Day 01: Arrive Sofia (BULGARIA)
Upon arrival, we are welcomed at the airport of the capital of Bulgaria and transferred to our hotel.
Overnight: BW Bristol Hotel, Sofia (2 nights) (D) Day 02: Sofia/Rila/Sofia
In the morning we enjoy a city tour of Sofia. The tour will introduce us to all major attractions of the city. Among the most impressive sites are the Alexander Nevski Cathedral dominating the city, the round church of St. George, which is the best preserved Byzantine building, the Russian church of St. Nikolas, Banya Bashi Mosque, the Synagogue and the ruins of ancient Serdica. We then drive to the Boyana district to visit the Boyana Church*, precious for its well-preserved medieval wall paintings. We continue to Rila Monastery*, Bulgaria’s most visited highlight. We will enjoy lunch at local restaurant and taste Rila fresh trout. Located on the Rila Mountain, the monastery is a sanctuary of Bulgarian literature and spiritual life. Founded in the middle of the 10th century by St. Ivan of Rila, it played a key role in preserving Bulgarian culture and language over the centuries. We shall visitthe monastery church with its amazing frescos painted by Bulgaria’s finest artists from 19th century and the monastery museum that houses a rich collection of exhibits connected with the history of the monastery and the spread of Christianity in Bulgaria. We return to Sofia in the afternoon. (B, L) Day 03: Sofia/Plovdiv/Kazanlak
After breakfast, we depart for Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city. Philipopolis, Trimonzium, Puldin, area some of the ancient names of Plovdiv through the millennia. The city has ruins from the Roman, Ottoman and Bulgarian Revival periods. During our city tour we will visit the Roman Forum and Stadium, as well as the Roman amphitheatre dating back to the 2nd AD. We will walk along the tiny cobbled streets of the old town surrounded by beautiful houses and churches in Revival style and visit the church of St. Konstantine and Elena and the House of Hindliyan, a rich merchant from the 19th century. We then continue to Kazanlak an area known as “The Valley of the Thracian Kings” due to the numerous Thracian tombs discovered in the surroundings. We visit a replica of the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak* and the local History Museum where gold treasures unearthed in the recent excavation works in the area are exhibited. We will also explore the Valley of Roses and will visit a rose distillery where you will learn some curious facts about rose growing and will see a demonstration of the rose boiling process.
Overnight: Zornitsa 3*Hotel, Kazanlak (1 night) (B, D) Day 04: Kazanlak/Nessebar/Varna
In the morning we drive to the Ancient City of Nessebar* arriving around noon and to start the city tour. Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, the more than 3,000-year old site of Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement (Menebria). At the beginning of the 6th century BC, the city became a Greek colony. The city’s remains, which date mostly from the Hellenistic period, include the acropolis, a temple of Apollo, an agora and a wall from the Thracian fortifications. Among other monuments, the Stara Mitropolia Basilica and the fortress date from the Middle Ages, when this was one of the most important Byzantine towns on the west coast of the Black Sea. Wooden houses built in the 19th century are typical of the Black Sea architecture of the period. In the afternoon we depart for Varna to enjoy an evening walking tour and spend the night.
Overnight: Panorama Hotel, Varna (1 night) (B, D)
Day 05: Varna/Madara/Sveshtari/Veliko Tarnovo
After breakfast, we will travel to Madara to see the Madara Rider*. A carved rock relief depicting the life-size forms of a horseman trailed by a running dog and a speared lion caught beneath the crushing hooves of the horse. Inscriptions in Greek on either side describe the early history of the Bulgarian state, founded in 681. We continue to Sveshtari to visit the visit the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari* discovered in 1982. This 3rd century BC Getic tomb reflects the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings. The tomb's architectural decor is considered to be unique, with polychrome half-human, half-plant caryatids and painted murals. The ten female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber and the decorations of the lunette in its vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands. It is a remarkable reminder of the culture of the Getae, a Thracian people who were in contact with the Hellenistic and Hyperborean worlds, according to ancient geographers. In the afternoon we depart for Veliko Tarnovo. Often referred to as the “City of the Tsars”, the city is famous as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. We enjoy an evening walking tour and walk through Samovdska Charshia, the old trade street with restored houses and workshops that sheltered skilful craftsmen through the Revival Period. See the Church of St. Constantine and Helena, with a panoramic view over the Yantra River and the Assen’s Monument.
