Situated on a beautiful stretch of the Danube, Budapest consists of two parts: Buda and Pest. Buda is the older and more historical part of the city, with old narrow winding streets and medieval buildings. Here you can find Buda’s most ancient sights: the Royal Palace, St. Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and Castle Hill with its old town. Across the Danube is grand Pest with its vibrant streets such as Váci Utca, which is the bustling main street of Budapest. As your fellow travellers are arriving throughout the day, there are no planned activities until your Group Meeting this evening, so check-in to the hotel (check-in time is approx 3pm) and enjoy the city. Check the notice boards or ask at reception for the exact time and location of the group meeting. After the meeting, you can head out for a meal at a local restaurant with the group (optional). Please make every effort to arrive on time for this important welcome meeting. If you are delayed and will arrive late, please inform us - contact numbers are provided in these notes. Your Tour Leader will then leave you a message at the front desk informing you of where and when to meet up.
Orientation walk of Budapest, overnight train to Sighisoara.
Explore Sighisoara's fabulous medieval walled citadel with its many cultural attractions and great restaurants and bars. On Day 3 we have a half-day guided tour of the area. Much of Transylvania harks back to a time gone by, with the traditional rural villages seeming to have stepped straight from the pages of a fairytale. Enjoy the beautiful rolling scenery as we visit medieval villages and fortified churches, and learn about the life and folklore of olden times from our expert local guide. Be sure to sample some Romanian cuisine while you are here - the Casa Dracula (original home of Vlad, the model for Count Dracula) is now a restaurant specialising in the hearty meat and game dishes of the region. Estimated travel time Budapest to Sighisoara 9.5 hours
Transfer to Brasov (Kronstadt), one of Transylvania’s major cities, beautifully set amidst forested hills. Brasov is a delightful city with baroque architecture, charming squares where you can enjoy the cafe culture, and friendly locals. Walking in the medieval centre, one of the best preserved in Romania, you can visit The Black Church, the biggest church between Vienna and Constantinople, the City Council Square, the ramparts erected in medieval times by the Saxon colonists, and one of the narrowest streets in Europe, the Binder Street. Estimated travel time Sighisoara to Brasov 3 hours
Today we travel to Romania's capital via Bran Castle and Snagov. On Day 5, we visit the picturesque Bran Castle. Impressively situated on a rock outcrop and dominating the valley,this fourteenth-century castle is steeped in history and folklore and is an unmissable highlight.It is claimed to be the home of Count Dracula, and more recently was a favourite summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania. Bucharest has huge squares and imposing buildings (the Palace of Parliament is the second-largest building in the world!) and is a city of contrasts. You can get a sense of Communist times from the grandiose Goverment architecture, visit the magnificent Cathedral, dine in eclectic international restaurants, and check out the burgeoning bar scene - all in one day! Estimated travel time Brasov to Bucharest 4 hours
We cross into Bulgaria today as we travel to the fascinating town of Veliko Tarnovo Settled continuously since 4500BC, Veliko Tarnovo is probably one of the most ancient and historic places you will ever visit - no wonder it was capital of the Kingdom of Bulgaria in medieval times! The town still retains a medieval feel, with buildings huddled above an S-shaped gorge in the river Yantra. it is a fantastic place to explore, visit the museums, and sample your first Bulgarian food, which is lighter than Romanian and has some similarities to Greek and Turkish cuisine. We strongly recommend you sample some local Bulgarian wine too, the quality of which will come as a pleasant surprise - Bulgaria's wine industry is not well-known outside the country but produces some very fine vintages! The Tsarevets fortress just 1km outside central Veliko Tarnovo is a must-see. This huge complex has been an important stronghold for thousands of years, and you can wander at will around the remains of homes, churches and watch towers, dating from the fifth to the twelfth century. On Day 8 we enjoy a hike uphill to Arbanasi (5km, approx 90 minutes). This hilltop village was the residence of choice for the wealthy Roman elite and is still a country haven for the high-flyers of modern Bulgaria. The views all around and down to Veliko Tarnovo are amazing. We also recommend you pop into the sixteenth-century Church of the Nativity to see the amazing murals. Afterwards, we walk down to Veliko Tarnovo again. Estimated travel time Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo 6 hours
A long journey into the mysterious and beautiful northern Bulgarian countryside takes us to Belogradchik. We venture off the tourist trail and get a feel for the magnificent natural scenery and stunning historic villages of this little-visited area. The landscape here is simply amazing, with red rock spires, and we make the most of the scenery - both above and underground. On day 10 we take local transport (45 minutes) to Magura and enjoy an underground hiking trail around the stunning Magura cave system, past stalactites and rock formations. Then we take in the mighty Kaleto fortress overlooking the town. Winding stone stairs lead ever upwards to an ancient fortress, a superb vantage point over the rock spires which surround the town. Estimated travel time Veliko Tarnovo to Belogradchik 8 hours
We arrive in Sofia by mid-afternoon, giving us enough time for a short orientation walk to explore the city. Enjoy a stroll down Sofia's chic pedestrianised Vitosha street, then take in the eclectic Ladies' Market. Sofia is an intriguing mix of wide graceful Parisian-style boulevards and Communist-era architecture. Don't miss the stunning gold-domed Alexander Nevski church, honouring the Russian liberators whose contribution saw the end of ottoman rule in Bulgaria. Sofia is an excellent place to sample modern takes on Bulgarian and international food, with some great trendy dining opportunities. Don't forget to bid farewell to Bulgaria with a glass of the excellent home-grown wine either! Estimated travel time Belogradchik to Sofia 5 hours
We have time today to take in Plovdiv before continuing by overnight train or bus to Istanbul (dependent on whether the train service is running) Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city, is amazingly rich in Roman remains and a fascinating place to while away a few hours. Wander the atmospheric streets of the hilly Old Town, visit the excellent Ethnographic Museum which has a great collection of traditional Bulgarian costumes, or go back nearly two thousand years and tread in the steps of Roman legionnaires by visiting the Theatre of Ancient Philippopolis. Afterwards, why not relax over a coffee and a Bulgarian baklava, for which this area is known? Then this evening we will re-group and catch the overnight bus to Istanbul after dinner. Estimated travel time Sofia to Plovdiv 2 hours, estimated travel time Plovdiv to Istanbul 14 hours (overnight bus or train)
On the morning of Day 13 we arrive in the city that is both Europe and Asia. Steeped in centuries of history, this city of turrets and domes is a highlight for any traveller. From the train station, we'll jump on the metro and tram to get us right into the heart of the city, to our hotel in Sultanahmet. Day 14 is yours to spend at leisure in this fascinating city - and there is so much to do! Don't miss those historical icons, the Haghia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and the legendary Blue Mosque, or the chance to "shop till you drop" at the Grand Bazaar. In the evening, there are plenty of cool little bars and restaurants where we can celebrate the end of an amazing journey over a raki or two.
Allaha ismarladik! You are free to depart at any time today. Please note that check-out time from the hotel is normally mid-morning, but luggage storage facilities are usually available.