Bulgaria – Essence of Bulgaria Tour – a 12 day Small Group Tour.
Bulgaria is an urbanized, skilled society, where modernity coexists with much that is traditional. Heritage plays a highly visible role in the society, with medieval churches, monasteries and numerous folk festivals being held in rural places.
Nevertheless, such traditions provide a contrast with contemporary Bulgaria’s rapid transformation into a modern European society. Embark with us on an itinerary which has been designed to take in as many of Bulgaria’s highlights as possible, while keeping cross-country travel to a minimum.
Our journey starts with a tour of the vibrant capital Sofia before leaving for Southern Bulgaria, with its rich cultural heritage and dramatic Pirin mountain scenery. We continue to the central region along the Rhodopes mountains, via picturesque villages and narrow gorges to Trigrad where unspoilt nature dominates.
Finally, we spend time in the wonderful city of Plovdiv and continue to Northern Bulgaria in the shadow of the Balkan Mountains with its fascinating mix of historical old towns and archaeological treasures, from the ancient Thracian Tomb in Kazanlak, via the world-famous rose valley and back to the capital.
Within Bulgaria’s beguiling blend of nature and history, unforgettable adventures are guaranteed.
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)
Note: For those who do not wish to do the walk, it is possible to be transferred by car to the cave. Tonight, your hotel is located walking distance from the main street, however you may wish to bring a headtorch/flashlight with you to guide you on the way back.
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)
Note: For those who do not wish to do the walk this morning, it is possible to be transferred by car from Melnik to the Rohzen Monastery and from there take a very short walk to the best viewing point (gentle walk uphill – 30 minutes in both directions).
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-speaking 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 and 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. We drive back to Yagodina for lunch and afterwards, 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)
Notes: Be aware that the access to the Eagle Eye viewpoint requires a drive off-road on a steep and bumpy mountainous track. The local drivers are experienced and there are no particular risks involved. Nevertheless, we advise to keep your belongings stored in a bag during the drives. Although we really believe the experience is worth the rough journey to the top, if you suffer from vertigo or feel uncomfortable taking part, you may wish to remain in Yagodina and take an easy walk through the nearby pine forest and vast meadows.
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)
Note: For those who do not wish to do the walk, it is possible to be transferred by car directly to the village of Gela, or to take a shorter walk of about 45 minutes in duration.
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 – Kazanlak (Rose Valley) – Kalofer
(Approx. driving time today: 1.5 hours)
Leaving Plovdiv and the Rhodopes Mountains behind, we 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. We have our lunch by the Koprinka dam and 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. Continue to Kalofer for the night. Overnight Chardaka Hotel or similar. (BL)
Day 10: Kalofer Eco-trek walk - Shipka – 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. After a picnic lunch by the river, we go for a visit to Enjo Bonchev rose distillery and take a look at the superb Golden Church of Shipka. If you wish, there is the possibility to visit the Tomb of Seuthes III (optional), and we may stop at a small ostrich ranch where you can buy locally made products. Return to Kalofer and the rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight Chardaka Hotel or similar. (BL)
Note: For those who do not wish to do the whole round-trip walk, it is possible to shorten the distance.
Day 11: Kalofer – Karlovo – Sofia
(Approx. driving time today: 2.5 hours)
We start our day visiting a micro-farm where we observe the farmer producing white traditional cheese. We continue our way to 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 and continue back to Sofia. This evening enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight L’Opera Guest House or similar. (BLD)
Note: For those wishing to continue their tour to Romania, note that there is the option today to leave the group and transfer by car to Ruse, a privileged village located north from Kalofer. Please contact us for details.
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)
Dates & Price.
Minimum Group Size
This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 3 travellers.
Single Supplement as from £240.
Return direct flights from London to Sofia start at £170. Contact us for a quotation.
Travel to Bulgaria by Train
We know that for many of our destinations flying cannot be avoided. But we believe that for some of our tours, taking the train is a practical, affordable and most of all a very enjoyable alternative. Even flying in just one direction will have a very positive benefit on the environment. To compare the emissions for your next trip take a look at this easy to use emissions calculator – https://uic.org/ecopassenger.
For a quote to travel from a European city please contact us. We will advise you of the options, including routes and fares.
Contact us for further details about how we can help you plan the perfect environmentally friendly addition to your holiday. As well as train tickets, we can arrange stopovers along the way, including hotels and guided tours.
Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.
Extra night accommodation pre and/or post tour in Sofia costs from £40 per person, per night sharing a twin/double room and £70 per person in a solo occupancy room.
Please note that the prices quoted above are for the category of accommodation and hotel used for this particular tour. Depending on the hotel eventually confirmed there may be some difference in the rate advertised by the hotel, and the prices available through Undiscovered Destinations. It should be noted we will not apply a surcharge should more expensive accommodation be used. At the same time in the event that a lower rate is available for the confirmed hotel we are unable to offer a refund.
Combine Bulgaria with Romania and Moldova
Why not visit Romania and Moldova at the end of this tour for a more in depth look at this fascinating and little visited part of Europe? As from 2022, all our Romania – The Land that Time Forgot tours followed by our Moldova Discovery tours can be done as back to back tours after your tour in Bulgaria ends. This option also applies to May and August 2021 departures.
If you wish to travel overland to Bucharest for the start of the tour to Romania, note that it is possible to arrange a transfer by car via Ruse, leaving the tour on Day 11 of the itinerary. Please contact us for details. Alternatively, you can easily fly from Sofia to Bucharest.
Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?
Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.
For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA
- Arrival and departure airport transfers
- All accommodation as per the itinerary or similar
- Land transportation
- Services of an English-speaking guide/tour leader – we have a combined driver/guide for groups of three or less.
- Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
- Entrance fees for sites as listed as part of the itinerary
- Walking poles
- Water reservoir in the vehicle and reusable flask for the time of the tour
- International flights
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature
- Activities mentioned as optional in the itinerary
- Visa if applicable
- Tips (discretionary)