Start in Sofia, Bulgaria
Our trip commences in the afternoon at the hotel in Sofia. Recommended arrival is before 3:00 pm as usually the group welcome meeting takes place at 3:30pm. After the welcome meeting, we go for an optional lunch at a nearby restaurant.
After lunch, we have a guided walking tour around Sofia (approximately two hours) of the Bulgarian capital, which includes Sveta Nedelya Square, Independence Square with the St Sofia monument, excavated Roman ruins of the ancient Serdica, the Council of Ministers and the former House of the Communist Party, Rotunda of St George, the national theatre, the Russian Orthodox church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Bulgarian Parliament and the monument to the Tsar Liberator.
Accommodation: Hotel Sofia Palace (or similar)
Transfer to Melnik, stopping at the Unesco-listed sites of Boyana Church and Rila Monastery. Free afternoon in Melnik
After breakfast, we begin our transfer towards the picturesque city of Melnik. En route we visit the Unesco-badged Boyana Church, a small medieval orthodox church in a suburb of Sofia. Despite the small size of the church, its frescoes are historically significant and part of an artistic movement that started the technique of illustrating biblical figures with emotions and placing them alongside local aristocracy.
The second Unesco site we visit is Rila Monastery, one of the most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments in Bulgaria (approximately a two-hour transfer from Sofia). The combination of arcaded balconies, unique frescoes, gilded iconostasis, and fabulous mountain views make a visit to this 10th-century monastery extraordinary. Our leader reveals its history and there is plenty of time to explore with the option of lunch at one of the restaurants near the monastery complex.
After food, we continue to Melnik, the smallest settlement in Bulgaria with city status, best known for its historic architecture. We have a quick visit to Kordopulova house, the biggest house from the Revival Period built in 1754 by the Kordopul family. Here we become familiar with old Melnik traditions and architecture. The rest of the day is free to explore.
Accommodation: Hotel Melnik (or similar)
Transfer to North Macedonia. Visit the ancient city of Stobi; enjoy wine tasting over dinner in a winery of the Tikvesh wine region
This morning, before we depart for North Macedonia, we visit Kordopulova house, the largest house from the Bulgarian Revival Period, built in 1754 by the Kordopulos family. Here we will become familiar with old Melnik traditions and architecture.
We then head to the Strumica region of southeastern North Macedonia. After 1hr 30min, our first stop is the city of Strumica where we have a short walk around the centre and our first encounter with North Macedonian cuisine with lunch in a nice restaurant.
In the afternoon, we move to the Tikvesh wine region, where we visit Stobi, the largest archaeological site in North Macedonia. The ancient city was first mentioned in 197 BCE but its history started some five centuries earlier, developing from a Paeonian town to the capital of the Roman province Macedonia Salutaris. The preserved buildings include a large theatre, luxurious palaces with fountains, ancient temples, and the oldest Christian church in the country.
In the late afternoon, we check into our hotel-winery outside Demir Kapija and spend an evening tasting a selection of premium North Macedonian wines with dinner.
Accommodation: Hotel Popova Kula (or similar)
Drive to Bitola to visit the archaeological site of Heraclea and enjoy a walking tour of the city with free time in the evening
After a relaxed breakfast, we head towards Bitola city (two hours’ drive).
Our first stop is to tour the archaeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis on the outskirts of Bitola. The ancient city was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the fourth century BCE after he had incorporated the surrounding region of Lyncestis into his kingdom. The city was named in honour of the mythological hero Heracles (or Hercules to the ancient Greeks), whom Philip considered his ancestor. With a strategic location, Heraclea became a prosperous city.
In the afternoon, we sightsee in Bitola, the second largest city in North Macedonia. It was a major political, economic and cultural centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many foreign countries had their consulates here; therefore, it is also known as the City of Consuls. After lunch in a local restaurant, we join our leader for a guided walk in Bitola centre, seeing Širok Sokak Street, the clock tower, Ottoman mosques, Christian churches and the paved streets of the Old Bazaar.
We have free time after checking into our hotel. You may wish to visit the National Museum, walk the promenade in the nearby park, or enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes and learn about the coffee culture of Bitola and the significance it has had on this city over the ages.
Accommodation: Hotel Teater (or similar)
Pelister National Park walk, beekeepers farm and lunch in Dihovo, transfer to Lake Ohrid via Lake Prespa and Galičica National Park
This is a day to enjoy nature. In the morning, we go to nearby Pelister National Park to walk The Path of the First World War through pine forests and to learn about the history of the area. Bitola was on the frontline of the Macedonian front during the Great War and war remnants are still found in the surrounding mountains.
We then visit the nearby village of Dihovo, where we can explore the fascinating world of the Macedonian honeybee with a local beekeeper. Protective clothing will be provided and there will be a chance to taste honey from the comb as well as purchase some if you wish. Lunch is arranged in the garden of a local family’s home in the village.
In the afternoon, we continue to Ohrid, enjoying a ride via Galičica National Park. We stop at tranquil Lake Prespa before we start driving the scenic road through Galičica Mountain with short stops to enjoy views of both Ohrid and Prespa lakes. Driving along the coast of the Unesco-listed Lake Ohrid, we reach the city of Ohrid, where we have free time.
Accommodation: Hotel Royal View (or similar)
Full day in Ohrid, a Unesco World Heritage city. Dinner in a family home in Kuratica village
After breakfast, we have a walking tour of Ohrid, the pearl of the Balkan Peninsula. Built on a large hill above the lake, the old town is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. The sightseeing takes us through winding, cobblestone streets with traditional houses and many Byzantine-style churches, including Hagia Sophia cathedral, the Holy Virgin Peribleptos and St John at Kaneo. We see the Upper Gate, visit the Tsar Samuel's Fortress and the Ancient Theatre. We have a free afternoon to explore, visit museums, enjoy a panoramic boat ride, or maybe take a swim in the lake.
In the evening, we have dinner in Kuratica village (approximately 30 minutes away), where a local family will prepare a delicious, home-cooked meal in their home, using organic local products.
Accommodation: Hotel Royal View (or similar)
Transfer to Kosovo via Tetovo and Šar Planina National Park. Lunch in Varvara and a walking tour in Prizren
After breakfast, we check out and travel from Ohrid to Prizren in Kosovo. We stop in Tetovo (approximately two hours’ drive) to see the Colourful Mosque, one of the most notable Islamic monuments in Europe due to its unique decorative style. From here, we head to the nearby village of Varvara, where the community will prepare a traditional lunch for us on their beautiful terrace overlooking the Polog valley.
Then we continue to Kosovo, where we have a scenic drive (two more hours) after the border crossing through Šar Planina National Park to reach the historic city of Prizren. This medieval capital is known for traditional handicrafts, gastronomy and wines, and for having a wonderful mix of Serbian and Ottoman monuments. The leader takes us for a walk around the city to see the most famous sites, including Shadirvan square, Sinan Pasha Mosque, the Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals, Gazi Mehmet Pasha’s Hammam and the 14th century Our Lady of Ljeviš (part of a World Heritage property).
The evening is at your disposal to enjoy a meal or the sunset view from Kalaja, the fortress of Prizren.
Accommodation: Hotel Cleon (or similar)
Visit the Unesco-listed Gračanica Monastery before Skopje, followed by a city tour
We leave Prizren in the morning. Our first stop is King Milutin’s final endowment, Gračanica Monastery, a Unesco World Heritage site in the heart of Kosovo close to Priština, the capital of this disputed territory. The masterfully built monastic church was finished in 1321 and is still a bastion of Orthodox Christianity, since Gračanica is one of the few remaining dominantly Serbian populated areas in Kosovo.
We then head back across the border to Skopje, the North Macedonian capital. We arrive after approximately two hours’ drive and have a sightseeing tour of downtown Skopje in the late afternoon. Skopje valley has been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times and the city has experienced Roman, Byzantine, Slavic and Ottoman rule through the ages. Today it is a bustling, modern metropolis, thanks to redevelopment after a catastrophic earthquake in 1963, with an intriguing mixture of various period sites and architecture styles. Some of them are the Stone Bridge, Macedonia square and street, Mother Theresa memorial house, the Old Railway Station, Stara Čaršija quarter (the Old Bazaar) – which contains numerous Ottoman buildings – and Skopsko Kale, a medieval fortress.
Accommodation: Hotel Tims (or similar)
Osogovo Monastery visit while transferring back to Sofia for a farewell dinner
Today’s drive is dedicated to completing the circle back to Sofia. We break this drive (approximately four hours) with a stop before the border at Osogovo Monastery to visit this historic venue and to have a lunch.
In the late afternoon, we return to Sofia.
In the evening, we can have a farewell dinner of traditional local dishes.
Accommodation: Sofia Place Hotel (or similar)
After breakfast, we say goodbye to each other and start our journey home. If you’d like to spend a bit more time in this illustrious city, speak to your sales representative about extending your stay.