June 12, Sunday: Depart from USA
Day 1: June 13 – Monday
Upon arrival in Sofia you will be met by a representative from Lyuba Tours who will take you to our centrally located hotel.. Free time to shower, nap, do whatever to start recovery after the long trip to Bulgaria. Dinner at “Beyond the Alley, Behind the Cupboard” restaurant. Overnight at Grand Hotel Sofia (+359 2 811 07 70).
Day 2: June 14- Tuesday
Buffet breakfast at the hotel (every morning on tour).
9:00am Walking tour of center of Sofia including the Rotunda St. George (4th Century -the oldest building in Sofia), the archeological remains of the Eastern Gate of the fortress wall (2nd to 9th century) and visit the Archaeological Museum. Lunch independent. (Our guide will make restaurant recommendations.) After lunch, coach transfer to Boyana Residential area (about 30 min. drive) to visit the famous church with frescoes from 13th century, one of extraordinary art history monuments in Bulgaria, Continue with visit to the National History Museum to help get an understanding of Bulgaria. On the way back to the hotel we will make a short stop at the Flea Market of Antiques, St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral and Basilica of St. Sofia (6th century). Return to the hotel for some free time before dinner. 8.00pm- Dinner at restaurant with folklore program. Overnight at Grand Hotel Sofia.
Day 3: June 15 -Wednesday
9:00am – Depart Sofia and drive to the Rila monastery (2 hours), considered the Living Heart of Bulgaria. The monastery is included in the World Heritage List of Monuments of UNESCO. You will visit the richly painted church of the mid 19th century, the old kitchen and the museum containing the monastery treasures. Lunch independent near the monastery. In the afternoon we will proceed to the town of Bansko, today one of the famous ski resorts of Bulgaria. It was for centuries a prosperous merchant town, trading in cotton, tobacco, silk, and wine between Northern Greece to Central Europe. Parts of the Old town still exist where there are numerous taverns and fortress-like houses. Dinner at nearby pub. Overnight in Hotel Sofia – Bansko (+359-7443-83-62).
Day 4: June 16- Thursday
10:00am – Walking tour along the cobblestone streets of Bansko, including a visit to the Master Velyan house (over 200 years old ) and the Church of Trinity from 1835. We will then drive to Pirin Mountain for a picnic lunch prepared by the “Bansko Grannies.” These elderly ladies will prepare traditional dishes for our picnic table—and later entertain us! After our picnic, the fit among us can take an optional hike to the upper part of the mountain with a local guide. Return to Bansko for free evening. For dinner (independent), there are many excellent pubs in Bansko. Overnight in Hotel Sofia – Bansko.
Day 5: June 17 – Friday
Depart to Plovdiv (5 hours) via the town of Velingrad and the beautiful mountain pass of Belitsa and Yakouruda. We will pass by the Muslim villages with Bulgarian Pomacs – a group of people who are Muslims, but speak the Bulgarian language. They converted to the Muslim religion during the Ottoman period. For lunch we will stop at the town of Pazardjik. After lunch we will visit the Church of the Virgin Mary with many wood carved iconstasis from first part of the 19th century. The numerous wooden figures of saints and prophets represent scenes from the Old and New Testament. We will arrive in Plovdiv at about 4:00pm. Free time for the rest of the day and evening. Optional dinner at Panorama restaurant on the top floor of the hotel, or other selected restaurants in Plovdiv. Our guide will provide suggestions. Overnight in Hotel Trimontsium – Plovdiv (+359 32 605 000).
Day 6: June 18- Saturday
9:00am- Morning sightseeing of Old Town of Plovdiv with early and mid-19th century houses, representing traditional Bulgarian Revival architecture and decorations. We will also visit the Roman theater that dates from the 2nd century AD. It is one of the best-preserved Roman theaters in Europe. The churches of Old town are famous for their carved iconostasis and beautiful icons. We will be able to visit some of them during the tour. Free time at the numerous antique shops along the cobbled streets. Following lunch near the monastery, we will visit the Bachkovo monastery (11th century)-the second biggest in Bulgaria, famous for its amazing frescoes from the 17, 18, and 19th centuries. With special permission we can visit the Ossuary with the frescoes from 11-14th century. The visit to the Ossuary is optional. At 6:00pm we will drive to the Winery of Todoroff in the village of Brestovitsa near Plovdiv (about 1 hour drive from the monastery) to have a wine tasting of boutique young wines of the region. Return drive to Plovdiv (about 45 minutes) Evening free. Overnight in Hotel Trimontsium -Princess – Plovdiv.
Day 7: June 19- Sunday
Today you have two options, both included on the tour. Some people can choose to stay one more day in Plovdiv to enjoy the pedestrian street with numerous cafes, shops, restaurants, to visit the Turkish Mosque of early 15th century. The rock and rubble crowd can choose to see the recently excavated (2000) site of Perpericon, which was connected with the cult to the goddess mother and her son, the god, Dyonisius.The program is as follows: Drive south to get to the district of Kurdjali (about 2.5 hours). Near the village of Gorna Krepost are remains of the Holy Thracian center with a palace, dated 2nd Millennium BC. Now, here is the down side: You have to hike to the top of the hill where the ruins are excavated, about a 30 – 40 minute hike. Please note that Perpericon is recently excavated and the infrastructure for easy access for tourists is not yet in place. Our guide will be one of the archaeologists who participated in the excavations. You will be one of the first visitors who will be able to see this archaeological site with historical importance. (On a personal note, it was here that Alexander the Great heard from the Oracle that he would conquer the known world. I did not need an oracle to inform me that my legs were not as strong as they used to be.) We will arrange for a modestly priced (pay independently) picnic lunch prepared by the mayor of the village of Gorna Krepost. Drive back to Plovdiv. Dinner (for everyone) at A La Frangitet in Old Plovdiv. Overnight at Hotel Trimontsium – Princess – Plovdiv.
