiv and the region around Plovdiv – attracts  investors from all over the world. Plovdiv is the industrial Capital of Bulgaria. About 140 modern, top class factories are built around Plovdiv. (Investment Destination Plovdiv.)

Overnight in Plovdiv

D5: Travel: Plovdiv - Hissarya - Kazanlak - Stara Zagora

Breakfast at the hotel.

Depart Plovdiv for Stara Zagora.

En route  visit Hissarya.

North of Plovdiv and west of Stara Zagora lies the quiet, rather sleepy village of Hissar (modern Hissarya) a Late Roman spa town, where we will see the remains of the fortifications and baths.

 Already during the second century AD, there were Roman baths here and at least one temple dedicated to the water nymphs. No doubt the healing properties of the water encouraged visitors to the region and accounts for its early prosperity. However, it is as a late Roman city that Hissar is best known. We do not know for certain the name of this ancient city but it is probably Diocletianopolis, founded by Emperor Diocletian c. AD 300.

Continue our picturesque drive to the famous Valley of Roses to explore the town of Kazanlak. The Valley of Roses is the home of the exquisite Bulgarian rose oil, also known as "attar of roses," and is Bulgaria's major center of rose oil production. We'll visit a rose oil distillery in the area to learn about centuries-long traditions of rose oil production and its modern development.

The area around Kazanlak became famous for recent breathtaking archaeological finds dating back to the golden times of the Thracian city of Seuthopolis, and therefore has been named Valley of the Thracian Kings. Here we'll learn about Thracian history and culture and will visit the replica site of the world-famous 4th century BC Thracian tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Next, we visit the Goliama Kosmatka (‘Big Hairy’) Mound ( original tomb). Inside is situated one of the most majestic and rich Thracian tombs with a completely preserved grave of a Thracian king, buried with his horse. It was built in the 5th century BC and consists of three chambers and a corridor with a total length of 26 metres. The first room is rectangular, and a skeleton of a horse has been discovered in it. The second room is round, with a beautiful 450-centimetre-tall dome-shaped roof. There is a marble door with images of people at the

entrance of this room. The third room is actually a monolithic granite block – a sarcophagus weighing about sixty tons.

Next we visit Shusmanentz Tomb ( original tomb) in Kazanlak. The Thracian tomb in Shushmanets was built to be a temple in the 4th century BC and then turned into a burial chamber supported by an elegant Doric column with Ionic capital.

Continue scenic drive. On our way to Stara Zagora, stop in Shipka, a Russian Church, officially opened in 1902 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Battles of Shipka Pass. The 17 bells, the biggest of which weighs almost 12 tons were cast from fired cartridges gathered on the battlefield during the severe battles of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.  The architecture mirrors 17th -century Russian church architecture with golden domes, lovely multi-colored wall paintings and an iconostasis lavishly enhanced with gilded wood-carvings.  We will proceed to Stara Zagora

Arrive Stara Zagora.

Overnight in Stara Zagora

D6: All day Stara Zagora & Karanovo

Breakfast at the hotel.

We visit the best-preserved prehistoric site in Europe- Neolithic dwelling museum ( closed Sunday and Monday). The site, now incorporated into a purpose-built museum, consists of the remains of two dwellings. These are so extraordinarily well preserved that it is possible to discern where people stored food, cooked and performed other household tasks, and slept. Within these spaces lies a large amount of pottery which was used for a variety of purposes.

We visit the local Archaeology Museum and the remains of the Roman Forum and Thermae as well as some excellently preserved mosaics located inside the city’s post office.

Continue to Karanovo and see its two main sites: Karanovo mound, the largest settlement mound in the territory of Europe, and Karanovo Thracian chariot tomb. In 2009, during excavations inside another tomb, there was a remarkable discovery. Along with a wealth of gold and silver items a preserved 2,500 year old Thracian chariot with elaborate bronze decorations and the upright skeletons of two horses that would have pulled it. A dog was chained to the cart, and nearby was the burial of what was most likely the owner along with his armor and swords. The person buried there was obviously very wealthy – two silver chalices were found, both inscribed with the image of the god Eros, along with unique glass plates, warrior’s accoutrements, coins, silver anklets, and gold rings. Return to Stara Zagora and visit the remains of the Roman Forum and Thermae as well as some excellently preserved mosaics located inside the city’s post office.

Overnight in Stara Zagora

D7: Travel: Stara Zagora - Nessebar - Varna

Breakfast at the hotel.

Depart Stara Zagora for Varna.

En route visit the old city of Nessebar , UNESCO Site and its fine churches. Founded by Megarans, who called it Messembria, it prospered as the only Dorian colony on the Black Sea; all other colonies here were Ionian. Conquered by Rome in the 1st century BC, it remained a substantial Byzantine city until incorporated into the first Bulgarian kingdom by Khan Kroum (812 AD). It was at this time that many of the city’s myriad churches were built.

