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Sofia • Koprivshtitsa • Kazanluk • Shipka • Arbanassi • Veliko Turnovo
Rousse • Sveshtari • Madara • Varna • Balchik • Nessebar • Plovdiv
including the Rila Monastery

May 24 - June 3, 2017 • 11 Days
$3990 per person double occupancy from Sofia, Bulgaria
Single supplement $490

Rates are tour-only and airfare is additional

Day by Day Itinerary


Welcome to Bulgaria! We check in to our boutique hotel, the Crystal Palace in downtown Sofia, located near the National Library and St. Kliment Ohridski University. After freshening up a bit, we enjoy a light dinner in a local restaurant nearby. (D)

Hotel Crystal Palace****

May 25 SOFIA

In the morning, we drive to the outskirts of Sofia. The first wonder of Bulgaria that we visit on our tour is the Boyana Church. Built and painted between the 11th and 14th centuries, this site is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. The frescoes dating from 1259 are considered an artistic precursor of the Italian Renaissance, which started two centuries later.

After admiring the serenity of the 13th century portraits of the Bulgarian aristocrats painted on the walls of the church, we are going to see the collections of the National History Museum. It exhibits some of the best archaeological and artistic artifacts found on the territory of Bulgaria. Several times its collections have traveled to be included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Le Louvre, L’Hermitage and other famous museums around the world.

We drive back to the city center where lunch today is at a selected café in downtown Sofia.

Our afternoon tour will start at the Archaeological Museum of Bulgaria, which showcases splendid treasures from Thracian times, and artifacts dating back to 8th millennia B.C.

Our leisurely walking tour continues (with the highlights of Sofia all in close proximity) to the Russian church of St. Nicolas. From the Military Club, follow the Yellow Brick Road, a boulevard covered with yellow cobblestones; it is lined with 19th century buildings in various styles. These magnificent examples of architecture now house embassies, palaces, museums and high-end boutiques. Arrive at St. Sofia Church, a basilica built in the 6th century over the mausoleum of the early Christian martyrs (prior to the necropolis). We see another example of Russian Orthodox architecture, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. A cross-domed basilica, built in Neo-Byzantine style, the cathedral is the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in Bulgaria. Both its exterior and interior architectural designs are impressive. At a height of more than 150 feet, gold-covered domes shimmer over the intricate complex of arches and windows, illuminating an interior lavishly decorated with Italian marbles in all possible colors, Brazilian onyx, alabaster and Venetian mosaics. Inside the cupola is the portrait of Father Savaot and the Prayer of God inscribed with gold letters.

Short walk back to the hotel (10 minutes) before we continue our adventures in the outskirts of Sofia and partake of a dinner served in a small monastery. During the buffet-style supper we have the opportunity to spend time with authentic “grannies”, who have prepared selected delights of Bulgarian cuisine. We also use this welcome hour to introduce you to the specifics of the tour and to get acquainted with the local traditions, including Bulgarian dos and don’ts. (B-L-D)

Hotel Crystal Palace****


After breakfast we depart for the beautiful mountain town of Koprivshtitsa. Visit the remarkable town with its open-air architectural museum where the revolution for Bulgarian independence started in 1876. Most of the 300 houses, which date back to the first half of the 19th century, are listed as National Heritage of Bulgaria. The wooden architecture, the decoration and elegance of wall paintings are a far away echo of the European Baroque and Rococo of the period.

After lunch in a selected Koprivshtitsa tavern, we continue to Kazanluk. The city of Kazanluk is located in the geographic center of Bulgaria and is the capital of the Valley of the Roses and the Valley of the Thracian Kings. Roses will be in full bloom by the end of May. The rose aroma covers the valley. The hundreds of workers pick rose flowers every day from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM. This hard work is very special due to the beauty of nature and aroma. The bags of roses are transported to distilleries, where expensive rose attar will be produced within hours after picking. This is one of Bulgaria’s most valuable products. It goes for export to some of the most world-famous perfumery companies, as well as the pharmaceutical industry. We will be able to have a tour of a distillery with the opportunity to buy fresh rose oil directly from the producers.

After this exciting day, we check in at Hotel Palace, located in the very center of Kazanluk. You’ll enjoy walking around the pedestrian area and feeling the atmosphere of the town.

A private choir concert in an Eastern Orthodox Church awaits us before dinner in a traditional restaurant. (B-L-D)

Hotel Palace***


Early in the morning we will drive to join the workers in the rose fields and smell the fresh aroma of the rose blossom. We will drive back to the hotel. Our next stop will a cheerful folklore show and official rose-picking ceremony, organized by the municipality.

The rest of the morning we spend in the Kazanluk Valley. First we visit the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk to admire the magnificent frescoes from the 4th century B.C. This beautiful monument is also part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. The local museum we visit is rich in Thracian gold artifacts. This exquisite collection, recently discovered, shows the mastery of Thracian goldsmith craftsmanship. We also visit the tomb of Seuthes III royal family, where Dr. Kitov – the “Indiana Jones” of Balkan archeology – made the phenomenal discovery.

On our way to Northern Bulgaria, we stop at Shipka Birth of Christ Memorial Church, built in 1902 in the impressive 17th century Muscovite style. It is a magnificent example of Russian Orthodox Christian architecture with a decorative façade and golden onion-domes. The structure was dedicated to the Russian Imperial Army, which liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century.

