Show Trip | ATO

Balkan Explorer

Discover Macedonia and get a taste of Bulgaria and Kosovo

Trip CodeATO
Duration10 Days
ActivityCulture
Group Size4-14
Minimum Age16
Leisurely
Leisurely
Prices (excl. flights & transfers) from

R32,824

To book   call us on 074 340 4587 or email info@earthwanderer.co.za

Discover Macedonia and get a taste of Bulgaria and Kosovo

Discover the rich history of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo, where influences from the East and the West collide. This trip showcases some of the cultural highlights of the central part of the Balkans, famous for ancient civilization traces, UNESCO world heritage monasteries and churches and the vibrant, laidback capital cities of Sofia and Skopje. Having been under numerous influences throughout the ages, both Bulgaria and Macedonia have an eclectic history where different cultures have all left their mark. But a visit to this region of the Balkan Peninsula would not be complete without experiencing the contrasting natural beauty it has to offer: national parks, high mountains, fertile valleys, famous wine regions and the peaceful, alluring Lakes Ohrid and Prespa – they are all part of this comprehensive itinerary.

Highlights

  • Discover Skopje and Sofia - two of the Balkan's most vibrant capitals
  • 4 UNESCO sites including Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery
  • Macedonia's Tikveš wine region
  • World Heritage city and lake Ohrid
  • Visit Prizren, Kosovo's most historical city
  • Natural beauty, ancient sites, national parks and traditional Balkan cuisine

Key Information

  • 9 nights comfortable hotels, all rooms en suite
  • Group normally 4 to 14, plus leader. Min 16 yrs.
  • Travel by private air-conditioned minibus  

What's Included

  • All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners
  • All accommodation
  • Transfers for group flights

What's Not Included

  • Travel insurance
  • Visas & vaccinations
  • Single supplement

Day 1

Start in Sofia, Bulgaria. After the meeting with the leader, we go for a welcoming dinner.

Our trip commences in the late evening at the hotel in Sofia, when after the main briefing you’ll have a chance to get to know the group and the leader over a meal. Note: Those travelers using the group flight will be picked up at the airport and transferred to the hotel.
  • Hotel Sofia Place or similar

Day 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.
  • Hotel Melnik or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 3

*Transfer to Macedonia. After lunch we visit the ancient city of Stobi and enjoy wine tasting over dinner in a winery of the famous **Tikveš wine region.*

This morning, after breakfast, before we depart for Macedonia, we’ll have a visit to Kordopulova house, the largest house from the Bulgarian Revival Period, built in 1754 by the Kordopulos family. Here we will become familiar with old Melnik traditions and architecture. Then we bid farewell to Bulgaria and head to Macedonia and the area of Strumica, in the southeastern region of the country. After 1,5hrs our first stop will be the carnival city of Strumica where we’ll stretch our legs, as we go on a short walk around the centre. In Strumica we’ll have our first encounter with the Macedonian cuisine over a lunch in a nice restaurant. In the afternoon, we move to the famous Tikveš wine region. Here, we will visit the spacious archaeological site of Stobi, the largest one in Macedonia. The ancient city of Stobi was mentioned for the first time in 197 B.C, but its history starts some 5 centuries earlier, developing from a Paeonian town to the capital of the Roman province Macedonia Salutaris. The preserved buildings include a large theatre, luxurious palaces with fountains, peristyles and mosaics (worked in soft green, deep blue, ochre and reddish tones), Roman thermae, ancient temples and the oldest Christian church in the country. In the late afternoon, we check in at our hotel-winery, located in an area full with vineyards, outside Demir Kapija and spend an evening tasting a selection of premium Macedonian wines over dinner. Macedonian wines have taken a central role in society since the ancient times, when the kings and emperors favored its grapes. Thanks to an abundance of sunshine, Mediterranean and Continental breezes and rich soil, the grapes thrive in Macedonia.
  • Hotel Popova Kula or similar

Meals included: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 4

*Drive to Bitola to visit the archaeological site of Heraclea and enjoy a walking tour of the city with free time in the evening.*

