Explore cultural and architectural delights of Sofia on a tour with a local guide, stopping along the way to indulge in local delicacies like shopska (cucumber salad), ukanka (semi-dried salami) and wine.. Step back in time and onto cobbled streets in the open-air ethnographic museums in Plovdiv and Etar, where vintage machinery and traditional craftspeople contribute to living history.. Observe the architectural grand jewels of Turkey from the water during a cruise along the narrow Bosphorus strait that bisects the city and separates Europe and Asia…… Nis, rich in a history of Serbian rebellion, demands to be explored with a local. Let a passionate guide tell you the stories of their city while they show you the sights.
Embrace romance on this 16-day tour through Serbia and Bulgaria that finishes in Istanbul. Explore whimsical villages like Drvengrad, wander glorious Serbian meadows in Tara National Park, and learn about Serbian identity in Nis. In Bulgaria, be charmed by the hearty food and opulent buildings of Sofia, discover a 10th-century monastery in the Rila Mountains, and spend three nights on the Black Sea Coast. With local guides to illuminate the historic sights and cities along the way, this trip is a feast of ancient cultures, untouched wilderness and some of the best food and drink in Europe.
Breakfast Included: 15 Lunches Included: 3 Dinner Included: 6
Welcome to Belgrade, one of the oldest cities in Europe. Enjoy an included airport transfer to your hotel from Belgrade airport. Your adventure officially begins this evening at 6 pm at a welcome meeting, followed by an included dinner with your fellow travellers and tour leader. Get to know each other over some Serbian food and perhaps enjoy a glass of Slivovitz (Serbian brandy) later on.
Belgrade / Drvengrad
The morning is yours to do as you please. Perhaps take a wander through the historic, bohemian Skadarlija street and imagine life as an impoverished 20th-century poet. In the afternoon, travel by private vehicle to Drvengrad (4 hours). This traditional-style Serbian village was constructed under the direction of filmmaker Emir Kusturica, inspired by the ancient city of Ephesus, his memories of pre-war Sarajevo and a utopian ideal of village life. Kusturica’s film Life is a Miracle (2004) was filmed in Drvengrad and the town has since hosted several festivals. Spend the evening at your feature stay in this whimsical village, where the streets are named for revolutionaries and artists.
Tara National Park / Drvengrad
This morning you will further immerse yourself in antiquity with a ride on the Sargan Eight Railway. Board this old-fashioned train and travel along a narrow-gauge railway, which snakes (in the shape of a figure eight) around the mountain. Views of woodland and small villages greet you as you gaze out the window while the train slowly gains 300 metres in altitude. Your included lunch today is a real treat – a leisurely Serbian gastronomy experience with a cooking class hosted by a local villager, specialising in Western Serbian Cuisine. You can expect to prepare a range of typical dishes which may include some of the following, depending on seasonality: muckalica (barbequed meat and vegetable stew) or the vegetarian equivalent (duvec), burek (pastries, filled and baked), gibanica (cheese and egg pastry dish), cakes and preserves. All ingredients are locally grown and sourced. The experience is part of a locally developed sustainable tourism initiative, which is hoped to replace more impactful economical activities such as logging and hunting, and preserve local cultural heritage. The income the family receives from our visit stays within the community. After lunch, explore the serene Tara National Park on a 2-hour hike to the spongy meadows of Red Creek natural reserve. After your hike, return to Drvengrad for the evening and enjoy an included dinner in this unique village.
Make the approximately 4.5-hour journey from Drvengrad to Nis by private vehicle, breaking up the drive with some stops along the way. On arrival in Nis, set out on a guided tour of the city with a passionate local. Nis has a rich history, occupied by the Romans, the Slavs and the Ottoman Turks, among others. The city was the staging ground for numerous Serbian rebellions and uprisings until it was absorbed by the Serbian state in 1878. Continue to Bubanj Memorial Park to observe the Three Fists monument, dedicated to the memory of local people executed in WWII. Enjoy a free evening to explore or relax in Nis. Perhaps ask your leader to point you in the direction of Tinkers Alley – a great place to grab a meal or sit and people watch.
Leave Nis behind to and make the 3-hour drive to Sofia, a city where Soviet, Ottoman, Russian and Bulgarian Renaissance influence is evident in the architecture. In the afternoon embark on an Urban Adventures tour of the city with a local guide, learning history while you sample local food and drinks. Wonder at icons like the National Theatre and King’s Palace and refuel with snacks such as shopska (cucumber salad) and a glass of ayran (yoghurt drink). This 3-hour tour offers a fantastic introduction to the cultural and culinary delights of Sofia, after which you are free to explore on your own.