We cross the Balkan mountain range via famous Shipka Pass, where the important battle of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78 took place. Stop for lunch on our way to the Open Air Crafts and Arts Museum.

Expect to arrive in Veliko Turnovo in the late afternoon, where our hotel is a former Communist dictator residence, situated in the historical village of Arbanassi, just outside of Veliko Turnovo. The hotel has a beautiful terrace overlooking the town, where dinner will be served. (B-L-D)

Accommodation in Residence Arbanassi Palace 4* or Hotel Yantra 4*


In Veliko Turnovo we learn about its history as the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (12th -14th centuries). It was graced with rich palaces of the Bulgarian kings, bishops and nobility.

We stop at the remains of Tsarevets. Those who wish may climb to the top of the Royal Hill. The site from Baldwin of Flanders Tower is impressive. The others may have a coffee break. Then we have lunch and free time at the arts and crafts street Samovodska Charshiya.

Diving to the architectural museum- town of Arbanassi, we view the 16th century frescoes in the Church of the Holy Nativity. Next we see the Arbanassi fortress-houses, built in the 17th and 18th centuries. These fortified homes protected the wealthy Bulgarians from the vicious invasions of roaming bandits, who pillaged the towns and villages in the vicinity.

Our dinner is at a monastery near the town of Veliko Turnovo with food prepared by the nuns. (B-L-D)

Accommodation in Residence Arbanassi Palace 4* or Hotel Yantra 4*


Today we drive across the Danube plain to the town of Rousse - the most beautiful Bulgarian city on the Danube River. On the way we will have a detour to see the beautiful UNESCO site of Ivanovo Rock cut church of the 14th century.

We’ll enjoy the countryside on our 2-hour ride to another UNESCO Cultural Heritage site – the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari (3rd century BC).

For lunch, enjoy a picnic prepared by the local people. Continue our journey (around 120 miles) to the pearl of the Bulgarian Black Sea - the city of Varna.

On the way to Varna is Madara – yet another religious center of past cultures. The most impressive monument of this complex is the Madara Rider. Carved high (300 feet from the base of the cliff) into a steep vertical rock, this colossal bas-relief, representing the figure of a horseman triumphing over a lion, glorifies the victories of the 7th and 8th century Bulgarian Khans. UNESCO included the Madara Rider in its World Cultural Heritage list in 1972, because of its historical significance and its monumental quality. Today the bas-relief is in an endangered condition, and it is undergoing fortification work. We may be able to see it.

Continuing to Varna, we pass by many archaeological sites that are an inseparable part of the idyllic rural landscape. Our guide will explain to us their historical significance.

Arriving in Varna on the Black Sea coast, we dine a bit later tonight at a local restaurant.

We have applied for authorization to book the official governmental residence in Euxinograd, formerly the summer palace of the Bulgarian kings. The adjacent residence was used for VIP leaders and their guests during communist times. If in use, we enjoy a modern hotel in one of the resorts surrounding the city. (B-L-D)

Euxinograd Residence
or resort hotel


Today we visit Varna Museum of Archaeology to admire the oldest hand crafted gold treasures in the world, created in the 5th Millennium B.C. Discovered in 1972 in the Varna Necropolis (royal burial site), this ancient jewelry once decorated a king who reigned roughly 2,000 years before the first pharaohs of the Egyptian Old Kingdom and the building of the pyramids. If time permits, we explore the haunting ruins of the Roman Thermae (Public Baths) in downtown Varna.

For lunch, we enjoy freshly caught fish in a select seafood restaurant in Varna.

In the afternoon, after a short drive to Balchik, we visit the summer residence of the Romanian Queen Mary. Aiming to aesthetically blend her Christian beliefs with the Muslim faith, the Queen’s architects created a masterpiece of gardens, villas, chapels and fountains, unmatched anywhere in this part of Europe. Mixing Roman pools with Turkish minarets, Bulgarian Revival architecture with Greek classical columns, the entire park is a delight in forms of nature and serenity. With the world’s second largest cactus collection, together with hundreds of tree and plant specimens, the Queen’s residence is a paradise on earth for those who enjoy nature. We stroll among majestic pines, Lebanese cedars, and Mediterranean ivies, beyond which is the Black Sea. (B-L-D)

Euxinograd Residence
or resort hotel


Today we travel along the Black Sea coast to the town of Nessebar, another jewel in the crown of ancient Thracian, Classic Greek, and Byzantine civilizations. Originally founded in the 2nd millennium B.C. as the Thracian city known as Menebria, Nessebar preserves the rich heritage of Hellenistic and early Christian monuments. In Medieval times it was the place where the Byzantine Emperors exiled their politically incorrect aristocracy. A few of the 6th to 14th century churches – which showcased the picturesque taste of this rejected nobility – still remain. Nessebar was declared a town-museum and included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. Nessebar’s artistry – past and present – attracts tourists from all over the world.

Stop for a family-style lunch consisting of fish and other local specialties.

In the late afternoon we continue our journey to Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, and enjoy the atmosphere of our centrally located landmark hotel Trimontium. We end our day quietly dining in a restaurant near the hotel. (B-L-D)

Hotel Ramada Trimontium****


Plovdiv is listed in sixth place of world famous towns that travelers should visit according to Lonely Planet Top Ten for 2015 and will be one of the Cultural Capital’s of Europe 2019. In the morning we visit Plovdiv’s Old Town. Situated on three hills, the city was known as Pulpudeva during Thracian times; Philipopolis, honoring the father of Alexander the Great; and Trimontium during the Roman period. It preserves many magnificent examples of Roman, Greek and Bulgarian architecture. Our walking tour includes the Roman Theater, an icon exhibition, and the oldest and richest ethnographic museum in Bulgaria. Provision will be made for those who have difficulty walking. Antique and art galleries set amongst Bulgarian Revival houses with impressive painted façades also beckon us.