We visit the Archaeology museum of Nessebar.

Continue scenic drive to Varna. Arrive Varna.

Overnight in Varna

D8: All day Varna

Breakfast at the hotel.

We will visit:

The fabulous History and Archaeological Museum which treasures the amazing collection of the ‘Oldest Gold’ in the world. ( the museum is closed Sunday, Monday).These remarkable artefacts (unearthed in 1972 in a local necropolis) date from 4600-4200 BC and have been classified by renowned international archaeologists as the oldest golden objects in the world’ discovered so far. The fabulous Varna archaeology museum houses the internationally renowned ‘Varna Gold', the oldest gold in the world and Europe's most ancient civilization, even older than the Mesopotamian and the Egypt civilization. Some 4,600 years BC, a mysterious civilization emerged on the shores of lakes near the Black Sea—not far from the modern-day city of Varna. For its time, this Varna culture was amazingly advanced, both culturally and technologically. The first evidence of its existence was found in lovely ceramics, bone and stone idols and copper tools. Then an astounding chance discovery came to light, making headlines around the world. Just a few kilometres from Varna was a Copper Age necropolis (cemetery) containing the oldest gold objects ever discovered. Between 4600 and 4200 BC, long before Mesopotamia or the Egypt of the pyramids, goldsmithing first began on the shores of the Black Sea, in the land that is today Bulgaria. Study of the 300 or so graves in the Varna I necropolis showed that there was a highly structured society here in the Copper Age. The richest graves contained gold diadems and sceptres, heavy copper axes and spear points, elegant finery and richly decorated ceramics. A large amount of shell jewellery was evidence of trade with the South, for the molluscs in question were from the Mediterranean. The necropolis contained more than three thousand golden objects together weighting 6 kg (13.2 lb) Two large ceramic plates are also beyond our knowledge of this age- they are decorated with stylized geometrical pattern executed in golden paint. The archaeologists point out that the find of Varna Copper Age necropolis was as important as the discovery of Heinrich Schliemann at ancient Troy and that Varna necropolis is at least 1500 years older than Troy.

In the afternoon we drive some 18 kilometres west of Varna to visit one of Europe’s two deserts (the other is in Spain) to explore the ‘stone forest’ known as Pobiti Kamani, translated to English as ‘hammered stones’. The desert consists of sand dunes from which, over an area of 13 square kilometres, protrude myriad hollow stone columns that are between 5 and 7 metres high and from 0.3 to 3 metres thick. For centuries this extraordinary forest of stones was thought to be man-made, and myths proliferated about their origins. They are now known to be natural underwater chimneys. Some 590 million years ago, when much of Bulgaria and Romania were beneath the sea, gases were released from the seabed to rise through the layers of sludge as bubbles. As the sludge hardened to a crust these bubbles would force their way up through flues in the layers of sediment, and over millions of years these created a series of stone ‘chimneys’. When the sea finally receded the area dried to form a barren, sandy landscape. Much of the limestone was eroded away, leaving only solitary stone chimneys rising out of the desert.

Overnight in Varna

D9: Travel: Varna –Sveshtary -Madara- Veliko Tarnovo

Breakfast at the hotel.

Depart Varna for Veliko Tarnovo .

En route visit Sveshtary Tomb, UNESCO World Heritage Site. (closed Monday, Tuesday)

En route visit Madara Rock Cut Relief, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sveshtary Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (4th - 3rd centuries BC), a UNESCO World Heritage Site,unanimously consideredmiracle of Thracian sepulchral architecture, was discovered below Ginina Mogila mound in 1982 during regular archaeological excavations.

Built of large limestone blocks, it consists of a ‘dromos’ (corridor) and three premises (chambers), each of which is covered by a separate vault. The decoration of the central (burial) chamber is exceptionally rich. Four different Doric and one Corinthian column support a frieze with triglyphs and metopes, between those there are ten female figures (caryatids) with uplifted arms and above them, in the lunette of the vault, is the picturesque scene of deification of the deceased ruler. A massive decorative stone door (naiskos) hid the burial bed from the eyes of the mortals.

A second humbler bed was designed for the beloved wife, who also followed the deceased in his afterlife, while his favorite horses were laid in the lateral chamber and in front of the entrance to the antechamber. Owing to its remarkable architecture and artistic decoration, in 1985 the Sveshtari tomb joined the world cultural and historic heritage under the protection of UNESCO.

A remarkable monument of Thracian art, perfect as architecture, it amazes both with its wealth of sculptural ornaments – the caryatides below the vault, rosettes, styled ox heads, garlands, colonnades, as well ritual of harmonization painted in vibrant colors.

