Day 1 of 11. Arrival in Bulgaria
Program: airport transfer and free time in Sofia (if possible)
Arrival at Sofia Airport and meeting with Santiago Tour’s guide or driver.
Transfer to the accommodation.
Depending on the arrival hour, free time in the city (without driver or guide). You can stroll along the beautiful shopping street Vitosha, with its many cafes and terraces, visit one of the important Orthodox churches, or discover the offers of the Market Hall, housed in an elegant neo-Renaissance building.
Day 2 of 11. Discover a secret destination in the Balkans: North Macedonia
Sofia - Skopje ☾. 245 km
Program: visit Osogovo Monastery; city tour and free time in Skopje - the capital
Breakfast. We head southwest and cross the border into Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic with a complex national identity and an important historical heritage.
A few kilometers away we find the Osogovo Monastery, one of the most beautiful in the country. A peaceful area, surrounded by forests, where you can visit the two churches: the great one of Saint Joachim, with precious frescoes and 12 domes just like the apostles, and the 14th century Byzantine Church dedicated to the Virgin.
Later, we continue the route to Skopje, the capital. Time for lunch, accommodation check-in, and a visit of this eclectic city, a mix of Christian and Islamic culture, with a present that alludes to Greek antiquity. We stroll through the Old Bazaar area, visiting the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and the Church of the Holy Savior, and admiring oriental buildings such as the Kapan Han caravanserai or the Daut Pasha Hamam, turkish baths which have been converted into the National Gallery of Art. Next, we tour an area of numerous museums and statues, an ensemble known as “Skopje 2014”. Highlights include the Holocaust Memorial Center, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence, the Archaeological Museum and the statues of Cyril and Methodius, Philip II and, on the other side of the Vardar river, that of Alexander the Great. We cross the iconic Stone Bridge and continue along Macedonia Street, seeing the Memorial House of Mother Teresa on the way. The tour ends here or continues to the City Museum, installed in the building of the Old Railway Station, partially destroyed by the great earthquake of 1963. Free time in the afternoon.
Day 3 of 11. Mountains and lakes
Skopje - St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery - Ohrid ☾. 215 km
Program: spend time in Mavrovo, visit St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery, and free time in Ohrid
Breakfast. We start the itinerary through Western Macedonia and enter the Mavrovo National Park. Short free time in Mavrovo village, with its curious church that the lake is able to hide or reveal. The area is famous for the annual wedding festival (July 12) organized in the village of Galichnik, and for the aged yellow cheese called Kashkaval.
We then continue through the mountains rich in forests and waterfalls reaching the canyon of the Radka River, where Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery is located. Visit the church, admiring its refined wooden carved iconostasis. Optional hike to Duf Waterfall, from the nearby village of Rostushe (about 1h30, not suitable for everyone) and time to have lunch. Afterwards, we follow our route, with a possible stop at Saint George the Victorious Monastery in Rajčica enjoying its panoramic views, and in the afternoon we arrive at the fantastic Lake Ohrid. Overnight accommodation and free time in the charming town of Ohrid.
Day 4 of 11. A monumental lake
Ohrid - St. Naum - Ohrid ☾. 60 km
Program: Ohrid city tour and excursion to Saint Naum Monastery
Breakfast. Visit Ohrid in the morning. Situated at the foot of a mountain, on the lakeshore, the Old Town is a UNESCO cultural and natural heritage site. We walk through the Lower Gate to the City Museum, housed in the Robev House. In its collection of artifacts, the statue of the Goddess Isis stands out above all (entrance not included). We continue the tour visiting the Church of Saint Sofia, an important monument of medieval art and architecture, The Ancient Theater from the Hellenistic period, and the Holy Mother of God “Perivlepta” Church with its icons of great value. We enjoy panoramic views from Samoil’s Fortress and then go down to the archaeological site of Plaosnik, a place marked by the presence of various civilizations. Here we visit the restored monastery established in the 9th century by Saint Clement on the foundation of earlier temples. In this very important center of Slavic Christianity, the Patron Saint of Macedonia developed and taught the Cyrillic script. Later on, we finish the tour in the Kaneo fishing area. Optional excursion by boat, admiring the small church built on a cliff. Time to have lunch.
In the afternoon, we go on an excursion following the lakeshore to the south, passing near the Galichika National Park. Twentynine kilometers from Ohrid, almost on the border with Albania, we encounter the Monastery of Saint Naum, a contemporary of Saint Clement who fulfilled the same spiritual mission in his time. We visit the convent with beautiful views over the lake, a garden, and a 17th century Church, replacing the previous one that had been destroyed by the Ottomans. They say that approaching the ear to the tomb of the Saint, you can still hear a faint noise resembling his heartbeat. The springs of the Black Drin river flow into the lake here and at the other end, in Struga, the river rises and carries its water to the Adriatic Sea.
Free time to enjoy the best beaches of the lake or take a boat trip upstream, and then return to Ohrid.
Optional: Extra day in Ohrid.
Program: visit, enjoy the beach, relax, and take a boat excursion
Breakfast. One more day to enjoy the remarkable natural beauty of the area. We recommend doing the city tour and the excursion to Saint Naum Monastery on different days, leaving the entire afternoon free to enjoy the beach or simply relax. Boat trips can be made both on the lake and on the springs of the Drin River. With an age of 3 million years and 300 m deep, Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest in Europe. Its length measures 34 kilometers and the two thirds belonging to Macedonia have been declared a World Heritage Site.
Day 5 of 11. Mosaics, wine and nature
Ohrid - Bitola - Matka Canyon - Skopje ☾. 290 km
Program: visit Heraclea and free time in the Matka Canyon
Breakfast. This day we leave Ohrid behind, returning to Skopje. En route, we make a stop in Bitola to visit the archaeological site of Heraclea, a city founded by Philip II in ancient times. We admire the mosaics, learn about the history of the place, and maybe enjoy a coffee before following our route. Reach Stobi, time to have lunch and optional visit of the wineries including wine tasting. In the afternoon, we arrive at the Matka canyon, a place of refuge and a beautiful natural area, near the capital. Time to walk along the banks of the Treska River, take a cruise enjoying nature, and possibly go up to St. Nicholas’ Monastery to enjoy a splendid panorama. In the end, we head to the city of Skopje. Overnight accommodation.
Optional: Extra day in Skopje. A day in nature and explore the capital
Skopje - Matka Canyon - Skopje. ☾. 50 km
Program: spend time in Matka Canyon and Skopje
One more day to fully enjoy the Matka Canyon. You can also add a visit to Vrelo Cave, possibly one of the deepest in the world, and spend more time relaxing or going on a hike. Therefore, you can relax the previous day by going directly from Stobi to Skopje.
In the afternoon, in Skopje, you can take the cable car up to the Millennium Cross. On the other hand, an essential visit would be the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, so appreciated for the almost Renaissance expressiveness of its painting, which dates back to the 12th century, and the views it offers from the top of Mount Vodno. Free time in the city and overnight accommodation.
Day 6 of 11. The second part of the trip, Bulgaria
Skopje - Rila Monastery - Sofia ☾. 350 km
Program: visit Rila Monastery; city tour and some free time in Sofia
Breakfast. This day we return to Bulgaria and we have a good stretch of road in the morning, until we arrive at Rila Monastery. It is a convent protected by UNESCO due to the beautiful Byzantine architecture and its importance as an Orthodox cultural and spiritual center. Founded in the 10th century by Saint John of Rila, the monastery is located at an altitude of 1,147 m, all surrounded by the nature of the homonymous mountains. Visit, time to have lunch, and continue in the afternoon to Sofia. Depending on the arrival hour (1h time zone difference!), we will visit some of the following attractions: Nevsky Cathedral with its multitude of domes, the Art Gallery - former Royal Palace and the rather small National Assembly, the beautiful Russian Church also known as St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, the Presidency with its guard of honour and the old St. George Rotunda inside its courtyard, and the iconic Theater building. The city tour will be completed on the second-to-last day of the program, in the afternoon. Overnight accommodation and some free time in the city.
Day 7 of 11. On the other side of the Balkans
Sofia - Arbanasi - Veliko Tarnovo ☾. 240 km
Program: visit Arbanasi; city tour and free time in Veliko Tarnovo
Breakfast. We start our itinerary through Bulgaria heading northeast and crossing the Balkans. We first arrive in Arbanasi, a prosperous merchant village privileged by the Sultan in the past, characterized by a beautiful architectural heritage from the 17th and 18th centuries. Highlights include the surprising Nativity Church and Konstantsalieva House, an original residence with remarkable attention to detail. Visit and time for lunch. We then continue to Veliko Tarnovo, old medieval capital with beautiful and unusual architecture that seems to climb the hills. Accommodation check-in and city tour: walking and admiring the extensive Tsarevets Fortress and the historical street of the artisans “Samovodska Charshia”. Free time in the city.
Day 8 of 11. On the way to the sea
Veliko Tarnovo - Ivanovo - Madara - Varna ☾. 300 km
Programa: visitar las Iglesias de Ivanovo y admirar El Caballero de Madara; visita y tiempo libre en Varna
Breakfast. We leave in the morning for Danube’s lowlands and reach the canyon of the Rusenski Lom river. In a natural park, we find a precious medieval heritage: the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo. The St. Archangel Michael Chapel (“The Buried Church”) and the Main Church of the Holy Mother of God stand out. The remarkable Byzantine frescoes did not forget to represent the czars of the Second Bulgarian Empire, important donors of this monastic complex currently protected by UNESCO.
Afterwards, we continue the itinerary, turning this time to the east and reaching the Madara plateau. Here we stop to admire The Madara Rider, a large relief from the Early Middle Ages carved at 23 meters above the ground, in the rock of a cliff that goes up to almost 100 meters. A knight is seen stabbing a lion that lies at the feet of his horse, an eagle flies ahead and a dog runs alongside him. It dates from the 8th century and is considered the symbolic representation of a military triumph or, more importantly, the representation of khan Tervel himself, the leader who consolidated the Bulgarian state, whose existence in the Byzantine province of Moesia had been won by his father Asparuh. Time to have lunch en route and in the afternoon we arrive in Varna, the "marine capital" of the country. Accommodation check-in and brief visit. The Dormition Cathedral, with elements of Russian Renaissance, and the interesting Clock Tower, behind the Dramatic Theater, stand out at the beginning of an elegant pedestrian city center. Free time to stroll around the Sea Garden, a large park and recreation area along the city’s coast.
Optional: Extra day in Varna. Explore the Black Sea Coast
Varna - Balchik - Cape Kaliakra - Varna. ☾. 160 km
Program: visit Balchik Palace, spend time on the Black Sea Coast and in Varna
Breakfast. We leave in the morning to the north and arrive at the Balchik Palace - the favorite summer residence of Queen Maria of Romania during the interwar period. It is a beautiful architectural ensemble on the Black Sea coast: a main building with an extravagant minaret, a botanical park, a wine cellar, outdoor baths and the Stella Maris Chapel. After the visit, we explore the coast further with two possible stops: Cape Kaliakra, a historical place with beautiful views of the sea at 70 m high, and Bolata Bay Beach, one of the most beautiful in the area. Both attractions are part of a protected natural area. Time for lunch in a restaurant on the seashore, one of the options being Dalboka, famous for its mussel farming, and / or return to Varna in the afternoon. On our way back, optional visit to the Stone Forest, a small desert with fine sand and curious stone columns, created and shaped by nature apparently. Or enjoy more time in the city by visiting: the Archaeological Museum (exhibits the "Gold of the Thracians", summer hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and / or the Retro Museum with a surprising collection of "socialist" cars (hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ). Overnight accommodation and free time in Varna.
Día 9 de 11. Between the coast and the inland of Bulgaria
Varna - Nessebar - Kazanlak - Plovdiv ☾. 425 km
Program: visit Nessebar and the Thracian tomb of Kazanlak; free time in Plovdiv
Breakfast. We continue our route, this time to the south, and we arrive in Nessebar. Visit the Old Town (UNESCO), located on a small peninsula and preserving the charm of a fishing village, with narrow streets, churches and a multitude of restaurants overlooking the sea. Short free time and we return inland stopping in Kazanlak, a center of rose oil production. Refined and very much appreciated in perfumery, it is the essence of the flower that has become the national symbol of Bulgaria. Here, We visit the accurate replica (the only visit allowed) of "The Thracian Tomb" dating from the Hellenistic period - 4th century BC, a monument included in the World Heritage List. Time for lunch, then we continue in the afternoon to Plovdiv, a charming city with a bohemian air and the second largest in the country, with an impressive history. Overnight accommodation and free time in the city.
Optional: Extra day in Plovdiv. Route through the Rhodope Mountains
Plovdiv - Bachkovo - Asen Fortress - Plovdiv. ☾. 60 km
Program: visit Asen’s Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery; free time in Plovdiv
Breakfast. We head south turning at some point towards Asenova Krepost, on a road with beautiful views all around. On the left bank of the Asenitsa River, on top of a rocky peak with almost vertical slopes, lies Asen’s Fortress. Built and rebuilt by everyone who controlled it over time, this stronghold, inaccessible on three sides, closed the route between the fertile plains of Thrace and the Aegean Sea. Only one medieval church survives on this site steeped in history.
After exploring the place, we continue to the beautiful Bachkovo Monastery. Founded in the 11th century by a Byzantine politician and military man of Georgian origin, the convent flourished during the Second Bulgarian Empire. Although it was sacked by the Turks later, it re-emerged in the 17th century. Highlights: the main Church "Sveta Bogoroditsa" (Mother of God), with the fresco of Christ Pantocrator and the adored miraculous Icon of the Virgin, the Refectory of 1601 with remarkable frescoes that tell the history of the monastery, and the Church of St. Nicholas, where the Last Judgment may be admired, a refined work of the painter Zahari Zograf. Time for lunch and return to Plovdiv in the afternoon. Free time in the city and overnight accommodation.
Día 10 de 11. Catch the spirit of a free nation and return to the capital
Plovdiv - Koprivshtitsa - Sofia ☾. 200 km
Program: visit Plovdiv and Koprivshitsa; city tour and some free time in Sofia
Breakfast. In the morning, Plovdiv city tour including “the Roman city”, with a wonderful Ancient Theater and the ruins of the Stadium, and the Old Town dominated by beautiful buildings from the Bulgarian Revival period. During the walking tour, we highlight attractions such as Dzhumaya Mosque, Hindliyan and Balabanov House Museums, or the Church of Saints Konstantin and Elena. Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture of 2019. Next, we leave for Koprivshtitsa. It is a museum-village located 950 m high, in the Sredna Gora mountains, that preserves many houses of the National Revival period.
A quiet and beautiful place that maintains the special atmosphere of the 19th century, when the first rebellion against the Ottoman occupation sparkled here. You can visit the heritage formed by 8 authentic houses, each linked to a native personality. Free time to enjoy the place and have lunch. In the afternoon, we travel 111 km to Sofia, the capital. Finish the city tour, overnight accommodation and some free time in the city.
Day 11 of 11. Return
Sofia - Airport ✈
Program: free time (if possible) and airport transfer
Breakfast. Free time in the city depending on the flight and transfer to the airport. End of Santiago Tour’s services. Thank you!