Bulgaria | Thracians & Churches

Rila monastery, an exuberant painted church in the Rila Mountains and home to masterpieces of iconography
Rila monastery, an exuberant painted church in the Rila Mountains and home to masterpieces of iconography
The Rila Mountains
The Rila Mountains
Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fountain in the town of Hisarya
Fountain in the town of Hisarya
Roman theatre, Plovdiv
Roman theatre, Plovdiv
Roman theatre of Phillippopolis
Roman theatre of Phillippopolis
Varna Monastery
Varna Monastery
Traditional houses in Plovdiv
Traditional houses in Plovdiv
Half-human, half-plant caryatids at Sveshtari Thracian tomb
Half-human, half-plant caryatids at Sveshtari Thracian tomb
Elaborate silver and gold sheep-headed rhyton (drinking vessel), 4th century BC
Elaborate silver and gold sheep-headed rhyton (drinking vessel), 4th century BC
Quadriga of horses from the painted ceiling of the Tomb at Kazanluk
Quadriga of horses from the painted ceiling of the Tomb at Kazanluk

Following a golden age for Bulgarian archaeology, Bulgaria is now one of the culturally richest countries in Europe. Hidden in the hills and forests are some of the oldest Neolithic  settlements, Thracian tombs, and exuberantly painted Medieval churches.

At the edge of Europe, Bulgaria is located at the apex of once great civilisations. This sought-after land was invaded from all sides, Philip of Macedon and Roman Emperor Trajan came up from the west and founded cities here. The east sent armies of Byzantine traders and Ottoman raiders, each leaving their marks. Dr Katya Melamed introduces the many ages of Bulgaria.

  • Spectacularly varied history and landscapes, introduced by a Bulgarian archaeologist who has excavated all over the country
  • From the Neolithic houses of Stara Zagora, through Roman Plovdiv, to the exuberantly painted churches high in the Rila mountains
  • Visits to no fewer than six fantastic UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Themes

  • Romans
  • Prehistory
  • Medieval
  • Historic Churches
  • Cultural Excursion
  • Ancient Greek

Practicalities

  • Low Single Supplement

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

We depart from London and upon arrival in Sofia, we transfer to Plovdiv. We begin our tour with a visit to Tell Yunatsite, also known as ‘The Flat Mound’, an important site of the 5th millennium BC. Set against the mountains, the site here holds evidence to suggest it could be Europe’s first civilisation.
Hotel: Ramada Plovdid Trimontium 
Meals: Dinner included

Day 2

Today we explore the sites of Plovdiv, founded by Philip of Macedon. Intense Roman activity on this site means that little is left of the early city. We visit the Trakart mosaics which boasts 150 sq.m of in situ Roman mosaics as well as an interesting exhibit on Roman glass.
Hotel: Ramada Plovdid Trimontium
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

We drive north to the village of Hisarya, where we will explore the Roman remains. We then have a picnic lunch on the site of the Kazanlak Mound before travelling to the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’. Here, we will explore some of the funeral mounds, including a replica of the Kazanlak Tomb.
Hotel: Ramada Plovdid Trimontium
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

The Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo with its fine mosaics, is first on our list to visit today. Followed by Stara Zagora, where we will explore the Neolithic Dwellings Museum, as well as the Roman site of Ulpia Augusta Traiana.
Hotel: Park Hotel Stara Zagora
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

We begin the day at the huge settlement mound of Karanovo. This ‘tell’ represents successive phases of occupation from the 6th to the 2nd millennium BC. We then drive east to Nessebar on the Black Sea Coast. Founded by the Thracians, the town later became a thriving Greek trading colony and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its three milenia of history. 
Hotel: Modus Hotel, Varna
Meals: All meals included

Day 6

We spend the morning at the superb Archaeological Museum in Varna, housing intricately worked gold found at nearby burial sites. After lunch we have time to explore this coastal city including its Roman bath complex.
Hotel: Modus Hotel, Varna
Meals: All meals included

Day 7

Today, we visit the majestic Madara Horseman rock relief. Dating from the 8th century AD, the horseman rides triumphant, a vanquished lion at his feet. We continue to the Sveshtari Thracian Tomb. Here, multi-coloured reliefs depict surreal half human, half plant-like figures.
Hotel: Park Hotel Arbanasi
Meals: All meals included

Day 8

We start our day in Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Medieval Bulgarian tsars. The town is dramatically situated on a gorge over the river. We explore the Tsarevets fortress, a Medieval stronghold which houses the royal and patriarchal palaces. We also discover the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of Saints Peter and Paul. Later, we travel to the ancient site of Nicopolis ad Istrum. A thriving Roman colony, the town was abandoned in the 5th century AD and eventually replaced by a much more modest Byzantine settlement.
Hotel: Park Hotel Arbanasi
Meals: All meals included

Day 9

This morning we head to Arbanasi. Here we uncover the Folk House and the Nativity Church, which is covered in stunning frescoes and feature a pantheon of saints. Next we journey to Etar and explore the Open Air Enthographic Museum. It has been open since 1964 and consists of typical Bulgarian revival houses.
Hotel: Central Park Hotel, Sofia
Meals: All meals included

Day 10

Today we spend a full day in Sofia where we will visit the National Museum of History and the UNESCO listed Boyana Church with its 13th century frescoes in the morning.