The Madara Horseman rock-cut relief ( 8th century), a UNESCO World Heritage Siteis a relief cut into the rocks, a unique monument both for Bulgaria and for Europe, created in the 8th century. The relief is located in the vicinity of the town of Shumen, hewn out at a height of 23 m above the basis of a rocky formation. It depicts a triumphant ruler in a symbolic hunting scene. The horseman has spread a lion /symbolizes a powerful enemy/ with his lance. He is being followed by a dog /symbolizes his loyal people/, and led by a bird. The figures are almost of life-size and the scene covers some 40 sq meters. The figures are surrounded by inscriptions in Greek, telling about important events that happened in the period 705 - 831.

The sacred rocks of the Madara plateau and the caves inside them were a major spiritual center during the period of the First Bulgarian State (681-1085).

Continue drive to Veliko Tarnovo. Arrive Veliko Tarnovo.

Overnight in Veliko Tarnovo

D10: All day Veliko Tarnovo & Arbanassi

Breakfast at the hotel.

The old quarter of Veliko Turnovo is one of the most dramatically situated towns in the world. Its houses cling to the steep sides of three hills in the Tsarevets Massif overlooking the Yantra River, interspersed with highly evocative fortifications. Le Corbusier saw the town as a stunning example of organic architecture. Veliko Turnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom which held sway between 1185 and 1396 and then became a centre of resistance against the Turks. It is also surrounded by monasteries and small towns huddled in the mountains which were founded when the town’s aristocracy left the city after it was finally conquered by Ottoman forces. Veliko Turnovo is dominated by the medieval citadel of Tsarevets, which we view from nearby hills. Its profile is inflected by the highly evocative Baldwin’s Tower which takes its name from the fact that the first Frankish emperor of Byzantium, Baldwin of Flanders, was incarcerated here in 1205 (the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade had sacked Constantinople a year earlier and set up a western kingdom there).

We visit Tzarevetz Hill.

We then drive the short distance to the picturesque mountaintop village of Arbanassi. Arbanassi’s wealthy merchants, aristocrats who had fled the capital below, built large, fortress-like stone houses around a beautiful urban centre endowed with churches, chapels and public drinking fountains. We spend the afternoon visiting the village. Here we shall visit the lovely Church of the Holy Nativity. Its exterior has little that is church-like, as it had to conform to Ottoman restrictions on church-building. But within the walls everything changes. Every centimetre of its interior is covered by brilliantly coloured frescoes, one of the most extensive Byzantine iconographic cycles in existence.

Drive back to Veliko Tarnovo and walk along the vibrant Samovodene market street.

Overnight in Veliko Tarnovo

 

D11: Travel Veliko Tarnovo - Troyan Monastery- Oreshak- Sofia

 

Breakfast at the hotel.

Depart Veliko Tarnovo for Sofia.

En route visit Troyan Monastery and the charming village of Oreshak.The Troyan Monastery as a monastery complex is the third in size in Bulgaria, a remarkable monument of culture of national significance. It is situated in the beautiful valley of the river Cherni Osam.According to the historical documents, the monastery was first founded in 1600 and reconstructed in the period 1830 – 1865 in its present look. The most significant architectural and cultural monument is the main church “The Assumption of Virgin Mary”.The interior and the exterior of the church are painted in frescos by Zahari Zograf by the Samokov School. The wall-paintings in the church are a rich gallery of the art of Zahari Zograf (1810 – 1853), a top of his art. Along with the presented Bible scenes, he had left a wonderful self-portrait, portraits of donors, the images of St. Cyril and St. Similarly to other Bulgarian monasteries, this one also has its own miraculous icon, which arrived in the holy monastery during the time of its creation, and is called “St. Mary Troeruchitsa” (Three-handed Virgin Mary). The icon was kept in the monastery until the 13th century, after which it was carried over to Serbia. It was returned back in the monastery in 17th century.

We visit The National Exhibition of Popular and Artistic Craft located in the village of Oreshak.

This is the only exhibition in the country, which has gathered all the works of Bulgarian artists of all ethnographic regions in Bulgaria in one place.

The exposition includes ten exhibition halls on an area of 4,200 square meters. The exhibition presents unique fretworks, traditional Bulgarian handmade rugs, straw-mats, articles made of ceramics, copper vessels, knitting works and embroidery works.

Continue drive to Sofia. Arrive in Sofia.

Overnight in Sofia

D12: Airport transfer, departure

Breakfast at the hotel.

Transfer your hotel in Sofia- Sofia airport.

End of the program.

Tour cost:

Group size:
Minimum number of guests: 2 guests
Per person in double/twin standard room sharing € 2 590.00

The price includes:
1. Accommodation 11 nights at centrally located 3-star hotels (taxes included)
2. Meals: all breakfasts at hotels.
3. Transportation by private A/C car/van.
4. Bilingual private local English speaking tour guide-driver throughout. The guide will drive.
5. Entrance fees to museums and sites as per itinerary
6. Comprehensive information package about Bulgarian history, culture and language

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