Small group tour
(10 – 15 people)

12 to 22 May 2017
(Enquire for September dates)

€1755 per person sharing
(€240 Single supplement)

All inclusive, 4/5*

The oldest worked gold artefacts, around 8,000 years old

Four UNESCO World Heritage sites

Thracian and Medieval frescoes

Roman mosaics and sculptures, a theatre and an amphitheatre

Also, wine tasting and the rose oil industry

Description

The archaeology of Bulgaria is every bit as spectacular and interesting as any of the more popular destinations for exploring the past such as Italy, Greece or Turkey. Bulgaria is certainly one of the more historically diverse areas in Europe. On the Black Sea coast archaeologists have found the oldest worked gold in the World – dating back to the later Neolithic. Bulgaria is known for its extraordinary Thracian tombs and treasures, unique to this region. Once part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, there is an extensive network of archaeological sites from these periods. And the Bulgaria Empires left their mark with numerous striking Medieval fortresses. This ten day tour takes you to some of Bulgaria’s more spectacular sites and museums, from Sofia in the west to the Black Sea coast in the east. The focus of the tour is on the changing artistic traditions of the last 8,000 or so years, from exquisite Neolithic figurines to extraordinary 19th century religious frescoes.

Four ages of ‘art’, top left and clockwise: a Neolithic figurine from one of the dwellings in Stara Zagora; fresco in the Thracian tomb at Kazanluk; 18th century Archbishop’s mitre; Lupa Romana breastfeeds Romulus and Remus.


 

Itinerary

12 May 2017: We start the tour with a welcome reception and dinner at the spectacular Hotel Arena di Serdica; a five star hotel built on the remains of Sofia’s Roman amphitheatre. During dinner we will be introduced to the archaeology of Bulgaria with brief talks from leaders in this country’s heritage industry.

Day One – 13 May 2017: On our first day we explore the beautiful city of Sofia. Among the most impressive sites are the Alexander Nevski Cathedral dominating the city, the Church of St. George Rotunda, the best preserved Byzantine building in Sofia, the Russian church of st. Nikolas, Banya Bashi Mosque, the ruins of ancient Roman Serdica at the Metro station and Parliament buildings. Our tour will also take in the National Archaeology Museum, which displays some of the most significant bronze, silver and gold treasures found in Bulgaria. After lunch we head to Boyana district in the footsteps of Vitosha Mountain to visit National History Museum.

Day Two – 14 May 2017: After breakfast we depart for the beautiful Rila Mountains – the highest mountains in the Balkans, with Peak Musala at 2925 metres above sea level. We will not be climbing that high, rather visiting Bulgaria’s most iconic attraction, the Rila Monastery. Founded in the middle of the 10th century by St. Ivan of Rila, the monastery has played a vital role in preserving Bulgarian culture and language. We will see the monastery church with its stunning frescos painted by the best of Bulgaria’s 19th century artists. The monastery is also well known for Rafael’s Cross – an impressive wood-carved miniature cross measuring 81 by 43 cms, depicting 104 religious scenes with over 650 figures. On our return to Sofia we wisit Boyana church to see the 13th century frescoes.

Day Three – 15 May 2017: After checking out of the hotel we drive to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city and the designated European capital of culture for 2019. Plovdiv has a history stretching back thousands of years, at times contemporary with the likes of Troy and Mycenae. There are ruins from Roman, Ottoman and Bulgarian Revival periods. During our city tour we will visit the remains of the Roman forum, stadium and theatre dating back to the 2nd century AD. In the Trakart museum we will see well-preserved Roman mosaics. Also included on the tour is the Small Basilica of Phillipopolis – one of Plovdiv’s most distinctive landmarks. While strolling down quaint cobbled streets of the old town we will see the strikingly beautiful Revival houses and churches, specifically visiting the Church of St. Konstantine and Elena and The House of Hindliyan. To end the day we will enjoy a wine tasting session at one of the numerous wineries in the region.

Day Four – 16 May 2017: From Plovdiv we depart for the Bulgarian coastline on the Black Sea. Our first stop will be the town of Nessebar – a gem of the Bulgarian seaside. An old fisherman’s settlement, Nessebar is located on a rocky peninsula and there will be an opportunity to enjoy a great seafood lunch. Rich in history the old town has numerous Byzantine and Revival period churches. We will have time to see just three, the Church of St. Steven, the Church of St. Spas, and the Old Metropolitan church. We continue north to Varna – the ‘marine capital’ of Bulgaria and the largest administrative, business and cultural centre on the Black Sea coast.

Day Five – 17 May 2017: In the morning we will have a city tour of Varna seeing the town’s more remarkable sites, including the Assumption of Virgin Mary Cathedral, the Roman thermal baths, as well as the Varna Archaeological Museum with its most celebrated exhibit of gold artefacts- widely acknowledged as the oldest worked gold in the world (circa 4600 BC). For lunch we head to the reconstructed Neolithic village in nearby Neofit Rilski. Besides, reconstructed Neolithic and Chalcolithic houses and a museum of Thracian treasures, we get to eat food prepared using Thracian recipes and ingredients and partake in a Thracian wine ritual. Once we have had our fill of Thracian cuisine we visit the Museum of Mosaics in Devnya, which is built on the site of a later Roman villa.

