After your overnight flight, you will be greeted at the Sofia International Airport by a smiling face of one of the Stone & Compass guides. Getting settled into your room at the Premier Best Western Hotel and taking a nice hot shower may be your first choice to get ready for the adventures ahead. After a little rest the group will gather for a welcome dinner and then a much-needed night's sleep awaits you. Sleep well as tomorrow you will be embracing Bulgaria’s vibrant capital city of Sofia for a guided walking tour.
Wake up to a full breakfast before heading out with the group to have a guided walking tour of Sofia where you will see the Archeological Museum, Nevski Cathedral, Catacombs under St. Sofia Church, and many other sites. After a traditional lunch, deepen your cultural knowledge of Sofia’s history with a lecture/tour at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum or enjoy more sight seeing before taking off to drive to the Stone & Compass Center in Stolat, Bulgaria.
Enjoy a little rest and relaxation as you awake at The Center and take in the views of the mountains and 2000 acres that the property has to offer. This day will focus on class lectures/discussion. An afternoon traditional Bulgarian dance lesson will prepare you for the evening’s cultural performance and dinner in the barn.
Today you travel to just outside of Veliko Tarnovo to see two starkly different sights, Nikopolis ad Istrum & Arbanasi, which will illustrate different periods of Bulgaria's long history. Nikopolis ad Istrum was a Roman and Early Byzantine town. Among the ruins are the remains of a cannonade, a theater, public baths, and buildings and shops around the agora, or central square. In the fourth century, the Gothic alphabet was developed here, and the Bible was translated from Greek to Gothic.
Arbanasi is an ancient village with beautiful architectural monuments, many dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, when it rose to prominence as an important craft and commercial center, and others dating to the Bulgarian National Revival period of the 19th century. Arbanasi is especially well-known for its numerous old churches. The Church of the Nativity of Christ, for example, dates back to the 15th century, and features impressive murals and iconostases representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Step back in time as you enter the gates of Etara, a living museum featuring a traditional craft marketplace. Waterwheels power machinery used for woodcarving, pottery, weaving, and silversmithing, among others. Try traditional apple pastry from the bakery or Turkish coffee brewed over hot sand while you watch the artisans at work and shop for unique handcrafted items. You will also visit Dryanovo monastery.
Visit Dryanovo monastery, founded in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 17th century, was used as a preparation site by revolutionaries for liberation from Ottoman rule. There is a restaurant and traditional craft shopping within the complex. A short walk offers views of a waterfall and the picturesque cliffs of the Dryanovo river gorge, as well as an opportunity to explore the caverns of Bacho Kiro Cave.
Visit Bulgaria’s third largest monastery in the village of Troyan to see frescoes inside and paintings outside by Zahari Zograf, a famous painter of the Bulgarian National Revival, a wood carved altar and a unique icon known as the Three-Handed Virgin. We also plan to visit the Museum of Folk Crafts and Applied, which features the Troyan ceramic tradition, one of the finest in Bulgaria. There are cafes, shops, and art galleries to enjoy near the monastery.
In the evening you will pack your bags, take a cart ride, and stargaze one last night at The Center as tomorrow morning begins the journey back toward Sofia . . . but don’t worry the journey is over a mountain and through a valley that has been inhabited for over 7000 years!
On this class day you will get to see the traditional Bulgarian yogurt production. Visit a working family farm and harvest produce for this evening's meal at the center. After a visit to the Sevlievo Farmers Market and the local grocery story you will have collected enough items to come back to The Center and learn how to make a traditional Bulgarian meal.
Explore Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of Second Bulgarian Empire. Climb the steps of the medieval fortress of Tsarevets for panoramic views of this city and the river that winds around it. Inside the reconstructed church atop the fortress you will see unique modern frescoes reflecting the long history of this site. After trying your hand at an ancient pottery technique in a master class you will have time to visit a museum of local history, shop for gifts and souvenirs, or enjoy a gelato in this city where old meets new.
Take a day hike and swim under a waterfall when we travel to Emen Canyon located 20km from Veliko Tarnovo in the foothills of the Central Balkan Range. Formed by the currents of the Negovanka River, the area boasts several rapids, waterfalls, pools, and recesses beneath cliffs that rise as high as 90m.
Class day: lecture/discussion, reading; activities around the Center.
Travel through the Thracian Valley of the Kings and over the Balkan Mountains with a stop at the Shipka Church and Shipka Pass Monument celebrating liberation from 500 years of Ottoman rule.
This mountain pass is impressive but so is the destination of the ancient city of Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Boasting over 200 Thracian, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites, this “city of seven hills” has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Sample traditional Bulgarian, Turkish, and Armenian fare as you walk the cobblestone streets of Ancient Plovdiv, lined with restored houses from the Bulgarian Revival period. We will spend the afternoon exploring an ancient theatre, the TrakArt Museum and all the sights of this beautiful city before heading on to Sofia where you will sleep one last night before departing for home.
Today you wake and reflect upon all your learning and exploration as you either head home or off to your next adventure the road is wide open.