From modern urban areas, to rural regions and villages, from high mountains, rivers and lakes, to the sea level, from thousands of years of history of civilization in this region, to present days, fresh fruits and vegetables and wine from old wine regions, varieties of national dishes, folk and traditional dances and music, this is a trip through 3 countries, for travellers who desire almost all in one trip.
Day 1, Sofia, Bulgaria (10 km)
Welcome at Sofia Airport, Bulgaria's capital, a city with long history, churches, Ottoman mosques, Roman ruins and old Soviet monuments, as well as museums, art galleries, cafes and restaurants. Meeting and orientation walk. Overnight in a hotel.
Day 2Sofia city tour, Bulgaria (B)
Today we start the walking tour from the Archaeological Museum where there are Thracian, Roman and Medieval artefacts on display in a former mosque dating from 1496. Then, we will see the ancient ruins of Serdica, which were discovered during the building of a new metro station. Now partially excavated, you can see a small section of eight streets, an early Christian church and a bathhouse from this old Roman city. We walk on to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral church. We will finish in the central square. Free time for lunch. Overnight in a hotel.
Day 3Skopje, Macedonia (B, L) (245 km)
We leave Sofia and drive to the capital of Macedonia, Skopje. On the way to Skopje, we stop to visit the medieval Monastery - Saint Joakim Osogovski. This is well-preserved historic monastery amongst the picturesque hillside forests. Founded in the 12th century, the monastery became a place of worship for both Christians and Muslims, situated as it was on the main route to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). We will see the brightly coloured 18th century frescoes. Lunch in an Ethno restaurant. Accommodation in a hotel in Skopje.
Day 4Skopje city tour, Macedonia (B, L, D) (35 km)
After the breakfast, we start with a guided walking tour in Skopje including the Fortress Kale, the Church of Holly Salvation and the old Turkish bazaar, which is the largest and most preserved in South-east Europe. We cross the river Vardar and explore the modern center of Skopje. Here we visit the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, the Memorial house of Mother Theresa, the monuments of Alexander the Great and Phillip the Second of Macedon… In the afternoon, we head to Matka Gorge, where we will have a lunch break. After the lunch break, we take a boat ride through the canyon and visit one of its numerous caves. Back in the city, free time, a group dinner and overnight in a hotel.
Day 5Ohrid, the city of UNESCO, Macedonia (B, L) (190 km)
Today we drive a scenic route, largely through the Black Drim River Valley, to reach the shores of the Lake Ohrid. On the way to Ohrid, we make a stop to visit one of Macedonia's monasteries - Saint John the Baptist of Bigorski. It is famous for its remarkable iconostasis, which is among the most beautiful in Europe, constructed from intricate wood carving between 1829 and 1835. We will also stop at the typical mountain Macedonian village of Vevchani. Here we have time for lunch and see the famous village waterfalls. Accommodation in a hotel in Ohrid and free time for dinner.
Day 6Ohrid city tour, Macedonia (B) (60 km)
Ohrid has a wealth of heritage and is today an important cultural and spiritual centre. The town and lake were classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest lakes in the world and once there were 365 churches, monasteries and other religious sites around the lake. Today, we start with a walking tour in Ohrid including a visit to Tsar Samuel's Fortress, Saint Sophia's Church and the Macedonian-Roman theatre. When we reach Saint Clement's Church and the Plaosnik archaeological site, we will walk down the steps to the Church of Saint John the Evangelist at Kaneo with its fantastic views out over the lake. From here we take boats for the short ride back to the centre of Ohrid. After the lunch break, we take a big boat ride to the other side of the lake, the Monastery complex of St. Naum from 9th century, including short tour with rowing boats through the lake springs. On the way to the monastery, we stop to visit the reconstruction of a prehistoric settlement on water, the museum on water called the Bay of Bones.
Back to the town by boat and free evening.
Day 7Ohrid, Macedonia (B, D) (110 km)
Today is free day for you to continue discovering the Ohrid area.
Optionally you may join a full day excursion around the lake, including the Albanian side of the lake. We cross the Albanian border and first we stop in the small fishing village of Lin. From here we continue to the town of Pogradec located along the lake where we have free time to relax in the town and enjoy one of the Ohrid springs. We will also have time for lunch and the opportunity to try the local speciality - the Ohrid trout. We return to Ohrid crossing back over the border at the southern end of the lake near Saint Naum Monastery. Dinner in a national restaurant including Macedonian traditional folk dances. Overnight.
Day 8Ohrid, Macedonia – Thessaloniki, Greece (B) (310 km)
We leave Ohrid driving across Galicica National Park and mountain with spectacular view of the Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. We stop in Podmochani village to visit the privately owned Ethno Museum with an impressive collection of jewellery, weaponry, coins and over 140 Macedonian national costumes, some of which date back over 300 years. Next stop is the ancient site of Heraclea Linkestis founded in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. We leave Macedonia and drive to Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Filled with the reminders of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule, Thessaloniki is a vibrant city situated on the Thermaic Gulf. Accommodation in a hotel and free evening.
Day 9Thessaloniki city tour (B, D)
In the morning, we start with a guided tour through Thessaloniki. Along the way we'll see the Roman Rotunda, the White Tower, the Acropolis and the Saint Demetrius Church. In the afternoon we will have an opportunity for a visit to the Archaeological Museum and Byzantine Museum. Free afternoon. Dinner in a restaurant with traditional Greek music at the central square Aristotle. Overnight.
Day 10Thessaloniki - Pella - Vergina, Greece (B) (210 km)
Breakfast in the hotel. Travelling to Pella. Lying on the Macedonia Plain, Pella is most famous as the birthplace of Alexander the Great, who was born here in 356 BC. Nowadays the main draw of Pella though is the mosaics depicting mythological scenes in coloured stone. We then head for Vergina, the ancient city of Aigai, ancient capital of the Macedonian kings, it was only discovered in 1977. We will visit the spectacular royal tombs of King Phillip II and the young prince Alexander IV among others during out visit. We will then end our tour back in Thessaloniki. Free evening in Thessaloniki. Overnight.
Day 11Thessaloniki - The Holly Mountain Athos – Kavala, Greece (B, L) (290 km)
Breakfast in the hotel. Leaving Thessaloniki early this morning, we head across the Halkidiki Peninsula to Kavala, set in the foothills of Mount Symvolon on the Gulf of Kavala. Travelling along scenic roads we pass through Arnea to the Athos Peninsula, the easternmost of the three-pronged Halkidiki. Here we head for Ouranopolis at the northern end of secretive Athos, from where we take a boat along the coast of Mount Athos. Known as 'The Holy Mountain', it is a semi-autonomous region of monastic orders originally settled in the 4th century. At its peak there were said to be 40 monasteries on the peninsula, today the number has declined to half. After viewing the monasteries from our boat, we have organized lunch in a restaurant by the sea. Afterwards, we continue our journey to Kavala. Free evening.
Day 12Kavala and Thasos, Greece (B) (110 km)
Breakfast in the hotel. Today we travel by ferry to Thassos Island where we have a free day to explore the island by foot or local bus, or relax on one of its superb beaches. Around the capital of Limenas there are a number of archaeological sites, including an ancient Roman theatre and a medieval fortress that offers some stunning views of the surrounding area. Later in the afternoon, we return by ferry to the mainland and drive onto Kavala, a very attractive city formed around a harbour with an old quarter dominated by a Byzantine fortress. Free evening.
Day 13Philippi, Greece – Rila Monastery, Bulgaria (B, D) (345 km)
Breakfast in the hotel. This morning we leave Greece and head to Bulgaria. We drive to the border via the ancient site of Philippi. Philippi was the first European city to accept Christianity, but prior to that it was the scene of a decisive battle between two Roman armies in the 1st century AD. On one side, the army of imperial Rome, led by Mark Anthony and Octavian, on the other representatives of republican Rome, led by Cassius and Brutus. The outcome of the battle was a victory for the imperialist and the death of the republic (not to mention Cassius and Brutus). We will also visit the baptistery of Lydia, the first lady to be Christianized on the European soil, the place where she was baptized by the Apostle Paul. We leave Greece and cross Greek-Bulgarian border. Next stop is one of the most famous monasteries in Bulgaria, Rila Monastery. The monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has the most stunning brightly coloured frescoes and distinctive striped brickwork. Originally founded in the 10th century, the monastery served to preserve Bulgarian culture during the 400 years of Turkish rule and was a hiding place for the Bulgarian revolutionaries. We continue to Sofia. Farewell dinner and overnight in Sofia.
Day 14Sofia airport (B) (10 km)
Breakfast in the hotel. Driving to the airport in Sofia and farewell.