Enjoy an entire day to explore Sofia at your leisure. Bulgaria's capital is a cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and pleasant parks. There are a number of optional activities today that your leader can help you parse, so remember to ask them for advice. Maybe begin with a browse around the cured meats and cheese of the Central Market Hall, then take a walk through the city and see the gold-domed Alexander Nevski Church. You might want to sate your cultural curiosity at the National History Museum, discover artefacts from the many empires of old that have occupied the city at the National Archaeological Museum, or get cultural at the National Art Gallery. The Museum of Socialist Art is an interesting place to spend an hour or two observing propaganda and other works from Bulgaria’s time as a Communist state. Or perhaps head to Vitosha Boulevard to wander and sip coffee. In the evening why not meet up with your group for dinner.
Rila Mountains / Plovdiv
Travel into the Rila Mountains on a 2-hour drive through incredible scenery to the Rila Monastery. Founded in the 10th century by canonised hermit St John of Rila, the complex has architectural features that span from the 11th to the 19th century. Spend some time wandering under the curved arches and admiring colourful frescoes at the monastery, then continue driving to Plovdiv (approximately 4.5 hours) past lakes, farmland and scenic rural scenes. Arrive in Plovdiv and in the evening. If you have the energy, why not ask your leader where to grab a bite to eat. Plovdiv is a fairly relaxed city with a great casual dining scene.
Bachkovo / Plovdiv
Spend the morning on a tour of Plovdiv with a local guide, getting a feel for the city’s history and culture. Visit the Plovdiv Regional Ethnographic Museum, housed in a stately 19th-century home. Continue to Yustina Winery for lunch. There is a proud tradition of winemaking in the Balkans and you’ll have the opportunity to try a few local varieties during your meal. In the afternoon visit the Bachkovo Monastery, a handsome stone building set over a ledge atop a valley. The 17th-century Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa features frescoes painted by Bulgarian master Zahari Zograf, in addition to many other beautiful murals in the complex. Return to Plovdiv for the evening.
Spend the day as you please in Plovdiv. Perhaps walk through the Old Town to Nebet Tepe, a hilltop lookout where the remains of a fortress can be found. From the hill the views of the city are spectacular, and the unassuming ruins offer a little slice of ancient life from one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Then maybe return to the Old Town and grab a coffee or a beer and watch the world go by. Plovdiv is perfect for you to aimlessly wander through its narrow alleyways to see traditional coppersmiths, farriers and potters at work, or browse through the myriads of antique shops lining the streets. Alternatively discover one of the many hot springs in the Plovdiv region. One of the most well-known spa towns is Hisarya, famous for its 22 mineral springs. Your leader will be on hand to help you organise transportation to get there. No matter what you do remember to embrace aylyak – roughly translated as a state of relaxation and openness – while you’re here.
Take a 3-hour journey to Veliko Tarnovo, stopping en route at Etar Ethnographic Village. Founded in the 1960s, this open-air museum recreates a typical Bulgarian town from the late 18th century. It features wooden bridges leading over streams, traditional craftspeople forging their wares, traditional shops and a tavern and a working water mill. Spend some time here in the past, then continue to Veliko Tarnovo, arriving in time for an optional lunch with the group. In the afternoon, explore Tsarevets Fortress – a medieval stronghold – with a local guide. The fortress, restored to its 14th-century glory, is home to the remains of a monastery, houses, workshops and churches from between the 12th and 14th centuries.
Veliko Tarnovo / Sozopol
Spend the morning as you please in Veliko Tarnovo. Located seven kilometres north of the city is the Transfiguration Monastery, a small complex that nonetheless features some frescoes by Zahari Zograf in a peaceful environment. Ask your leader about how to organise a taxi if you wish to visit before you leave town. In the afternoon, take a 4-hour private transfer to Sozopol. Seaside Sozopol is your introduction to the glorious Bulgarian Coast. Enjoy an included dinner with your group and embrace the breezy lifestyle of the seaside.
Bulgarian Coast / Sozopol
Embark on a day trip to the coastal hinterland. Just a few kilometres from town, see the fantastical Castle of Ravadinovo, designed by Georgi Kostadinov Tumpalov in a whimsical fairy-tale style. Spend some time exploring inside and in the extravagant gardens, wandering over arched bridges and admiring the peacocks and swans that roam. Continue to the Ropotamo Nature Reserve and set off on a boat tour of the park’s eponymous river. Cruise through the peaceful marshes and observe forest flowers and (if you’re lucky) perhaps turtles and waterbirds. Return to Sozopol for the evening.