Preliminary Day by Day Itinerary
October 6 Arrive Sofia
Welcome to Bulgaria! For those who arrive today, there is time for a short rest before we meet late afternoon in the hotel lobby for our welcome get-together. Early this evening we will have an orientation walk in the center of Sofia including a visit to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral followed by dinner. (D)
**** Hotel Crystal Palace
October 7 Sofia - Plovdiv - Sofia
After breakfast we visit the Roman ruins in the center of Sofia and Sofia Synagogue. Then head to Boyana Church which is included in the UNESCO List and is the largest art value to Sofia. Frescoes date back to 1259 presenting realistic art in Europe from the mid-13th century.
Later this morning depart for Plovdiv (2 hours). Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, and known as the cultural capital of Bulgaria, due to many cultural activities that happen there. It will also be preparing for its celebration of being named as one of the Cultural Capitals of Europe for 2019. When we arrive in Plovdiv, we will stop very close to the Old Town where our walking tour will begin. Visit the Roman theater (2nd century AD), built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan. Enjoy lunch in Old Town. Visit the church of St. Constantine and Helena (19th century), where some of the most prominent Bulgarian artists and icon-painters worked. We will also visit one of the 19th century house-museums of rich merchants, where we can explore the mixture of Western and oriental influences.
Then continue our walk to see the exterior of Djumaya Mosque (14th century), built in the first years of the Ottoman invasion and the ruins of the Roman stadium (2nd century AD). View the main pedestrian street with its beautiful houses from the late 19-20th century. This evening drive back to Sofia (2 hours). (B-L)
**** Hotel Crystal Palace
October 8 Sofia - Rila Monastery
Tuesday Melnik - Sandanski
We get an earlier start today as we depart for Rila Monastery (2 hour drive through the Rhodope Mountains). Rila Monastery (UNESCO List) is one of the largest monasteries in the Balkan Peninsula. It was founded as a monastic society in the 10th century by the hermit, St. Ivan Rilski. Nowadays the main church and residential buildings are from the 19th century, and the defensive tower in the yard is from the 14th century. Visit the ecclesiastical museum, main church, monk’s cell, ethnographic exhibition, and guest rooms.
Lunch independently in the area of the monastery followed by a drive to Melnik (2 hours). Scenically located at the foothills of sandstone pyramids, this small town in Bulgaria is famous for its 18th century Ottoman architecture and red wine. On a walking sightseeing tour, we visit the House of Kordopulov (18th century) – one of the largest of its kind, built by a rich merchant family.
After dinner in a BB Pension, we depart for the nearby town of Sandanski for an overnight. We’ll get an earlier start tomorrow. Turn in early or take advantage of a swim in the thermal pools this evening. (B-D)
****SPA Interhotel Sandanski
October 9 Sandanski
Wednesday Stobi, Macedonia -
Today we drive to the Macedonian border (1 hour). Formalities at the border usually take around one hour as well. Welcome to Macedonia!
Our lunch will be packaged to eat on the road. En route to Skopje we make a short stop to the ancient ruins of Stobi. Stobi is one of the largest archaeological sites of Macedonia, first mentioned in the beginning of 2nd century BC as a capital of the Peoniae tribe. Later Stobi became a center of the Roman province of Macedonia Salutaris. The site is impressive with its remains of public buildings and basilicas, as some of them have splendid mosaics. Continue our drive to Skopje (2 hours) where we check in to our accommodation in Skopje. After freshening up, enjoy a walking tour of Skopje. Visit the old Turkish bazaar, the Stone Bridge and Macedonia’s square. This is a newly reconstructed main square of Skopje with pretty amazing sculptures. Enjoy dinner on our own. Tonight we’ll have the opportunity to participate in local cultural activities. (B-L)
****Hotel Stone Bridge
October 10 Skopje - Gorno Nerezi
Thursday Prishtinë, Kosovo - Pejë
After breakfast depart for St. Pantaleimon (in Gorno Nerezi village) just outside of Skopje followed a drive directly to the border of Kosovo (1 hour). Welcome to Kosovo! When we enter the newest state in Europe we will have around a 2-hour drive to Prishtinë. Drive through the center of the city for a sightseeing tour and a stop at the Bill Clinton monument for a photo op. Free time for lunch there. Continue to Pejë.
Arrive in Pejë to visit Pec Monastery, a UNESCO heritage site. This is where Serbian Patriarchs stayed for centuries. The churches have been decorated by the most famous artists of the time. Frescoes date back to the 12th, 14th and later centuries of Ottoman rule. We will arrange a very special appointment to visit the monastery, as it is an area protected by UN guards.
Check in to our Hotel Dukadjini. Dinner at the hotel restaurant this evening. (B-D)
October 11 Pejë - Prizren
Friday Dechani - Pejë
This morning depart for Prizren (2 hours). Have a walk around Old Prizren to see some of the highlights of the town. First we see the Church of the Virgin of Levisha, also on the UNESCO list. The Serbian King Stefan Urosh founded it in the early 14th century. Many images of saints are represented here. The church was badly damaged in 2004 during the war in Kosovo. Today only a small part of the altar remains. Next, the Sinan Pasha Mosque, which was built in the early 17th century. It is believed that the construction material was taken from the nearby Monastery of Holy Archangels. Finally, if restoration is complete we’ll see the old Turkish baths in the center of Prizren – Gazi Mehmet Pasha Hammam. During our time in Prizren, we stop for lunch at Prizren tavern.
This evening we head back to Pejë. On the way have a detour to see the Monastery of St. Stefan in Dechani, which is on the UNESCO list. Have a stop for wine tasting en route back to tour hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening. (B-L)
October 12 Pejë
Saturday Budva, Montenegro
After breakfast we depart to Budva, Montenegro (7-8 hours drive) with lunch and stops en route. Welcome to Montenegro! Relax as we cross mountains, gorges, spectacular canyons, mountain rivers and small autumn-colored valleys.
By 5:00 PM arrive in Budva where we have accommodations in a hotel in Old Town. Dinner on your own this evening. (B-L)
****Hotel Astoria, Budva
October 13 Budva - Kotor - Budva
This morning drive to Kotor (1 hour) for a sightseeing tour. One of the Pearls of the Adriatic Coastline, Kotor was founded in the 2nd century BC as a Roman town. Nowadays the city is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its old town is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic. Plenty can be seen there – such as the Cathedral of St. Tryphon (12th century), long parts of defensive walls (from late Byzantine until Venetians), and much more. After lunch in Kotor, drive around Boca Kotor – the most southern situated European fjord.
In the evening we return to Budva for dinner on your own or an evening stroll. (B-L)
****Hotel Astoria, Budva
October 14 Budva - Sveti Stefan
Monday Shkodër, Albania - Tirana
Today we have the opportunity to see Sveti Stefan – the marvelous island of Montenegro. Dating back to 15th century the island was inhabited by fishermen. Then it was decided that the whole island to be turned into a luxurious place for an escape for the rich and famous people of Yugoslavia. Its glory reached its zenith in the 1970s. The views are like those taken from fairytales with their terracotta rooftops contrasting the blue sky and sea. The island is closed from tourists unless one is willing to pay thousands for an overnight there.
Continue our drive south to Albania where our first visit will be to Shkodër (around 3 hour drive).
Welcome to Albania! We will see the Castle of Rozafa overlooking the lake of Skadar - perched at more than 4,000 feet above sea level. It is believed to have been used since ancient times by the Illyrians until it was captured by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. Nowadays remains are predominantly of a Venetian origin. We can enter the castle for an opportunity to see the valley from the top (weather permitting) and a photo op!
After lunch on our own, we will continue to Tirana (around 3 hours) arriving by about 6:00 PM. Our accommodation is at the four-star hotel Boutique Hotel Kotoni and by 7:30 PM, dinner is in a selected restaurant in walking distance nearby. (B-D)
**** Boutique Hotel Kotoni
October 15 Tirana
Walk to the Skanderbeg Square, the main landmark of the city, named after an Albanian hero. We can walk along the pedestrian street; this is the best way to explore Tirana architecture and everyday life. During our walk visit the famous painted Et’hem Bey Mosque. It dates back to the 18th century in the style of Ottoman “rococo”, which is amazing for its colors and lines presenting flowers and leaves in one unique wall decoration combination. Pilgrims from far and wide reach the Et’hem Bey Mosque to offer prayers. The Clock Tower, National History Museum - north of Skanderbeg Square, The Palace of Culture, the House of Leaves (the headquarters of the state security during the communist regime), the monument to Mother Albania and the National Gallery are the significant spots that catch the attention of one and all who make a visit to the city.
After lunch near the museum in Tirana, we have the unique experience to visit one of the recently opened bunkers – Bunk’Art. This is one of the estimated 175,000-750,000 bunkers scattered around Albania, which were built during the Cold War under the rule of dictator Enver Hoxha. See the interesting story of these bunkers in the October 9, 2017 article on NationalGeographic.com.
We will have an opportunity for a cultural event such as a concert, an opera or another performance, depending on schedules that day. (B-L)
**** Boutique hotel Kotoni
October 16 Tirana
Wednesday Ohrid, Macedonia
Depart for Macedonia to the UNESCO museum town of Ohrid (3.5 hours, depending on traffic at the border).
We expect to arrive at the border to Macedonia near monastery of St. Naum by 2:00 PM. Lunch is in a selected restaurant near the Springs of Lake Ohrid with delicious food. The lake is included in the UNESCO Nature Heritage List. After lunch we can take a little row boat to see the Springs of Lake Ohrid followed by a visit to the monastery of St. Naum (around 15 min walk). The monastery operated from the end of 10th to the beginning of 11th century and was established by St. Naum, one of the disciples of St. Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the Glagolic alphabet. Towards the end of his life St. Naum of Ohrid built the monastery St. Archangel where he was buried in 910 AD. The architecture of the monastery church is typical Byzantine. Different constructive layers can very clearly be recognized dating back from 10th to 14th century. The frescoes date back to the beginning of the 19th century.
Late afternoon we depart for our hotel in Ohrid where we can have dinner on our own in a selected restaurant in walking distance to the hotel. (B-L)
*** Hotel Royal View
October 17 Full Day in Ohrid
Begin the morning with a boat trip if weather conditions are good for navigation. See St. Jovan Kaneo from our boat on the water. After breakfast we will have a sightseeing tour in the Old City of Ohrid. The town and the Lake are protected by UNESCO as rare architectural and natural phenomena. It is said that Ohrid had 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Its basilicas with luxurious mosaics, valuable archaeological sites and an antique theater confirm that Ohrid was an important religious and cultural center of the ancient era. Plenty of frescoes, wood-carvings and icons can be seen in the churches. They are from the Medieval and Ottoman periods. Our city sightseeing tour of Ohrid will include the following localities: Churches of St. Nikola and Virgin Mary Bolnichna, Ohrid Ethnology (Ethnographic) Museum, the churches of St. Sofia, St. Mary Perivleptos and Icon Gallery (the aspect of visiting these churches are the world famous frescoes and icons, the best presentation of Byzantine and Post Byzantine art), the Samuel Fortress, Plaoshnic (the first Slavic university), the ancient Roman Theater and more.
There will be free time for lunch on your own and individual activities in the Old Town. Visit the local market in Ohrid. Tonight enjoy a Macedonian farewell dinner. (B-D)
*** Hotel Royal View
October 18 Ohrid - Tetovo
Friday Osogovo - Sofia, Bulgaria
After an early breakfast we check out and depart for Bulgaria. This will be a long drive of about 8-9 hours total. On the way to Sofia we will have a couple of stops for rest and to visit a few interesting cultural sites of the Balkans. We will take the road to Skopje with a detour to Tetovo, where we can visit the famous painted wooden mosque there called Šarena Džamija. This mosque was built in the 15th century as a donation of two women, buried in a nearby turbe (tomb). This Islamic temple deserves a look because of its colorful decorations and frescoes on the walls with rich geometrical and floral elements.
You’ll have the opportunity for lunch on your own en route or in Tetovo. Continue our way to Bulgaria with a detour to the St. Joachim Osogovski Monastery. The smaller of the two churches at this monastery is dedicated to the Holy Mother of God – was founded in the 12th century, and rebuilt in the 14th century. The larger of the two churches known as Saint Joachim of Osogovo was built in the 19th century.
Proceed to the border point with Bulgaria and on to Sofia. Arrival in Sofia where we check-in to the Hotel Crystal Palace. Enjoy a farewell dinner at a selected nearby restaurant. (B-D)
**** Hotel Crystal Palace
October 19 Depart Sofia
After breakfast bid farewell to your new friends. Transfers from the hotel to the airport will be organized for you. (B)
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner