Monasteries and Mountains

Bulgaria is one of the most charming countries of Eastern Europe and little visited. On this short tour, we uncover its diversity as well as its unique and complex history. It straddles the border between Christian Europe and the old Ottoman Empire and sits easily between traditional and modern worlds. This fascinating juxtaposition makes it surprising that the country isn’t better known.

Rila Monastery is undoubtedly one of the highlights of Bulgaria – a fortified complex with gorgeous frescoes and carvings. After exploring here we continue to the small village of Gorno Draglishte where we find out about Bulgaria’s rural traditions.

After sampling some of the country’s excellent wines at Melnik we head into the Rhodope Mountains and the picturesque village of Leshten with its well-preserved houses in typical Bulgarian style. We then explore the magnificent scenery surrounding Trigrad including its famous gorge and caves.

In Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo we encounter the full breadth of Bulgaria’s history, with stunning old towns, fortresses and buildings dating back from Roman times. Plovdiv in particular is an absolute delight to explore with its historic quarter and unique architecture.

We also visit the renowned Thracian Tomb at Kazanlak, a reminder of when Bulgaria was the cradle of powerful civilisations, the precarious fortress at Asenovgrad, and take an easy hike in the Balkan Mountains.

Bulgaria is a secret corner of Europe waiting to be discovered. With great food, welcoming people, and a bewildering wealth of historic monuments, this is a great introduction to a fascinating country.

Monasteries and Mountains


  • See the beautiful Rila monastery
  • Explore traditional villages
  • Wander the streets of Plovdiv
  • See the Thracian tomb at Kazanlak
  • Hike in the Balkan Mountains

Day 1 - Sofia

Arrive in Sofia and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is free. Overnight Hotel Niky or similar.


The relaxed city of Sofia has only been Bulgaria’s capital since the late 19th century, but has been inhabited since the 7th century BC, and lays claim to being the second oldest city in Europe. Originally a Thracian settlement, it was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century and became an important trading centre en route between Rome and Byzantium.

Its occupation by the Ottoman Empire has left a number of fine architectural examples from that period, sitting alongside its Christian heritage and bearing witness to its place between powerful empires. Highlights of the capital include the Alexander Nevsky church, built in the late 19th century to honour Bulgaria’s dead from the Russo-Turkish War, and it’s a great place just to walk around, relax, and soak up the history of this charming part of Europe.

Day 2 - Sofia

Head out to explore the city’s main sights on foot including the Alexander Nevsky church, parliament buildings, Banya Bashi Mosque, the synagogue and Vrana Palace. Overnight Hotel Niky or similar. (BD)

Day 3 - Rila – Gorno Draglishte

Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rila Monastery, founded in the 10th century and the most important in the country. Afterwards, we continue to the small village of Gorno Draglishte, where we stay in a simple family guesthouse, learn how to make typical Bulgarian dishes and get to grips with local culture in the company of our welcoming hosts. (BLD)

Rila Monastery

With a picturesque location among coniferous forests, the fortress-like Rila Monastery consists of an irregular pentagon of high fortified walls and towers, a reminder that this was founded in a time when banditry was a real problem in this area. The main church within is the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, containing impressive collections of intricate carvings and elaborate frescoes. Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th 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 which 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 and 1862. A characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th–19th centuries), the monument symbolizes the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity during the centuries of Ottoman occupation.

