back to Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s magnificent monasteries and UNESCO heritage

Venture into the heart of this ancient land and you’ll discover a rewarding array of monuments, stunning monasteries adorned with magnificent frescoes and museums nestled in historic villages and towns. This pilgrimage includes six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Surrounding these cultural gems is a diverse landscape ranging from the snow-covered peaks of the Rila Mountains to the lush river valleys and surrounding hills of the Danubian plain. This fertile land and pleasing climate combine to create the perfect conditions for growing roses, their familiar sweet oil being used in perfume all over the world.

Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, is a history lover’s almanac, and vaunts a turbulent past together with many vestiges of bygone times. With so many cultures calling Sofia home over thousands of years, it’s no surprise that multiple religions have taken root in the city. Though the Eastern Orthodox church is the most prevalent, the Catholic, Muslim and Jewish faiths also have ample places of worship. There is no better example of Sofia’s polytheistic culture than the Square of Religious Tolerance, where four temples (Saint Nedelya, Banya Bashi, Saint Joseph and Sofia Synagogue) border the space. Standing here you’ll see how harmoniously Sofia has embraced religious diversity.

The town of Plovdiv is home to Bulgaria’s largest surviving Roman construction, the Roman theatre in the Old Town, built in the 2nd century AD but only discovered 40 years ago due to a landslide. Archaeologists continue to unearth remarkable examples of this fascinating civilisation. Amidst the ancient history, mountains, countryside and friendly folk in Bulgaria is the great number of monasteries situated over the unapproachable peaks or enclosed by mountains and surrounded by incredible nature. The Bulgarian monasteries are unique, because of their rich architecture, icons and wall paintings, as well as the legends and sagas, bringing a mythical outlook to them.

Itinerary

  1. Travel to Bulgaria (D, DR)

    Morning: meet your Tour Leader at Heathrow Airport and check-in for your direct flight to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

    Afternoon: arrive in Sofia where you will be met by your Local Guide and escorted to your city centre hotel with an introductory panorama of some of the city sights on route to the hotel. Check-in to your hotel for a two-night stay, relax and rest before dinner.

    Evening: a short worship in the hotel followed by a welcome drinks get-together to get to know your fellow pilgrims. After, stroll together to enjoy dinner in an atmospheric local restaurant with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  2. Sofia city tour (B, D)

    Morning: from your city centre hotel enjoy a walking tour of the Bulgarian capital. Visit the neo-Byzantine Alexander Nevski Cathedral, which was built to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria's independence. Along the way you will also see the synagogue, Presidential Palace and Saint Sofia's Church. Tour inside the church from which the city takes its name, an outstanding example of Early Christian architecture. You will also visit the vast Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built 1882–1912,  which also follows the same architectural tradition. See how the well-preserved remains of the Roman city (Serdica) are entwined with the subway system under the shadow of the former Communist Party headquarters and also the archaeological museum, with its impressive collection including Thracian treasure housed in the city’s oldest and largest former Ottoman mosque.

    Afternoon: after time for lunch (at own cost) we visit the medieval St. Petka Church, the Banya Bashi Mosque and other sites and include entrance to the Archaeological Museum, which covers the complete study of the culture of tribes and peoples who have occupied Bulgaria to the present day.

    Evening: dinner in the hotel with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  3. The Boyana Church & the Rila Monastery (B, D)

    Morning: depart Sofia and head south stopping at the Boyana Church, located on the outskirts of Sofia and one of the landmarks of the city which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its frescoes dating back to the 13th century were painted 200 years before the Western European Renaissance and are a remarkable piece of art with outstanding artistic value.

    Afternoon: continue to the Rila mountains, which are the highest on the Balkan Peninsula, reaching the Rila Monastery which for centuries was a sanctuary of Bulgarian literature and spiritual life and is now listed by UNESCO. It was founded in the middle of the 10th century by St. Ivan of Rila and played a key role in preserving Bulgarian culture. You will visit the monastery church with its amazing frescoes painted by the most famous Bulgarian finest artists from 19th century and the monastery museum which houses a rich collection of exhibits connected with the history of the monastery and the spread of Christianity on the Bulgarian lands. worship will be offered in this magnificent setting. After, continue to Bansko and check-in to your five-star hotel for a two-night stay.

    Evening: dinner in the hotel with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  4. Melnik, wine tasting & the Rozhen Monastery (B, L, D)

    Morning: today we tour the local countryside starting with with tiny Melnik, a town with just around 300 inhabitants. The area is well known for the excellent red wines including the “Shiroka Melnishka”, which reportedly was a favorite of Sir Winston Churchill. We also visit the 17th century Kordopulova Museum the largest Revival house in the entire Balkan region and enjoy a tasting of the local wines.

    Afternoon: continue to Rozhen village for lunch at a local restaurant followed by a visit to Rozhen Monastery with its picturesque courtyard, church and monastery buildings. This is the biggest monastery in the Pirin Mountains in southwestern Bulgaria, and one of the few medieval Bulgarian monasteries well preserved until today.  We will worship in this wonderful setting.

    Evening: dinner in an atmospheric local restaurant with water and tea or coffee included.

    symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  5. Bansko - Gorno Draglishte – Dobarsko – Plovdiv (B, L, D)

    Morning: enjoy a morning stroll through the centre of the old town of Bansko visiting the church dedicated to Virgin Mary. After, drive to the village of Gorno Draglishte for a warm family welcome and lunch at the “house of Granny Deshka” with home made local dishes and washed down with home-made rakia. All the family pop in and say 'hello' and it truly is a community atmosphere.

    Afternoon: continue to Dobarsko is known for its 25-metre waterfall, its two old Eastern Orthodox churches and the many consecrated grounds and chapels in the area, as well as the panorama view of three of Bulgaria's highest and largest mountains from the village.

    The Church of Theodore Tyro and Theodore Stratelates, a small three-naved stone basilica half dug into the ground. The holy spring in the church yard is said to be curative.  Also the Church of the Purification of the Virgin, is a richly decorated Bulgarian National Revival work. Other chapels and consecrated grounds around Dobarsko include the Goatherd's Church, the Dug Church, St Elijah, St Spas, St Athanasius, the Holy Trinity, the Holy Theotokos, St Demetrius and St George. After, continue to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city and former European Capital of Culture in 2019, for a two-night stay.

    Evening: dinner in the hotel with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  6. Plovdiv walking tour & the Bachkovo Monastery (B, D)

    Morning: a guided walking tour of  Plovdiv to discover its two thousand year old history. Plovdiv once rivalled Troy and Mycenae and has preserved ruins from the Roman, Ottoman and Bulgarian Revival periods. Visit the Roman Forum, the small Roman basilica and the Roman theatre dating back to the 2nd century AD. Walk along the tiny cobbled streets of the old town winding between the ancient fortress walls, beautiful houses and churches. During the tour you will visit the Ethnographic Museum housed in the home of a wealthy merchant from the Revival period, and also the Church of St. Konstantine and Elena.

    Afternoon: after free time for lunch continue to Bachkovo monastery, the second largest in Bulgaria, beautifully situated in the Chepelarska River Valley. Surviving many invaders, the monastery has several buildings, a cathedral and a chapel housing valuable relics, making it one of the holiest places in Bulgaria. We join together here for worship.

    Evening: meet to stroll together for dinner in an atmospheric local restaurant with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  7. Starosel, Damascena rose oil, Kazanlak Veliko Tarnovo (B, D)

    Morning: depart Plovdiv and drive to Starosel known for its abundance of ancient Neolithic and Thracian sites, with some finds dating as far back as the 5th-6th centuries BC. Evidence from 20th-century excavations have revealed that the village burgeoned into an important and wealthy Thracian city in the 5th century BC. We also stop at the Damascena Ethnographic complex for a talk on the production of rose oil at the first private rose oil distillery in Bulgaria.

    Afternoon: continue to Kazanlak an area well known as “The Valley of the Thracian Kings” due to the numerous tombs discovered in its surroundings. Visit one of the finest examples dating back to the third century BC with preserved frescoes and listed by UNESCO. After continue to Veliko Tarnovo and check-in to your hotel for an overnight stay.

    Evening: dinner in the hotel with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drinkk

  8. Arbanassi – Troyan – Sofia (B, D)

    Morning: depart Veliko Tarnovo for Sofia with the morning stop in picturesque Samovodska Charshia with its old merchant street with handicraft workshops.  visit Arbanassi set on a high plateau and known for the rich history and large number of historical monuments, such as 17th- and 18th-century churches and examples of Bulgarian National Revival architecture. After, we head for the imposing Tsarevets Hill Castle where the Bulgarian kings once lived and then proceed to Arbanassi and the Church of the Nativity of Christ with its well preserved murals depicting over 2000 scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

    Afternoon: continue to Sofia via the magnificent Troyan Monastery adorned with impressive frescoes that focus on religious themes. These include fire-breathing demons and angels reviving the dead out of their coffins. On one of the windows near the back of the church, the artist Zahari Zograph even painted himself, a highly controversial move at the time. The monastery is home to one of the most important icons in Bulgarian orthodox religion, a carved, wooden “Three-Handed Virgin.”

    Evening: dinner in the hotel with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  9. Sofia - Kremikovtsi monastery (B, D, DR)

    Morning: visit the Kremikovtsi Monastery, built on a rocky terrace with stunning vistas of the surrounding plains. The Monastery was founded during the 14th century, probably due to Tzar Ivan Alexander (1333-1371), when 14 monasteries known as the "Sofia Mount Athos", were erected around Sofia. Today it houses a working convent which consists of  two residential buildings and two churches, the 15th century "St.Georgi" and the early 20th century "Shroud of the Holy Mother". We join together for short worship.

    Afternoon: at leisure to wander Sofia's old town for some final shopping or relax and enjoy the hotels facilities.

    Evening: farewell drink followed by dinner and folklore show in a local restaurant with water and tea or coffee included.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

  10. Return to the UK (B)

    Morning: after breakfast depart for Sofia Airport, bid farewell to your Local Guide and check-in for the flight back to the UK.

    Afternoon: arrive at Heathrow and say goodbye to your Tour Leader and new-found travelling friends.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink

Essential Information

Included excursions

  • City tour of Sofia including St Sofia's Church and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
  • Boyana Church and Rila Monastery with worship
  • Bulgarian wine tasting
  • Rozhen Monastery with worship
  • Lunch with a welcoming local family in the house of Granny Deschka
  • Dobarsko and its Eastern Orthodox churches with worship
  • Guided walking tour of Plovdiv
  • Bachkovo Monastery with worship
  • Rose oil distillery visit
  • Kazanlak -  known as “The Valley of the Thracian Kings”
  • Tsarevets Hill Castle where the Bulgarian kings once lived
  • Troyan Monastery adorned with impressive frescoes that focus on religious themes
  • Kremikovtsi Monastery with worship

Optional excursions 

None! – all excursions and extras as listed above and below are included

Included extras

  • Hotel Porterage
  • Personal audio guiding system
  • Driver and guide gratuities
  • All hotel and restaurant gratuities

Included meals & drinks

Meals: a full buffet breakfast each morning. All evening meals and two lunches. Both lunches are in local restaurants. Six dinners are in the hotels and three in atmospheric local restaurants with the farewell dinner including a folklore show.

Drinks: welcome and farewell drinks. We also include tea, coffee water and juices with breakfast and water and tea or coffee with all included lunches and evening meals. All other drinks will be at your own expense.

Our team in Bulgaria

You will be met at Heathrow by our Tour Leader who will fly with you. On arrival you will be met and each day will be escorted by our knowledgeable local guide who will also offer local advice, hints and tips for you to get maximum enjoyment of your time with us. Also, our dedicated McCabe Faith leader is there solely for our guests and will arrange optional in the hotels as well as at some sites during your included excursions. They will escort all excursions and be available for any queries.

Your journey

The flights are direct to Sofia from London Heathrow with British Airways.  Regional flights to Heathrow from some UK airports as well as flight upgrades, for that comfort and ease through the airport, can be arranged at a supplement. An overnight stop in London may be required which we can assist you with. Please enquire at time of booking.

Outbound journey

Flight BA0892 departs Heathrow: 08:25                   arrives Sofia: 13:35

Return journey

Flight BA0893 departs Sofia: 12:25                       arrives Heathrow: 13:50

Length of flight to Sofia: approximately three hours and 20 minutes

Flight times are subject to change and confirmed with your final paperwork

Your hotels

SOFIA: HILTON HOTEL (5*) - Four nights

Located in Sofia’s center, Hilton Sofia is next to the South Park and opposite the National Palace of Culture.  The main pedestrian shopping street - Vitosha is just a 5-minutes’ walk away and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a 20 minute walk away.

Hotel facilities: restaurant, bar, room service and terrace bar.

Your hotel room: decorated in art-deco style with air-conditioning/heating, minibar/fridge, safe, iron and ironing board, tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary WiFi.

Hotel bathrooms: bath or shower, shaving mirror, hairdryer, bathrobe and slippers and complimentary toiletries.

 

BANSKO: KEMPINSKI HOTEL (5*) - Two nights 

Being the only ski-in and ski-out hotel in Bansko in the winter, Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena Bansko is located in the very heart of the mountain resort, right across the Gondola lift station. Built in the alpine style with a wealth of facilities and set amidst wonderful scenery.

Hotel facilities: the Gallery restaurant offers themed buffets throughout the winter and BBQ at the sunlit terrace during the summer. The guests can explore the spirit of Mediterranean cuisine at Come Prima Restaurant in a romantic and cosy ambience. Free access to a 24-hour gym and to a thermal area of the Spa is included. It offers Finish sauna, Herbal sauna, sanarium, infrared cabin, experience showers, deep digital detox area, tailor-made aroma steam bath, laconium, one indoor and two outdoor swimming pools, indoor and outdoor hot tub and a unique snow room.

Your hotel room: comfortably furnished with a private balcony, air-conditioning/heating, cosy sitting area, safe, fridge/minibar, tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary WiFi.

Hotel bathrooms: bath tub and shower cubicle, shaving mirror, hairdryer, bathrobe and slippers and complimentary toiletries.

PLOVDIV: IMPERIAL HOTEL (4*) - Two nights 

Perfectly located in a central and quiet area, Hotel Imperial Plovdiv, a member of Radisson hotels, is within walking distance of Plovdiv's cultural heart, The Old Town, and only minutes away from the city's business and shopping districts.

Hotel facilities: lobby bar, Whiskey Library on the top floor with great city views, wellness centre and gym.

Your hotel room: spacious rooms with air-conditioning/heating, minibar/fridge, safe, iron and ironing board, tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary WiFi.

Hotel bathrooms: bath or shower, shaving mirror, hairdryer, bathrobe and slippers and complimentary toiletries.

 

VELIKO TARNOVO: GRAND YANTRA HOTEL (4*) - One night

The Yantra Grand Hotel is a cultural monument with a unique location at the heart of the Old Tarnovo Town, next to Samovodska Charshiya street.  The hotel offers a marvellous panoramic view to Tsarevets Fortress, the historical hill of Trapezitsa, Veliko Tarnovo University and the Arbanassi architectural reserve.

Hotel facilities: restaurant, bar, Vienna Cafe and terrace, spa and wellness area, gym and sauna.

Your hotel room: classically furnished with air-conditioning/heating, safe, fridge/minibar, tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary WiFi.

Hotel bathrooms: bath tub with shower, shaving mirror, hairdryer, bathrobe and slippers and complimentary toiletries.

 

Practical information

Entry requirements

British Citizen and EU Citizen Passport holders can currently enter Bulgaria freely with no restrictions or other documentation required. Stays within Bulgaria can be up to 90 days (can be spread over multiple visits) within any 180-day period.

Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen area. Visits to Bulgaria do not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit in the Schengen area.

Please note your passport must be valid for three months after your return from Bulgaria. 

Full details of entry requirements and any required vaccinations will be detailed in your final paperwork 14 days before departure.

For the latest and most up to date travel advice including entry requirements please consult the Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office travel advice website.

www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Health & wellbeing

Bulgaria is part of the EU. For travel within the EU you should ensure that you have the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) which is free of charge.  You can apply for the GHIC card by calling 0191 218 1999 or applying on line at…

www.nhs.uk/ghic

The level of cover offered by the GHIC card varies by country visited and is only applicable in state-run health facilities. In some countries coverage may just be a partial contribution.

Adequate insurance cover will be required for all hospital emergencies and doctors’ visits.

Climate

In Bulgaria the average daily minimum and maximum temperatures during your stay should be as below. The average number of days with rainfall is a maximum of seven days a month in June and six in September and October. Mornings and evenings can see temperatures be around 12 degrees below the daily maximum temperatures.

    Sofia               Bansko

June                        12 - 25                 16 - 29

September             11 - 22                 14 - 27

October                  08 - 18                09 - 20

 

Clothing

Dress is casual throughout your time in Bulgaria. You may wish to take one or two smarter items for the evenings. Casual clothing is recommended in the day-time with evenings being smart/casual. As this tour requires a certain amount of gentle walking, we suggest you take a pair of cushioned sole shoes. Sports shoes or trainers are fine. It is advisable to bring some warmer clothes and layers for the evenings as well as mountainous areas where the wind may reduce the temperatures.

Women should take a headscarf for churches and monasteries and everyone should ensure shoulders and knees are covered for buildings of religious significance.

Mobility

There is a certain amount of walking and a number of stairs involved on a daily basis during your time in Bulgaria so please make sure you pack comfy footwear for this so that you are prepared. Your Local Guide will keep you updated on a daily basis with what to expect the following day. If you are finding it difficult to keep up then please make sure you tell your Local Guide who can help you to find places to rest and relax and then you can re-join the group at a later stage.

Some streets in towns and villages that you will visit will be cobbled. We suggest you take a pair of comfortable shoes with good grips or trainers. You must be prepared to be on your feet for up to 90 minutes without the necessity to sit down, walk up to one mile unaided and climb three flights of stairs.

The McCabe Educational Trust

The McCabe Educational Trust is an independent registered charity with the aim of helping inspiring people we meet on some of our pilgrimages. As ‘the haves’ encounter the ‘have nots’ the Trust has become a practical tool for one to help the other.

McCabe Pilgrimages invite all travellers to become partners in this work. A £20 voluntary donation to the Trust’s work is added to every pilgrim’s invoice and all money raised in this way is given in full to the projects the Trust supports. This scheme is voluntary and confidential with nobody put under any pressure to participate.

Travel insurance

Ensuring that your holidays are appropriately protected is one of our main priorities. That’s why we have specifically chosen Holiday Extras as our *preferred travel insurance provider to ensure that you are protected before and whilst you are travelling. Holiday Extras offer McCabe Travel guests favourable rates for single trip, multi-trip and annual policies.

For more information or to obtain a quote click below for their website

https://www.holidayextras.com/travel-insurance

Or call them on 0800 083 3551 to speak to a friendly advisor.

Please quote AG628 upon calling to receive the best rates

Full financial security

All money paid to McCabe is fully secure. Holidays including flights are covered by our ATOL license from the Civil Aviation Authority, and holidays without flights are protected by our membership of the ABTOT bonding scheme. If a pilgrimage is cancelled, for instance through lack of numbers or for political considerations, McCabe will promptly refund all monies paid.

AITO Quality Statement

McCabe Pilgrimages is a member of the Association of Independent Tour Operators. The Association represents Britain’s leading independent tour operators and encourages high standards of quality and service. McCabe abides by the Association’s Code of Conduct and adheres to the AITO Quality Charter.

You can read McCabe reviews on the AITO website here

Read reviews

Dates

Send to a friend




    Travel club

    A portfolio of tours with our regular travellers in mind

    Read more