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Bulgaria Winter Surva Festival
12 days
Bulgaria - Trip code BUG

Bulgaria Winter Surva Festival

On this winter festival trip we'll get to experience both ancient customs and remnants from Bulgaria's more recent communist past. We'll attend the Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games, which is little known by Western tourists. The colour and creativity of the costumes look more like a mix of African and Asian cultures, than anything you'd normally expect to find in Europe. This is combined with an opportunity to see fading Soviet monuments, Socialist art and enjoy a communist style dinner in Sofia.

Trip highlights

  • Surva Festival - Attend a celebration of ancient traditions with participants dressed in a wonderfully weird array of elaborate outfits
  • Soviet history - Visit old Soviet monuments that have been left abandoned, see Socialist art and have dinner in a restaurant designed to transport you back to the times of the communist regime
  • Sofia - Explore Bulgaria's capital city in winter with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and locals ice skating in Borisova Garden
  • Borovets - Spend a night in the mountains to enjoy the snowy scenery and have the chance to go snowshoeing
  • Plovdiv - Discover the colourful mansion houses in the old town and a Roman amphitheatre in Europe's 2019 Capital of Culture
Accommodation grade:
Standard
Our standard, mid-range accommodation offers a good level of service, often with other amenities such as a restaurant, bar, garden or swimming pool. Generally rooms will be comfortable with en suite facilities.
Trip pace:
Full on
Full on paced trips are for travellers who like their holidays packed with activities and experiences, moving on quickly from place to place with lots of early starts and long, busy days. Some may find them tiring, but others get a buzz from packing their precious holiday-time as chock-a-block full of new experiences as possible!
Group Size:
12 - 18
Maximum group size ranges from between 6 to 20 people, depending on the type of trip, the transport and accommodation used and activities included. We rarely have groups that are smaller than five or six people and the average is 12 people plus an Explore leader.

Itinerary

Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.

Day 1 - Join trip in Sofia

Join the trip in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, and check-in to our hotel. Sofia has a long history which can be seen by the onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques, Roman ruins and old Soviet monuments. However, it is largely modern and youthful with a wealth of museums, art galleries, cafes and restaurants. Depending on your flight times or if you're extending your stay by a night then you may like to visit the Archaeological Museum where there are Thracian, Roman and medieval artefacts on display in a former mosque dating from 1496. Or perhaps the ancient ruins of Serdica, which were discovered during the building of a new metro station and where you can see a partially excavated section of eight streets, an early Christian church and a bathhouse from this old Roman city. This evening you'll have your first chance to sample Bulgarian cuisine. Food in Bulgaria tends to be made from fresh local produce and dinner usually starts with a salad such as shopska salata consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and white cheese. Other specialities include kebapche, small and spicy minced meat rolls, and surmi, stuffed cabbage or vine leafs. Both red and white wines are popular, as is the local brandy rakia and the aniseed spirit mastika.

Accommodation: Hotel Budapest(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: None
Day 2 - Explore Sophia, see Socialist art and have a Communist style dinner

Our Explore Leader will take us on walking tour of Sophia this morning where we will go into the Neo-Byzantine Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was built to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria's independence. We'll also see remnants from the city's Soviet era when we visit the huge Palace of Culture exhibition centre and Independence Square or the Largo, as it's also known, which is regarded as being one of the best displays of Socialist Classicism architecture that remains in Eastern Europe. We'll then take the metro to visit the Monument to the Soviet Army, which is a tribute to the Russian soldiers who died supporting Bulgarian efforts during World War II and is surrounded by a large park. In recent years its sculpted bronze statues have frequently been vandalised with them being painted in a pop art style. The paint keeps being removed by the authorities and then a new design will appear a short time later. The statues have been bright pink, painted in the style of comic book heroes and villains, in the colours of the Bulgarian flag, and more, so who knows what the statues will look like when we visit them. Next we'll visit the Museum of Socialist Art where we'll find many of the items removed from around the country when Soviet times came to an end such as unwanted statues of Lenin, the red star from Sofia's Party House and footage from old propaganda films. This evening we'll have a 3-course dinner in the unusual Raketa Rakia Bar, which is designed to transport us back to the times of the communist regime. They serve traditional dishes and a wide selection of rakia.

