Essence of Bulgaria

Essence of Bulgaria

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 12 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Day 1: Arrival in Sofia
Arrive in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and transfer to the city centre. The rest of the day is at leisure, with no guided activities. If you wish to arrange extra sightseeing or excursions please get in touch prior to your departure. Overnight L’Opera Guest House or similar. No meals included today.

Day 2: Sofia
After breakfast take a walking city tour through the fascinating historical city of the capital. Starting with the golden-domed Aleksander Nevski Cathedral and Sveta Sofia, one of the capital’s oldest churches which gave the city its name. Walk by the fountain-splashed City Garden overlooked by the Neo-Classical National Theatre and continue to the vibrantly decorated Russian Church. Walking through the red-brick Market Hall, we arrive face to face with the third world’s largest Art-Nouveau Synagogue. After a traditional style lunch, continue to explore the capital at your own leisure. The evening is yours to discover the mouth-watering local culinary scene - your tour guide will provide you with recommendations. Overnight L’Opera Guest House or similar. (BL)

Day 3: Sofia – Rila Monastery – Melnik (Approx. driving time today: 3.5 hours – 4 hours)
Leaving Sofia behind, head to the majestic Rila Mountains. Visit Rila Monastery, the country’s most famous cultural heritage and also one of the most picturesque orthodox structures. Experience the tranquillity of the site and admire the magnificent church of Rozhdestvo Bogorodichno with its apocalyptic frescoes. Glance at the immense Monastery’s kitchen with its surprisingly gigantic cauldrons before taking an easy walk (flat terrain – distance: 3.5km) to the cave of St. John the Hermite of Rila. Lunch will be taken by the picturesque Rilska River before continuing our journey south. Notice the change in vegetation, shifting from pine forest to endless sunflower fields and a nice Mediterranean climate. Travelling through rolling landscapes, stop at lush Kresna gorge and soon thereafter emerge into the heart of the wine region, ending in Bulgaria’s smallest town - Melnik for our overnight stay. Overnight Rechen Rai Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 4: Melnik – Excursion to Rozhen Monastery (Approx. driving time today: 30 minutes)
This morning take a picturesque trail (gentle uphill on a marked path – maximum 2 hour walk), twisting through an acacia forest up to the highest part of intriguing natural rock formations known as the “sand pyramids”. Visit the 13th century Rozhen Monastery, located on a tranquil plateau with dramatic views over the region’s sandstone cliffs. Admire the ancient frescoes in the company of one of the monks before indulging in local cuisine at mehana (tavern) nearby in the village of Rohzen. Later in the afternoon, visit the home of one of the area’s wealthiest wine merchants, beautifully restored to its 19th century appearance. Here enjoy wine tasting in the natural cellars lying right beneath the building. Return to the hotel and any remaining time this afternoon is at leisure to stroll in the peaceful surroundings. Overnight Rechen Rai Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 5: Melnik – Kovachevitsa – Trigrad (Approx. driving time today: 3.5 hours)
Heading east from Melnik across the southern spur of the Pirin Mountains, access the foothills of the Rhodopes, a region studded with quaint traditional villages. Take a detour from the main road to the stone-built highland settlement of Kavachevitsa, gaining an insight into the everyday lives of the Rhodopi inhabitants – a mixture between Bulgarian Christians, Bulgarian Muslims, Pomaks and Turks who have co-existed peacefully for centuries. The village itself is an enchanting and peaceful architectural reserve, many artists from the capital retreat here during the weekend holidays. Explore the alpine style village with its stone tile roofs and small galleries, before continuing our journey to the pine-covered central Rhodopes, stopping en-route for lunch. Travelling through diverse landscapes of mountains, forests, rivers, lakes and valleys, arrive in the isolated picturesque village of Trigrad. Overnight Arkan Han Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 6: Trigrad Gorge – Yagodina – Eagle’s Eye viewpoint - Trigad (Approx. driving time today: 1.5 hours and optional: 40 minutes Jeep transfer on track)
Wake up to the sounds of nature, and after breakfast depart following the Trigradska River via the astounding 7-kilometer-long Trigrad Gorge, a nature reserve with numerous caves. Ascend through the Devil’s Throat boarded by its steep and dramatically narrow marble cliffs, and finally emerging at the pretty village of Yagodina. From here, take a walk down the spectacular stalagmite-filled Yagodina Cave. Stretching for about 10 km over five levels, we walk about 45 minutes through stunning galleries with interesting curtain-like rock formations comprising evidence of prehistoric occupation. Return to Yagodina for lunch and later this, embark on a 4WD Jeep for a 30-minute drive (one way) of steep ascent to the sightseeing Eagle’s Eye platform built at 1,563m above the sea level, next to the St Ilia peak. The walkable platform reveals a 680m shear drop looking down dramatically on Buynovsko Gorge. A breathtaking 360 degree panorama is revealed over the mountains in the distance. Look out for Golden Eagles which can sometimes be seen soaring on the thermals. Return to Trigrad, where a short cooking class (optional) can be arranged to learn how to make Banitsa, one of the most traditional and delicious Balkan specialties. Overnight Arkan Han Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 7: Trigrad – Gela - Shiroka Luka – Bachkovo Monastery – Asen’s Fortress - Plovdiv (Approx. driving time today: 3 hours)
Today we head north, to the architectural reserve of Shiroka Luka, nation-wide renowned for its folklore music academy and, in particular for its bagpipe tradition. Take a walk (easy walk on marked trail, soft ground – about 1h30 in total) through nice pastoral landscapes up to the small village of Gela, where lunch will be taken overlooking the valley. Descending to the delightful village of Shiroka Luka, we get the chance to meet Kalin, a bagpipe master, who will explain how to make the unique and traditional Kaba Gajda (literally “rude bagpipe”), and of course play a few tunes. Continuing via the famous Pamporovo ski resort, stop for a visit at the country’s second largest monastery, the Bachkovo Monastery, renowned for its fine architecture, sumptuous iconostasis and dramatic frescoes in the Church of Sveti Nikola. Finally, enter the Thracian Plain, stopping for a short visit to the medieval Asen’s fortress with its tiny church perched on high atop a steep rock. Later this afternoon, arrive in the beautiful city of Plovdiv, home to a host of Roman, Ottoman and 19th century Bulgarian architectural marvels. Overnight Evmolpia Boutique Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 8: Plovdiv
Revel today in the streets of Plovdid, starting this morning with a guided city tour within its romantic old town packed with colourful and creaky 19th century mansions. Visit the exquisite merchant house of Stepan Hindlian, built in 1835 and kept as original, walk by the impressive marble Roman amphitheatre, and enter the Cuma Cammi Mosque, dated from 1364. This afternoon is at your own leisure to explore the countless galleries, artisan’s workshops, and cafes hidden in the meandering cobblestone streets. Stunning views over Plovdid at sunset are not to be missed from the vantage point of Nebet Tepe. This evening, meet up with your guide again for a memorable dinner in a 19th century Dervish monastery now operating as a restaurant right in the heart of old Plovdiv. Overnight Evmolpia Boutique Hotel or similar. (BD)

