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Explore the unique charm of Bulgaria – this colorful bit of the Balkans that was object of many a conquest.
The oldest European country to survive historical turbulence without a name change, it is a gold mine of architectural treasures and intriguing stories. Lush forests covering much of its hilly terrain hide majestic monasteries, ancient Thracian tombs and other marvels that bore witness to days gone by. Because these are spread all over the country, this round trip gives you the opportunity to see Bulgaria’s most stunning sites and get to know its multiethnic origins on the 8-Days: Bulgaria’s Cultural Treasures Tour.
Sofia International Airport
3 Hours Before Flight Time
Landing in Sofia means one thing: you’re drawn into the heart and soul of the Balkans. It’s a city of colors and the point of convergence for many cultures. From Sofia airport where you arrive today our representative assists you to the hotel. After check-in, it is over to the guide to show you around the capital city of Bulgaria. The architectural landscape bears witness to the country’s rich and turbulent history that goes back to 8 BC. Located at the feet of Mount Vitosha, Sofia is a mixture of the ancient and modern, surrounded by parks, cozy restaurants and easygoing ambiance, with museums, galleries, restaurants and clubs accommodate all tastes.
Unafraid use of colour says much about the region’s character and history and proudly manifests itself especially in Bulgarian sacred architecture. The Rila monastery, which you reach after approximately two-hour drive from Sofia, is a great introduction to the eastern orthodox tradition. This monastic complex, is the most famous and largest of the country’s historical sites and figures on UNESCO Word Heritage list. A beautiful example of Bulgarian Renaissance, it was erected in the picturesque surroundings of forest-clad mountains where, in the middle ages, a hermit lived in a nearby cave. The monastery itself was built by his followers who’d venture up the mountains to seek his wisdom and teachings. The pious man wouldn’t have suspected that it was to play such an important role in preserving the coutry’s culture and national identity during the Ottoman rule. On the premises you have the opportunity to visit the church, an authentic monk cell, the refectory and Jrelio tower. Later you return to Sofia for a night of rest.
he seven hills surrounding Plovdiv make this second largest city in Bulgaria a sister of Rome. Or, a step-sister: Because the landscape was not impervious to the caprices of its communist rulers who on an occasion decided to flatten one, you can now see only six slopes. The city itself has historically cosmopolitan character and remains a source of inspiration for many a contemporary artist residing here. And no wonder. Today after brakfast you can see that the old town is very much alive with its Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and Bulgarian antiquities, a vibrant art scene and a splendid Roman amphitheatre that still gathers crowds around performances. In the afternoon you visit another impressive monastery. The grounds of Bachkovo stretch over 35km making it the second largest monk dwelling of the country. A combination of Byzantine, Georgian and Bugarian traditions, the massive structure is much more sparse in ornamentation. Its thick stone walls seem to pronounce the word ‘faith’ in capital letters. At one point the Bachovski cloister played a truly ungodly role becoming the prison of the last Bulgarian Patriarch Euthymius. But its importance was never underestimated. Throughout centuries, donations from many benefactors poured in and gave the monastery its current form. You can even spot murals of 19th century prominent bulgarian artist, Zahari Zograf. Still, the most treasured item is the miraculous 14th century icon of Virgin Mary Eleusa. The legend has it that since two Georgian travelers offered it to local monks, the diseased and suffering pilgrims can be healed just by touching it. You can hear all the stories of this place before returning to your hotel in Plodviv.
After breakfast you journey south of central Bulgaria to find yourself in Kazanlak – a region famous for its flower. It is said that it was Alexander the Great who brought the Damascean rose from Persia. As time and local cultivators took care of the rest, the region became known as the Rose Valley and the rose – one of the national symbols. This and other fascinating stories you discover in Kazanlak city which is also home to a well-preserved Thracian tomb. A short ride away, you have the chance to visit the beautiful Shipka monastery from the turn of the 20th century. It was dedicated to the Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian soldiers who wrestled the country back from Ottoman rulers. After such a healthy dose of Balkan history you continue to your hotel in Veliko Tarnovo to spend the night.
Perched on a hill over the Yantra River, Veliko Tarnovo is doubtless one of the most picturesque cities you visit. It was once the capital of medieval Bulgaria and the spirit of the tsars can still be felt in its winding cobbled streets that lead you to the magnificent Tsarevets Fortress. Bits and pieces of history are also to be found in its centuries-old churches and charming houses. In the afternoon you head to Arbanassi – an impressive small village with traditional Bulgarian houses and and religions monuments with decorative mural paintings, and icons. Back in Veliko Tarnovo it’s time for shopping in the Samovodksa Charshiya Street where you can find a variety of art craft and handmade souvenirs. Shall you fancy a presentation of Bulgarian history in the form of ligh and sound show in the Zarevtz hill, you can crown your evening with this optional program for an additional fee before you return to your hotel for well-deserved rest.
Veliko Tarnovo area abounds in treasures of monastic architecture and after breakfast you visit a score of impressive sancturaries: Kilifarevo, Dryanovo, St. Peter and Paul and the Transfiguration monasteries, among many others. Each one with a unique history of creation, accompanying legends no less vivid than its ornamentations. This truly enriching tour ends late in the afternoon with time for relaxation at your hotel.
In the morning, en route to Sofia, you stop at the Troyan Monastery – an impressive medieval complex with an exceptional church. Its outter walls are covered in Zahari Zograf’s breathtaking frescos depicting the apocalypse. Inside, you can admire a beautifully-crafted wood altar and iconostasis. As you know by now- Eastern European monasteries were more than houses of prayer. The Troyan one, for instance, became the centre of revolutionary activity against the Turks back in the 19th century. With your mind nurished, you can now respond to more earthly needs and have lunch in the monastery area before journeying on to Sofia. Arriving in the capital late in the afternoon, you have some free time to roam the city before calling it a night- your last in Bulgaria. Optionally, we can arrange for a traditional dinner at a local restaurant, which includes the specialities of Bulgarian cuisine and a folkloric program.
Today after breakfast, packed and rested, you are accompanied by our representative to the airport. With countless photographs to tell the wonderful story you’ve lived in this exceptional part of the world, you’re now ready to head back home.