Continue 20 miles to the Bachkovo Monastery. After lunch in the area, we are ready to stroll through Bachkovo Monastery. The buildings of the monastery represent a splendid mosaic of frescoes and icons created during centuries of turbulent history. The American writer Elizabeth Kostova describes Bachkovo Monastery as a mysterious place, hiding the secrets of Count Dracula. It’s up to you to decide if the monastery is mystifying…or simply charming with its wonderful art.

Upon our return to Plovdiv, we pause for dinner in a local restaurant. We may have the opportunity to enjoy a concert in the Old Town of Plovdiv (optional). The cultural agenda of the city is very rich, so there is always a great choice of music. (B-L-D)

Hotel Ramada Trimontium****

Friday SOFIA

We depart for the Rila Monastery (4-hour drive) traversing a picturesque mountain road. It is almost the same route, Via Egnatia that the Romans used to transport their armies from the West to conquer the East. During this scenic journey, we view the majestic Rila Mountain, the charming town of Samokov and the Struma River Valley.
After lunch near Rila Monastery, we visit this splendid Eastern Orthodox compound that has survived and flourished for more than eleven centuries. The monastic complex, considered one of the finest masterpieces of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, was declared a national historical monument in 1976 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

During the two-hour monastery tour, in the museum we observe the famous Rafael Cross. A monk who lost his vision after finishing this masterpiece carved it with a needle over a period of twelve years. Following the museum visit, we take pleasure in admiring the monastery church, covered with frescoes in the finest example of 19th century ecclesiastical artistry. The old kitchen with its enormous chimney is currently being renovated, but we hope it’ll be finished in time for our visit followed with a view of a monastic room. Those who are willing to climb steep staircases may ascend the steps where you will find the earliest wall paintings of musicians in Medieval Europe.

In the late afternoon, relax as we continue on the two-hour drive to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

We check in to our boutique hotel, the Crystal Palace in downtown Sofia. After freshening up a bit, enjoy a light dinner in a local restaurant nearby. Bid a fond farewell to your new friends, guide and travel companions. (B-L-D)

Hotel Crystal Palace****


Our tour ends after breakfast at the hotel. We’ll arrange your transfer to the airport. (B)

B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner



We invite you to call Sarah or Gwen at 1-800-762-4216 to request the full brochure. The brochure will include Important Traveler Information (and answers to most questions) and a Reservation Form. We can send the brochure through the Postal Service or as a PDF attachment. If you would like to receive a PDF, probably the best way to keep the message from going into a SPAM filter is to send a message to sarah@serioustraveler.com. If you are already on our mailing list, no need to complete the entire brochure request form.


Sofia • Pernik • Rila Monastery • Pravets • Botevgrad • Lovech • Veliko Turnovo
Arbanassi • Shumen • Varna • Nessebar • Kotel • Zheravna • Silven • Stara Zagora
Monument of Buzludzha • Shipka • Kazanluk • Dimitrovgrad • Plovdiv • Pazardzhik

The Communist Era Unveiled
Architecture, Art & Daily Life

August 3 - 14, 2017 • 12 Days
based on double occupancy beginning
and ending in Sofia, Bulgaria (airfare additional)
Transfers from airport to hotel included

August 3 Arrive Sofia

Welcome to Bulgaria! Plan to arrive around noon today at the Sofia airport. Our guide, Stefan, and our driver will meet us for a group transfer to the Rila Hotel. This is the former hotel of the Communist party, and surprisingly in the rooms you will find the same furniture as it used to be before the change in regime. The location of the Rila Hotel is in the very central part of the city. It’s an easy walk everywhere to explore on your own before the tour begins.

At 4:00 PM meet your fellow traveling companions followed by an orientation walk. As this is not an ordinary trip, a dress code is needed as we take our first steps back in time (white shirts, black or dark blue pants, and for the female comrades - skirts in the same colors). Have fun over dinner in typical-for-the-period style. (D)

** Hotel Rila

August 4 Sofia

As we move our way up in time (1950s, 60s, and 70s), we’ll begin our trip at the most representative squares of the capital - the Largo Square and 9th of September Square (today Alexander I st Square). The Largo Complex was finished in the mid 1950s in Stalinist Baroque style as a symbol of the might and eternity of the Communist party. In the early 1990s, after the fall of the regime, some of its symbols represented in details in the architecture were erased. But not all - let’s find the hammer and the sickle and the red star together.

Relax over lunch in Sofia for a taste of traditional Bulgarian food.

In the afternoon we can work our way up to Sofia of the late 1970s - famous for new development of the town directions - The National Palace of Culture and the Residence of Boyana. The building of the National Palace of Culture (late 1970s - early 1980s) was one of the most symbolic results of the huge plan related to the celebration of 1300 years of Bulgarian state. Built even without an architectural plan, and due to the work of thousands of workers, the People’s Palace became not only the largest cultural and convention center, but also a representative gallery of socialist art.

