Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria & Northern Greece
Monasteries, Castles and Legends
May 05 to 24, 2018
The focus of this tour will be the dramatic mountain scenery and exquisite jewel-like villages, farms, churches and monasteries of rural Romania. This simple, agrarian way-of-life is a vestige of the culture that dominated all of Europe but has virtually disappeared elsewhere. Expect to be entertained by wonderful craft traditions, folk music and dance. The towns are equally impressive; most of the overnight stops are in medieval walled burgs built by Saxon settlers. Romania is noted for its vineyards and interesting cuisine, heavily influenced by Hungarian specialties. Extend to Bulgaria, one of the smallest countries of the Old Continent but with a wealthy history in the Balkan region. From settlement on top of settlement Bulgaria is a repository of ancient sites from many civilizations that inhabited the region through millennia. Buffeted by Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences and dotted with beautiful lakes, threaded together by a network of rivers, In Northern Greece you’ll discover grandiose archaeological sites, picturesquely labyrinthine villages and the great city of Thessaloniki, famous for its dazzling Byzantine heritage, outshone only by that of Constantinople (Istanbul) itself.
Tour cost (Land only): $5,295.00
Per person sharing in double occupancy
Single Supplement: $800.00
Price based on a minimum of 4 participants and maximum of 8 participants
Led by local expert guides
II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides.
*** - **** Superior: Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)
Your tour does not include
- International and domestic airfare from USA into Chisinau & out of Thessaloniki
- Beverages with meals
- Items of personal nature: laundry, phone calls and other items not listed
- Meals not listed
- Tips/gratuities to drivers and guides
- Travel insurance.
- Entry Visas (US citizens don’t require visas)
- Camera or Video fees at museums and sites
- Any cost increase due to currency fluctuation
Your tour includes
- Meeting and assistance upon arrival.
- Transport by air-conditioned vehicle.
- Accommodation mostly at first class (4 stars) hotels with few exceptions in couple of small towns in 3 stars.
- Accompanying expert English speaking guides during tours.
- All meals as per itinerary.
- Entrance fees to visited sites mentioned.
- Bottled mineral water on vehicle during touring.
View Tour Itinerary
Saturday, May 05
US to Chisinau (Moldova)
Depart the US for Chișinău, arriving the next day. Upon arrival meet with the guide and transfer to the Codru hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (D)
Chisinau is Moldova's capital and largest city. Its history stretches back to 1436 and over the years it has been influenced by many nations, notably the Ottomans, Romanians, and Russians. It is the commercial, cultural, and social center of Moldova. Many of the older building were built during Soviet times with characteristic Soviet architecture. However, today new construction abounds, with shiny new office buildings, shopping malls, and apartment blocks, which are replacing the many Soviet-era flats that are home to the majority of the city's middle and working class population, rising across the city. Chisinau also boasts many architectural masterpieces; many of these were designed by famed Russian architect Aleksander Bernardazzi. See the Triumph Arch, also known as the Holy Gate, is located in the center of Chisinau between the main Government buildings.
