Northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria & Romania
September 28 to October 14, 2020
The focus of this tour will be the dramatic mountain scenery and exquisite jewel-like villages, farms, churches, and monasteries of the four countries visited. This simple, agrarian way-of-life is a vestige of the culture that once dominated the continent but has virtually disappeared in Western Europe. Expect to be entertained by 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.
In Northern Greece, you’ll discover grandiose archaeological sites, picturesque labyrinthine villages and the great city of Thessaloniki, famous for its dazzling Byzantine heritage, outshone only by that of Constantinople (Istanbul) itself.
Buffeted by Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences and dotted with beautiful lakes, threaded together by a network of rivers, Macedonia is a repository of history surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Bulgaria is 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 throughout the millennia.
Romania is noted for its vineyards and interesting cuisine, heavily influenced by Hungarian specialties. Its strong ancient traditions, medieval life and peasant culture will allow you to imagine how life must have been like hundreds of years ago.
Tour cost (Land Only): $5,250.00 Per person sharing in double occupancy
Single Supplement: $750.00
Price based on a minimum of 6 participants and maximum of 12 participants
Led by local tour manager and local 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
Roundtrip airfare from USA and back.
Alcoholic beverages or soft drinks with meals.
Items of personal nature: laundry, phone calls, internet service, and other items not listed.
Meals not listed.
Travel insurance - Highly recommended.
Entry Visas (US citizens don’t require visas).
Camera or video fees at museums and sites.
Any cost increase due to currency fluctuation.
Additional hotel accommodations necessitated by changes in air schedules or misconnections, or transfers on other dates different than the main tour dates.
Your tour includes
Meeting and assistance on all arrival and departure days.
Transport by modern A/C vehicles.
Accommodation mostly at first class (4 star) hotels with a few exceptions in a couple of small towns at 3 star hotels.
Accompanying expert English-speaking local guides during all tours.
Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B= breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner).
Bottled mineral water on vehicle during tours.
Tips/gratuities to drivers and guides (with required minimum participants.)
View Tour Itinerary
Mon-Tue, Sep 28-29
Arrival in Thessaloniki (Greece)
Depart the USA and arrive in Greece the next day where our staff will be ready to greet you and assist with the transfer to your pre-booked hotel in Thessaloniki for check-in and dinner. The rest of the day will be free at your leisure. (D)
Wednesday, Sep 30
Meet with your local guide at the hotel lobby and depart for a tour of Thessaloniki. Founded in 315 B.C. by Cassander of Macedon, Thessaloniki's history spans over 2,300 years. It was an important metropolis during the Roman period and the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. The After it was conquered in 1430 by the Ottomans, it became an important seaport during the 500-year Turkish rule. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to a number of impressive Byzantine and Paleo Christian monuments. Your tour of Thessaloniki begins with the Arch of Galerius in the lower town followed by the Church of Agios Georgios and Hagia Sofia of Thessaloniki both known for their precious preserved walled mosaics. Next, explore the National Archaeological Museum containing artifacts from Prehistoric, Archaic, Hellenistic, Classical, and Roman periods excavated from the city. Also visit the Museum of Byzantine Art, which contains a collection of sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics, icons from the Byzantine period. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Oct 01
Thessaloniki – Pella – Vergina – Kalambaka
Today you'll visit the ruins of Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia. It was founded by Archelaus I and was home to the empire of Philip II and Alexander the Great. In 168 B.C., after the defeat of the Macedonians by the Romans at Pydna, the city was sacked and stripped of most of its treasures. Next, 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. Check-in to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, Oct 02
Kalambaka – Bitola (Macedonia) - Ohrid