Boyana complex was meant to be a home for the highest-ranking officials of the Communist party. Nowadays one of the buildings there is still the home of the Bulgarian president. Probably the most representative one is now hosting the National Historical Museum. We will have the opportunity to admire the architecture (influenced by the Boston City Hall), and to see some of the most precious historical artifacts in Bulgaria.

This evening drive back to downtown Sofia and enjoy an evening at leisure. (B,L)

** Hotel Rila

August 5 Sofia - Pernik
Saturday Rila Monastery
The economical giants of Communist Era

After breakfast we depart for the former industrial heart of the Communist regime and see what’s left from the giants today. The town of Pernik was the center of the metallurgic and heavy machinery industries. We will spot the enormous factories, now most of them turning slowly into decay. We can meet people who worked there, and find something left from the past.

Next visit the Chervena Mogila plant, a highlight of today’s tour. The plant was built in the 1980s and was planned to be the biggest of its kind in Europe. Well, it did not become the largest on the continent, but took first place in the Balkans. Twenty thousand people were meant to work there, much more than the population of the nearest town - Radomir. The production line was dedicated to heavy machinery, but was easy to convert into tank production in case the Cold War turned into a hot one.

In the afternoon we will have a detour to Rila Monastery (UNESCO List), face of Bulgarian tourism in 1970s and 80s. The monastery was founded as a monastic society in 10th c. by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila. The oldest building in the monastery is a 14th c. defensive tower built by the local nobleman Hrelyo. The main church and the residential wings are from 19th c. For a short period in the first years of the regime the monastery was closed and turned into a museum, and many artifacts were completely lost. Let’s see what was saved and remain a property of the monastery.

Return to Sofia. A traditional dinner with a folklore show a la 70s will complete this eventful day. (B,L,D)

** Hotel Rila

August 6 Pravets - Botevgrad - Lovech
Sunday Veliko Turnovo - Arbanassi

How the elite lived and studied in style
After breakfast we depart for Veliko Turnovo. On the way have an important detour to two significant places of near history - Pravets and Botevgrad. Pravets was the birthplace of Todor Zhivkov, the communist dictator of Bulgaria. This was obviously turned into the most developed village of the period. We can visit the residence of Pravets and the family home of Zhivkov. On display are the presents he received by foreign guests from both East and West.

Enjoy lunch in Pravets. Next we visit Botevgrad, a nearby town where the representative mirror of the Communist Era should have worked the best.

Later today our road will bring us to a place called The Sunny Day. Despite the name, it was not a resort for holidaymakers. This was a stone quarry where the political prisoners of the regime were sent. The average life-expectancy of the inmates was no more than a couple months. The prisoners used to cut big stones for the representative buildings of Communist times.

Upon arrival in Veliko Turnovo we have a look at the University. During the Communist Era a few universities had regional importance. The University of Veliko Turnovo offered education for youth from Central and Northern Western Bulgaria. If you were born in these areas, there was little chance to apply to Sofia University for example. We can visit the University and although students will be on summer break, some remaining on campus may give us insight into everyday life of students from the period.

The Arbanassi Palace, is one of the most representative residences of the Regime, specially built for Todo Zhivkov in the mid 1970s during the Communist Era. Enjoy free time this evening. Dinner and overnight in Palace or similar. (B,L,D)

****Arbanassi Palace or ***Grand Hotel Veliko Turnovo

August 7 Veliko Turnovo - Shumen

After breakfast we will visit the Church of Nativity in Arbanassi. The hundreds of frescoes in the church range from 16 to 19th c. After the visit drive to Veliko Turnovo. We have a brief stop at the remains of Tsarevets Hill - the citadel of the Second Bulgarian State (12 - 14th c.). They were restored and some even rebuilt during the Communist regime. Have a stop for pictures at the Monument of Founders of Second Bulgarian Kingdom, built in 1985 for the 800-year anniversary of the Uprising of the Asenevtsi brothers against the Byzantine empire.

Enjoy free time for lunch on your own and shopping at Samovodene Arts and Crafts Street, where local craftsmen work in their ateliers - pottery, icons, wood-carving, silversmith and more.

Next we depart for Shumen ( 2 1/2 hours). Visit the Monument of the Founders of the Bulgarian State, dedicated to 13 centuries of the First State. The complex implements the socialist ideas of monumental art and sculpture. Built in the early 1980s, it consists of two concrete forms and 21 sculptures that symbolize the history of the Bulgarian lands between the 7th and 10th c.

Have a walk along the representative center of Shumen. In the 1980s the Communist Regime wanted to show the diplomats in Sofia the achievements of the Bulgarian society and economy. This was the reason why the central areas of the cities were transformed and unified in urban planning. Shumen was one of those cities. Unfortunately this policy of the regime stopped and the western diplomats didn’t arrive in Shumen. We will see some of the buildings unfinished, now homes only to the ghosts of the Communist Era.

Check-in to the Hotel Shumen. Enjoy dinner in a nearby village. (B,D)

****Shumen Hotel

August 8 Varna at the Black Sea

The other Bulgaria, a Communist Paradise
After breakfast depart for Varna. It is a city with ancient and modern history. Proclaimed as the sea capital of Bulgaria, many of the buildings were finished during the Communist Era. We will see examples of communist architecture style (periods of development and decline). As the main Bulgarian port on the sea, many buildings from the Industrial Communist Era in Varna are still visible. The representative face of the Regime during the summer is here. Resorts like Golden Sands, Sunny Day and Riviera were meant for the communist elite. But there was another representative face of the regime, which was for the ordinary people, called the Chaika Living Quarter. It was designed with lots of space, many gardens and very beautiful views to the sea. This was designated for workers in Varna. There were other living bed quarters for the majority of workers. Such quarters existed and are still visible in many of the Bulgarian cities and towns. These are big complexes with prefabricated blocks of apartments. They were meant to meet the living needs of the people coming from the villages to the bigger cities to work in the factories and plants. “Unified architecture for unified people…”

Enjoy lunch in a restaurant overlooking Varna where one can even catch the “aroma” of Communism. Our guide will arrange, with special permission, a visit to one of the best kept secrets of the VIP leaders - the Residence of Euxinograd. Built in the late 19th c. during the reign of Prince Ferdinand, the residence was later used by communist leaders. New villas and buildings were added to make perfect comfort for the most notorious members of the Party. (B,L,D)

****City Hotel Cherno More, *****Resort Riviera, Residence Euxinograd
or similar in Varna

August 9 Varna – Nessebar – Silven
Wednesday Kotel – Zheravna
Stara Zagora

After breakfast depart for Southern Bulgaria. We enjoy a beautiful drive via the Black Sea coast. Stop briefly at the Sunny Beach Resort, Old Nessebar and Silven.

Continue via a Balkan mountain pass and the towns of Kotel and Zheravna. This area was officially recognized as an architectural reserve and succeeded to survive new construction thanks to the strict laws of the Regime. In Zheravna we will discuss the Soviet instruction for national identity through traditional-style communist development. In the area have a look at buildings - former residences of VIP leaders turned into hotels today. A special visit to the National School of Folk Singers and Musicians can be arranged too.

The day will include a family visit, where locals will show us their private paradise and how Bulgarians survived during the long cold winters 25 years ago. Arrive in Stara Zagora around 7:30 pm. Our accommodations are in the former Communist Era style Hotel Vereya.

For dinner we can go to a Roma quarter. Our private visit with a Roma family will tell us more about Roma’s life in near past. Enjoy music and dance there as well. (B,L,D)

*** Hotel Vereya

August 10 Stara Zagora – Buzludzha
Thursday Shipka – Kazanluk
Stara Zagora

After breakfast our trip will bring us to the top of the Balkan Mountains to see one of the most significant monuments of the 1980s, today listed as one of the largest abandoned monuments in the world. The Buzludzha Monument was constructed in 1981 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Dimitar Blagoev’s secret gathering to establish the country’s socialist movement in the area. The buildings arena was built for state functions and celebrations. The best architects of the Regime created an enormous structure with precious and semi-precious stone mosaics, many wall murals and a large space for meetings. The cost was too large for the poor economic condition in Bulgaria, but thanks to good relations with the Soviets, the Regime succeeded to finish the project. Today almost nothing has been left from the precious mosaics of Lenin, Marks and Dimitrov, but the building still stands on the top of the mountain remembering the past and the thousands of people who worked there as volunteers.

Continue on a sightseeing tour of the Valley of Thracian Kings and the Golden Church of Shipka. We will visit some of the Thracian tombs and go to the Kosmatka burial mound (4th c. BC) where King Seuthes III was buried. Visit the Thracian tomb in Kazanluk (4-3 c. BC), which is included in UNESCO due to its magnificent frescoes, presenting scenes from every day, wartime and the religious life of the Thracians. We will explore the Kazanluk History Museum, which has golden artifacts from the excavated tombs in the area.

Return to Stara Zagora for dinner on our own and overnight. (B,L)
*** Hotel Vereya

August 11 Stara Zagora – Dimitrovgrad
Friday Stara Zagora

After breakfast enjoy a day trip to the town of Dimitrovgrad - constructed and built by volunteers to create a modern industrial center for the New Communist people. This is one of the very few examples of a completely new designed and constructed town. The center of Dimitrovgrad has Stalin style buildings, with its classical order and monumental decoration. We will be honored guests of the local people and visit the local museum. This will be a day dedicated to life in the 1950s. As a highlight, see the architecture of the period, which was created by talented Bulgarian architects who graduated from schools in Germany in the 1920s. Thus the buildings have something from the German style as well, which is evidence that the totalitarian regimes had a lot in common.

As guests of Dimitrovgrad, we will have the privilege to go to a nearby cooperative. Here we will share a dinner with locals and hear about their memories. Return to Stara Zagora for an overnight. (B,L,D)

*** Hotel Vereya

August 12 Stara Zagora – Plovdiv

After breakfast depart for Plovdiv - a town of multi-ethnic cultural life and layers of history (1 1/2 hours). A lot can be seen here, starting with the Old Quarters where early 19th century houses were built over Roman and Byzantine ruins. Visit a gallery of a contemporary artist, whose art was forbidden during the Communist Era. Today his paintings are well known in the West and USA. Continue on a walking sightseeing tour of the Old Town. We will visit houses - residences of guests of VIP delegations, today museums or small private hotels. Also we can go up the Hill of Soviet Soldier Alyosha, whose controversial monument sits above the center of the city creating a heated debate. During the last years there were proposals for the monument to be demolished, so here’s your opportunity to see it in person. The view to the whole town is amazing from the top.

Our day will finish with a drive around the city to see different architecture styles from the 1950s to 1980s. Accommodations in the Hotel Trimontium Princess - the best hotel during the Regime for representative guests to Plovdiv. Feel the charm of Old Town as we dine at the Puldin Restaurant, emblematic of Plovdiv 20 years ago. (B,L,D)

****Hotel Trimontium Princess

August 13 Plovdiv – Pazardzhik – Sofia

After breakfast we will drive back to Sofia with a special detour to Pazardzhik District. There we can taste wines from one of numerous wine cellars of the region. The most famous variety of grape is Pamid, cultivated in Bulgaria since the times of the ancient Thracians. The wine of Pamid was the most popular table wine for thousands of families during the Totalitarian Regime. We will have a rare chance to taste pure Pamid from very limited vineyards still in the area with local home-prepared organic food for our last lunch together.

Arrive Sofia in the afternoon and check in to the 5-star Grand Hotel Sofia. This is our last evening together, so it will be dedicated to the youth of New Sofia. After a nice farewell dinner together, we could have a visit to a few of the famous clubs popular amongst young people. Dance and enjoy drinks together with the smiling youth of modern Sofia. It is time to say “Good Bye” to the past behind the Iron Curtain and look ahead to the new European democratic future of Bulgaria. (B,L,D)

*****Grand Hotel Sofia

August 14 Depart Sofia

After breakfast, a group transfer will be provided from the hotel to the airport. We hope this tour will give you a complete and realistic view of life in Bulgaria in the near past. We wish totalitarian regimes will never come back…. but we will be glad if our dear guests return to our country, which has a great future as part of the EU family. (B)
B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner

In loving memory of our friend and guide, Lyuba Boyanin


We invite you to call Sarah or Gwen at 1-800-762-4216 to request the full brochure. The brochure will include Important Traveler Information (and answers to most questions) and a Reservation Form. We can send the brochure through the Postal Service or as a PDF attachment. If you would like to receive a PDF, probably the best way to keep the message from going into a SPAM filter is to send a message to sarah@serioustraveler.com. If you are already on our mailing list, no need to complete the entire brochure request form.


Sofia • Boyana Church • Koprivshtitsa • Kazanluk • Kalofer • Shipka • Tryavna • Bozhentsi
Gabrovo • Veliko Tarnovo • Arbanassi • Elena • Zheravna • Kotel • Stara Zagora
Plovdiv • Oryahovitsa • Bachkovo Monastery • Kardzhali • Perperikon • Tatul • Zlatograd
Shiroka Luka • Velingrad • Bansko • Leshten • Melnik • Rila Monastery
Including spectacular sites in the Western Rhodope Mountains


March 31 - April 15, 2018 • 16 Days
based on double occupancy beginning
and ending in Sofia, Bulgaria (airfare additional)
Transfers from airport to/from hotel included

Preliminary Day by Day Itinerary

March 31 Arrive Sofia

Welcome to Bulgaria! Plan to make your flight reservations from the U.S. on April 7, so as to arrive in Sofia on April 8. We will assist with your flight and transfer if you wish. Enjoy free time this afternoon to settle in and recover from jet lag. Get acquainted with your traveling companions over a Welcome Dinner this evening. (D)

Hotel Crystal Palace****

April 1 Palm Sunday Celebration
Sunday in Sofia

Begin the day, as every day on the tour, with a hearty breakfast. We’ll spend the day in Sofia to learn about its history during a sightseeing tour of the city. Enjoy some of the public cultural events organized this day. The streets are full of women selling flowers. On Palm Sunday people buy flowers for presents to friends and relatives. Willow branches decorate churches and people can bring them home for good luck. The main Cathedral of Sofia has a very large service led by Bulgarian patriarch with participation of hundreds of choir singers and many priests. Enjoy the beautiful singing and rituals. We have lunch and then a visit to Boyana Church, a UNESCO site, built and painted between the 11th and 14th centuries. The frescoes, dating from 1259 are considered an artistic precursor to the Italian Renaissance, which started two centuries later. At the National History Museum, we will be introduced to Bulgarian history and see some of the most significant findings excavated in Bulgaria. Free time this evening. (B-L)

Hotel Crystal Palace****

April 2 Sofia - Koprivshtitsa
Monday Kalofer - Kazanluk

After breakfast, relax on a scenic drive to Koprivshtitsa, one of the typical Bulgarian towns still preserving the atmosphere of the Bulgarian National Revival period. The town is huddled in the mountain folds 70 miles east of Sofia. Koprivshtitsa is said to be a unique combination of rich history and fascinating present. No other Bulgarian “Museum town” boasts such a large number of houses and monuments which have been restored to their original appearance. While walking on the paved narrow streets, we feel we are transported to the erstwhile revival times.

Have lunch with the priest of the local church and then proceed to Kazanluk. En route we will stop in the town of Kalofer where we can visit a local lady who makes hand-made lace.

Before dinner you are in for a treat! Listen to the strains of an orthodox a cappella choir as the sounds of their voices resonate in the church’s lofty vaults - a truly extraordinary experience. Drive 143 miles total today and overnight in Kazanluk. (B-L-D)

Hotel Palace***

April 3 Kazanluk - Shipka Pass
Tuesday Tryavna

A significant part of the day will be dedicated to the Thracian civilization and its remains in the area of Kazanluk. This part of Central Bulgaria is called the Valley of the Thracian Kings due to the fact there are more than 15 discovered tombs and a whole city Seuthopolis, now under the water of Koprinka Dam. We will visit a few of the tombs, all of them dated between 5th and 3rd c. BC. We will marvel at the replica of the famous Thracian Tomb in Kazanluk (UNESCO List) and admire the frescoes depicting scenes from the everyday, religious and wartime life of the Thracians. Kazanluk is very famous for its violin-makers and we can visit the private atelier of one of them and see how string musical instruments are made. Lunch in the area. We will not miss the Historical Museum where precious artifacts from archaeological works around Kazanluk are exhibited. In the afternoon spend time at the magnificent Golden Church of Shipka. Continue on to the town of Tryavna via the historical Shipka Pass. Weather permitting, we will drive up to the top of the Balkan range peak of Shipka, where the views to Northern Valleys and to the South are just breathtaking. Accommodation and dinner. (B-L-D)

Overnight in B&B pansion in Tryavna

April 4 Tryavna - Kmetovtsi
Wednesday Bozhentsi - Etara
Veliko Tarnovo

After breakfast, enjoy a sightseeing tour of Tryavna. The central square of the town has preserved the authentic 19th c. look with the Clock Tower, the Church of Archangel Michael and the old bridge. Have a walk along pedestrian street. Visit some of the woodcarving workshops. Tryavna was one of the centers of woodcarving so a visit to the Wood-Carving Museum is a rare chance to see some of the best works from 18-19th c. We can also visit the Icon Museum with its rich collection of Christian Orthodox art.

Around noon we depart to the little village of Bozhentsi (45 minutes), where numerous houses of 19th century were well preserved and turned into galleries, ethno museums, b&b pansions or cafeterias. On the way to Bozhentsi, we will stop for lunch at a 200-year-old tavern in the village of Kmetovtsi. Arrival to Bozhentsi. Have free time to enjoy this artistic little village on your own. Continue to the open-air Ethnographic Museum of Etara. The complex presents typical Bulgarian crafts and the traditional way of using water to power these crafts. Next we visit the nearby Sokolski Monastery (19th c.) where we can enjoy the beautiful scenery. The fountain area of the monastery is particularly interesting, which was built by the famous Bulgarian architect Kolyo Ficheto. Drive to Veliko Tarnovo. Dinner and overnight. (B-L-D)

Overnight in Gurko B&B pansion in Veliko Tarnovo

April 5 Veliko Tarnovo
Thursday Arbanassi – Elena

After breakfast drive to the village of Arbanassi. Explore the Church of Nativity with numerous frescoes from 17th c. which are very well preserved. Our next visit is the House of Konstantsaliev (mid 18th c.). It was owned by a rich merchant’s family and is representative of the fortress-like houses which were spread throughout the Balkan lands of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th c. Return to Veliko Tarnovo (1 hr 15 min), where first we will have a brief stop for a photo opportunity at the Medieval Citadel of Tsarevets. Walk along Samovodene Street where ateliers of different craftsmen are situated – pottery makers, silversmiths, wood-carvers, and more. Enjoy some free time shopping on Samovodene Street and lunch on your own.

In the afternoon we will drive to the nearby town of Elena (45 min). There we will have a walking tour around Old Town. The Church of St. Nicholas (early 19th c.) and the building of Daskalolivnitsata, the first modern Bulgarian school from the 1840s, represent old glorious periods of Elena. We can also visit one of the house-museums, built in early 18th c. with only stone and wooden material. Drive to the village of Zheravna. Dinner and overnight in a B&B pansion. (B-D)

Overnight in Zheravna in selected B&B pension

April 6 Zheravna - Kotel

In the morning we will start our walking tour of Zheravna. Admire the beautiful Bulgarian Revival period houses (18 – 19th c.) and their wooden facades. During our stroll visit some of the houses and the church of St. Nicholas (19th c.). We also meet a local lady who still weaves the famous local carpets and rugs. On Friday, tradition required people to visit the church and to pass under a table representing the Hill of Golgotha. The table is decorated with many flowers and evergreen geraniums. It is not easy to pass under, but once it is done, everyone takes flowers from the table to bring home. It is believed that they are bringing good health and success to everyone.

Zheravna is home to very famous writers and politicians. The legends of Old Mountain were written here. These stories are colorful jewels about the people and their character of the Land of the Mountain. After lunch drive to the nearby town of Kotel. We will have a walk in the town with its numerous preserved wooden houses from late 18 – 19th c. In Kotel is situated one of the national schools for folklore. Delight in a private concert from teachers of the school! (B-L-D)

Overnight in Zheravna in selected B&B pension

April 7 Zheravna - Stara Zagora
Saturday Plovdiv
Midnight Celebration

After breakfast, depart for the town of Plovdiv. The road is full of small surprises and opportunities to stop and enjoy this scenic ride (135 miles). We stop in the town of Stara Zagora and walk along the ancient Roman streets. We will have lunch in a local elegant restaurant.

