There are few places with the historical intensity of Bulgaria. Its Roman, Greek, Thracian and Turk heritage (along with many other influences) have given rise to a vast array of architecture and significant religious sites. The itinerary of our exciting “Bulgaria – Verdi in the Land of the Thracians” tour takes in important historical highlights and archaeological sites, and along the way we’ll introduce you to the wine, cuisine, nature and diverse musical traditions of the country.
From Thracian Remains to Ex-Soviet Cities: Discovering Bulgaria
The opportunity to explore one of Europe’s oldest regions is an irresistible prospect to history buffs. The beauty of Bulgaria lies not only in its epic landscapes but also in the depth and preservation of its rich and fascinating heritage. Prestige Holidays is delighted to offer an 8-day escorted group tour to discover the mysteries and traditions of this truly cosmopolitan destination.
Step into History
The centuries fall away as you quite literally step into the past to explore the myriad relics of the country’s compelling past. From the stunning religious architecture of Sofia and Rila, the relics of the turbulent Soviet era, and the charming history-laden streets of Leshten and Kovachevitsa, to the magnificence of the Plovdiv Roman theatre, Bulgaria is a living history lesson at every turn.
The Churches of Sofia
Bulgaria has a profoundly religious heritage that has left a legacy of diverse and magnificent architecture. Nowhere is this on more beautiful display than in the capital, Sofia, where its beautiful churches are its historical crowning glory.
The golden dome of Alexander Nevsky is one of the city’s most iconic sights, visible from almost everywhere. Its impressive stature is complemented by the incredibly ornate interiors and it is the second largest Orthodox cathedral in the Balkans region. The sixth-century Saint Sofia hides an intriguing secret in its network of catacombs that can be explored below ground level, while the Church of St. George is decorated with some exquisite murals and holds the honour of being the oldest building in the city. Other churches of note include the lovely Russian St. Nicholas, notable for it’s striking green and white façade, and the darkly brooding Sveta Nedelya, which is steeped in tales of bloody conspiracy as the site of a planned assassination and a terrorist attack.
While there’s certainly a lot of competition, the Rila Monastery is, for my money, the most beautiful site in the entire country. Set against a dramatic backdrop of the Rila Mountains, it dates back to the tenth century and was hugely important in terms of the national culture that developed under Ottoman rule. Founded by St. Ivan, who lived as a hermit in a nearby cave, the monastery was constructed by the students who came to receive his instruction. This fascinating and somewhat romantic heritage provides a quirky background to a place that has been the centre of some highly significant events, as a hideout of several Bulgarian revolutionaries.
The splendid architecture and artwork of the monastery has been extremely well preserved and the site is protected under World Heritage inscription.
The Streets of Leshten and Kovachevitsa
The landscape of Bulgaria is breathtaking in its grandeur; the authenticity of the rural villages nestled into the Rhodope Mountains offers a genuine insight into a way of life that has changed very little over the centuries. The two villages of Leshten and Kovachevitsa provide a wonderful window to the past through their charming cobblestoned streets and interesting multi-level architecture. Despite being so close to one another, both villages retain their very individual characters. Leshten is very popular with locals and international visitors as a base for outdoor pursuits like hiking and fishing, while Kovachevitsa is renowned for its place in history as an important educational centre during the Revival period of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
It’s a real pleasure to simply stroll around the streets of these enchanting villages, to soak up the palpable history, interact with the friendly locals and sample some of the delicious local cuisine.
Roman Ruins at Plovdiv
Plovdiv displays the distilled history of Bulgaria in a very tangible way, not just through its architecture and traditions, but also through the spirit of its people. It’s the most important archaeological site in the country and is home to several superb museums depicting the region’s Thracian, Ottoman and Roman past, including the Regional Historical Museum, the Regional Ethnographic Museum and the Archaeological Museum.
But the ultimate draw for aficionados of history has to be the Roman ruins of the Old Town, with the mammoth theatre as the centrepiece. The Roman theatre dates back to 117 AD, and its vast proportions played host to gladiatorial and theatrical performances to 6000 spectators at a time in its heyday. In a fittingly moving finale, the Prestige Holidays’ escorted tour culminates with an evening production of Verdi’s opera, La Traviata, in the 2000-year-old Plovdiv Roman theatre – a fitting finale to a truly memorable cultural experience.