RAIL WONDERS OF THE BALKANS
SEPTEMBER 18-30, 2020
Travel through the Balkans by train with us and along the way visit the culturally rich cities of Belgrade, Skopje and Sofia and other smaller, but equally historic, towns on route. Each city or town has its own story to tell and is overflowing with history and charm at every turn. Where possible we travel by train with our tour bus shadowing us and taking care of our luggage.
We travel on the amazing “Šargan Eight” railway, one the most scenic railways in Europe and is considered a unique construction masterpiece in the world among the narrow-gauge railway lines. Narrow gauge railway fans will love this holiday as we also visit the stunning Septembri to Bansko line. A two foot six gauge line, known as the “Alpine Railway of the Balkans” and takes 5 hours to cover the full length.
Day 1 Friday September 18: (D)
Arrival and Overnight in Budapest. If you have not visited the Hungarian capital before then we suggest you fly out a day or two earlier. For this particular tour we are using Budapest as a convenient start point to enter Serbia.
Day 2 Saturday September 19: (B,D)
This morning we will depart towards Serbia. The train leaves Keleti station at around 11:30am so we will have ample time to make our way to this magnificent station after checking out of our hotel. Our InterCity (loco hauled) train today will travel only as far as the border, at Kelebia. Here, we will need to transfer to a different train (most likely a diesel unit) for the remainder of the trip (14 minutes) to Subotica – the most northernmost city in Serbia. Total journey time is around 4 hours. Upon arrival in Subotica, we will have a panoramic tour.
Day 3 Sunday September 20: (B,D)
Unique in Serbia, Subotica has the most buildings built in the art nouveau style. Places of interest include: The City Hall, the Synagogue, the Artistic Encounter building, the National Theatre, the Cathedral of St. Theresa of Avila dating from 1797, the 1723 Franciscan friary, the Orthodox churches, etc.
Morning departure by train from Subotica to Novi Sad. Arrival Novi Sad train station, where our minibus will wait us for a panorama tour. Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia, lying on the banks of the Danube river and facing the northern slopes of Fruška Gora. It will be European Capital of culture in 2021. Departure to Belgrade for a short panoramic tour before we meet up again and transfer to Skadarlija for dinner.
Day 4 Monday September 21: (B,D)
Early breakfast at the hotel Morning visit of Tito’s blue train (Serbian: Plavi voz) – a luxury train, once used by Josip Broz Tito, while president of the former Yugoslavia.
Depart from Belgrade to Uzice by train, arrival to Uzice and transfer to Mokra Gora. Free time for lunch and visit Drvengrad ethno village, built by Emir Kusturica. located on Mećavnik hill in Mokra Gora nature park, the meeting point of two beautiful Serbian mountains Tara and Zlatibor, ethno village “Drvengrad” is a product of film director Emir Kusturica’s imagination, and was built for the production of his film “Life is a miracle”. It has only 605 residents not far from the city of Užice. “Drvengrad” has an art gallery, a library, a cinema called “Underground” after one of Kusturica’s most famous movies, a cake shop with home made sweets, a restaurant with traditional Serbian cuisine, a souvenir shop etc.
Afternoon train ride – Nostalgija train (2h 20min). “Šargan Eight” is one the most attractive tourist museum railway in Europe and is considered a unique construction masterpiece in the world among the narrow-gauge railway lines. The track of 760 mm gauge passes through the most beautiful mountain areas of Mokra Gora with 5 bridges and 22 tunnels.
Day 5 Tuesday September 22: (B,D)
Breakfast and some free time in the morning to enjoy Zlatibor – situated at an elevation of just over 3281 feet, Zlatibor is a climatic resort, characterized by a cool alpine climate and clean air. The tourist era of Zlatibor officially began in 1893, when the King of Serbia Aleksandar Obrenović decided to establish a health resort on an initiative from the local hosts. Most probably its name stems from the Serbian words zlatni (golden) and bor (pine). 12.00pm – transfer by coach to Niš (appr 4 hours transfer with comfort stop enroute). 4:00pm – panorama tour of Niš – the 3rd largest city in Serbia. Niš has long been a crossroads between East and West and is the birthplace of 3 Roman emperors: Constantine the Great, Constantius III and Justin I. The city’s past would earn it the nickname – The Emperor’s City. Dinner and overnight at our hotel.
Day 6 Wednesday September 23: (B,D)
Breakfast and departure to Skopje, Macedonia. Arrival around 12:00 o`clock followed by a tour of Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia – the City square, the house of Mother Theresa, Stone bridge, St. Spas Church and the Old Bazaar.
Although Skopje has been destroyed many times through its history, it still has many historical landmarks which reflect the successive occupations of the city. It was also a ground for modernist experiments in the 20th century, following the 1963 earthquake.
Free time or afternoon train ride from Skopje to Gostivar (this is part of the Ohrid line – a narrow gauge railway which ran to a gauge of 600 mm). The section from Skopje – Gostivar was converted to standard gauge in the 1950s. The remaining 600 mm lines were closed altogether in 1966. Back to Skopje by coach, overnight Skopje.
Day 7 Thursday September 25: (B,D)
Packed breakfast and early morning train from Skopje to Bitola, the 2nd largest city of Macedonia. The city stands at an important junction connecting the south of the Adriatic Sea region with the Aegean Sea and Central Europe. Arrival before noon and short walking tour of Bitola – the former Military school, the main street Shirok Sokak, the main square with St. Dimitrius Church. Transfer to Ohrid UNESCO town (1.5 h) with free time for lunch and walking tour, followed by a short boat cruise on the lake. Transfer to Skopje by coach. Dinner and second overnight in Skopje.
Day 8 Friday September 25: (B,D)
At the moment there is no train connection between Macedonia and Bulgaria. Bulgaria has a rail line up to the border, but Macedonian has only just started their construction.. We transfer by coach from Skopje to Bulgaria. Stop to visit Rila Monastery – the largest monastery in Bulgaria, located at an altitude of 3,763 feet above sea level in Rila Mountain National Park. Admire wooden balconies, azure fretwork, collonades, facades and colorful frescoes, silhouetted against a fantastic panorama of mountain peaks. Proceed to Bansko museum town, located at the foothills of Pirin Mountain National Park (UNESCO site). In winter, Bansko is a host of many world cup alpine ski races, while in summer time international jazz, opera and theatre festivals are organized. We will have a walking tour of the Old Bansko to see St. Trinity Church and the complex of National Revival houses with their typical architecture. Check in at the hotel, dinner and overnight.
Day 9 Saturday September 26: (B,D)
We depart by narrow-gauge passenger train from Dobrinishte and Bansko to Septemvri. This is the only operating narrow gauge (760 mm) line in Bulgaria nowadays, built in the period 1921-1945. The journey takes almost five hours through the valleys and gorges. The route leaves Bansko, passing Razlog, Yakoruda and Velingrad, linking the western part of the Upper Thracian Plain with the Western Rhodopes, Rila and Pirin mountains. Along the route there are 35 tunnels, 11 stations and 10 stops. Transfer from Septemvri to Brestovitsa village by coach. Wine tasting and visit of a boutique wine cellar. Transfer to Plovdiv by coach. Dinner at the hotel and overnight. Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Day 10 Sunday September 27: (B,D)
Day tour from Plovdiv to the Rhodope mountains, transfer to the town of Haskovo, where remains of 1st settlements have been discovered dating from 5000 BC. A landmark of the city is the high monument of the Mother of God and the Infant Jesus – entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the highest monument to the Mother of God in the world. Free time for lunch.
We take the train from Dimitrovgrad to Podkova – the southernmost rail station in Bulgaria and the end of a major railway route. Take the train from here and you can end up in Ruse and from there travel to Romania, Ukraine and Russia, or, if you change in Plovdiv, to Istanbul or Vienna. Back to Plovdiv by coach. Dinner and 2nd night at the hotel.
Day 11 Monday September 28: (B,D)
We start the day with a guided tour of Plovdiv – considered the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe and the 6th oldest in the world. The Eternal City, as Rome is conventionally called, is much younger than Plovdiv. Athens, Carthage, Constantinople came into being later. We will visit the Old Plovdiv architectural reserve, awarded golden medal for architecture by UNESCO – the national revival houses complex, the ancient Amphitheatre, the Roman Forum and Stadium, St. Constantine and Helena Church.
We take the train Plovdiv – Panagurishte. Panagyurishte is primarily known for being the center of the April Uprising against the Ottoman rule in Bulgaria in 1876. It was capital of the Fourth Revolutionary District which was the main centre of the rebellion. The uprising was bloodily suppressed after 10 days of declared freedom, and the town was burnt down and almost completely destroyed by the Ottoman Turks. Lady Strangford arrived from Britain later that year and established hospitals and mills to assist the Bulgarians. Tour of Panagurishte – one of the museum houses and the treasury of the History museum with Panagurishte Thracian golden treasure (400-300 BC). Check in at a SPA hotel. Dinner and overnight.
Day 12 Tuesday September 29: (B,D)
We start with a tour of Panagurishte then transfer Panagurishte – Sofia by coach (2 h). Tour of Sofia – the capital city of Bulgaria, which Emperor Constantine the Great once called “My Rome”. The city covers ancient Serdica, founded 4,000 years ago by the Thracians, while its numerous monuments and buildings reveal as well Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Russian influence. Visit Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, St. Sofia 6th c basilica, the Parliament Square, the Old City garden and the former Royal Palace, National Theatre, Presidency, St. George rotunda (4th c, the oldest building preserved in Sofia), the ruins of Ancient Serdica and Arena di Serdica. Farewell dinner, overnight.
Day 13 Wednesday September 30: (B)
After breakfast end of tour.
ALL PRICES ARE PERSON
DOUBLE ROOM OCCUPANCY$2,295
SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT$395
DEPOSIT TO HOLD SPACE CONFIRMED$800
FINAL PAYMENT DUE BY JULY 18, 2020
* Fully escorted
* Dinner every night
* 12 Nights of Lodging
* Incredible range of scenery
* World famous Rila Monastery
* First class rail travel where available
* “Šargan Eight” narrow gauge railway
* See the oldest inhabited city in Europe
* Travel on the “Alpine railway of the Balkans”
TOUR CONDITIONS FOR 2020 **PLEASE READ CAREFULLY**
Tour Price: All tour prices are subject to change without notice, at any time. All prices based on double room occupancy. Those people that use a credit card for payments a 3% conveyance fee will be added to the tour price. We reserve the right to change tour prices if necessary without prior notice.