Twelve days exploring some of the most popular Thracian's treasures and birding sites in Bulgaria.

Birds and Thracian culture -NEW-

Monday 20th April - Friday 1st May 2020

Between 4,000 to 2,000 years ago the lands of modern Bulgaria were inhabited by people who created one of the finest golden treasures in the world, bred fine horses, built fortifications and cities, buried their dead in monumental tombs and drank wine from gold and silver cups. They fought, traded and did politics with the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Persians, the Scythians and the ancient Macedonians. These people were the Thracians.
Today their name is barely known to anyone outside south-eastern Europe. However two of the most famous Thracians have a worldwide reputation. Spartacus - the leader of the first slave uprising and Orpheus - the mythical musician.
The Thracians built for eternity - especially tombs and shrines  - but they lived in the moment and, underestimating the importance of writing down their deeds, they left next to nothing about their lifestyle, faith and beliefs. And so, beside the fascinating sites and treasures they created, the life of the Thracians remains more or less a mystery.
On this our new tour, we will visit some of the main Thracian sites that still exist today and learn more about them and their life by seeing buildings and treasures made by them. All the sites are located in beautiful nature, so we will be able to combine cultural visits with some very fine birding as Bulgaria has more than 430 bird species, of which 267 breed here. During spring it is one of the best places in Europe to see a lot of emblematic species. During your vacation you will see more than 150 species such as: Olive-tree Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Isabelline Wheatear, White-backed Woodpecker, Masked Shrike, Rock Nuthatch, European Roller, Black-headed Bunting, Levant Sparrowhawk, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Black Stork, Egyptian and Griffon vultures, Sardinian and Subalpine warblers, Dalmatian and White pelicans, Bearded Reedling, Penduline Tit, Sombre Tit, Chukar, Terek, Broad-billed, Wood, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope, Little and Temminck's stints, Glossy Ibis, Gull-billed, Black, White-winged and Whiskered terns, Mediterranean and Slender-billed gulls, Ruddy Shelduck, Little Bittern and many more - the list is extensive and full of quality.
We will also taste traditional Bulgarian food and wine, enjoy wonderful scenery and all at a relaxed pace. Making for a rewarding, interesting and adventurous holiday!

ITINERARY

Day 1 Arrival at Sofia and drive to Hissarya for 3 nights stay. Accommodation and dinner, if time permits, walk in the Roman ruins of the town.

Day 2 Today we will visit the Starosel Thracian Temple, found in 2000. This is the oldest ever found royal Thracian complex with a mausoleum. It dates back to the end of 5th and the beginning of fourth century BC and covers six under hill temples, four of which are unique, as well as a few royal burials. The entire hill is surrounded by a wall made of processed granite blocks. Its length is 241 meters and its height reach 3.5 meters. The wall is called krepis and outlines a circle which according to the Thracian religious beliefs symbolizes the sun. The entrance of the temple has a parade staircase and two pedestals, on which statues of lions were sitting. The staircase leads visitors to a flat platform, used for ritual dances. A corridor leads to the real facade of the temple and the round hall containing 10 decorative semi-columns and tryglyphs (rectangular plate above each column) with blue and red decoration. Religious ceremonies, related to the cult to the Mother Goddess, her son the Sun and Orpheus were performed in the temple.
The Horizon Mound is about 1.5 km away and dates back to the same time. This is the only Thracian temple to be found with a colonnade.
Lunch will be at the local winery. Around the archaeological sites we will see more common forest and pastures bird species - Black-headed and Ortolan buntings, Lesser Spotted and Middle Spotted woodpeckers, Sombre Tit, Woodchat, Lesser Grey and Red-backed shrikes, Hoopoe, Common Bee-eater, European Roller, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Hobby and many more.

Day 3 Today we will visit The Valley of the Thracian Kings, one hour drive from Hissarya. It is a term used to describe the numerous Ancient Thracian tumuli (burial mounds) containing tombs and graves in the valley west of the central Bulgaria town of Kazanlak.
One of the most famous monuments of Thracian art and architecture is the Kazanluk tomb, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The paintings inside are amazing, especially the fine horses. Now it seems it was part of a whole Thracian necropolis, because recently in the region another 12 tombs have been found, each of them with different construction plans and variety of styles of decoration. The necropolis was probably connected to Sevtopolis, the capital of Odrysae, the most famous Thracian kingdom in antiquity. The tombs were built between the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 3rd century BC. Other tombs worth visiting include the mound of the Golyama Kosmatka, Helvetia and Shushmanets and the tumulus of the Gryphons. It is assumed that the great Thracian King Sevt III, from the 4th century B.C. was buried here, together with his armour, weapons, gold and silver vessels and amphoras, and with a golden wreath on his head.
We will see Red-rumped Swallow, Wryneck, Black Woodpecker, Montague's Harrier and many more.

Day 4 Early breakfast, followed by two hours driving to another Thracian tomb, close to village of Aleksandrovo. It is one of the most important recent archaeological discoveries in Bulgaria. It was built during the second half of the 4th century BCE as a resting place for a wealthy Thracian ruler whose name is not known. The frescoes in the tomb are unique and relatively well preserved and most of the images depict hunting scenes. The tomb's architecture is also remarkable.
After lunch we will drive south-west to the Perperikon and Tatul sanctuaries. Perperikon is the largest megalithic archaeological site in the Balkans. Although excavations show that there was a settlement here in 5000 BC, the 1500 BC level is of great interest as it is the only known city of the Thracians. Buildings, streets, and a water supply system are clearly visible, as is a huge altar hewn out of the rock where fire rituals would most likely have been performed. The Thracian sanctuary near Tatul village is a massive rock structure and at its top is a truncated pyramid. The complex comprises two sarcophagi. It dates back to the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 4th centuries BC.
Along the road we`ll see many birds - Red-backed Shrike, Syrian Woodpecker, Black-headed Bunting, Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Golden Oriole and more.
Overnight in Krumovgrad town for two nights.

Day 5 We will explore the nearby Krumovitsa river valley and here we will enjoy Rock Nuthatch, ten species of warblers - Barred, Orphean, Subalpine, Sardinian, Olive-tree, Olivaceous, Great Reed, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Eastern Bonelli's;   Nightingale, Black Stork, Sombre Tit, Levant Sparrowhawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Black Kite, Isabelline Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear (both western and eastern races), Wryneck, Roller, Rock and Blue  Rock  Thrushes, Chukar, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, five species of buntings - Corn, Black-headed, Cirl, Ortolan and Rock; and many others. Great Spotted Cuckoo is also possible. Late in the evening, after dinner we look for the tiny Scops Owl in the poplar trees around our hotel. 

Day 6 Breakfast, followed by transfer to Topolovgrad, situated in south-eastern Sakar Mountain. Along the road we will visit Thracian Tomb of Mezek (4th - 3rd century BC). It was the largest and one of the most interesting and impressive beehive tombs of Mycenaean type in Thrace.
Along the road we will stop close to Ierusalimovo village for birding - Levant Sparrowhawk, Masked Shrike, Chukar, Golden Oriole, Olive-tree Warbler, Bonelli`s Warbler, Sombre Tit, Isabelline and Black-eared wheatears.
After that we drive to one of the most interesting monuments of antiquity - the Dolmens - near the village of Hlyabovo. The Dolmens are the first representatives of the monumental tomb architecture on the Bulgarian lands. The ancient Thracians laid the bodies of the dead in such tombs. These kind of tomb constructions were used by these lands in the period between the 12th and the 6th century BC. Accommodation in a hotel near the Tundzha River for 2 nights.

Day 7 Explore the vicinities of Sakar Mountain and riparian forest on the Tundzha River. Here we will found - Imperial Eagle, Booted Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Short-toed Lark, European Roller, Bee-eater, Ortolan Bunting, Black Stork, four species of shrikes - Red-backed, Woodchat, Masked and Lesser Grey, Isabelline Wheatear, Turtle Dove, Barred Warbler, Kingfisher, Little Bittern, Calandra Lark, Levant Sparrowhawk and many more.
Afternoon we will go to the rock Thracian God Sun`s sanctuary close to Topolovgrad. Thracian and ancient fortress Paleokastro was sunny sanctuary Bronze Age fortified in early antiquity and used till XII century. Rocks of Paleokastro are hiding an ancient mystery - 150 rock discs depicting the Sun or the Moon and the Sun. Images are seemingly in no particular order and sequence. They are of different diameters; one is concave and the other convex.

Day 8 Transfer to Pomorie, at the Black Sea side. On the road we will visit ruins of ancient Thracian town Drongilon. Thracian royal house - the "Tatar masha". Research of the discoveries found in the ruins makes it clear that only a very rich and powerful man (probably a Thracian aristocrat) could afford to pay for the construction of such a massive structure, built in a Greek model. This was the first time in the land of the Thracians that a royal house was buried in a mound, which then became a place of pilgrimage. Some birding stops along the road - Imperial Eagle, Masked Shrike, Red-footed Falcon and Little Bittern.
Afternoon we`ll visit the antique beehive tomb in the town of Pomorie. The tomb dates back to the 2nd - 3rd century AD. It is believed that it had served as a heroon (a mausoleum) of a rich Anhialo family, in which religious pagan rituals had been performed. The tomb is the only one of its kind on the Balkan Peninsula. Its architecture and construction impress visitors even nowadays due to its perfect implementation. Accommodation in Pomorie for two nights.

Day 9 Full day birding along the lakes. We will explore the Burgas wetlands - Ramsar and IBAs sites. Here we can see Terek, Broad-billed, Marsh and Curlew sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope, Little and Temminck's stints, Glossy Ibis, Dalmatian and White pelicans, Gull-billed, Black, White-winged and Whiskered terns; Mediterranean and Slender-billed gulls; Ruddy Shelduck, Little Bittern, Penduline Tit and Bearded Reedling, Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck and many more. In this time of the year bird migration is in full force so in the sky we will see thousands of migrating birds - Bee-eaters, Honey Buzzards, White and Black storks, White Pelican, Black Kite, Lesser Spotted Eagle and more.

Day 10 Transfer to Sveshtari village and visit the tomb and the area nearby. Sveshtarska Thracian Royal Tomb constructed in the first quarter of the 3rd century BC and represents a unique monument of Thracian tomb architecture. It has significant size. A scene of divinization of the ruler is presented on the ceiling. Due to its remarkable architecture and its artistic decoration, the Sveshtarska tomb was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list of 1985. Stay in Ostrovche village for one night.

Day 11 Drive to Sofia for the final overnight of the holiday. We will visit the National History Museum where many of the originals of the Thracian treasures can be seen. 

Day 12 Time permitting we can visit the also the Archaeological museum, right in the city centre which is well worth a visit. Short drive to the airport for your departure flight.

TOUR MAP