Sunday, May 06
Begin your day with a tour of the capital. Many orthodox churches and even a monastery can be found in Chisinau. Some churches have been built recently but there are also old masterpieces, designed by notorious architects. Those are in different styles and follow ethnic cultures. One can find Greek and Armenian Churches. Chisinau has also catholic churches, Baptist churches and one synagogue. Many historic building can be found in Chisinau, build in 18th and 19th centuries. Visit Mazarachi Church is one of the oldest in Chisinau. It is an architectural masterpiece in stone whose construction dates back to 1752, the most productive period for Moldovan architecture. Visit the architectural centerpiece: the Metropolitan Cathedral was built in 1836. It is one of the best examples of Russian architecture in Chisinau. Visit the Alexander Pushkin House and Museum is an important cultural monument in Chisinau. It is located several blocks northeast of the central parks, housed in a cottage where Russian poet Alexandr Pushkin (1799-1837) spent three years in exile between 1820 and 1823. Visit The National Museum of History of Moldova is a place dedicated to the memory of the past; it preserves, researches, and displays the most significant artifacts that have been discovered on the territory of the Republic of Moldova from prehistoric times to the present. The museum possesses about 350,000 items of historical, artistic, or memorial significance, which can help our contemporaries to trace the development of culture and civilization of Moldova. Visit Stefan cel Mare Park: The Alexander Pushkin monument, the oldest monument in Chisinau established in 1885, The Alley of Classics sculptural complex. The alley is decorated on both sides with red granite busts of classic Romanian literary figures and political leaders from Moldova. (B,L,D)
Monday, May 07
Chișinău – Tipova – Cricova – Chișinău
Departure to Monastery Horodişte of the Complex Tipova, 100 km from Chișinău, one of the most beautiful in the country and the largest monastery in Europe among cave monastery, carved into the rock by volume and second in the world after Monastery in Cappadocia, Turkey. It is a great advantage; differentiation can be intensely promoted as main tourist attraction. The museum complex Old Orhei is a system of historical monuments and natural landscapes. It consists of a few promontories. Visit Orhei Vechi Monastery and the Medieval Fortress. It was constructed when the Golden Horde conquered this territory. The city here became oriental and was named Shehr al-Cedid. The wooden fortress was destroyed. A new stone fortress was raised its place. It had two rooms and underground tomb. Visit Cricova Winery: a national treasure and the most well-known wineries in Moldova. It is the second largest underground wine cellar in the country. In boasts nearly 120 km of underground tunnels that are large enough for vehicles to drive through. At the deepest point, the tunnels are 100 m below the ground. At the heart of the cellar are lavishly decorated themed banquet halls and tasting rooms, all recently renovated. Here guests can enjoy fine white, rosé, and red wines, old collection wines, and sparkling wines, the pride of the winery. Return to Chișinău. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, May 08
Chișinău - Milestii Mici – Gura Humorului(Romania)
Depart to Romania. Stop to visit Milestii Mici - the largest underground wine cellar in Moldova. It has more than 200 km of limestone tunnels, 55 km of which are used for storing wine. The tunnels’ depth varies from 30 to 85 m below ground. In the center of the cellar complex is a large restaurant and tasting complex. The tasting halls are luxuriously decorated, accented by water, stone, and wood features. The walls are made from natural sea shell rock, skillfully illuminated. Depart to Romania. Arrive in Gura Humorului and check into the Best Western Bucovina Hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, May 09
Daily tour of the Monasteries of Bucovina: deemed masterpieces of Byzantine art, these churches are one-of-a-kind architectural sites in Europe. Far from being merely wall decorations, the murals represent complete cycles of religious murals. The purpose of the frescoes was to make the story of the Bible and the lives of the most important Orthodox saints known to villagers by the use of images. Their outstanding composition, elegant outline and harmonious colors blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape. Visit the “Moldovia” Monastery (1532) surrounded by the defense system and the Monastery of “Sucevia” (1582-1584) famous for its fresco “The Ladder of Virtues” and its massive walls. Visit the village of Marginea, where numerous objects of black pottery from the Bronze Age were found. Nowadays these findings are hand reproduced by a local laboratory. Visit the Monastery of “Vorone” from 1488 AD considered the jewel of Bukovina for its famous cycle of frescoes, which fully decorates the outside walls of the church. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, May 10
Gura Humorului to Bistrita to Cluj Napoca
