BALKANS TOUR starts in Istanbul
Tour organised and escorted by professional tour guide Kadir Zehir
Day 1: Transfer from Ataturk Airport to Edirne. 240km 2.5 hours drive
Please arrange to arrive into Istanbul ATATURK airport by 1pm on this day. If you are booked onto the group flight with Etihiad airlines [or with Qatar] you will arrive in perfect time. You will be met by Kadir outside the arrivals terminal. There is a small cafe called Simit Sarayi that you can sit and wait in if you arrive on the slightly earlier Qatar flight. If you are flying with Emirates you will need to fly in the night before and if you are flying with Singapore airlines you will arrive early in the morning. Those not arriving with EY or QT can book to stay at the Holiday inn, Istanbul airport hotel and Kadir will collect you from there when the others have arrived. We will let you know how you will meet us prior to departure. We will then drive directly to Edirne, a town very close to the Bulgarian and Greek border. The trip should take about 3 hours. After checking in we will meet for a short welcome before dinner.
Overnight in Edirne, Turkey. [D]
Day 2: EDIRNE City sightseeing
Edirne was the 2nd capital of the Ottaman Empire after Bursa. The Ottoman Empire invested a lot in the city as it was a very important passage to Europe. The architecture in Edirne is magnificent and we will see some fine examples of this.
The most important building in Edime is the Selimiye mosque. The mosque was designed and built by Sinan, between 1556 and 1574, for Sultan Selim II. It is considered to be the finest example of Ottoman religious architecture and was the last major work of architect Sinan's brilliant career.
Also, whilst in Edirne we will spend some time visiting the main hub of old Edime, which consists of caravanserais, markets and stone bridges which are all from the Ottoman times.
Overnight in Edirne again [BD included]
Day 3: EDIRNE THESSALONIKI. Greece 436km 5 hours - 1 border crossing
We will drive to Kavala, where you will see the impressive Aqueducts of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and the looming castle and Acropolis walls in Panagia. We will stop on the scenic seafront for a short break for photos and to try some of the well known Kourabiedes (sugar-coated almond biscuits) before heading off to Thessaloniki.
We then drive to Thessaloniki, the second largest town of Greece which was once considered the second city of the Byzantine Empire in both terms of wealth and size. We will visit the birth home of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern day secular Turkey. The main sights of Thessaloniki date from Roman and Byzantine times. The Roman Arch of Galerius, which has delicate and detailed carvings and the Rotunda, built by Romans in early 300 BC, the oldest building in Thessaloniki [cost is extra €2 pp] are well worth the short walk to see them. There will be free time at the Seafront promenade, where the iconic White tower is located and those that wish to visit the Arch and Rotunda can walk there with Kadir.
Overnight Thessaloniki [BD]
Day 4: THESSALONIKI-METEORA. Greece 245km 3 hours 20 min
Meteora is a magical place; the Greek meaning is ‘middle of the sky’ or ‘in the heavens above’ is a formation of huge rounded boulders which appear suspended in the sky in a magical way. The best examples of Eastern orthodox monasteries are also in this region. More than 20 monasteries were built by the hermit monks in the 14th century to escape from the Turkish invasion. Six monasteries precariously built on top of the pillars still remain today.
We will have an orientation tour on arrival and then there will be an optional sunset tour of the Meteora area [extra €30-35 pp] , which will include some lovely narrow roads off the beaten path and we will visit one monastery before watching sunset from high above the town. [BD]
Day 5: METEORA. morning exploring and half day free time
This morning you have a chance to join one of two tours exploring this special area. [BD]
Option 1 Half day tour by bus visiting 3 monasteries
Option 2 Half day hiking tour visiting 2 monasteries
This tour requires a reasonable physical and mental health.
Day 6: METEORA-SKOPJE. Macedonia 430 km 4 hours - 1 border crossing
This morning we make our way to Skopje, the political and cultural capital of Macedonia. With history spanning from Roman to Byzantine, Ottoman and Yugoslav rule, Macedonia offers a fascinating mix of cultures.
In Skopje we will arrive at Macedonia square, the modern city centre; with neo-classical buildings and grand monuments built to bolster the national pride. We will then walk across Kamen Most, a stone bridge over the river Vardar, an iconic sight that acts as a handy connection between Macedonia Square and the Old Bazaar. We will enjoy the narrow lanes of Caršja, Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood. As a testament to Skopje’s Ottoman past there are many mosques, caravanserais and hamams in these winding streets. After a guided walk you will have some free time to explore further. [B]
Day 7: SKOPJE-OHRID. Macedonia 172 km 2 3/4 hours
Before heading to Lake Ohrid we will visit Matka Canyon, a deep ravine which is in the small town of Tetova just out of Skopje. We will have a short walk, admiring the large rock walls towering beside the water. Following this we will visit the Alaca mosque a most interesting painted mosque from the Ottoman era.
We then travel onto the gorgeous lake side town of Ohrid, perched on the border of Macedonia and Albania. The lake is one of the deepest, oldest and most biologically interesting of the world. It was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1979. You will have a short orientation walk in this picturesque town and then you will have free time to wander the streets to discover its ancient churches, fortress walls and theatre, bazaars and old style houses similar to Safranbolu. Later in the afternoon we will meet to have a short boat trip on the beautiful Lake Ohrid.
Overnight Ohrid [BD]
Day 8: OHRID-TIRANA. Albania 170km 3 1/2 hours 1 border crossing
On route to Tirana in Albania we are going to visit peaceful St Naum monastery on the southern shore of Lake Ohrid which is one of the water sources for the lake. The Eastern Orthodox, St Naum is the resting place of the priest St Naum, who established it in 905 AD.
We cross into Albania and head to the capital, Tirana. The city has a long history, although now modern and colourful it has boulevards lined with relics of the cities Ottoman and Communist past. We will do a scenic city tour in the bus and then you will have free time to visit the massive Skanderbeg city square, Ethembey mosque  and the clocktower. [B]
Day 9: TIRANA-KOTOR. Montenegro 195km 4 hours 1 border crossing
We move on towards the next destination the gorgeous Montenegrin town of Kotor. It is a 5th century UNESCO listed town located on the picturesque secluded Fjord, surrounded by towering rocky mountains. This pretty town has an old city worth getting lost in! After a short walk with Kadir you will be free to explore. Trying to decide whether to climb around the medieval walls for the excellent city and bay view or wander on the waterfront or just sit in a café on the cobbled streets will be the most difficult decision. In the evening the city walls are prettily lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective. [B]
Day 10: KOTOR rest day [B]
Day 11: KOTOR-MAKARSKA. Croatia 243km 4.5 hours 3 borders [1 slow one]
We cross into Crotia at a traditionally slow border crossing, so we will get up early to enable us more time in Dubrovnik later in the day. [2 or 3 hours 91 km]
We will go directly to Dubrovnik where you will have a walking city tour and then a few hours to wander independently or with Kadir. The city is easy to explore on foot and is full of character with a paved town centre and enclosed in 13th century stone walls. There are museums, monasteries with nice gardens and pretty churches to visit.
Alternatively you can take the scenic cable car to the panoramic view point and café [own expense].
Late afternoon we will drive to the hotel in Makarska, through 2 more border crossing from Croatia, to Bosnia/Herzegovina and back into Croatia. 152km 2.5 hours drive [B]
Day 12: DAY TRIP TO SPLIT.
Follow Adriatic coast to Split. The best way to explore this city is by a walking tour! You will take a pleasant walk through the city with a professional guide and listen about the history and legends of this city that has become the centre of the region. The rest of the afternoon you are free to walk around Split, explore the Diocletian's Palace, the churches and museums or just relax in one of the many beautiful locations of this city. [B]
Day 13: MAKARSKA-MOSTAR Bosnia and Herzegovian 138km 2 hours 1 border crossing
We will leave Croatia and on route [weather permitting] we will visit the stunning Kravice waterfall, a haven in the hot summer days. The next stop is Pocitelj, an old walled Turkish village, where they still speak Turkish on the streets and we will admire the historical mosque and fort before continuing to Blagaj Tekke. This Dervish Islamic centre was built during the Ottoman period and it is considered one of the most mystical places in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We then travel to Mostar. [B]
Day 14: MOSTAR
The famous bridge divides the Muslim and Catholic side of town and it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. No doubt you will want to spend some time wandering over the bridge and village and watching those brave enough to plunge off the bridge. [B]
Day 15: MOSTAR-SARAJEVO Bosnia and Herzegovina 130km 2.5 hours
Today's drive will take us to Sarajevo, a city with a fascinating mix of western and eastern cultures and the Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will visit the war tunnels and then head into the city where we will spend an hour walking together to orientate you to the old city [Bascarsija]. After this you will have time to explore the 'Latin Bridge', Morica Han, Gazi Husrev bey mosque and bazaar and the Sarajevo Catholic Cathedral. [B]
Day 16: SARAJEVO-BELGRADE Serbia 350km 5 hours 1 border crossing
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and has been under the control of the Romans, Byzantine Ottomans, Serbian and Austrian empires. Looming over the old City of Kalemegdan Citadel on the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. The view of the city from the fortress is fantastic and not to be missed. The city itself offers excellent shopping opportunities, from luxurious upscale boutiques through to an enormous bazaar and great architecture. If time allows, we will visit St Sava Church, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. The day will end with a pleasant boat trip on the Danube and Sava rivers. [B]
Day 17: BELGRADE-SOFIA Bulgaria 400km 4.5 hours 1 border crossing
Sofia is one the the oldest cities in Europe, history going back to 700B.C. When we reach Sofia we are going to do a panoramic city tour from bus passing the palace, theatre, museum and the wide city streets. Later in the day we will have a chance to visit Alexander Nevski Cathedral which is one of the largest in Europe. [B]
Day 18: SOFIA
Rest day. Optional Bulgarian night/folk show and dinner with 2 drinks. [€50pp] [B]
Day 19: SOFIA-EDIRNE 312 km 3.5 hours 1 border crossing
We leave Sofia and head to Plovdiv. In 2019 Plovdiv is going to be the European Cultural capital and is home to some impressive archaeological sites. We will start our walk in modern Plovdiv, passing the Roman Stadium using cobble stone streets to reach the Amphitheatre. We pass through the atmospheric old town and walk up to the scenic citadel called Nebat Tepe. Following lunch we will have a late afternoon drive to Edirne in time for dinner. [B]
Day 20: EDIRNE-ATATURK AIRPORT 230km 2.5 hours [B]
After breakfast a morning drive to Ataturk airport. [Arrive about 11am - PLEASE do not book flights before 1pm. People flying with Etihad, Qatar and Singapore flights to Australia, should be able to book flights home after 1pm.