After a relaxed breakfast, surrounded with vineyards, we head towards the city of Bitola (2hrs drive). Our first stop is the ancient city – now an archaeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis, located on the outskirts of Bitola where we have a tour of Bitola’s predecessor. Heraclea was founded by King Philip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC after he had incorporated the surrounding region of Lyncestis into his kingdom of Macedon. The city was named in honor 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 from the mists of 10 centuries of its existence. In the afternoon we do a sightseeing of Bitola, the second largest city of Macedonia. Historically it was a major political, economic and cultural centre of the Balkans in 19th and early 20th century. Many foreign countries had their consulates in Bitola, therefore it is also known as the 'City of Consuls. After a lunch in a local restaurant, your leader will take you on a walk in the centre of Bitola, showing you the landmarks, including the famous Širok Sokak Street, the Clock tower, Ottoman mosques, Christian churches and the Old Bazaar’s paved streets. After checking in to your hotel, in your free time, you may wish to visit the rewarding National museum, walk the promenade in the near-by park, or enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes and learn about the coffee culture of Bitola and the significance it has had on this city over the ages.
  • Hotel Teater or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 5

*Pelister NP walk, Beekeepers farm and lunch in Dihovo, transfer to Lake Ohrid* *via Lake Prespa and Galičica NP.*

This is a day to enjoy the nature. In the morning we go to Pelister National Park, in Bitola’s vicinity, to walk “The Path of the First World War” through forests of Molika pines and to learn about the history of the area during WW1. Given that Bitola was on the front-line of the Macedonian front during the Great War, it witnessed the times of madness, and remnants of the war can still be found in the surrounding mountains Then we go to the nearby village Dihovo, where we have the opportunity to explore the fascinating world of the Macedonian honey bee (Apis mellifera macedonica) as we join one of the local beekeepers. During the demonstration, protective clothing will be provided and there will be a chance to taste honey from the comb as well as an opportunity to purchase some if you wish to.  The lunch is arranged in the garden of a local family home in the village. In the afternoon we continue to Ohrid, enjoying a ride via Galičica National Park. We’ll stop at Lake Prespa and enjoy the tranquility of this Ramsar Wetland, before we start driving the scenic road through Galičica Mountain with short en route stops to enjoy the fascinating landscapes of both Ohrid and Prespa lakes. Driving along the coast of UNESCO listed Lake Ohrid, valued as a world heritage since 1979, we’ll reach the city of Ohrid, where you’ll have free time upon arrival.
  • Hotel Lebed or similar

Meals included: breakfast,lunch

Day 6

*A full day in Ohrid, a UNESCO World Heritage city. Dinner in a family home in Kuratica village.*

This morning, after breakfast, we do a walking tour of some of the famous sites in Ohrid, the pearl of the Balkan Peninsula. Built on a large hill above the lake, the Old town is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe with traces of its 3 millennia of existence visible everywhere. Overlooking the blue waters of the unique lake, Ohrids’s artistic and historical importance is maybe most apparent through its vast collections of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Icons and fresco paintings and by being the site of the oldest Pan-Slavic university, founded by Saint Clement, the patron saint of the city in the 9th century. Ohrid region is one of few only in Europe which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage by both Natural and Cultural criteria. The sightseeing will take us through the winding, cobbled stone streets, with traditional houses and many Byzantine style churches, including Hagia Sophia cathedral, the Holy Virgin Peribleptos and St. John at Kaneo. We will see the Upper Gate, visit the Tsar Samuel's Fortress and the Ancient Theatre. Ohrid boasts with preserved handicrafts, precious jewelry, traditional restaurants, lakeside cafes and historic monuments which all contribute to the charming atmosphere. You will have a free afternoon to explore, visit some of the museums, enjoy a panoramic boat ride, or maybe take a swim in the lake. In the evening we will check out the vicinity of Ohrid by having a dinner in Kuratica village (approximately 30 mins away), where a local family will prepare a delicious, home cooked meal in their family home, using organic local products.
  • Hotel Lebed or similar

Meals included: breakfast,dinner

Day 7

*Transfer to Kosovo via Tetovo and Šar Planina NP. Lunch in Varvara and a walking tour in Prizren.*

After breakfast, we check out from the hotel and travel from Ohrid to Prizren in Kosovo. We make a stop in Tetovo (approx. 2hrs drive), to see the Colorful Mosque, one of the 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. Then we continue to Kosovo, where after the border we’ll have a scenic drive (two more hours) through Šar Planina National Park in order to reach Prizren, a historical and vital city, surrounded by incredible nature. This mediaeval capital is known for traditional handicrafts, its gastronomy and wines, and a wonderful mix of Serbian and Ottoman monuments. The leader will take us for a walk around the city to see the most famous sites, including Shadirvan square, Sinan Pasha Mosque, the Orthodox and the Catholic Cathedrals, Gazi Mehmet Pasha’s Hammam and the 14th century Our Lady of Ljeviš (part of a World heritage property). The evening is at your disposal to enjoy a meal or the sunset view from Kalaja - the Fortress of Prizren.
  • Hotel Cleon or similar

Meals included: breakfast,lunch

Day 8

*Visiting the UNESCO’s Gračanica Monastery before arrival to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, followed by a walking tour of the city.*

We leave Prizren in the morning. Our first stop is King Milutin’s final endowment, Gračanica Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, located in the eponymous village, in the heart of Kosovo, close to Priština, the capital of this disputed territory. The masterfully built monastic church was finished and fresco decorated by 1321 and still is a bastion of Orthodox Christianity, since Gračanica is one of the few remaining dominantly Serbian populated areas in Kosovo. Then we head back across the border to Skopje, the Macedonian capital. We arrive in Skopje after approx. 2hrs drive and in the late afternoon we have a sightseeing tour Skopje’s downtown. Skopje valley has been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times and the city has experienced Roman, Byzantine, Slavic and Ottoman rule through the ages. Today it is a bustling and modern metropolis thanks to the redevelopment after the catastrophic 1963 earthquake. The mixture of various period sites and architecture styles makes it sometimes surreal, however, if you delve beneath the surface you will discover a city with a complex history and fascinating sights. Some of them are the Stone Bridge, Macedonia square and street, Mother Theresa memorial house, the Old Railway Station, Stara Čaršija quarter (the Old Bazaar) – containing numerous buildings from the Ottoman period and Skopsko Kale - the mediaeval Fortress.
  • Bushi Resort or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 9

*Osogovo monastery visit while transferring back to Sofia for a city tour and a farewell dinner.*

Today’s drive is dedicated to completing the circle back to Sofia. We’ll break this long drive (4hrs approximately) with a stop before the border at Osogovo monastery near Kriva Palanka, to visit this historical place in fascinating settings and to have a lunch. We return to Sofia in the late afternoon. There will be a walking sightseeing tour (approx. 2 hours) of some of the main sights of the Bulgarian capital. Nestled under Vitosha Mountain, Sofia is a laid back city with an eclectic mix of sites, reflecting its 2000 years of history and various Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influence. Capital of Bulgaria since 1879, today it is known for its diverse landmarks, communist architecture, orthodox churches, manicured gardens and vast boulevards. The walking tour will include central Sofia's notability, like Sveta Nedelya Square, Independence Square with the St. Sofia monument, excavated Roman ruins of the ancient Serdica, the Council of Ministers and the former House of the Communist Party, Rotunda of St.George, the National theatre, the Russian orthodox church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Bulgarian Parliament and the monument to the Tsar Liberator. In the evening it’s time to have a farewell dinner at a local restaurant where traditional dishes of Sofia are served.
  • Sofia Place Hotel or similar

Meals included: breakfast

Day 10

End Sofia.

In the morning you have free time to walk around Sofia and say goodbye. The group flight passengers will be taken to the airport in time for their early afternoon flight. 

Meals included: breakfast

Trip for You

The Activity Level of this trip is 1- Leisurely.
This is a cultural discovery trip with some walking, required both to access the sites and to make the most of the trip. The city tours are on foot. Travel is by private bus, generally on good roads and there are some long drives due to the distances covered on the trip.

Eating & Drinking

All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners are included. Food in the Balkans is quite varied thanks to the many regional influences, particularly Mediterranean combining Ottoman, Oriental and European tastes. Many corners of the Balkans have popular dishes with the same names but often have big differences in taste. Dairy products, especially milk and yoghurt are present in many dishes. Grilled meats are very popular with pork and lamb being prevalent in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Pastries, pies, salads and fresh vegetable dishes are a staple of the Balkan diet. Macedonian wine is incredibly good value, especially wines from the Tikvesh region. Rakija, similar to brandy, is very popular and often locals make their own. Mastika, a liquor, is considered the national drink of Macedonia and is usually poured over ice and enjoyed with a selection of small dishes. Vegetarian and some special dietary requirements can be catered for but options are limited throughout the Balkans. Please inform the office of any specific requirements upon booking.

Transportation

We travel by private air-conditioned minibus. All driving is on asphalt roads, however in some areas the quality of the roads are not as the same standard as you would expect in Western Europe.

Joining Instructions

Travelling flight inclusive from London: 10 Days
The group flight from London is a daytime flight departing on Day 1 of the itinerary.
Flights from London
We normally use the scheduled services of British Airways (depending on availability). As flight timings and schedules change regularly we recommend you call one of our specialist sales staff or your agent to confirm up‐to‐date timings. Please note timings may change at a later date and cannot be confirmed until approximately two weeks before departure.
Travelling land only: 10 days starting in Sofia and ending at Sofia Airport
Your trip normally starts at our accommodation in Sofia in the afternoon of Day 1 of the itinerary. Details of how to reach the start point are provided in the Final Joining Instructions ‐ sent approximately two weeks before departure.

Transfer Details

Airport transfers are included for those on the group flights. Please note that transfers are not included for clients arriving on any other flight, even if Exodus has booked it. If you require airport transfers, you may (by prior arrangement only) be able to join the group transfer. Transfers are arranged to coincide with the arrival time of the group flight - please check the group flight details 2 weeks before departure. If you do not take this transfer, or miss it, you must make your own way to the joining point at your own expense. You can pre-book private arrival transfers through Exodus if you wish (payable in advance). Please ensure that you provide us with all relevant information at least 2 weeks before departure. The start hotel for this trip is located in central Sofia and the best way to get there from the airport is by taking a taxi. The official airport taxi operator is called OK Supertrans AD and they have offices in both the arrivals halls of Terminals 1 and 2. The distance between the airport and central Sofia is approximately 10km and a taxi should cost between the equivalent of EUR 6-8 approximately. Upon arrival at the hotel, let them know you are part of the Exodus group.

Weather Info

The Balkans enjoy a similar climate to most of Central Europe - hot summers, cool springs and autumns and cold winters with considerable snowfall. We schedule trips May to September, when temperatures will be generally warmer (20-30ºC). However these temperatures will be a little cooler in the mountain areas. In July and August we can easily expect 25-35 degrees Celcius during the day. The weather in this region can sometimes be unpredictable where Mediterranean and Continental Alpine climates vie for supremacy. The result is an extremely unpredictable climate even in summer. Rain can fall at any time of the year, although in mid-summer it is more likely to come as short, sharp thunderstorms.

Essential Equipment


Small sized day pack
Waterproof jacket
Comfortable shoes for the walking tours and visiting sites
Warm trousers & shorts
Refillable water bottle (1 litre capacity)
Hat and sun block
Sunglasses
Insect repellent
Umbrella in case of wet weather At time of writing the standard weight limit for hold baggage on the recommended international carrier for this trip is 23kg. We recommend packing only one piece of checked baggage. As advice about luggage allowances for both hand and hold luggage is subject to change, we suggest you check the airline's website for the latest information prior to your departure.

Optional Equipment


Swimming costume 

Spending Money

For meals not included in the itinerary, it is recommended to budget around the equivalent of EUR 10‐15 per meal, excluding beverages. Beer usually costs between the equivalent of EUR 1‐2, a good glass of wine EUR 2‐3, soft drink EUR 1‐2 and tap water is safe to drink in Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Tipping

Although optional, a tip for the leader at the end of the trip is greatly appreciated. As a guideline we recommend a contribution between EUR15 to EUR20 per client per week. It is also customary to leave a tip for the driver. This can be handed to your leader at the end of the trip. For your driver we recommend to budget approx. EUR10-EUR15 per person.

(Please note, visa information cannot be guaranteed and should be checked with the relevant country's embassy prior to departure.)

Bulgaria

Delay

Jan: 01

Requirements

Jan: 01

Tourist Visa

Jan: 01

Business Visa

Jan: 01

Family Visa

Jan: 01

Days Closed

Jan: 01

Office Hours

Mon - Fri

Contact Details

Telephone No

Hotels

Please be advised that the accommodation listed under each day in each location are the standard hotels used. However, there may be some departures where groups stay at similar hotels of the same standard and quality.  All hotels have en suite facilities and offer free Wi-Fi.  Single supplements are available on request.


Great way to explore the region

This is a very nice trip, with no time to get bored. We visited 3 counties in 10 days from the biggest to the smallest cities in the region. It was an interesting contrast. We explored several, churches, monasteries, mosques, UNESCO sites and restaurants. This part of the world is not yet so discovered, it often felt we are the only tourists from abroad. We learn a lot about the history of the area thanks to our skilled leader and tried some local food specialties. The portions are huge there! We had a lovely group that added to the positive experience.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Every place we visited had its own charm. Lake Ohrid was fantastic. It is beautiful yet not so crowded. We had some free time there and I had the chance to go for a short swim in the lake. I was very pleasantly surprised by Skopje. It is beautiful!
  What did you think of your group leader?
Nebojsha was very knowledgeable, calm and friendly. He liked to socialise with the group which was appreciated.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Take a waterproof jacket, the weather can be unpredictable, and a swimming costume to take advantage of the spa hotel in Skopje and/or to swim in Lake Ohrid. Make sure you have enough space on your memory card.
  Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is worth practising the Cyrillic alphabet before you travel.

Great trip

As the trip title suggests, this is great way to explore Macedonia, with a couple of days in Bulgaria and a day in Kosovo thrown in. The trip took in a good mix of cities, small towns, national parks and lakes (and a lot of churches, monasteries and mosques!) and included local visits to wineries and a beekeeper's; all well guided/hosted. Although the trip is a leisurely one, the itinerary is very full which was great for the amount we saw and did in 10 days, but did mean that we had less free time than other trips I've been on. The trip was well planned and organised with only a couple of longer drives (needed to see as much as we did) and all the staff and local guides were great. Overall it was a great trip through some beautiful and fascinating countries and I would love to go back to the region.
  What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Hard to choose from such a full trip but my personal highlights were Rila Monastery , Lake Ohrid (and the cathedral tortoise), the morning/lunch at the beekeeper's and the night at the winery.
  What did you think of your group leader?
Nebojsha was a great; friendly, organised and incredibly knowledgeable.
  Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
We had limited time in Sofia and Skopje so if I were to do the trip again I would consider adding an extra night or two to the trip to have more time in one or both cities. Be prepared for the very generous portion sizes - you will not be hungry on this trip!
Thu 20 May 2021 to Sat 29 May 2021

Guaranteed (Available)

R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)
Thu 10 Jun 2021 to Sat 19 Jun 2021

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R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)
Thu 24 Jun 2021 to Sat 03 Jul 2021

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R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)
Thu 08 Jul 2021 to Sat 17 Jul 2021

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R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)
Thu 12 Aug 2021 to Sat 21 Aug 2021

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R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)
Thu 02 Sep 2021 to Sat 11 Sep 2021

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R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)
Thu 16 Sep 2021 to Sat 25 Sep 2021

Available

R 32,824

(Optional Single Supplement +R4,217)