Overnight: Grand Yantra Veliko Tarnovo (1 night) (B, D) Day 06: Veliko Tarnovo/Arbanassi/Ivanovo/Pitesti (ROMANIA)
After breakfast we visit Tsarevets Hill and see the ruins of the medieval stronghold located on a hill bearing the same name. It served as the Second Bulgarian Empire's primary fortress and strongest bulwark from 1185 to 1393, housing the royal and the patriarchal palaces. We continue to Arbanassi, known for the rich history and large number of historical monuments, such as 17th and 18th century churches and examples of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, which have turned it into a popular tourist destination. Visit the Nativity Church, the most richly decorated church in Bulgaria. Its interior is completely covered with colourful frescoes painted in the first part of the 1600s. We continue to Ivanovo, to visit the Rock-hewn Churches, a group of monolithic churches, chapels and monasteries hewn out of solid rock and completely different from other monastery complexes in Bulgaria. Monks had inhabited the caves in the region since the 13th century, when it was founded by the future Patriarch of Bulgaria Joachim. The monks hewed cells, churches and chapels out of solid rock. At the peak of the monastery complex, the number of churches was about 40, while the other premises were around 300, most of which are not preserved today. In the afternoon, we leave Bulgaria behind and head toward Pitesti in Romania, where we will spend the night.
Overnight: Ramada, Pitesti (1 night) (B, D) Day 07: Pitesti/Horezu/Sarmisegetuza/Hunedoara After breakfast we proceed to the Monastery of Horezu*, founded in 1690 by Prince Constantin Brancoveanu in the town of Horezu, Wallachia, Romania. It is considered to be a masterpiece of "Brancovenesc style", known for its architectural purity and balance, the richness of its sculpted detail, its treatment of religious compositions, its votive portraits, and its painted decorative works. We continue through the Jiu Valley and head towards Sarmisegetuza. Here we visit the ruins of Ulpia Traiana, the former capital of Roman Dacia, which are located at around 40 km from the capital of the Dacian kingdom Sarmisegetuza Regia. Built on the ground of a camp of the Fifth Macedonian Legion, the city was populated with veterans of the Dacian wars. It received from the very beginning the title of colonia and the status of Ius Italicum. With an area of 30 ha and a population between 20.000 - 25.000 and strong fortifications, Ulpia Traiana was the political, administrative and religious center of Dacia Romana, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The city was destroyed by the Goths. Today Ulpia Traiana remains in ruins, with a partly conserved forum, an amphitheater and remnants of several temples. In the afternoon we depart for Hunedoara.
Overnight: BW Rusca Hotel, Hundedoara (1 night) (B, D)
Day 08: Hunedoara/Alba Iulia/Sibiu After breakfast we visit Hunyad Castle built by King Carol Robert of Anjou after his visit to Timisoara in 1307. Probably, built by Italian workers, the castle was finished in 1315 and in 1316 King was already established in the new castle, where he lived almost eight years. We continue to Alba Iulia, former capital of Transylvanian Principality and an important political, social and economic centre of the former Roman Empire. We visit the fortress with its star-shaped bastions, constructed between 1716 and 1735. Inside the fortress we will see the Union Hall with the National Honour Gallery, The National History Museum of Unification, the Voivodal Palace, the Orthodox Cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral built in Romanesque style, the Batthyaneum Library, the Roman Catholic Bishop's Palace, the Apor Palace, and the University of Alba Iulia. In the afternoon we travel to Sibiu, stopping in the village of Sibiel for a tasty dinner in a local farm house.
Overnight: Ramada Hotel, Sibiu (1 night) (B, D) Day 09: Sibiu/Axente Sever/Biertan/Sighisoara After breakfast, we take a walking city tour of Sibiu with the baroque style Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Evangelical Church, the Liar's bridge and the Old Squares. We then explore the Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania*, visiting the fortified church from 1322 in Axente Sever and the village of Biertan, with the local fortified church, which was built in the place of on old basilica at the end of the 15th century with architectural elements from the late-Gothic and Renaissance style. Today it is one of the Romania's most important historical and architectural monuments. Its oak door, with inlaid work, dates from 1515 and has a huge lock with a complicated mechanism on its backside that was awarded a prize at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 and is considered a masterpiece of Transylvanian craftsmanship. We continue to the Historic Centre of Sighisoara* to take a walking tour through the medieval heart of the city, visiting the famous Clock Tower, with its Weapons Museum and torture chamber and the birth house of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, where we also have dinner.
Overnight: Cavaler Hotel, Sighisoara (1 night) (B, D) Day 10: Sighisoara/Surdesti/Budesti/Hoteni Early morning departure for our drive to the Maramures region, to explore the Wooden Churches of Maramures*. Our first stop will be at Surdesti. The Church of Surdesti was the tallest wooden church in Europe with its tower of 54 m and a total height of 72 m until a few years back when the new 78 m tall church of the monastery of Peri in Sapanta was built. We continue to Budesti, to visit the wooden Church of Saint Nicholas, which is rectangular in shape, with a roof covering the whole building. The roof has double eaves all around. The pronaos was enlarged towards the west during the 19th century, which makes the building longer than most other churches. This also means that the tower is not at the west end, but much closer to the middle of the building. In the evening we arrive in the village of Hoteni, where we will enjoy dinner and spend the night in and old traditional Maramures style house.