Day 4 - Melnik – Rhodope Mountains

Nearby is the historic church of Dobursko, which we visit before transferring to the picturesque town of Melnik, Bulgaria’s wine capital. Visit a local wine cellar and taste the produce before continuing through the magnificent Pirin Mountains to the pretty village of Leshten. With it’s well preserved old houses dating back to the 18th century, Leshten is a pleasure to explore and we wander through its streets and explore its sights this afternoon. Overnight Hotel Leshten or similar. (BLD)

Day 5 - Trigrad

Explore the village of Dolen, founded in the 16th century by Bulgarians seeking refuge from forced conversion to Islam. With its old architecture from the Bulgarian Revival period, Dolen has been declared a historic reserve. From here we drive to Trigrad, one of the highlights of the Rhodope Mountains with a stunning gorge and caves to explore. Overnight Hotel Silivryak or similar. (BLD)

Day 6 - Asenovgrad – Bachkovo - Plovdiv

This morning we visit a series of natural rock bridges on our way to the medieval fortress of Asenovgrad, perched on top of cliffs and almost impregnable. This afternoon we head to Bachkovo Monastery, built in the 11th century and containing impressive frescoes. Later we drive to Plovdiv. Overnight Hotel Alafrangite or similar. (BLD)


Plovdiv is considered to be one of the oldest cities in Europe, and contains the remains of a Thracian fortress (5th century BC) and well-preserved architecture from the Roman times to our days. The Old Town is a marvellous sight, with its picturesque churches, the mosque and many houses with the spirit of Bulgarian Revival period. Some of the highlights of the city include the Roman theatre, stadium and forum, as well as the Hisar Gate and Armenian church. The old town itself is a maze of small streets and alleys flanked by monuments and architecture from the city’s diverse history – a great place to get lost for a few hours.

Day 7 - Plovdiv

Spend the morning exploring Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe and with a fascinating historic quarter to explore, with remains of the Roman Empire, old churches, and typical Bulgarian architecture. The afternoon is free to wander its picturesque streets at your leisure. Overnight Hotel Alafrangite or similar. (BL)

Day 8 - Kazanlak – Arbanasi

Travel to Kazanlak, known for its astounding Thracian Tomb, an exceptionally well-preserved burial tomb dating back to the 3rd century BC with impressive frescoes inside. After lunch we continue to the village of Arbanasi, once an important trading centre and with a collection of typical houses resembling small fortresses. Overnight Hotel Arbanashka or similar. (BLD)

Day 9 - Veliko Tarnovo - Troyan

Veliko Tarnovo was a former capital of Bulgaria and perhaps its most picturesque city, situated on the banks of the Yantra River. Explore the town and move on to Troyan, the site of Bulgaria’s third largest monastery. Finally, we continue to the village of Apriltsi in the foothills of the Balkan Mountains, where we stay in a traditional rural guesthouse and learn about life in the countryside. Overnight Hotel Apriltsi or similar. (BLD)

Veliko Tarnovo

The medieval capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo has an enviable location on the banks of the Yantra River, set on three hills with houses perching precariously on steep slopes. Without doubt the most visually impressive city in the country, in places it feels as if you are walking through a living museum, with some superb examples of the Bulgarian Revival architecture to be found here. The Tsarevets fortress is one of the most striking sights you’ll see here, which has been well restored and hints at former grandeur.

Day 10 - Central Balkan National Park – Sofia

An easy hike on a beautiful trail through ancient beech forests to Pleven Hut, for a great panoramic view of the mountains. After lunch in a traditional restaurant, return to Sofia for our last night in Bulgaria. Overnight Hotel Niky or similar. (BL)

Day 11 - Sofia

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)

Please note that this tour can be combined with our trip to Romania – see full details of our Romania trip here.

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What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour will be able to help.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.


Travellers from the UK, EU and US do not require a visa to enter Bulgaria. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. However, there are no compulsory vaccinations needed to enter either country. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit


It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum, you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.


Bulgaria uses the lev, which can be obtained outside of the country. Most towns also have ATMs which accept foreign cards, although don’t count on these always working. Credit cards are not used as widely here as they are in other European countries, so you should only think of this as a back up rather than the main source of obtaining money. If you want to bring money to exchange, the best currencies are pound sterling and Euros, although US dollars can also be exchanged without much problem.

Local conditions

Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing, there are no warnings against travel to Bulgaria – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated July 2023

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Price (PP) Exc. Flights
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14 September 2024
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10 May 2025
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13 September 2025
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