Day 1 - Bucharest
Alo! Welcome to Romania. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today – double check with reception to confirm the time. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please have this ready for collection. Bucharest, Romania's capital city, likes big things. It's home to one of Europe's biggest squares and its Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world. It's worth arriving into the city a few days early to explore. Perhaps take a tour of the Palace of Parliament (former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu ordered the construction of this 12-storied monster, a building of staggering scale and opulence that includes 1,100 rooms and 4,500 chandeliers), or check out the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. You might even like to partake in one of our Urban Adventure day trips, such as the 'Home Cooked Bucharest' tour.
Day 2 - Sofia
This morning you will have some free time to further explore Bucharest and all it has to offer. While not the most beautiful or stylish city, there are some wonderful art nouveau buildings, ancient churches and monasteries, lush parkland, lakes and elegant boulevards. Around lunchtime take a bus to Sofia (approximately 6 hours), crossing the border from Romania into Bulgaria. Bulgaria's capital is a cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and pleasant parks. The city claims to be Europe’s second oldest at 7,000 years, though it was only first mentioned by name in documents 2,700 years ago. Alongside Communist-style architecture and beautiful Orthodox churches, construction works frequently uncover Roman remains, so it is perfectly normal to walk past Roman brickwork that has been incorporated into a pedestrian underpass. Mingle with locals who hit the parks and beer gardens to absorb the sun, seek out some regional cuisine and a glass of rakia.
Day 3 - Sofia
Enjoy a free day in Sofia. Maybe begin with a browse around the cured meats and cheese of the Central Market Hall, then take a walk through the city and see the gold-domed Alexander Nevski Church. It was built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence during the Russo-Turkish War – it’s imposingly cavernous, cool, and hushed inside. Other impressive religious buildings to check out include St Nikolai Russian Church, Sveta Nedelya Cathedral and Banya Bashi Mosque, a reminder of years of Turkish rule. There are numerous museums throughout the city, so you might like to get educational at the National History Museum, discover artefacts from the many empires of old that have occupied the city at the National Archaeologiucal Museum, or get cultural at the National Art Gallery. Our Urban Adventure day trips offer some great insight into the local cuisine; try the 'Breakfast with Sofia' or 'Sofia Food, Heritage and Culture' tours.
Day 4 - Gorno Draglishte
Today take a short bus ride to journey into the Rila Mountains, where you'll visit the impressive Rila Monastery. Tucked away in a valley, this World Heritage-listed site is the largest and holiest of Bulgaria's orthodox monasteries. It was founded in 927 to keep Bulgarian spiritual and social life alive during Turkish rule. The entire monastery complex is a work of art in itself – check out stunning murals, the 14th-century Hrelyo Tower, the five-domed Birth of the Blessed Virgin Church and the original 19th-century monastery kitchen. From Rila, transfer to the small mountain village of Gorno Draglishte (approximately 1.5 hours) and spend the night at our local friend's guesthouse. While the accommodation is simple and not all rooms have an en suite, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming and you'll be treated to a delicious home-cooked dinner. You'll even have the chance to learn about the traditional weaving practices of the area.
Day 5 - Bansko
Journey on to the small town of Bansko (approximately 30 minutes). Set at the base of the majestic Pirin Mountains, Bansko is home to more than 150 cultural monuments. Down its cobbled streets, many of its stone houses have been transformed into charming ‘mehanes’ (taverns). Wander through pl. Vazrazhdane and check out the frescoes of the Church of Sveta Troitsa, or the paintings in the Rilski Convent. If you have the time, perhaps stretch your legs with a hike into the eastern slopes of the Pirin mountains, or visit the Belitsa Bear Sanctuary, home to rescued dancing bears. The sanctuary is the largest of its type in Europe, covering over 120,000 square metres. Here the bears can languish in lush green woods, with a river and pool in each enclosure. Seeing them sleeping in the sun, playing in the water and being free from captivity can be very moving. In the evening, you'll have the opportunity to indulge in some local cuisine. Try filet elena (spicy cured meat) or kapama (simmered meat, rice and sauerkraut), washing it down with some delicious melnik (dark red wine).
Day 6 - Plovdiv
Travel by public bus from Bankso to Plovdiv (approximately 5.5 hours). Situated on the Maritsa River, Plovdiv was once the meeting point of two ancient transportation routes. Join a local guide for a tour of the main sights and some insight into the town's history. The most remarkable sight is the ancient Roman theatre, accidentally ‘discovered’ after a landslide exposed the site in the early 1970s. Built in the 2nd century BC during the reign of Trajanus, the theatre seats about 6,000 people and is now back in use. From here, wander up to the site of the former hilltop fortress of Nebet Tepe, where you can enjoy excellent views of the city. Head back down to visit the 15th-century Dzhumaya Mosque, still in use today. After the tour, why not check out the underground crypt at Bachkovo Monastery or have a wander down Stumna Street to see traditional coppersmiths, farriers and potters at work. Perhaps discover the Bachkovo Monastery, or visit one of the many hot springs in the Plovdiv region. One of the most well-known spa towns is Hissarya, famous for its 22 mineral springs.
Day 7 - Istanbul
Today catch a seven-hour bus from Plovdiv, cross the border into Turkey and head on to Istanbul. A bustling mega-city with a population of over 12 million people, a rich history and food scene waiting to be explored, the only city in the world to straddle two continents – no amount of time here is ever enough to come to terms with this mesmerising ancient capital. Your journey ends on the morning of your second day here, so it's well worth staying on for a few extra days if time allows. There are plenty of optional things to see and do here. You might like to take a boat cruise down the Bosphorus River, lose yourself in the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar, check out the amazing Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, or climb the ancient Galata Tower for great views over the city. In the evening, what better place to enjoy a final meal with your fellow travellers than the foodie paradise of Istanbul. Try some cheesy gozleme or tangy manti (Turkish ravioli with yogurt).
Note: All travellers to Turkey need to obtain an e-visa before arrival, as visas are not available at the border. Information about the e-visa can be found at the following site: evisa.gov.tr.
Day 8 - Istanbul
Today your East European adventure comes to end. There are no activities planned and you are free to depart the accommodation at any time. If you would like to stay longer in Istanbul there are plenty more things to see. Perhaps visit the Archaeology Museum, which contains artefacts from the infamous city of Troy, join the hoards of shoppers and revellers along Istiklal Caddesi, or wander down into the quieter, hilly backstreets of Beyoglu where antique shops are aplenty. If all of this makes you a little tired, a visit to a hamam (Turkish bath) will leave you rejuvenated at the end of your journey. Additional accommodation can be booked, subject to availability. Please ask your travel consultant.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money