Day 9: Plovdiv – Karlovo – Kalofer (Approx. driving time today: 1.5 hours)
Leaving Plovdiv and the Rhodopes Mountains behind, depart for the town of Karlovo, following the footprints of the 19th century revolutionary Vasil Levski. On arrival, take a walk in the old part of the city, protected as an architectural reserve and visit two of the most remarkable houses in the town. In Pateva House, enjoy for the first time the magic of locally produced roses and herbs, while in Buhalov Khan House we learn about the traditional art crafts and drink a Turkish coffee prepared on sand. Continue to the 15th century old Kurshum Mosque (literally meaning the “Bullet” mosque), named after its leaden roof and later, stop for local cheese tasting at a dairy shop before arriving in the city of Kalofer. Overnight Iliikova Guest House or similar. (BL)

Day 10: Kalofer Eco-trek walk – Kazanlak – Kalofer (Approx. driving time today: 1.5 hours)
After an early breakfast, start our morning at the heart of the Balkan Mountains with a scenic 1.5 hours walk (round-trip on marked path with a few stairs and moderate uphill – comfortable walking shoes with good grip recommended) above the White River crossing numerous wooden bridges. The views are spectacular and keep a close out for local flora and fauna. Later on, depart to the city of Kazanlak, famous for being the epicentre of the worldwide renowned Bulgarian rose oil production. Here we walk through the city Rose Park (Rosarium) and enter the recently opened Rose museum which gives excellent facts about the rose production. Later on, visit the superb Thracian tomb of Kazanlak, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This royal tomb reveals great examples of Early Hellenic mural depictions. Following the stairs outside of the tomb, visit the Ethnographic museum for rose liquor and rose jam degustation in a peaceful atmosphere. Return to Kalofer for the night. Overnight Iliikova Guest House or similar. (BL)

Day 11: Kalofer – Rose Valley - Sofia (Approx. driving time today: 2.5 hours)
After breakfast, pay a visit to a rose distillery in a local village. Nearby, stop at two micro-farms, where in one, observe the farmer producing white traditional cheese and in the other one, enjoy a nice break in the shadow of the trees at a small ostrich ranch. Later we continue back to Sofia and this evening enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight L’Opera Guest House or similar. (BLD)

Day 12: Departure from Sofia
The final day is at leisure until your transfer to the airport and you onward flight. If time allows you may wish to spend some more time wandering in the streets and observing the monuments of the capital. (B)