Depart to see Bistrita, one of the oldest towns in the country. Located at the foot of the Bargau Mountains it connects the Bucovina region to Transylvania. Archeological findings indicate that the area has been inhabited since the Neolithic age, long before Bram Stocker chose it as the setting of his fictional Dracula’s castle. Today, the old town’s quaint 15th and 16th century merchants’ houses, the remains of the 13th century fortress walls and a generally unhurried pace have preserved some of Bistrita’s medieval atmosphere. Arrive and have a tour of Cluj Napoca, ancient Klausenburg for the Saxonian settlers and Kolozsvar to the Hungarians, considered to be the capital of Transylvania. Visit the Square of Liberty with its beautiful houses (17th and 18th centuries), the Catholic church of Saint Michael and the Gothic church of Sfintu Mihail, the largest in the country, built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Arrive to Cluj Napoca and check into the Bayfin Hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, May 11
Cluj Napoca – Alba Iulia - Sibiu
Depart to Alba Iulia, one of the oldest settlements in Romania, known in ancient time as Apulum. It served as the largest military and economic center during the Roman occupation. Temples, mosaics, baths, statues, amphitheaters and the governor's palace were all replicated in great detail to mimic a miniature copy of mother Rome. Visit the fortress built by Emperor Carlo IV and designed by Morando Visconti in 1714. Departure to Sibiu and head to the historical center to see the 15th century Evangelical church and the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque houses. Check into the Ramada Hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, May 12
Sibiu – Sighisoara - Brasov
Depart to Sighisoara. This is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler or Count Dracula. Visit the medieval citadel of Sighisoara considered to be the best preserved in Romania and famous for its 13th century Clock Tower. Explore the Cathedral with its magnificent towers. Arrive to Brasov and visit one of the most charming medieval towns of Romania. It was founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient Dacian site and settled by the Saxons as one of the seven walled citadels. The location of the city at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and western Europe, together with certain tax exemptions, allowed Saxon merchants to obtain considerable wealth and exert a strong political influence in the region. Visit the Schei quarter with the church of Sfantul Nicolae, the first Romanian school from the 15th century and the Gothic church of Biserica Neagrã. Check into the Aro Palace Hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, May 13
Brasov – Bran – Sinaia – Bucharest
Explore Dracula’s Castle, built in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knight Dietrich. Narrow winding stairways lead through some 60 timbered rooms, many connected by underground passages. The castle overlooks the picturesque village of Bran, which offers an open-air Ethnographic Museum consisting of old local-style village houses complete with furniture, household objects and costumes. Depart for Peles Castle, the summer residence of King Carol I. Nestled in the picturesque town of Sinaia, it is a masterpiece of German Renaissance architecture and considered by many to be one of the most stunning castles in Europe. Commissioned by the king in 1873 and completed in 1883, it served as the summer residence of the royal family until 1947. Check into the Golden Tulip hotel in Bucharest or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, May 14
Begin your day with a tour of the capital, called "Paris of the East" for its wide boulevards and its buildings in the "Belle Epoque" style. Visit the Triumphal Arch, the Romanian University, and the Square of the Revolution, the University Square and the Curtea Domneasca. Explore the Patriarchy (spiritual center of the Rumanian Orthodox Church) and the Palace of Parliament, considered to be the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon in Washington. Head to visit the National Cotroceni Museum, the oldest royal residence in Bucharest, now used as the residence of the President and a museum. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, May 15
Bucharest – (Bulgaria) Ivanovo – Arbanassi - Veliko Tarnovo
Depart to Bulgaria. Meet the guide upon arrival at the Bulgarian border. Head to visit the rock monastery of the Archangel Michael near the village of Ivanovo. The temples display well-preserved wall paintings that feature Bulgarian church art from the 13th and 14th centuries. Continue to the village of Arbanassi to see the well-preserved 17th century Kostantsaliev House that has been converted into a museum. Tour the Birth of Christ Church that is divided into a men’s section (narthex) a woman’s section (the vestibule), and a gallery that encloses both. The narthex was once the original church, and the murals on its walls were executed in 1597. Depart for Veliko Tarnovo and visit Tzarevets Hill, a medieval stronghold that served as the Second Bulgarian Empire's primary fortress and strongest bulwark from 1185 to 1393. Check into the Yantra hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, May 16
Veliko Tarnovo – Kazanlak – Karanovo – Plovdiv
Visit the Church of The Nativity located near Shipka village. Visit Kazanlak, the capital of the Rouses valley. The surrounding region has been inhabited for thousands of years, with traces of civilization going as far back as 2000 BC. Visit the important Thracian Tomb (copy) from the 4th century BC situated near the ancient Thracian capital of Seuthopolis. Consisting of a vaulted brickwork "beehive" tomb, it contains, among other things, painted murals representing a Thracian couple at a ritual funeral feast. The tomb was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Continue with the visit to the recently opened Museum of the Bulgarian Rose. Depart to visit one of the Bulgaria's newest (opened in 2010) archaeological complexes in the village of Karanovo. It is the site of a tomb of an Ancient Thrace aristocrat that houses a uniquely preserved chariot featuring elaborate bronze decoration. It has four wheels, which is considered to be an extremely rare archaeological find. Check into the Dedeman Trimonzium hotel or similar in Plovdiv for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, May 17
Bachkovo and Plovdiv
Depart for Bachkovo Monastery founded in 1083 by the Byzantine military commander, Grigorij Bakuriani. It is one of the largest and oldest Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Europe and it is known for the unique combination of Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian styles. Return to Plovdiv, a town that was built around seven hills, which is a feature that is a distinct part of the city’s history. The beginning of its history dates back to 4,000 years BC making it one of the oldest cities in Europe. In the 4th century BC it was conquered by Phillip of Macedonia. Visit the old town situated on Nebet Tepe hill to see the Ethnographic Museum, the roman Theater and the Church of SS Kostantino and Elena. See the Roman Stadium and the Mosque situated in the city center. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, May 18
Plovidv – Koprivshtiza – Sofia
Depart for Starosel and visit the Thracian Temple Complex in the Chetinyovata Mogila that was discovered in 2000. Dating back to the end of the 5th or beginning of the 4th century BC it is the oldest royal Thracian complex with a mausoleum ever found. Depart for Koprivshtiza, one of the centers of the April uprising in 1876 against the Ottoman occupation. Visit the historic city center that features some of the most beautiful old houses in Bulgaria. See the Church of the Virgin (Uspenie Bogirodichino) before departing for Sofia. Stop at the Kremikovtzi Monastery, which was founded in the 14th century during the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander. It was destroyed in 1332 and rebuilt in 1493. Check into the Crystal Palace hotel or similar for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, May 19
Depart on a tour of the city that will take you to the Church of St Sofia, the Church of St George and the Aleksandar Nevski Memorial Cathedral. The latter was officially opened in 1912, in honor of the 200,000 Russian warriors that died in the liberation war. Visit the National Museum of History and the Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The small church is a unique example of the medieval architecture in the Balkans. Of special interest are the frescos on its interior walls, the oldest ones dating back to the 13th century. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, May 20
Sofia, Rila to Thessaloniki (Northern Greece)
Have breakfast. Visit the National Museum of History and the Boyana Church (UNESCO). The small church with its frescoes is a unique example of medieval architecture in the Balkans. Depart for the magnificent Rila Monastery, the most important monument of the Orthodox faith in the Balkans (UNESCO). Rila holy cloister was founded in the first half of the 10th century. Its history is directly related to St Ivan of Rila, a Bulgarian hermit who settled in the region and devoted his life to fasting and prayers. The monastery was initially situated near the cave where the saint dwelled. After he passed away in 946, St Ivan was buried in the cave in which he found solitude. Throughout the centuries Rila Monastery has always been the spiritual, educational and cultural center of Bulgaria. Departure to Greece. Check into the hotel in Thessaloniki for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, May 21
Founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon, Thessaloniki's history spans over 2,300 years. An important metropolis by the Roman period, it was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to numerous, notable Byzantine and Paleochristian monuments. The tour begins with the Arch of Galerius in the lower town. Visit Agios Georgios and Agia Sofia whose interiors are preserved precious mosaics. In the afternoon explore the National Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Art. Return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, May 22
Thessaloniki – Pella – Verghina - Kalambaka
Visit the ruins of Pella the ancient capital of Macedonia. Founded by Archelaus I it became the capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia and was home to the empire of Philip II and Alexander the Great. In 168 BC, after the defeat of the Macedonians by the Romans at Pydna, the city was sacked and stripped of most of its treasures. Head to the UNESCO site of Vergina to see the royal necropolis, believed to be the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia. The museum houses material found in the area that is considered to be one of the greatest archaeological collections in all of Greece. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, May 23
Kalambaka - Thessaloniki
Visit the UNESCO site of Meteora (the word means suspended in the air in Greek). The monasteries are built on rock pinnacles of deltaic origin, known as Meteora, which rise starkly over 400 m above the Peneas valley and the small town of Kalambaka on the Thessalian plain. Return to Thessaloniki. (B,L,D)
Thursday, May 24
Thessaloniki to USA
Depart for the airport to fly home. (B)
We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed