After your travels, you will be happy to know that one of the Stone & Compass guides smiling face will be waiting for you at Sofia International Airport. 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 nights 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 led by knowledgeable locals through the Sofia Free Tour. 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. The late afternoon will allow for more site seeing before taking off to drive to Kyustendil, Bulgaria where you will stay next two nights.
Today is all about ‘the spa’ experience as we explore the role of mineral springs in the lives and health of Bulgarians. Take a trip through time as you explore excavated Roman baths, public baths currently used by locals, and the baths at Strimon Garden SPA Hotel which offers both luxury and medicinal mineral spring access. In addition to course work you will also have free time to to see the beauty of this quaint spa town with its public markets and Hisrylaka fortress.
Sleep in a little before enjoying a hotel breakfast and a few more luxurious soaks in the mineral baths at the hotel. Departure for Rila Monastery is not until after lunch so really ‘soak’ it all in. A picturesque drive to Rila Monastery will leave you with plenty of time to take a hike in the mountains before dinner. Founded in the 10th century, Rila Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site significant for its political and religious history as well as its memorable architecture and painted frescoes. Experience monastic life and meditative practice as part of your immersion. You will gain unique access to the upper levels of the monastery and sleep in one of the 300 monastery rooms gaining insight into spiritual life both past and present.
Rise and shine with the sun to see Rila Monastery in this beautiful light. Take a few more pictures, you won’t be able to resist, before you pack your bags. Make sure you grab a traditional donut before getting in the van to leave. You will be making your way back to Sofia to spend the afternoon and evening. On this second visit you will be able to explore the city on your own and get to know more of its modern side through a course activity. Have a nice dinner with everyone before being free to see the city lights at night in the way that suits your style.
Wake back in the capital city before heading off to the Stone & Compass center in the small village of Stolat deep in the heart of the Balkan Mountains. The afternoon will include a blend of course work and free time at the center. Explore the 2000 acres or just swim in the pool, as options are limitless. Settle into your room in one of the restored historic house , as this will be your home away from home in Bulgaria for the next five nights.
If you have not yet had a chance to see how traditional arts and industry are being constructed as central to Bulgarian national identity. We will travel to ETARA an open-air ethnographic museum where you will get to see first hand traditional crafts being created right before your eyes. All powered by an amazing series of water sleuths and water-powered machinery. Get a guided tour of how all of this is done and have free time to browse around and buy yourself and your friends some truly unique Bulgarian crafts. After ETARA you will travel to Dryanovo Monastery and enjoy lunch before heading up to Basco Hiro Cave.
Meet the locals as you spend the morning getting to know some residents of the local Stolat Elderly Home. Here you will complete the first part of your service to local community members as you get to know them and hear their stories. The afternoon will include more local adventures to a farm in Dushevno and a farmers market in Sevlievo before you return to the center to learn how to make traditional Bulgarian cuisine.
Visit the Old Bulgarian Capital city of Veliko Tarnovo where you will see Tsaravets Castle and enjoy the small cobblestone streets for a walk through the city. After lunch travel to the ancient town of Arbanasi which overlooks Veliko Tarnovo and see a church with some of the most unique frescos anywhere in the world.
The rewards for your travels and hard course work have come on this day when you get a free day to either enjoy the Stone & Compass Center and all the relaxing activities that abound or adventure to a local river watering hole to relax as well.
Pack your bags as you head out for the third and final leg of your Bulgarian adventure. Travel up and over the Balkan Mountains and get to take in an amazing 360 degree view of Bulgaria and learn a bit more about the Bulgarian battle for liberation from the Ottoman Empire while visiting Shipka Peak. Continue on down the mountain to the central Bulgarian spa town of Paval Banya before settling in for the night in the spa town of Hissar. Take the afternoon to explore one of the biggest and most complete Roman city excavations. Hissar has 3 different types of mineral water springs so make sure to explore and find them all if you want to maximize the healing powers of water. We will also have the opportunity to visit a working rose oil distillery to sample different essential oils applying modern technology to traditional practice.
Another morning of relaxing at the spa awaits you as check out is not until late morning. After your rest and relaxation you will be rebooted to travel to Plovdiv, which has been selected to as the 2019 European Capital of Culture. In addition to this modern acknowledgment Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe, has been inhabited for more than 7000 years. You will have the opportunity to explore it on many different levels as ‘the city of 7 hills’ experiencing an ancient Roman era theatre built into the landscape of the main part of the city. Today you will have a guided walking tour as well as get to see some museums as a formal introduction to the city.
Now that you know the basics of the history of Plovdiv take the day to explore on your own many of the exciting museums and/or cultural areas. Relax and take some time to finish up your coursework and any last minute shopping you may want to do.
Rise and shine as you board the bus and get ready to travel to Sofia to depart Bulgaria and head off to your next adventure.