Accommodation: Hotel Budapest(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast & Dinner
Day 3 - Discover medieval Veliko Tarnovo and the Tsarevets Fortress

This morning we will drive around three hours to one of Bulgaria's oldest towns, Veliko Tarnovo. Not regularly frequented by tourists this sleepy mountain town is a hidden treasure, which exudes medieval history with its fortified walls, cobbled ramshackle lanes and the mighty Tsarevets Fortress, which was formerly the city citadel. We will walk up to this fort, which was once home to the tsars, to some of the ruins of over 400 houses, more than a dozen churches and the Royal Palace. We will also visit the Asen Dynasty Monument and the handicraft market, Samovodska Charshiya, which has changed little over the past two centuries. This street is lined with small antique shops displaying communist relics and craft shops where local artisans hammer jewellery and paint religious icons.

Accommodation: Grand Hotel Yantra(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast & Dinner
Day 4 - See crumbling Communist monuments and the Black Sea coast

We drive towards the Black Sea coast, but stop along the way at the Monument to 1,300 Years of Bulgaria in Shumen. Built in 1981 this massive concrete structure sits on a hilltop and is visible from around 30 kilometres away. The Cubist style figures show kings and heroes from Bulgaria's past in such a way that won't seem out of place in 'Lord of the Rings' novel. We arrive in Varna and visit the Park-Monument Dedicated to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship. Built once again on a hilltop this large v-wing shaped concrete statue is an imposing sight. To reach the statue we need to climb the 300 plus steps of the Staircase of Victory and from the top the Brutalist style giant soldiers loom over us menacingly. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore more of Varna. The town sits on the Black Sea coast and it's not uncommon at this time of year for the waves to freeze along the seafront in spectacular icicle displays. You might like to take a stroll through the largest landscaped park in the Balkans, the Sea Garden, where there are a variety of sculptures.

Accommodation: Hotel Divesta(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 5 - Visit to UNESCO-Listed coastal Nessebar en route to the Rose Valley

This morning we drive further along the coast to the UNESCO-Listed ancient city of Nessebar. Situated on a rocky peninsula it was originally a Thracian settlement before becoming a Greek colony. Most of the remains are from the Hellenistic period including the Temple of Apollo, acropolis and section of the old city walls. There are also the ruins of a Byzantine fortress and colourful 19th century wooden houses. Whilst here we'll visit the town's most impressive church - Saint Stephen, which has been expanded over the years since the 11th century and contains an array of different elements from various time periods including over 250 colourful murals depicting Biblical scenes. We will also visit the Archaeological Museum, which explains more about the town's long history. Following our visit we drive on to Kazanlak in the heart of the Rose Valley and our Explore Leader will take us a brief introduction walk of the town.. The Rose Valley sits between the Middle Forest Mountain and the Balkan Mountains, and the rosa damascene variety of flower has been cultivated here for centuries to produce rose oil.

Accommodation: Hotel Palas(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 6 - Go to Shipka Memorial Church and see abandoned Soviet monuments

Our first stop today is deep in the mountains at the monument at the peak of the Shipka Pass where we'll learn about the battle that took place here. Also later today we will visit the Shipka Memorial Church. Its tall bell tower, golden domes and intricately decorated red and white exterior stand out somewhat from the remote surrounding tree covered hills. The church is dedicated to the Russian soldiers who gave their lives in the Battles of Shipka Pass. The names of the fallen soldiers are inscribed on walls of the church's crypt and its bells are cast from battlefield cartridges and are extremely heavy, weighing up to 12 tons. At Buzludzha peak we'll stop by at an abandoned Soviet monument, which resembles a large concrete UFO, which has now been strewn with graffiti, and is parked next to a tall pillar with a red star window at the top. Our last stop today is at the Monument to the Defenders of Stara Zagora. This large stone and steel Brutalist memorial statue is to remember the 14,000 soldiers that lost their lives in the defence of the city back in the 1800s. It depicts a Russian officer commanding a force of Bulgarian volunteer soldiers. Late this afternoon we drive to Plovdiv where we spend the next two nights.

Accommodation: Park Hotel Plovdiv(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 7 - Explore Plovdiv on foot including the Roman theatre

Plovdiv is an ancient city built on seven hills, and it is in fact Europe's oldest continuously inhabited city. Its old town's winding cobbled lanes are crammed with colourful mansion houses that have been turned into museums, galleries, shops and restaurants. It will be Europe's capital of Culture in 2019. Our Explore Leader will take us on a tour of the highlights of Plovdiv this morning. The most famous of which is probably the well preserved Roman Amphitheatre of Philipoppol, which is still used for concerts and theatrical performances. The rows of marble seats are set on a hillside with views over the city sprawling below it. This afternoon is free for you to discover more of the old town and perhaps to visit the Ethnographic Museum, which is housed in an 1847 merchant's house. You could stroll among the National Revival-era colourful houses, as well as going into the Church of Saint Constantine and Helena.

Accommodation: Park Hotel Plovdiv(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 8 - Go snowshoeing through the mountain scenery in Borovets

We leave Plovdiv early this morning (at about 7.30am) and drive into the mountains to the winter resort of Borovets where we will go snowshoeing. Borovets is located on the northern slopes of the Rila Mountains and the town sits in the shadow of the Balkans highest mountain - Musala. The route we take will depend on the snow coverage and weather on the day, but we'll most likely spend around four hours enjoying the mountain scenery. This activity is suitable for beginners as no experience is necessary, snowshoes and poles will be provided and we'll be accompanied by two experienced mountain guides. Following our snowshoeing we'll drive the short distance to Samokov. This town sits in a basin between the Rila and Vitosha Mountains and we'll spend the night here.

Accommodation: Hotel Arena(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Swimming pool available
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 9 - Visit the Rila Monastery and attend the colourful Surva Festival

This morning we drive to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rila Monastery, set in a strikingly beautiful mountain valley; it is a hugely important religious and cultural centre for the Bulgarian people. Remaining in wonderful condition it has the most stunning brightly coloured frescoes and distinctive striped brickwork. Originally founded in the 10th century the monastery served to preserve Bulgarian culture during the 400 years of Ottoman rule and was a hiding place for the Bulgarian revolutionaries. Today the magnificent church and its museum house a priceless collection of frescoes, gilded iconostasis and religious art and artefacts. Later this afternoon we drive to Pernik to attend the opening day of the Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games, which is the oldest festival of its kind in Bulgaria. This small industrial town annually during this one weekend in January becomes awash with colour and has done since the festivals inauguration in 1966. In 2015 UNESCO designated the festival as being a site of intangible cultural heritage, as it is a unique event that is unlike anything else held worldwide and displays traditions that were almost entirely lost during Bulgaria's years of communist rule. It is a celebration of ancient folklore and pagan traditions, which is little known by Western tourists. Participants dress in a wonderfully weird array of elaborate costumes and masks including fluffy outfits that resemble large mythical beasts that are designed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the upcoming spring harvest. Outfits are typically made from sheep skin and wool and decorated with colourful beads, ribbons, wood, fabrics, paper mache and animal horns, and are accessorised with floral headdresses and bell-laden belts. About 100 groups from every folklore region of Bulgaria attend, as well as a few international participants, and usually there are about 6,000 visitors at the event. The masks vary depending on the region the participants are from and those taking part in the festivities are known as Kukeri. Originally all the Kukeri would have been single men trying to attract a wife, but nowadays more women and children are also becoming involved. During the parades we'll get to experience a variety of colourful customs, folk songs and dances, as well as seeing a number of outdoor exhibitions around the town. Late this evening we drive about 35 minutes to Sofia where we will spend the next three nights.

Accommodation: Hotel Budapest(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 10 - Watch the parades at the Surva Festival

Today we'll return to Pernik to spend the whole day enjoying the sights and sounds of the celebrations. As well as watching the parades there'll be the chance to see culinary demonstrations and of course to try the hearty warming winter food that is on offer, such as spit roast pork, kavarma stew made with pork or chicken and vegetables in a clay pot or banitsa, a salty pastry made with plenty of eggs and cheese. There will of course be plenty of Bulgarian wine, beer and rakia to try too. The teams at the parade are all competing against one another within different categories that include children and youth groups. So young and old alike come to take part and watch the festivities. Participates will do the kuker dance, which is an ancient ritual where their masks and bells are their weapons against evil spirits that lurk in the basements and attics of the towns houses. The performers will therefore go from house to house to scare these spirits away and bring good luck, health and happiness to the residents living there. There will be a bazaar at the festival where you can buy a range of handmade souvenirs and also a bell and a mask and should you choose to join in with the dancing through the streets. The masks usually include the colour red to symbolise fertility and the sun, black to represent Mother Earth and white to signify light and water - all the things you need for a successful spring harvest.

Accommodation: Hotel Budapest(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 11 - Closing day of the Surva Festival

We'll drive back to Pernik this morning to attend the final day of the festival. After more performances and demonstrations we should get to witness the award giving ceremony where all the winners come together to collect their prizes. Participants will have been judged on the authenticity and creativity of their costumes and also from a series of folk dancing and singing performances held on the streets and an outdoor stage. We'll also then get to see the closing ceremony.

Accommodation: Hotel Budapest(or similar)

Standard Hotel
Single room available
Meals Provided: Breakfast
Day 12 - Trip ends in Sofia

Our trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Sofia.

Meals Provided: Breakfast

Why book this trip

No other company in the UK is offering a trip to experience the colour and creativity of the Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games, which is unique to Pernik in Bulgaria and the chance to explore Bulgaria's crumbling abandoned Communist monuments. Travelling in the height of winter the snow covered scenery and elaborate festival costumes should make for amazing photographs and you can even grab a bell and join in with the festival dance rituals.

What's included?

Included meals
  • Breakfast: 11
  • Dinner: 2
Transport
  • Bus
  • Train
Trip staff
  • Explore Tour Leader
  • Driver(s)
Accommodation
  • 11 nights standard hotel
Award Winning Explore Leaders
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Price Guarantee Promise
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Airport Transfers
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FairFX currency card
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Trip information

Country information

Bulgaria Holidays & Tours

Climate

Bulgaria has a somewhat temperate climate, influence by the combination of Mediterranean and Eastern European weather systems. The winters are mild and the summers warm and fresh. The alpine regions can be cooler, but Ezerovo is one of the sunniest areas in this part of Europe, with some 280 days of sunshine a year.

Time difference to GMT

+2

Plugs

2 Pin Round

Religion

Bulgarian Orthodox, Islam

Language

Bulgarian, Russian and French.

Budgeting and packing

Optional activities

There are no optional excursions available on this trip.

Clothing

We recommend packing warm layers of breathable fabrics including a fleece/jumper and taking a winter hat that covers your ears, waterproof gloves (and glove liners for when you're taking photos), a scarf, thick hiking socks and sufficient waterproofs including a windproof jacket and trousers. You may also find thermal underwear, ski trousers or salopettes, a ski jacket and a ski face/neck mask useful. Ladies should take a headscarf to cover their head when entering religious sites.

Footwear

We recommend taking warm comfortable waterproof walking boots that have sufficient grip for icy conditions and are suitable for walking in snow. These need to give good ankle support for when we go snowshoeing. You may find taking some over-shoe ice grips to be of use. These can be purchased online and from most outdoorki stores.

Luggage

20kg

Luggage: On tour

One main piece of baggage and a day pack. Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself.

Equipment

We advise taking a water bottle for our included walks as well as sun glasses, lip balm and sunscreen. You may find that walking poles are useful, as are gaiters for walking in the snow if you do not have waterproof trousers. In case of emergency we also recommend that you carry a torch and a first aid kit. Snowshoes and poles will be provided during our day snowshoeing in Borovets.

Tipping

Explore leader
At your discretion you might also consider tipping your Explore Leader in appreciation of the efficiency and service you receive.
Local crew
Although entirely voluntary, tipping is a recognised part of life in this region of the world. Some local staff will look to members of the group for personal recognition of particular services provided. Accordingly please allow £25.00 for tipping. In order to make things easier for you, the Explore Leaders may organise a group's tips kitty and if this is the case, they will account for it throughout the trip.
Country Information

Bulgaria Holidays & Tours

Food and drink

The costs for meals may vary depending upon location, type of restaurant and number of courses eaten and so the prices given are an average guide. Local restaurants located off the beaten track may be less expensive, whereas an upmarket restaurant located in the centre of a major city may charge more.


Lunch price
£9
Dinner price
£15
Beer price
£2.3
Water price
£1.8
Foreign Exchange
Local currency
Bulgarian Leva.
Recommended Currency For Exchange
All major currencies may be exchanged, but Euros are easiest to exchange. We suggest you travel with Euros cash.
Where To Exchange
Banks or 'Forex' offices in main towns/cities.
ATM Availability
Major towns.
Credit Card Acceptance
Larger hotels and restaurants - of very limited use on this trip.
Travellers Cheques
We do not recommend Travellers cheques. Places to exchange Travellers cheques are very limited.

Transport, Accommodation & Meals

Transport Information

Bus, Train

Essential information

FCO Advice

We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice click here.

For more information from Explore about travel advice, click here
 

Under 18 immigration guidance

Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.

Essential Information

Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions

Visa Information

Bulgaria: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US or Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. All visa information is subject to change. You should confirm all visa related questions with the relevant embassy prior to departure.


If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may consider applying through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.

Booking conditions

Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.

Transfers

Find out more about Trip Transfer Terms and Conditions before you book.

Booking a land only package with Explore

Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information. 

You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.


Joining Tour Abroad

Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will now receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The transfers will be from the Explore designated airport or train station to the joining point of your tour, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.  

Free transfers are not available for Self-Guided, Tailormade or Tours for Churches customers.

If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.  


For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here

Insurance

It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.

Flight information

Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.


Flight Information

You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.

  

Booking a flight inclusive package with Explore

We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.

On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.

Included activities

If there isn't enough snow to go snowshoeing in Borovets on day 8 then we will instead take a walk through the valley to admire the mountain scenery.

Non refundable permits

Bulgaria Holidays & Tours

Vaccinations

We recommend protection against typhoid, hepatitis A, polio and tetanus. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at http://www.explore.co.uk/Travelhealth/ and from your local healthcare provider.

Dates, prices and booking

Date
Price from
Single room option
Thursday 18 January 2018 - Monday 29 January 2018
BUG_2018
From £1439
Single room option +£275
Show full details for this departure, including trip notes
All customers that travel on an Explore Group or Private Journey trip will be provided with a complimentary transfer, provided they arrive and depart into the designated airport or train station on the trip start and end dates. Please see free transfers for terms and conditions.

These trip joining details are provided on a provisional basis and may change prior to this tour departing. Any changes to these details will be updated on this page.
For those not eligible for a free transfer the joining / ending time and location for your trip are detailed below:
Joining Point
Town
Sofia
Time and place
18:00 at Hotel reception
Ending Point
Town
Sofia
Time
09:00
If you have booked a pre or post trip accommodation directly with the hotel, or through any other intermediaries, please ensure you regularly check this page in case of any changes.
Download Trip Notes
Date
Price from
Single room option
Thursday 18 January 2018 - Monday 29 January 2018
BUG_2018
From £1199
Single room option +£275
Show full details for this departure, including trip notes
All customers that travel on an Explore Group or Private Journey trip will be provided with a complimentary transfer, provided they arrive and depart into the designated airport or train station on the trip start and end dates. Please see free transfers for terms and conditions.

These trip joining details are provided on a provisional basis and may change prior to this tour departing. Any changes to these details will be updated on this page.
For those not eligible for a free transfer the joining / ending time and location for your trip are detailed below:
Joining Point
Town
Sofia
Time and place
18:00 at Hotel reception
Ending Point
Town
Sofia
Time
09:00
If you have booked a pre or post trip accommodation directly with the hotel, or through any other intermediaries, please ensure you regularly check this page in case of any changes.
Download Trip Notes

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