Day 8: June 20- Monday
8:30am- Check out of the hotel. We will drive to the museum town of Nessebar (about 4.5 hours) with over 2500 years of history. Established as an Ancient Greek colony, it became an important Byzantine and Bulgarian religious center with many churches dated between the 11- 15th century. It was also a famous fisherman and merchant town on the Black Sea. Most of the wooden houses, which today are architectural monuments, were built during the 18-19th centuries. Currently, Nessebar is a favorite place of artists and writers. The town is included in the UNESCO List of the World Cultural Heritage. Before starting a tour of the town we will have lunch in one of the good fish restaurants there. Our walking tour will include a visit to the church of St. Stephan (15- 18th C. frescoes), and other Medieval churches, famous for their rich decoration with bricks, pottery and stones. You will have some free time for shopping in Nessebar. 5:00pm – Continue drive to Varna (about 2 hours). Accommodation in a beach hotel at the resort north of Varna. Free evening (there are nearby restaurants. Overnight in Riviera Beach Hotel, Varna. (+359 52 38 6 815).
Day 9: June 21- Tuesday
Morning free to enjoy the hotel and have a little down time. After lunch (independent) we will depart at 2.00pm for a bus drive to the Varna Archaeological museum where are the earliest golden treasures of the human civilization dated from 5.000 years BC. (Personal note: Stunning!) 4:00pm – We will have a free time at pedestrian part of the town, followed by visit to the gardens of Euxinograd State Residence (entrance with special permissions from the Government) Dinner at Moraska Sirena in Varna. Overnight in Riviera Beach Hotel, Varna.
Day 10: June 22- Wednesday
Departure for the town of Veliko Turnovo (about 240 km) with a detour to the Archaeological Reserves of Madara (in the UNESCO List, dating back to the 8th century AD) It is unique rock cut horseman representing the Bulgarian Khan of the early 8th century AD). Also, we will go to Sboryanovo with the famous Sveshtari Thracian Tomb (4th Century BC, see picture on left and on opening page), and the Holy Place of Demir Baba (17th century – Muslim sect of Alevi’s), built over a former Thracian sanctuary. Lunch (pay separately) in the area of Sveshtari, prepared with home made traditional Muslim dishes. Late in the afternoon we will proceed to the town of Veliko Turnovo, where we will stay for the next two nights. We should arrive around 7:30pm. Accommodation in Hotel Arbanassi Palace, the former residence of the Prime Minister during the Communist era. Dinner at the residence. (Pending) Overnight in Arbanassi Palace Residence- Veliko Turnovo (+359 62 630 176)
Day 11: June 23- Thursday
Today we will explore the town of Veliko Turnovo. First we will visit to the Church of Nativity from the 16th century with more than 3000 images from the Old and New Testament. We will walk to the 250 years old House -museum of Constantseliev, which represents the traditional style of life of rich merchant families in the 18th century. Next, we will drive to Veliko Turnovo to the Samovodene Arts and Crafts Market Street in the old part of Turnovo. Free time for an optional lunch in the town. Our bus will then bring us to the remains of the Tsarevets, where was situated the Royal and Patriarchal palaces of the Mediaeval capital of the II Bulgarian Kingdom. Return to Arbanassi Palace for rest. 7.30pm – Drive to a convent near the town for dinner fixed by the friendly nuns. We will also taste the famous wines of the Danube Valley. The convent is about a 30-minute drive from Veliko Turnovo. Return to the hotel for Overnight in Arbanassi Palace – Veliko Turnovo.
Day 12: June 24- Friday
Check out of hotel and drive to the museum town of Koprivshtitsa. En route, we will drive to Etara Ethnographic complex-museum (1.30 hour) with the crafts-workshop street, representing original crafts from the 18-19th century Balkans. You will be able to see the pottery shop, the hand weaving carpet shop, the old bakery, the gold and tinsmith shops, woodcarvers, icon painters etc. After Etara we will cross Balkans via Shipka Pass road. Lunch (independent) at Krunsko Hanche. In the afternoon we will stop at two tombs: The newly excavated tomb of Golyama Kasmatka and the Kazanluk Tomb with paintings from the end of the 4th century BC. They are the best-preserved Hellenistic paintings in the Balkans. Time permitting, we will then visit a private Rose Distillery in the village of Turnichane with opportunities to purchase fresh Rose oil and rose water. Expected arrival in Koprivshtitsa at 7:30pm. Dinner at Koprivshtitsa Inn with home made dishes and roast lamb. Overnight in Hotel Bashtina Kushta, (+359-7184-30-33)
Day 13: June 25-Saturday
We will have a walking tour of the old part of beautiful Koprivshtitsa famous for its 19th century houses and visit some museum houses which represent the traditional 19th century style of life of rich Christians who served as merchants, craftsmen, animal breeders and tax collectors in the time of the Ottoman Empire. Lunch independent. Late afternoon departure for Sofia. Farewell dinner party in Egur, a delightful small restaurant in the town. Overnight in the Grand Hotel Sofia – Sofia
Day 14: June 26-Sunday
Tour ends with airport transfer and return flight to USA. Most everyone is departing at 5:00 am on BA#2865. My Alitalia flight (521) departs Sofia at 1:50 pm, Claudio’s MA831 flight departs at 4:10 pm.
Judith Parks & Jean Hays
Carol Boyd & Rose McQuilkin
Twin or Double
Patsy & Dale Meyers
Joe & Dianne Dondero