1 Start in the afternoon at the hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria. After the main briefing, there will be a 2 hour walking sightseeing tour of Sofia.
The trip commences in the afternoon at the hotel in Sofia, where after a main briefing, there will be a walking sightseeing tour (approx. 2 hours) of the centre of the Bulgarian capital. Nestled under Vitosha Mountain, Sofia is a laidback city with an eclectic mix of history reflecting its 2000 years of occupation under the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Communists. Today it is known for its diverse landmarks, communist architecture, orthodox churches, manicured gardens and vast boulevards. The walking tour will take in all of Sofia's sights including Sveta Nedelya Square with the Sveta Nedelya Church, Independence Square with the St. Sofia statue, the Catholic cathedral of St. Joseph, excavated Roman ruins of the ancient Serdica, the Council of Ministers former House of the Communist Party, Rotunda of St. George, the mosque and covered market, the Russian orthodox church, the Bulgarian Parliament and the monument of the Russian Emperor Alexander. The evening is free for you to explore or join the group for an optional welcome dinner. Stay: Hotel Sofia Place or similar.
2 Transfer to Melnik stopping at UNESCO sites Boyana Church and the famous Rila Monastery en route. Free afternoon upon arrival into Melnik.
After breakfast, we begin our transfer towards our second stop, the picturesque town of Melnik. En route we first visit the Boyana Church, a small mediaeval orthodox church listed as a world UNESCO cultural heritage site, located in a suburb of Sofia. Despite the church's small size, its frescoes are historically significant and part of an artistic achievement that started the technique illustrating biblical figures with emotions, and placing them alongside local aristocracy. The second UNESCO world heritage site we visit is perhaps the most famous in Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery (approximately 2 hour transfer from Sofia). The monastery is a must-see sight for anyone who visits the region and is regarded as one of Bulgaria's most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments. The combination of arcaded balconies, unique frescoes (the work of one of the most famous Bulgarian Revival Period artists), the gilded iconostasis, and the fabulous mountain views make a visit to this 10th Century monastery truly extraordinary. During our visit, your leader will be able to tell you its history and there will be plenty of time to explore with the option of lunch at one of the restaurants near the monastery complex. After lunch, we transfer to the small town of Melnik, the smallest Bulgarian settlement with a city status, 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 will become familiar with old Melnik traditions and architecture. The rest of the day is free to explore Melnik. Stay: Hotel Melnik or similar.
3 Morning visit to the Smolare waterfall. After lunch transfer to the wine region of Tikvesh for evening wine tasting via the ancient town of Stobi.
This morning we bid farewell to Bulgaria and head into Macedonia via the Novo Selo border crossing in the area of Strumica. Our first stop will be the Smolare waterfall (approximately 1.5 hours transfer), located above the village of Smolare in the south eastern region of the country. The waterfall is part of the Lomnica River and is located deep in Mount Belasica at an elevation of 630 metres. Crashing down the smooth, black rock face, and surrounded by 100 year old beech trees, this waterfall is a popular natural attraction for many visitors to the region. To reach the majestic beauty of the falls, we must wind our way up a path that includes 300 stone steps. From the waterfall, we visit the nearby village of Smolare where we stop for lunch in an authentic restaurant. There will be time to stretch our legs as we go on a short walk around the centre. In the afternoon, we transfer to the famous wine region of Tikvesh (approximately 1.5 hours transfer). En route we stop at the famous archaeological site of Stobi (approximately 30 min transfer). The ancient town of Stobi is mentioned for the first time in 197 B. C, but can be traced back at least 400 years earlier. The preserved buildings of the town include a theatre built in the 2nd Century and luxurious palaces with fountains, mosaics and frescoes. A total of 18 mosaics have been discovered in Stobi, all illustrating stylised animals worked in soft green, deep blue, ochre and reddish tones. In the late afternoon, we check in at our hotel-winery and spend a relaxing evening wine tasting a selection of premium Macedonian wines over dinner. Macedonian wine has taken a central role in society since the Roman times, when the ruling emperors favoured its grapes. Thanks to an abundance of sunshine, Mediterranean and Continental breezes and rich rocky soil, the grapes thrive in Macedonia. Stay: Gardenia Hotel & Spa or similar.
4 Morning visit to archaeological site and town of Heraclea Lyncestis. Transfer to city of Bitola after lunch and enjoy a walking tour and visit the old bazaar.
After a relaxed breakfast with views of the vineyard, we head towards the city of Bitola. Our first stop is the ancient town and archaeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis, located on the outskirts of Bitola where we enjoy a private tour. Heraclea was founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the IV century BC after he had conquered the surrounding region of Lyncestis and incorporated it into his kingdom of Macedon. The city was named in honour of the mythological hero Heracles, whom Philip considered his ancestor. With its strategic location, it became a prosperous city. Each object, each stone, each pedestal is shrouded in mystery. In the afternoon we transfer (approximately 1.5 hours) to the second largest city in Macedonia, Bitola. The city was known as Macedonia's unofficial capital during the Ottoman reign. It was a major political, economic and cultural centre of the Balkans, rivalled only by Thessaloniki. Many foreign countries have had their consulates in Bitola, therefore it is also known as the 'City of Consuls.' After checking into our hotel and lunch in a local restaurant, our leader will take you on a sightseeing walk of the centre of Bitola, which will include the famous street of Shirok Sokak and the Stara Carsija (Old Bazaar). You may wish to enjoy a coffee in one of the old cafes and learn about the coffee culture of Bitola and the significance it has had on this city over the centuries. Stay: Hotel Teater or similar.
5 Pelister N.P, lunch in Dihovo, transfer to Lake Ohrid
Given that Bitola was on the front-line of the so called 'Macedonian' front during WW1, it is safe to say that it witnessed unparalleled horrors during that time. Today, remnants of the war, such as disused bunkers, can still be found in the surrounding mountains. After breakfast, we transfer to the Pelister National Park to walk 'The Path of the First World War' through picturesque landscapes and learn about the history of the area during WW1. Lunch is then arranged in the nearby village of Dihovo, in the garden of a local family home. Here we also have the opportunity to explore the fascinating world of the honeybee as we join one of the local beekeepers where he will share the hidden secrets of bees and beekeeping. During the demonstration, protective clothing will be worn and there will be the chance to extract honey from the comb for tasting afterwards. There will also be an opportunity to purchase some honey if you wish. In the afternoon we will transfer from Dihovo to Ohrid, enjoying scenic drive via the Galicica national park, we have a short en route stop at a viewpoint where we can see both the Ohrid and Prespa lakes. Arrival at our Ohrid hotel in the late afternoon hours. Overnight in Ohrid. Stay: Park Lakeside or similar.
6 Morning visit to the Vevcani Springs, followed by lunch in the village; Free afternoon in Ohrid.
This morning after breakfast we do a walking sightseeing tour of some of the famous sites in Ohrid including the church of St. Sofia, King Samuil's Fortress and the Amphitheatre. Ohrid is the largest city on the lake and is well known for allegedly having 365 churches at one point during the Middle Ages; each church was dedicated to a particular saint. This is why it has often been referred to as a 'Jerusalem (of the Balkans).' Nowadays there are around 60 churches in Ohrid and the surrounding area. Both the lake and town are listed as cultural and natural world heritage sites by UNESCO and are popular destinations in summer. The old town boasts cobbled stone streets, traditional restaurants, lakeside cafes and historic monuments which all contribute to its atmospheric charm. Situated on the lake, the town also has a lovely little boardwalk giving Ohrid a pleasant laid back vibe where you can relax later in the afternoon. For those interested, there is the opportunity to visit the nearby village of Vevcani, famous for its beautiful springs (alternatively you might enjoy a free day at Lake Ohrid). The springs are especially beautiful to visit during the summer; isolated by a very dense forest, the water flows over very rocky terrain and under wooden bridges, the sound is mesmerizing and quite powerful. The largest waterfall is located at the opening of one of the many caves that you can find in the region. Below, there are ten other minor springs that converge in their flow. After exploring this unique setting, we can enjoy optional lunch at one of the few traditional restaurants in the village. After lunch, we return to Ohrid and will enjoy a free afternoon. In the evening we will transfer to the outskirts of Ohrid (approximately 30 mins), to the village of Kuratica, where a local family will prepare a delicious home cooked dinner in their family home. Overnight in Ohrid. Stay: Park Lakeside or similar.
7 Morning visit Tetovo Mosque. Afternoon walking tour of Prizren.
After breakfast, we check out and transfer from Ohrid to Prizren in Kosovo. En route we stop at the Painted Mosque of Tetovo, one of the oldest and most notable Islamic monuments in Europe; due to its unique decorative style. From here we head to the nearby village of Varvara, where the local village community will prepare a traditional lunch on their beautiful terrace overlooking the Polog valley. We will arrive in Prizren mid afternoon, Kosovo's culture capital. Kosovo's second biggest city is rich with history and traditions and is surrounded by incredible nature. Throughout history, Prizren has played a vital role in the region. The city is known in this region of the Balkans for its gastronomy and wines, traditional handicrafts and wonderful mix of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture. Once all checked in and after a short rest, the guide will take us on an orientation walk around the city. We will see the most famous sites of Prizren including the Kalaja (Fortress), the Sinan Pasha Mosque, the Gazi Mehmet Pasha Hammam. Free evening in Prizren. Stay: Hotel Cleon or similar.
8 Transfer to Skopje visiting the Monastery of Gracanica along the way. Late afternoon arrival into Skopje, followed by walking tour.
After an early breakfast, we transfer to the Macedonian capital, Skopje, stopping at a few famous sites in western Macedonia along the way. Our first stop is at the Monastery of Gracanica, a UNESCO world heritage site since 2006. The area of Gracanica is one of the few remaining dominantly Serb populated areas in Kosovo. Optional lunch is arranged near the monastery. We arrive in Skopje in the late afternoon and have a short walking sightseeing tour of the new and old centre of Skopje including the Old Bazaar, the Stone Bridge and the controversial Skopje 2014 project. Like the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Skopje also has a long history of occupation, and experienced Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule through the ages. Today it is a bustling and sometimes surreal metropolis thanks to the building craze of the Skopje 2014 project. However, if you delve beneath the surface you will discover a city with a complex history and fascinating sites! Stay: Bushi Resort or similar.
9 Free morning in Skopje before transferring back to Sofia.
Free morning in Skopje, before starting our return journey to Sofia. An optional lunch is arranged near the border in the town of Kriva Palanka, in Macedonia. We return to Sofia late afternoon and enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant where traditional dishes of Sofia are served. Stay: Sofia Place Hotel or similar.
10 End Sofia.
This morning our tour ends after breakfast.