Day Six – 18 May 2017: We leave the Black Sea for the Medieval capital city of Veliko Turnovo. We will make two stops on the way. The first at the Monument of Madara – an extraordinary carved figure of a majestic horseman thrusting a spear into a lion cut into the cliff-face thought to be dated to 710 AD. Our second stop is the Monument of Shumen, a large concrete monument dedicated to 1300 years of Bulgarian history. This is one of the most important and grandest examples of Socialist art and architecture.

Day Seven – 19 May 2017: We begin the day with a tour of the fortress of Tsarevets with its ruins of the Medieval capital of Bulgaria. We will also get to walk along the picturesque Samovodska Street, the most famed market street of Veliko Turnovo. It was here that people sold their home-made products in the 19th century. We then make a short trip to Stara Zagora, where we will explore wonderful Roman remains, including the well-preserved forum and the mosaics under the Regional History Museum. We would not miss the spectacular Neolithic Dwelling Museum, with its exquisite and extensive collection of Neolithic figurines, then ending the day at the Museum of Religions.

Day Eight – 20 May 2017: Today is all about the Thracians. We will visit various sites in what is called the ‘The Valley of the Thracian Kings’. We will see some of the some of the finest examples of Thracian burial tombs such as the Goliama Kosmatka tomb, and the beautifully decorated Kazanluk Tomb (we visit the replica as the original is closed to the public). This region is World famous for its rose farms and the production of rose oil – a tradition that is thought to have its origins in Thracian times. We will visit a rose distillery and learn more about the rose oil industry in Bulgaria before heading to the nearby town of Hissarya, or Diocletianopolis in Thracia as the Romans called it.

Day Nine – 21 May 2017: We start the day with a tour of the mineral spa town of Hisarya, known to the Romans and Thracians and Diocletianopolis in Thracia or Augusta Trayana. On our way back to Sofia we stop at the historic town of Koprivshtica in the heart of the Sredna Gora mountains. Besides being the birthplace of many Bulgarian revolutionaries and poets, the mountain village was declared an architectural and historical reserve in 1952. There are 388 architectural, historical, artistic, and ethnographic buildings of special interest.

Day Ten – 22 May 2017: After breakfast transfer to Sofia airport for your flight home.

Four key sites on the itinerary, top left and clockwise: a reconstructed Chalcolithic pile house in the Neolithic Village; a tomb in the Valley of Thracian Kings; Church of St George Rotunda, Sofia; the Roman gate at Diocletianopolis.


 

Map


Towns and attractions included on the tour are indicated with a blue marker; the number corresponding to the day on which they will be visited.


 

Practicalities

DATES
13 to 22 May 2017

PRICE
1995 Euros per person
1755 Euros per person, sharing

INCLUDED in the price is a guidebook to the sites included on the tour, accommodation for ten nights, all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), all transport for the duration of the tour, the costs of an English speaking guide, entrances to museums and sites included on the itinerary, other activities mentioned in the itinerary
EXCLUDED in the price is your travel to and from Sofia, beverages during meals, tips and gratuities for the guides, driver and hotel porters

€600 Deposit secures your reservation. The balance is required 12 weeks before the start of the tour.

FOOD & ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Arena Di Serdica with Roman amphitheatre.

Foyer of the Hotel Arena Di Serdica, above the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre.

Hotels are either four or five star and have been carefully chosen for this tour, to add more than just a comfortable room to relax in the evening. For example the hotel in Sofia is the Hotel Arena Di Serdica, built on top of the amphitheatre from the Roman city of Serdica. The photograph here shows just a part of the foyer of this modern hotel above the restored remains of ancient Sofia, restored in situ. The tour starts and ends at this hotel. Full details of the other hotels are available on request of further details for the tour. My partner tour company has negotiated exceptionally good prices for these hotels, with as small a single supplement as possible. For those sharing rooms, each hotel on the itinerary has rooms with both double and twin beds.

A shopska salada - typical dish of Bulgaria.

A fresh shopska salad, typically on most menus.

The tour is all inclusive, including breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. The evening before the start of the tour you are invited to a welcome dinner in the Hotel Arena Di Serdica. The end of the tour will be marked with a farewell dinner and folklore show. Meat dishes in Bulgaria tend to be chicken or pork, but along the Black Sea coast fish and seafood is more common. Salads, typically the shopska salad, are frequently served with meals. If the need arises restaurants will be chosen so as to accommodate vegetarians, vegans and those with special dietary requirements.

SMALL GROUP TOUR
This is a small group tour, which will go ahead with a minimum of 10 people, and a maximum of 15.

There is a quite a bit of easy walking involved. Driving from hotels to the various sites will be in comfortable vehicles; the longest nonstop drive is about an hour and a half.


 

Tour Guide

This tour has been created in collaboration between me, Thomas Dowson – founder of Archaeology Travel, and Atlantic Tour Bulgaria, a leading and respected tour company in the Balkans.

The knowledgeable and friendly staff of Atlantic Tour Bulgaria have made all the necessary logistical arrangements for the tour, and will continue to do so throughout the tour. From arranging transfers to hotels, dietary requirements meet at all restaurants, entrances to sites and museums, and safe and comfortable travel for ten days.

With my professional background in archaeology and the history of art, I have put together a tour that will be of interest to those who are keen to learn more about the archaeology and history of artistic traditions in Bulgaria over the last 8,000 years. I will be on hand throughout the tour to share my expertise and ensure an exceptional service and experience for those on the tour. Read more about my background and reviews of other tours.

OTHER ART IN ARCHAEOLOGY TOURS:

Cave Art in France | Splendours of France | Splendours of Puglia | Byzantine Greece | Byzantine Turkey