Sofia via Croatia to Istanbul

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In almost a full circle, from Sofia to Istanbul - Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Turkey. (EESI)

Detailed Itinerary:

Day 1 to 5 - Arrive Sofia
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The first day of your tour is simply an arrival day with no pre-organised activities. In order to allow time to relax and see some of the sights you may wish to add pre tour accommodation. On arrival please ask at the reception for information on when the pre departure meeting will be held.
In Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, you can enjoy 2,000 years of history spanning Oriental and Western cultures, neatly divided by the Vardar River through the centre of the city. Skopje has many historical monuments including the Kale Fortress dating back to the 6th century, the Daud Paša Amam, a 15th century bathhouse now converted into the city art gallery. You can also see the Mustafa-pasha's mosque, the 16th century Clock Tower and the Kamen Most (Stone Bridge) over the Vardar River.

Day 6 to 10 - Budva – Sarajevo – Mostar
Our next visit is to the seaside town of Budva in Montenegro. Budva (not to be confused with the Czech beer Budvar) is 2,500 years old, one of the oldest and most popular settlements on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro. This vibrant seaside town is well known for its sandy beaches, historic old town, diverse nightlife, and beautiful examples of Mediterranean architecture. We will take a day trip to the picturesque Kotor, a walled city nestled at the bottom of Europe’s deepest fjord. Stari Grad, the old town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a tricky labyrinth of cobbled alleys, squares and ancient churches, including St Tryphon's Cathedral built in 1166. The mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to this beautiful town as they come down steeply, almost to the waterfront. You could spend the day drinking espresso in the shade of the medieval walls watching people go by. You can climb the walls of the ancient fort of Sveti Ivan which spans some 4.5 kilometres above the city on almost vertical cliffs. Your efforts will be rewarded by an excellent view of Kotor and the bay.
We will visit Ostrog Monastery, clinging precariously to an almost vertical cliff face. Ostrog Monastery is a famous Serbian Orthodox Church built in the 17th century to honour one of the four Montenegrin saints, Vasilije Jovanovic, who fled here from the Turks in 1665. The greatest spiritual centre of Montenegro and the most visited Orthodox shrine in the Balkans, the sanctuary still attracts pilgrims who hope to cure their illnesses and other problems by praying over his remains. You may also have time to take in the Old Royal Capital of Cetinje, visiting the Monastery and many museums showcasing some of Montenegro’s prosperous past.
Included Excursions: Kotor • Ostrog Monastery
Crossing the border into the ‘heart-shaped land’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina we visit the capital Sarajevo, a fascinating mixture of western and eastern cultures. Known as the ‘Jerusalem of Europe’, the city was once famous for its religious diversity, with people of Islamic, Orthodox Christian, Catholic and Jewish faiths coexisting relatively peacefully for centuries. The atmosphere of calm and tolerance changed dramatically when violence erupted in the mid 1990s and the city underwent the longest siege in modern military history during the Yugoslav War.
Today the city is largely recovered and is packed with fascinating museums bazaars, markets and bridges. During your time here you could explore the cobbled streets, mosques and Oriental style shops of the Old Town, visit the Bosnian Historical Museum to learn about the siege of Sarajevo and visit the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum, the tunnel which was used to ferry supplies into the besieged city during the conflict, next to the airport. For history buffs a must see is the “Latin Bridge" spanning the river in the down-town area. The bridge bears a plaque commemorating the assassination of Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, the event that sparked the beginning of World War I. Today the city is largely recovered and is packed with fascinating museums

Day 11 to 16 - Dubrovnik – Korčula – Hvar Island – Split
Into the south of Croatia, we visit the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, the UNESCO World Heritage listed walled city of Dubrovnik. With a paved town centre enclosed in fortress-like 13th century stone walls, the city is easy to explore on foot and is full of character. A great start to your exploration of Dubrovnik could be with a walk around the city walls. Stretching almost 2 kilometres around the old town, the walls offer stunning rooftop and city views out to the turquoise blue Adriatic Sea. Founded in the 7th century, for a time in its glorious past the city was a serious rival for Venice in terms of maritime trade. It is hard to believe now but in 1991, two out of every three buildings were damaged during the bombardment of the Yugoslav War. Since then the buildings and walls have been painstakingly restored to pristine condition and represents one of the most beautiful and solid fortress systems on the Mediterranean. There are several other historic attractions worth a visit near the main street (Stradun), such as the 14th century Franciscan monastery which houses a treasury full of sacred art and artefacts, as well as one of the oldest continually working pharmacies in the world, dating back to 1317.
Included Excursions: Dubrovnik City Wall
Heading now out to the islands of Croatia, we hop to Marco Polo’s birthplace, sunny Korčula which offers numerous secluded beaches and bays with stunning views over the Adriatic. The main town on the island is also called Korčula, featuring medieval walls and forts as well as many fine museums housing priceless works of art. While you’re visiting the island you may have the chance to see a Moreska dance, a spectacular combat dance performed with swords.

Day 17 to 19 - Plitvice – Zagreb
Continuing our diverse journey through Croatia, our next stop is to explore Plitvice National Park, a beautiful reserve featuring 16 spectacular blue lakes surrounded by forest.
The lakes are linked by natural dams which create beautiful low level waterfalls joining one lake to another. Due to the varying mixtures of minerals in the water, each lake has a distinctive colour ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The surrounding forest features a mix of beech, spruce, and fir trees and is home to 126 species of birds and a number of rare animals including European brown bears, wolves, eagles, wild cats and eagles. Due to its natural beauty and significance, a 78 metre high, the park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. The entire park can be seen in about 4 hours and you can get beautiful views from almost any vantage point. Don’t miss the Veliki Slap, 50 metre wide waterfall surrounded by boulders - a great place for photos.
Included Excursions: Plitvice Lakes NP

Day 20 to 21 - Ljubljana – Lake Bled
Crossing into Slovenia we visit the capital Ljubljana and enjoy a city tour of the main sights. In your free time you may enjoy a visit to the botanical gardens, Dragon bridge, Križanke or French revolution square, Tivoli park, Ljubljana city museum, Ljubljana castle (Ljubljanski Grad) on Castle Hill and the viewing tower in the castle courtyard for views across the Old Town. When you need to relax, sit down at one of the many outdoor riverside cafés in the Old Town, check out the Habsburg and Baroque architecture and enjoy the young fun vibe of Ljubljana’s large student population.
During our time in Slovenia we take a day trip to Bled, a magical little town about an hour and a half from Ljubljana, set near an emerald green lake. Perched on a cliff high above the lake on a bluff is the Bled Castle, dramatically framed by the snowcapped peaks of the Julian Alps. Dating back to the 11th century, Bled Castle is the epitome of a medieval fortress and has a fairytale appeal, with towers, ramparts, moats and a terrace offering magnificent views. Part of the castle houses a museum with an interesting collection of armour and weapons, carvings, jewellery, tapestries and paintings which trace the history of the castle from the Bronze Age to the 19th century. A walk around Lake Bled (about 6 kilometres) shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, including a short climb to a viewing point. The most romantic way to enjoy it is to hire a boat and row over to the island in the middle of the lake or for the non-rowers of the group you can take a Pletna boat and be taken across. On the island you can visit a small 17th century Baroque church called Church of the Assumption, complete with a ‘wishing bell’ which you can ring to ask a favour. If time permits you can also visit Vintgar Gorge, a raised timber walkway that tracks the gorges river for 1.6 kilometres to a beautiful waterfall.
Included Excursions: Ljubljana City Tour • Lake Bled

Day 22 to 24 - Budapest
Budapest, Hungary’s stylish capital is known as the ‘City of Spas’ for its abundance of natural thermal springs.
Straddling the Danube River, the city is comprised of two very different historic cities, Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. Highlights here include Castle Hill, Matthius Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, the Liberation Monument, the fabulous St Stephen’s Basilica and the much photographed Parliament Building.
Terror Haza (Terror House) is a popular museum recounting stories of espionage and atrocities committed during World War II and during the communist period. During your optional visit you can view very moving testimonial footage from survivors and visit old jail cells, torture chambers and interrogation rooms.
The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and features stunning decorations. You can also wander around Central Market Hall and enjoy the intoxicating sights and smells of ‘Budapest’s pantry’ and get an idea of Hungary’s food culture - you can even buy chocolates by the kilo!
The perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing is in a traditional bath. The Széchenyi Medicinal Baths are one of the city‘s more famous Neo Baroque-style baths with indoor and outdoor pools, thermal pools, saunas and massages in a beautiful setting. After a nice soak you can visit numerous restaurants and bars to visit on Liszt Ferenc for an enjoyable evening's entertainment.

Day 25 to 25 - Debrecen
The must see of the city is Nagytemplom, meaning Great Church. It is the centrepiece of the city and you can tour the inside of the building. There are also many museums to explore here.

Day 26 to 26 - Baia Mare
Enjoy the delicacies from the town’s open-air food market before exploring the towns 15th century medieval fortifications. Baia Mare is one of the most important mining centres of Romania with over 2000 years of gold and silver mining. The town is well preserved and the oldest house here dates back to 1440. The house is the lasting reminder of the Transylvanian prince Lancu de Hunedoara who built the home for his wife Elisabeta.

Day 27 to 28 - Sighișoara
Located in the historic region of Transylvania, the town was once a Saxon settlement established in the 12th century. It has a well preserved old town with a clock tower rising 64 meters above the city. Take a tour of the Sigisoara Citadel and the many sights within the citadel. Also worth visiting is the Orthodox Cathedral, Cornesti Church and Vila Franka, an amazing restaurant with panoramic views over the valley.
Included Excursions: Sighișoara Citadel

Day 29 to 30 - Brașov
Braşov is a fabulous base for exploring the surrounding countryside, where the air is fresh and the people friendly. Surrounded on three sides by the Carpathian Mountains, it was a perfect place for a medieval settlement and much of the Old City, founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211 has been restored. You can visit the fortress of Cetăţuia Braşovului and wander up Rope Street, the narrowest street in Europe or visit Rasnov Castle. We visit the nearby Bran Castle which is marketed as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ and is (incorrectly) said to have been the home of Vlad the Impaler.
Included Excursions: Dracula's Castle • Traditional Fortified Church

Day 31 to 31 - Bucharest
We continue our journey to Bucharest where you will have free time to explore the area and discover the contrasts of Romania's cultural capital. The architecture here is an eclectic mix of historical, communist period and modern styles and it may even remind you of Paris as in fact it has its own Arc de Triomphe. Bucharest even boasts the world’s second biggest building, the Palace of Parliament, built under the communist regime.
If you’d like to learn more about the traditional way of life of Romanian peasant farmers you can visit the Village Museum, an open air museum with around 300 traditional buildings filled with furniture, pottery and clothing collected from different regions of the country.

Day 32 to 33 - Plovdiv
In to Bulgaria, Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe going back 8000 years. The town is small and easy to walk around. Places to see include the Roman Amphitheatre, St Marina church and a mosque leftover from the Ottoman Empire. Each step you take in this town opens up another piece of history. While the seven tall hill that used to overlook the town have been reduced to just three, it is possible to walk the hills and the best time to do this is at sunset.
Included Excursions: Plovdiv Roman Amphitheatre

Day 34 to 35 - Edirne
This city is located where three countries meet, Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Being of such strategic importance, it is not surprising that the town has an abundance of history. You can walk between the main sights, the mosques, towers, museums and the old quarter are all to be admired.
Included Excursions: Selimiye Mosque Castle

Day 36 to 36 - Istanbul
Istanbul is an enchanting fusion of East and West. Narrow alleys are flanked by wooden Ottoman houses while a nearby funky restaurant and bar strip in the down-town area pumps out Turkish pop. There are many great places to explore including, but not limited to, the Blue Mosque, St Sophia and the Grand Bazaar. The Blue Mosque, also known as the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, is nearly 400 years old and still an active mosque that non-Muslims can visit for free outside of the five daily prayers. St Sophia (Hagia Sophia) was built 1,500 years ago and was the largest enclosed space in the world. The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) is the oldest and largest closed bazaar in the world, housing around 4, but now the bazaar is full of carpets,000 shops within 60 alleyways. It used to be the city's main trading centre, ceramics, jewellery and leather goods.
In your free time you could take a relaxing Turkish bath and then possibly board a local ferry on the Bosphorus to observe the beautifully lit sprawl of Istanbul by night and then finish your evening with the timeless wind-down of smoking a nargileh (Ottoman water pipe).

Day 37 to 37 - Depart Istanbul
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. If you have a late flight or have lengthened your stay by adding post tour accommodation you will have more time to explore the sights.
This itinerary is a guide. Changes may be made before or during your tour to improve the running or due to unforseen circumstances.

Sat 16 Aug 2014 Sun 21 Sep 2014

What's Included:

  • Free time at Lake Ohrid
  • Entry to Kruja
  • Entry to Ostrog Monastery
  • Entry to Kotor
  • Entry on to Dubrovnik City Wall
  • Entry & Guided Tour of Diocletian's Palace
  • Entrance to Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • Guided Tour of Ljubljana
  • Transport to Lake Bled
  • Stay in Sighișoara Citadel
  • Entry to Dracula's Castle
  • Entry to a Fortified Church
  • Entry to Plovdiv Roman Amphitheatre
  • Entry to Selimiye Mosque
  • 36 nights in hotels, hostels & guesthouses
  • 20 breakfasts
  • Travel by taxi, on foot

What's not Included

  • International flights and departure taxes
  • Domestic flight taxes if applicable
  • Tips on included excursions, visas, travel insurance, personal items and single rooms.
  • Airport transfers and pre and post tour accommodation

Highlights:

  • Lake Ohrid
  • Sarajevo
  • Mostar
  • Dubrovnik
  • Hvar Island
  • Plitvice
  • Lake Bled