Visit the UNESCO Site of Meteora, which means "suspended in the air" in Greek. The monasteries here are built on rock pinnacles that rise starkly over 1,300 feet above the Peneas Valley and the small town of Kalambaka on the Thessalian plain. You'll then depart for the Macedonia border and meet your local guide then make a short stop at Bitola, one of the oldest cities in the country. It was conquered by the Turks in 1382 and known as Monastir during the Ottoman Empire, which lasted more than five centuries. During that time, dozens of mosques were built by the Turks. Continue on to the city of Heraclea founded by Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, in the mid-fourth century B.C. Among the most interesting relics to see are the baths, colonnades, and amphitheater. Also stop to see the remains of two churches, both displaying colorful mosaics dating back to the fifth century A.D. depicting geometric shapes, trees, birds, flowers and animals. Finally, arrive in Ohrid and check-in to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Oct 03
Ohrid - Tetovo - Skopje
After breakfast, depart for Tetovo where you'll visit the Painted Mosque, also known as the Mosque Aladza. This 15th century jewel of Islamic Art was built with donations from two noble Muslim women - Hurshida and Mensure, whose tombs are located in the garden. The mosque is presented in the form of a cube, fully decorated both inside and out with floral and geometric motifs. It was rebuilt and expanded by Abdurrahman Pasha in 1833 and the frescoes and wooden interior dating back to this period are all in excellent condition. Next, head to the capital city of Skopje and explore the narrow streets of the old bazaar. The pedestrian walk is comprised of similar, one floor structures that house shops selling jewelry, carpets, clothes, books, etc. See the 15th century Mustafa Pasha Mosque, perhaps one of the most beautiful mosques in Macedonia, and the 14th century Church of St. Spas, which is partially submerged underground. Other visits include the Cathedral Kliment Ohridski, the largest Orthodox Church in Macedonia, and the nearby Feudal Tower and the memorial dedicated to Mother Teresa. Check into your hotel in Skopje for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Oct 04
Skopje – Rila (Bulgaria) - Sofia
Today you'll make your way to the Bulgaria border where you'll meet your local guide, then continue on to the magnificent Rila Monastery, the most important monument of the Orthodox faith in the Balkans. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded during 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. After he passed away in 946, St. Ivan was buried in the cave in which he found solitude. The monastery was initially situated near the cave where the saint dwelled. Throughout the centuries, Rila Monastery has always been the spiritual, educational and cultural center of Bulgaria. From here, travel to Sofia where you'll check-in to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, Oct 05
Depart on a tour of Sofia, the capital and largest city in Bulgaria. Visits include the fourth century Church of St. Sofia, the Church of St. George, and the Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral. The latter was officially opened in 1912 to honor the 200,000 Russian warriors that died in the liberation war. Next, visit the National Museum of History for an overview of Bulgaria's history, and the Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a unique example of medieval architecture in the Balkans. Of special interest are the frescos on its interior walls with the oldest ones dating back to the 13th century. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Oct 06
Sofia – Koprivshtiza – Starosel - Plovdiv
Depart for Koprivshtiza, one of the hotbeds of the April uprising in 1876 against the Ottoman occupation. Visit the historic city center featuring some of the most beautiful old houses in Bulgaria. See the Church of the Virgin (Uspenie Bogirodichino) before heading to Starosel, known for its ancient Neolithic and Thracian sites. Here you'll visit the Thracian Temple Complex in the Chetinyovata Mogila Tomb, which was discovered in 2000. Dating back to the end of the fifth or beginning of the fourth century B.C., it is the oldest royal Thracian complex with a mausoleum ever found. Stop at the Kremikovtzi Monastery, founded in the mid 14th century during the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander. It was destroyed in 1398 and rebuilt in 1493. Continue to your hotel in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Oct 07
Plovdiv – Bachkovo - Plovdiv
After breakfast, drive out to the 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 is known for its unique combination of Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian styles. Return to Plovdiv, a town built around seven hills, a distinct part of the city’s history. Plovdiv's history dates back to 4,000 years B.C., making it one of the oldest cities in Europe. During the fourth century B.C., it was conquered by Phillip of Macedonia. You'll visit the old town situated on Nebet Tepe Hill where you'll see the unique Ethnographic Museum, the Roman Theater, one of the best preserved ancient theaters in the world, and the Church of St. Constantine and Helena, one of the oldest churches in the city. Also see the Roman Stadium, another well-preserved structure from ancient Roman times, as well as the beautiful 14th century Dzhumaya Mosque. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Oct 08
Plovdiv – Kazanlak – Shipka - Arbanassi
In the morning, you'll make your way to 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 B.C. Visit the important fourth century B.C. Thracian Tomb, situated near the ancient Thracian capital of Seuthopolis. Consisting of a vaulted brickwork "beehive" tomb, it contains, among other things, painted murals. The tomb is not actually open to the public in order to preserve the sensitive paintings, so you will see the full-sized replica built nearby. Next, visit the Thraciam Tomb “Goliama Kosmatka.” In this tomb also found was the now famous magnificent sculpted head believed to represent Seuthes III. Next, visit the spectacular Church of The Nativity located near Shipka village. This late 19th century Orthodox church was built in 17th century Muscovite style. Countinue to Etara and visit the famouse Ethnographic Open-Air Reserve. It presents Bulgarian customs, culture & Craftmanship. Continue on to Arbanassi were you will Check-in to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, Oct 09
Arbanassi – Veliko Tarnovo - Rousse
Head to visit 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 isit Tzarevets Hill, a medieval stronghold that served as the Second Bulgarian Empire's primary fortress and strongest bulwark from 1185 to 1393. Continue to Russe. Visit Ivanovo Rock Manasteries monument protected by UNESCO. Arrival in Ruse – the most beautiful Bulgarian city at the Danube River. Check-in to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Oct 10
Rousse (Romania) – Sinaia - Brasov
Departure to Romania and Meet your guide upon arrival at the Romanian border. 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. Arrive in Brasov. Check into the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Oct 11
Brasov – Bran - Sibiu
Today's journey takes you from Brasov to Sibiu. start by exploring Brasov, one of the most charming medieval towns in Romania. It was founded by the Teutonic knights in 1211 on an ancient Dacian site and then settled by the Saxons as one of the seven walled citadels. The location of the city sits at the intersection of trade routes that linked the Ottoman Empire and western Europe. Here you'll visit the Schei quarter and the Church of St. Nicolae, the first Romanian school from the 15th century. Also visit the Gothic Church of Biserica Neagrã, built in the late 14th century, and explore the 13th century Dracula’s Castle, built 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, where there is an open-air Ethnographic Museum consisting of old local-style village houses complete with furniture, household objects and costumes. Check-in to a hotel in Sibiu for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, Oct 12
Sibiu – Curteade Ages - Bucharest
Start your morning by driving to Curtea de Arges Monastery. The beauty of this interesting edifice is surpassed only by the legends told from generation to generation about its construction and the human sacrifices that were made in order to complete the it. Legend has it, that its master builder, Manole, trapped his wife within the walls of the monastery during construction, then when it was finished, Prince Neagoe Basarab ordered the scaffolding be removed so that Manole and his team be stranded on the roof without any possibility of getting down. The master builder attempted to create a pair of wooden wings to try and fly down from the roof, but crashed in the monastery courtyard. Continue on with the drive to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, considered the "Paris of the East" due to its wide boulevards and "Belle Époque" style buildings. Check-in to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Oct 13
Spend the day exploring the sites in Bucharest including: the Triumphal Arch (Arcul de Triumf), originally built to commemorate Romania's independence in 1878 and rebuilt in its current, Neoclassical design in 1935; Bucharest University, founded in 1864 under the command of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, making it the second oldest university in Romania; University Square, the site of the student protest against Romania's ex-communists in 1990; the Square of the Revolution, located in the center of town where you'll also find the former Royal Palace, Bucharest University Library, and Memorial of Rebirth; the Curtea Veche, built as a palace during the rule of Vlad the Impaler in 1459; the Patriarchal Cathedral - spiritual center of the Romanian Orthodox Church; the Palace of Parliament, considered to be the second largest parliament building in the world after the Pentagon in Washington D.C.; and the National Cotroceni Museum, built on the site of the old Cotroceni Monastery in the late 19th century, making it the oldest royal residence in Bucharest. Today it is the residence of the president and a museum. Return to your hotel in Bucharest for your overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Oct 14
Bucharest - USA
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight back home. (B)
We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed