Day 1 Arrival at Sofia Airport (BG) – Skopje (MK) (250 km) (D)
Arrival at the airport of Sofia at 13.15h (BG time) with British Airways, pick up from the airport and transfer to Macedonia’s capital – Skopje. We cross the Bulgarian-Macedonian border. Just after the border, we make the first stop to visit an active monastery built in the 11th century – St. Joakim Osogovski (145 km). The monastery is set amongst green woods near the town of Kriva Palanka. It was rebuilt many times during its centuries-old existence. Its frescoes are especially characteristic of the 19th century. It consists of the church of St. Joakim Osogovski, a smaller 14th-century church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God; a three-story dormitory; a bell tower with a charnel house at the bottom; a passage building, guardhouse, new dormitories and the residency of the Head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. We are headed to Skopje (105 km). After accommodation, we have a welcoming dinner in a restaurant. Later, an evening orientation walk for those who want to make a late evening city exploring. Overnight.
Day 2Skopje city tour – Millennium cross - Skopje (MK) (15 km) (B)
This morning we take you on a walking tour starting from the centuries-old Kale – Skopje fortress. We will continue to the Old Turkish Bazaar, meeting different cultures and religions and old forgotten crafts. We walk across the Stone Bridge, the landmark of the city, and stop in front of the monument and fountain of Alexander the Great. We visit the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia with artifacts from prehistoric times to the recent history exclusively from the Macedonian territory. The next stop will be the Memorial House of Mother Teresa. She was born in Skopje in 1910. We continue to the cable car that will take us to the Millennium Cross. Constructed to serve as a memorial of the 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia, the monument has become an associating symbol of Skopje. As a landmark, the cross has turned into a tourist destination with the best observation point for a panorama of the capital. Free evening and dinner on your own. Overnight in Skopje.
Day 3 Skopje – Skupi – Matka - Skopje (55 km) (B, L)
After breakfast, we depart to the archeological site of Skupi (5 km), one of the largest Roman towns dating from the Late Antiquity. The site contains structures that date from the 1st-6th century, as well as remains of an early Christian church and tombs around it. It is estimated that the territory of Skopje has been inhabited for at least 4000 years with evidence of Neolithic settlements found in the Kale Fortress in the city center. During the era of Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander, Skopje became much more important during their expansion of Ancient Macedonia. In the 1st century under Roman rule, it became a legionary camp. After the 9th century, Skopje became a significant Byzantine seat for the Orthodox Church in Macedonia. In 1392, it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks for the following 5 centuries. Next to the center of Skupi, we will visit an ancient and very well-preserved Roman aqueduct (7 km away). In the afternoon, we depart to Matka Canyon (25 km), which is a protected nature reserve and home to several medieval monasteries, caves and rich flora and fauna. We will visit the church St. Andrea, which was built in 1389. The frescoes are very realistic and not typical of other frescoes of the same period. We will take a boat trip to visit Vrelo Cave. In the late afternoon, we will enjoy lunch and the picturesque lake from the restaurant terrace. Back to Skopje (18 km), dinner on your own. Overnight in Skopje.
Day 4 Skopje – Tetovo – Mavrovo - Ohrid (220 km) (B, L)
After breakfast, we check out from the hotel and depart to Tetovo (45 km). The town lies at the intersection of several trade routes. Archaeologists have found evidence of human settlement dating back more than 6.000 years. In Tetovo, there is an old fortress dating back to 1820 and many churches and mosques. We will visit the Aladza Painted Mosque with its beautifully-decorated exterior located in the old part of Tetovo. The mosque was built in 1495 and is an example of early Constantinople style, adorned with a unique elaborate painted facade and interior, making it unique in Macedonia and wider. We continue our drive to the National Park of Mavrovo. On our way to Ohrid, we will visit the Monastery of St. John the Baptist - Bigorski (75 km), founded in 1020. Inside the church, we will see the Miraculous Icon of St. John the Baptist, more than 12 centuries old. The main attraction is the wood-carved iconostasis from the 19th century depicting biblical scenes. The monastery is rich in icons painted from the 16th – 20th century and is a synthesis of Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque influences. Before we arrive in Ohrid, we make another stop for lunch in a typical Macedonian village of this region – Vevchani (70 km). Arrival in Ohrid (30 km). Free evening and overnight.
Day 5Ohrid – Bay of bones – St. Naum - Ohrid (60 km) (B, L, D)
Breakfast at the hotel. Ohrid itself is a jewel of Macedonia, the city of the Macedonian Orthodox churches, with a history dating back over 3.000 years. Both the city and the lake are inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage. In the morning, we walk through the streets of Ohrid to reach the highest point – Samuil’s Fortress, which offers wonderful landscapes in this area. We will visit the Cathedral Church of St. Sofia, the Ancient Theater, and from the medieval church St. John the Evangelist, we get back to the center by small boats. At noon, we take a big boat ride to the prehistoric settlement from the Bronze age, called The Bay of Bones or the Museum on water (15 km). Later, we drive to St. Naum Monastery (15 km) and the lake springs. In this monastery from the 9th century, we can see the tomb of St. Naum – the student of Cyril and Methodius. According to the legends, we can still hear his heartbeat when approaching the tomb. Today, we have the chance to get a ride with small boats through the springs of the lake. Our lunch will be served at the Springs Restaurant. Back to Ohrid (30 km) and dinner in a restaurant with a Macedonian folklore dance group. Overnight in Ohrid.
Day 6 Ohrid – Galicica National Park – Kurbinovo and Brajcino – Bitola (120 km) (B, L, D)
After breakfast, we depart to the National park Galichitsa situated on the Galichitsa mountain. The mountain separates the two big Lakes of Ohrid and Prespa. We will stop on several viewpoints to relax, enjoy and admire the natural beauty of the natural park, with magnificent panoramic views of both lakes. The park has become a protected breeding ground for many species of birds. We continue to the Prespa region, well-known in Macedonia and wider for its apple fields. In the village of Kurbinovo (55 km) in the northeast part of Prespa Lake, we will visit the small church of St. George with the frescoes masterpiece of the Annunciation from the Byzantine era, painted in 1191. In the village of Brajchino (15 km), an example of the typical rural architecture of the region, we will take a walk around the village meeting the locals and enjoy a meal in a village house with real home-made specialties. After lunch, short nature walks to the Monastery of St. Petka. In the evening, we are going to be in Bitola (50 km). Dinner in a national restaurant in the city center.
Day 7 Bitola city tour (5 km) (B, L)
Today, the first thing to see in the morning is an ancient archeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis, 2.5 km south of the modern town of Bitola. Heraclea was a strategically important town during the Hellenistic period, and it was founded by King Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) in the middle of the 4th century B.C. after he had conquered the surrounding region of Lynkestis. In the middle of the 2nd century B.C., the Romans conquered the city. Heraclea retained its importance due to its location on the Via Egnatia, the route connecting two of the most important centers in that world – Rome and Constantinople. The Roman Emperor Hadrian built the impressive ancient theater which was both a stage for theater and an arena for the performing animals. In later centuries, the city was important as a Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman center. We stroll downtown because Bitola is noted for its unique centuries old preserved architecture with beautiful balconies and the usage of rich ornaments. Until 1912, many European consulates were located in Bitola, and it was once called the City of Consuls. Visit the City Museum in the Old Barracks Military Academy with the memorial room dedicated to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, who studied in Bitola when he was a young man. Continue on foot in the old town center with the Clock Tower from the 17th century and the Church of St. Demetrius built 1830 with the lavishly decorated interior. Lunch in a traditional restaurant with local specialties. Free evening and overnight in Bitola.
Day 8Bitola – Stobi – wine tasting - Vinica – Kratovo (260 km) (B, L)
Transfer to the ancient city of Stobi (100 km), at the intersection of the Via Militaris and the Via Diagonalis. Stobi is the most important archeological site in Macedonia, once the biggest Roman city on the Balkans. Archaeologists have discovered traces of the Paeonians, an ancient civilization in Macedonia, as well as traces of the Macedonian-Hellenic, Roman, and Early Christian periods. At the time of Philip II of Macedon, it was already an important strategic military center and also a significant cultural, trade and communication center. Stobi maintained its status under the Roman Empire and experienced major growth. We will walk through the site and view basilicas, palaces, the Forum, the Theatre, ancient synagogues, casinos and the museum. Light lunch with wine tasting in the winery. We drive to Vinica (100 km) where we will visit the City Museum and observe the famous terracotta icons from the early medieval period. The next stop will be in the small town Kratovo (60 km), known for its medieval bridges and towers. Overnight.
Day 9Kratovo – Rila Monastery – Sofia (295 km) (B)
Morning walk through the streets of Kratovo. We drive on to neighboring Bulgaria. We visit one of the most famous Bulgarian medieval monasteries, placed high in the Rila Mountain (170 km). Rila Monastery was founded in the 11th century by St. John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. His ascetic dwelling and tomb became a holy site and were transformed into a monastic complex that played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt between 1834 -1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th–19th century), the monument symbolizes the awareness of the Slavic cultural identity. Our today’s journey finishes in Sofia (125 km). Check-in to our hotel and free evening.
Day 10 Sofia city tour (B, D)
Today we start with a walking tour of Sofia. Our guide will take us downtown and we start our tour from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was built to commemorate the 200.000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria's independence. We walk down to the Archaeological Museum where there are Thracian, Roman and medieval artifacts on display in a former mosque dating from 1496. Nearby we will visit the Bulgarian Archaeological Museum. Close to the museum, next, we visit the ancient ruins of Serdica (the ancient name of the city), representing a small section of 8 streets, an early Christian church and a bathhouse from this old Roman city. We continue to St. Nedela Church where we can admire colorful murals and carved wooden iconostasis, which is the wall separating the nave from the sanctuary of the church, which is decorated with frescoes and icons. Free afternoon and organized dinner in a national Bulgarian restaurant.
Day 11Sofia – Plovdiv (140 km) (B, L)
After breakfast, we take the highway today and drive from the capital to Plovdiv (140 km). After arrival, we start sightseeing in the old town of Plovdiv, an ancient city with colorful mansion houses that have been turned into museums, galleries, shops and restaurants. After the accommodation and a short break, we start the city tour of Plovdiv, and the first stop we make is at the Roman Amphitheatre of Philipoppol, which is still used for concerts and theatrical performances. In the old part of the town, we will visit the Ethnographic Museum, stroll among the National Revival-era colorful houses. In this area, we visit the Church of Saint Constantine and Helena. Lunch in a restaurant. Free afternoon. Overnight.
Day 12Plovdiv - Stara Zagora – Kazanlak – Plovdiv (270 km) (B, L, D)
This morning we drive to Stara Zagora (100 km) to view a 4th century A.D. Roman mosaic, which pictures the God Dionysus, along with his followers. The mosaic is a part of the ancient city of Augusta Traiana. We will also visit the Neolithic Dwellings Museum where on display are the remains of an 8.000-year-old Stone Age House, jewelry, household items and all kinds of tools. Lunchtime in Stara Zagora. After lunch, we drive nearby Kazanlak (35 km) to visit the Thracian Tomb, which was discovered in 1944 and dates back to the Hellenic period. This ancient burial ground is a UNESCO site due to the impressive murals which show images of the ritual funeral feast, traditional dress and fanciful horses. Keeping up with Thracian culture, the burial site consists of three rooms - the main round burial chamber which would have been the owners' final resting place, an antechamber where their chariot, horses, and slaves would have been kept for use in the afterlife and a corridor between the two, which served as storage for other items needed in the spirit world. Drive back to Plovdiv (135 km). Farewell dinner. Overnight.
Day 13Plovdiv – Airport of Sofija (140 km) (B)
Breakfast. Transfer at 10.00h from Plovdiv to the airport of Sofia. Your flight with British Airways is scheduled at 14.20h (BG time).