After refuelling at lunch we head out on a walking tour of Sofia where we take in the city’s key sites including St George’s Basilica and the Church of Santa Sofia before settling down for dinner.
Hotel: Central Park Hotel, Sofia
Meals: All meals included

Day 11

We head into the beautiful foothills of the Rila mountains, to visit the Rila Monastery. This iconic masterpiece is one of Bulgaria’s most famous and most beautiful sites.
Hotel: Central Park Hotel, Sofia
Meals: All meals included

Day 12

After breakfast we transfer to the airport to board our flight to London.
Meals: Breakfast included

Itinerary 2020

Day 1

We depart from London and upon arrival in Sofia, we transfer to Plovdiv. We begin our tour with a visit to Yunatsite Tell, also known as ‘The Flat Mound’, an important site of the 5th millennium BC. Set against the mountains, the site here holds evidence to suggest it could be Europe’s first civilisation.

Hotel: Ramada Plovdid Trimontium 
Meals: Dinner included

Day 2

Today we explore the sites of Plovdiv, founded by Philip of Macedon. Intense Roman activity on this site means that little is left of the early city. We will visit the Trakart mosaics, the Roman Theatre and pore over artefacts at the Archaeological Museum.

Hotel: Ramada Plovdid Trimontium
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

We drive to the village of Hisarya, famed for its hot water mineral spring, and visit the History Museum. We continue to the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ after a picnic at Kazanlak Mound. We have special access to the Kazanlak Tomb, decorated with 4th century BC frescoes. We also visit the tombs of Golyama Kosmatka and Ostrusha, and then it’s back to Plovdiv for dinner.

Hotel: Ramada Plovdid Trimontium
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

Visit the tomb of Aleksandrovo, dating from the 4th century BC. Later, we continue to Stara Zagora. This town hides Neolithic houses under the city streets and its dwellings are complete with shelves, pots and hearths. 

Hotel: Park Hotel Stara Zagora
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

We begin the day at the huge settlement mound of Karanovo. This ‘tell’ represents successive phases of occupation from the 6th to the 2nd millennium BC. We then drive east to Nessebar on the Black Sea Coast. Founded by the Thracians, the town later became a thriving Greek trading colony and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its three millennia of history. 

Hotel: Modus Hotel, Varna
Meals: All meals included

Day 6

We spend the morning at the History Museum in Varna, which houses intricately worked gold found at nearby Copper Age burial sites. After lunch, we explore this coastal city including the Roman Baths and Marine Garden.

Hotel: Modus Hotel, Varna
Meals: All meals included

Day 7

Today, we visit the majestic Madara Horseman rock relief. Dating from the 8th century AD, the horseman rides triumphant, a vanquished lion at his feet. We continue to the Sveshtari Thracian Tomb. Here, multi-coloured reliefs depict surreal half human, half plant-like figures.

Hotel: Park Hotel Arbanassi
Meals: All meals included

Day 8

We start our day in Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Medieval Bulgarian tsars. The town is dramatically situated on a gorge over the river. We explore the Tsarevets fortress, a Medieval stronghold which houses the royal and patriarchal palaces. We also discover the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of Saints Peter and Paul. Later, we travel to the ancient site of Nicopolis ad Istrum. A thriving Roman colony, the town was abandoned in the 5th century AD and eventually replaced by a much more modest Byzantine settlement.

Hotel: Park Hotel Arbanassi
Meals: All meals included

Day 9

This morning we head to Arbanasi. Here we uncover the Nativity Church and Folk House which is covered in stunning frescoes and feature a pantheon of saints. Next we journey to Etar and explore the Open Air Enthographic Museum. It has been open since 1964 and consists of typical Bulgarian revival houses.

Hotel: Hotel Central Park, Sofia
Meals: All meals included

Day 10

Today we spend a full day in Sofia where we will visit the National Museum of History and the UNESCO listed Boyana Church with its 13th century frescoes in the morning. After refuelling at lunch we head out on a walking tour of Sofia where we take in the city’s key sites including St George’s Basilica and the Church of Santa Sofia before settling down for dinner.

Hotel: Hotel Central Park, Sofia
Meals: All meals included

Day 11

We head into the beautiful foothills of the Rila mountains, to visit the Rila Monastery. This iconic masterpiece is one of Bulgaria’s most famous and most beautiful sites.

Hotel: Hotel Central Park, Sofia
Meals: All meals included

Day 12

After breakfast we transfer to the airport to board our flight to London.

Meals: Breakfast included

What's Included

  1. Expert Guide Lecturer
  2. Tour Manager
  3. Local Travel - Private a/c coach
  4. Meals - Most meals included with wine at dinner
  5. Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
  6. Field Notes
  7. Hotels
  8. Flights

Travel Information

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2020 Tour Details

Sat 4th Apr - Wed 15th Apr

Available

£2,695

inc.

sgl supp: £310

BUL20A

Led By: Dr Katya Melamed

Sat 3rd Oct - Wed 14th Oct

Available

£2,695

inc.

sgl supp: £310

BUL20B

Led By: Dr Katya Melamed

Guide Lecturer

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