Overnight: Popicu Farm House, Hoteni (1 night) (B, D)
Day 11: Hoteni/Sapanta/Barsana/Moldovita/SucevitaAfter breakfast, we depart for Sapanta, to visit the Merry Cemetery. This paradoxical name is due to the vivid colours of the crosses and the amusing or satirical epitaphs carved on them. It is said that this joyful attitude towards death is a legacy of the Dacians who believed in the immortality of the soul and that death was only a passage to a better life. They did not see death as a tragic end, but as a chance to meet with the supreme god, Zalmoxis. We head to the Bukovina region. En route, our last stop in Maramures county is at Barsana, to visit the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple. The church is very dark inside, as the very small and low pronaos is without any windows at all. The naos is much more spacious, with a high barrel vault, but also quite dark. We start our exploration of the Churches of Moldavia* visiting Moldovita Monastery*, built in 1532 by Prince Petru Rares. The most distinctive feature of the Church of the Annunciation is the open exonarthex with its three tall arches on the west façade. In the late afternoon we arrive at Sucevita.
Overnight: Popas Bucovina (1 night) (B, D)
Day 12: Sucevita/Humor/Voronet/Lacu RosuWe visit Sucevita Monastery in the morning. This classic Moldavian church with its five rooms, shows the first new architectural tendencies: smaller niches, and three bases for the tower. The frescoes are very remarkable, colourful and well preserved. We continue to Humor, to visit the monastery built in 1530. The Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin is without the tower typical to the churches of the region, as it was built by a nobleman, and not by a ruling prince. Its open exonarthex is the first of its kind in Bucovina. We then head to Voronet Monastery*, built by Stephen the Great. It is known throughout the world for its exterior frescoes of bright and intense colours, and for the hundreds of well-preserved figures placed against a beautiful azurite background. We continue to Lacu Rosu, the Red Lake, largest natural mountain lake in Romania. It gets its name from the reddish alluvia (iron oxides and iron hydroxides) deposits. We drive through Bicaz Canyon, dug by the Bicaz river waters, that serves as a passageway between Transylvania and Moldavia.
Overnight: Lacu Rosu Hotel, Lacu Rosu (1 night) (B, D)
Day 13: Lacu Rosu/Brasov/Bran We drive to Brasov to visit the Black Church and continue to Bran, a castle made famous by Bram Stoker's novel as the residence of Count Dracula. We depart to the city of Brasov, founded in the 12th century by the Saxon Settlers. Here we visit the "Black Church", the largest Gothic edifice in Eastern Europe. The church acquired its name after the great fire of 1689 when it was badly damaged; the roof was destroyed and the walls blackened from the smoke. The impressive church organ manufactured in Germany in 1829 has 4000 pipes and is considered the second biggest in Romania. Inside, there is also an impressive collection of Persian prayer rugs, a gift by the local merchants as gratitude towards God. In the afternoon we visit the medieval castle of Bran, made famous by Bram Stoker's novel as the residence of Count Dracula. In fact, the castle was built as a fortification by the Transylvanian Saxons to protect the border between Trasylvania with Walachia.
Overnight: Hotel Wolf, Bran (1 night) (B, D)
Day 14: Bran/Sinaia/Bucharest In the morning we travel to Sinaia, one of the most beautiful mountain resorts in Romania. Here we visit Peles Palace, built in 1883 by the first Romanian king, Carol I of Hohenzollern, as his royal summer residence. This castle was built it was way ahead of its time, being the first European castle to have electricity and central heating. We also visit the Sinaia Monastery, a religious edifice erected in 1695 in Romanian Brancovenesc style with an open veranda supported by columns of carved stone, tower and steeple above the veranda. We continue to Bucharest and enjoy a sightseeing tour of Bucharest, once called the "Little Paris of the East". Visit the Parliament Palace, the second largest building in the world and the open - air Village Museum, also called "Romania in a nutshell". The tour will also bring you to the Revolution Square, the Romanian Athenaeum, the Military Academy and more.
Overnight: Novotel Hotel, Bucharest (1 night) (B, D)
Day 15: Bucharest/DepartureFree time to explore the city, before our transfer to the airport after our incredible journey of marvelling at the cultural and natural heritage of Bulgaria and Romania. (B)