Insight Vacations | The Treasures of the Balkans

A Luxury Guided Bus Tour

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Sean and I are very good organisers when it comes to travel around Europe. We are not scared to use the public transport systems or venture off the beaten track. When it comes to the Balkans there is a whole new kettle of fish to consider- ‘interesting'(!!) border crossings, lack of public transport and Cyrillic writing. So, we branched out to a new and unfamiliar form of holiday: The Guided Bus Tour.

Insight Vacations is not really aimed at our demographic. That being said we certainly didn’t feel on the outer dying out trip. In fact we were not the youngest on the tour by far!

Insight Vacations looked after us from the beginning; we were very happy with their updates and attention to detail. As we arrived in Bucharest we were greeted by the tour leader, who had last easy contact d us by email with a welcome introduction.

Staying in great hotels and eating specially selected and local food really made our experience better. There was no guessing- it made the tour so much more relaxing!

Our tour took us through the majestic mountains of Transylvania, across th plains of southern Romania to the old capital of Bulgaria: Veliko Tărnovo.

The new capital of Sophia was surprisingly cosmopolitan and then we were absolutely floored with the newly built Skopje in Macedonia.

Lake Ohrid was spectacular, with the old Byzantine chapel stretching out to the sparkling water.

Albania was a real experience- not to mention the border crossing!

Montenegro and Croatia never fail to please- and with three days to ourselves we had a well needed rest after some packed travelling days.

Bosnia was a real eye opener- we had an amazing experience with a local family in one of the shelled tower blocks. We were able to discuss the siege of Sarajevo with some actual survivors.

Serbia and Belgrade offered some interesting history and we looked over the conference of the Sava and Danube rivers from the Fort.

Finally we made it to Budapest. This was a real Jewel in the crown of our tour, with a Danube Dinner Cruise and an evening at the Gundel Restaurant.

We had a fantastic and unique experience with Insight Vacations, and would not hesitate to travel with again if an itinerary took our fancy!

Sean and I would like to thank Judit (tour leader) and Dario (driver) for making our trip so unforgettable. And we would also like to thank our fellow travellers for being awesome companions!

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery | Bulgaria

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The Rila Mountains are the highest point of the Balkan Range, south of the capital city of Sofia. Originally built in the 4th century, it was home to St Ivan, a hermit from the 9th Century. The monastery that is seen today was built in the 19th century, rebuilt after earthquakes and fires in the region.

The main chruch is painted in hundreds of icons, as tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is surrounded by a beautiful wall, with rooms you can stay in. It is very basic accommodations, similar to when it was built, with no running water or flushing toilet. There are 8 monks in residence. There is plenty of local trout to eat, as well as honey collected from the acacias lining the mountain side. The water in the river is fresh flowing and beautifully safe to drink. There are many hotels and camping sites close to the monastery.

 

 

Veliko Tarnovo

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Somewhere in the middle of Bulgaria is a city that resembles something out of Star Wars. I am sure that on the green leafy planet there are hanging houses on the side of the cliff with a meandering river below. Well, I can show you that there is such a place in Europe and it is here- in Veliko Tarnovo.

Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire; wedged in-between the Byzantine and Ottoman occupations of 1100-1350’s. The fortresses surround the beautifully reconstructed fort, church and still house the evidence of an even earlier occupation of the Roman Empire. They even used the old Roman tomb stones to build the walls of the fortress.

The new city- built in the 18th century, is situated on the cliff sides of the Yantra River. The winding streets and authentic houses offer this town such a quaint and picturesque setting conducive to long periods of drinking the local beer and eating gelato! Every now and then there is a gap in the building offering a spectacular view of the Monument Asenevti.

I can recommend the Yantra Hotel– it affords spectacular views of the fort. If you are lucky and it is a holiday in the region there is a light show at night, portraying the history of Veliko Tarnovo and the Bulgarian Kingdoms.