Arrive in Plovdiv, the second largest town in Bulgaria with millennial history. It has a well preserved Old Town with houses built during the 18th and 19th centuries. At midnight we plan to join the Orthodox Easter ceremonies in one of churches in Old Plovdiv (please prepare with warm clothes, shoes, gloves and a hat). Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshipers go on Saturday night to hear the Holy Mass that celebrates Easter. At midnight sharp, the ritual is for believers to circle the church three times with burning candles. The belief is that if you have been a good Christian, your candle will continue burning. Overnight in Plovdiv. (B-L)

Hotel Trimontium****

April 8 Plovdiv
Easter Sunday Village of Oryahovitsa

Late Easter breakfast is waiting for us at the hotel. Today we will explore the town of Plovdiv, which will be the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe. Our tour starts at the Roman Theater and continues along the cobbled streets of Old Town. Enjoy browsing through the numerous galleries and antique shops located in Old Town. Stop for a coffee break at one of the elegant restaurants in a beautifully restored home. Depart for the village of Oryahovitsa for our very festive Easter lunch, where villagers will be preparing traditional dishes. We will sing and dance with them, feeling like real Bulgarians. Late afternoon return to Plovdiv for an overnight. (B-L)

Hotel Trimontium****

April 9 Bachkovo Monastery
Easter Monday Kardzhali

After breakfast enjoy one more morning in Plovdiv. For lunch we will visit the Bachkovo Monastery. On the second day of Easter, the Bachkovo Monastery celebrates the most important event – the Tour of Miracle Icon of Holy Virgin from the monastery to a famous mountain cave, where the icon was hidden for hundreds of years. Continue our drive across the Rhodope Mountains to Kardzhali, where we will stay for the next two days. (B-L)

Overnight at Yazovir Kardzhali Hotel

April 10 Kardzhali Area
Tuesday Holy Sanctuary of
Perperikon - Tatul

Today we will drive first to Perperikon. It is an archaeological complex, which consists of remains from many periods and civilizations. The earliest evidence of life in the area are from around 6th mil. BC. In the late Bronze–early Iron Age an impressive sanctuary was built on the hill. Some historians and archaeologists even consider the place to be the famous temple of Dionysus. There are remains of a royal palace from the period with a stone-cut throne. In 4-6th c. Perperikon became an important Christian center, where it is believed the tribe of Bessae was converted into Christianity in 5th c. AD. In 1362 the Medieval Bulgarian fortress there was conquered by the Ottomans, ending the life of Perperikon.

We will have a lunch in a nearby village with traditional Turkish style home-made food. After lunch drive to the archaeological site of Tatul – the ancient sanctuary of Orpheus. The place is a part of a bigger cult complex, where according to legend the ancient singer and lyre-player was buried. The beginning of the complex is dated to 5th – 4th mil. BC, and the peak is between 18th and 11th c. BC. It is a large rock-cut sanctuary. In Antiquity a Hellenistic temple and a stone wall were built, later being used as a villa rustica by a local Roman nobleman. The latest period of the hill is the Medieval times (around 13th c.). We will have the chance to visit local Muslims, members of an interesting denomination of Islam – Kazalbashi.

This afternoon we can explore many of the interesting signs and details which were the main interest for a joint Bulgarian-American expedition in 2014, which explored the magical area of Eastern Rhodope. Drive back to our hotel near the Kardzhali Dam. Dinner includes freshly caught fish from the dam. (B-L-D)

Overnight at Yazovir Kardzhali Hotel

April 11 Zlatograd – Shiroka Luka

The next two days brings us to the green beauty of the Western Rhodopes. Century old pine trees, large meadows, breathtaking canyons and lots of mountain rivers make this area one of the major European reserves. Bulgarians still dress in their traditional costumes here and mothers still carry their babies in a sort of bag on their backs. First we drive to Zlatograd- a small Ethnographic crafts center, where we will spend some free time. Have a cup of Turkish coffee at the old cafeteria of Zlatograd. We will taste a delicious home-prepared lunch, while listening to a bagpiper playing for us. The day will end in the village of Shiroka Luka, where the National Folklore School is located. Many of the best folklore singers and musicians studied here. (B-L-D)

Overnight in Shiroka Luka in hotel ***

April 12 Gorges and Lakes of
Thursday Velingrad

This day is dedicated to the beauty of nature. We will drive to the spectacular gorges and caves where legends say Orpheus entered the Underground World. Continue via scenic roads, crossing lakes and rivers, arriving at the famous SPA town of Velingrad. Our accommodation will be at a luxury SPA hotel with time for rest and treatments. In the evening enjoy a private concert by a famous male a cappella group. The concert will be organized in an old Turkish bath. Overnight in Velingrad. (B-L)

Velingrad SPA hotel****

April 13 Velingrad - Bansko
Friday Leshten

In the morning we take the narrow gauge train from Velingrad to Bansko to admire the picturesque mountainous scenery. Around noon we arrive in Bansko and have a walk in the old part of town with buildings from 19th c. Then we continue south to admire the beautiful scenery and architecture of old Bulgarian villages. We overnight in restored 19th c. houses in the village of Leshten. Dinner with local ingredients. (B-D)

Overnight in Leshten

April 14 Leshten - Melnik
Saturday Rila Monastery - Sofia

After breakfast we drive to the Melnik – a well hidden gem of Balkan architecture from 18th c. We can admire the serenity of the magical sandy formations above the town and small old houses nested in the foothills of Pirin Mountain just below the marble Vihren peak (9,563 feet). The town has preserved its old central part, but is now surrounded by a winter-mountain sports center. We drive further north to reach the famous Rila Monastery. The exquisite monastery (pictured on page 1 of this brochure) is situated deep in the heart of the Rila Mountain at an altitude of 3,766 feet above sea level. It is a virtual outdoor museum.

Leave the monastery and drive northward to bid farewell to our new friends, guide and travel companions over a Farewell Dinner in Sofia. Overnight Sophia. (B-L-D)

Hotel Crystal Palace****

April 15 Depart Sofia

Our tour ends after breakfast at the hotel. We’ll arrange a group transfer to the airport early this morning. (B)

B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner


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Cultural Tours to Better Understand the World and Its People

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