After checking in at Auckland Airport we board our Qatar flight to Doha.
On arrival at Doha airport very early this morning we transit through to our flight to Zagreb.
Early this morning we arrive in Zagreb, a wonderful city to explore.
We will be met and transferred to our hotel to check in and have breakfast.
(The hotel has been booked from the night before so you can have access to your room immediately).
The rest of the day is at leisure; however if you would like to take a gentle walk around with the Tour Leader, this is a nice way to adapt to European time and get that body clock adjusted.
This evening we have an early dinner at 6.00pm at a nearby local restaurant.
Our morning sightseeing tour will concentrate on the historic Upper Town, including visiting the 13th century cathedral with its medieval frescoes.
Zagreb being a capital city is a large place with a rich and diverse history. It dates back to Roman times and was an important city in the Austrian-Hungarian empire. That said, today it’s a place of colour, cafes and lots of delicious food.
The rest of the day is at leisure.
What a treat is in store for us today as we travel to the romantic village of Bled. This picture-prefect town sits on the shore of Lake Bled in Slovenia and its famous for a few things: the church on the only island in Slovenia, custard squares and Tito.
This afternoon there is a combination of walking tour and a typical “pletna” boat ride to the island in the middle of Lake Bled. The walk around the lake is a charming mix of nature, great views of the castle and stroll through the town. Its also great justification for a custard square (invented in Bled) and something that has to be experienced. Believe you me, NZ custard squares seem small imitations of the real thing.
After the charm of Lake Bled it’s time to visit equally lovely Ljubljana.
Ljubljana (city of love) is the capital of Slovenia and during WWII was circled by a fence which protected it’s heritage centre. The old city centre is built along a river lined with cafes and interesting places to stop and enjoy. We will visit the picturesque central open-air market and the Three Bridges (both designed by famous architect Joze Plecnik), the Baroque Town Hall and Robba’s Fountain.
After our walk around we then head off to Plitvice National Park. We are staying in the park so expect some trees and nature when we get there.
Dinner is at a local restaurant, and we hope to enjoy local produce cooked in a traditional way – hearty, simple food.
Plitvice Lakes is a large nature reserve, part of the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its outstanding beauty. The park is divided into two areas, the upper and lower lakes; each has cascading limestone pools with clear turquoise water, surrounded by trees and lush green growth. The gradient is level with a slight rise and there a ferry to bring us back after our walking.
We’ll be hungry tonight after all that fresh air; so dinner tonight at the hotel.
Today we move further down Croatia to the seaside city of Split. Like most of this area Split was once a Roman settlement.
When we arrive in Split, we stop for an independent lunch; there are so many cafes here and food options this will be easy.
Then we will spend time exploring the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace plus Renaissance and Gothic structures, Jupiter’s Temple, the Peristyle and the Cathedral.
Dinner this evening is at a local restaurant and all going well you might like to take an evening stroll by the waterfront.
Time to leave the mainland and take a ferry to the island of Hvar.
Hvar is beautiful with golden beaches, pine trees and a small town to enjoy. On arrival we transfer to our hotel in Hvar town, on the other side of the island from the ferry terminal. The town of Hvar has a unique cultural and historical heritage, and some of our Croatian immigrants came from this island.
An afternoon walking tour features views of the Fortress, Franciscan Monastery and much more.
A day to relax and enjoy being at the beach. You might like a swim in the sea, take a walk along the shoreline, have more time in the town or even head in-land.
This morning we travel to another terminal on the island to catch the ferry back to the mainland. We are heading south to Dubrovnik.
On the way we will travel to the Pelješac peninsula and visit the town of Ston.
In Ston we have lunch at Vila Koruna Restaurant; fish is the dish in this area.
Dubrovnik is another beautiful city, especially the old town with its walls and sea access. I have heard Dubrovnik described as one of the nicest places in Croatia and many a happy hour has been spent walking its ancient streets.
We have set the morning aside for you to relax because if there are any cruise ships in Dubrovnik they tend to visit the old town in the morning and its not nice to be swamped by groups moving en masse. Saying that there are always things to do and your Tour Leader will have some ideas.
This afternoon we have a walking tour of “Old Dubrovnik” including the Rector’s Palace, Bell Tower Clock, Orlando’s Column and the Sponza Palace. Walking in the old town is a pleasant experience when you have the space to look around. Dubrovnik was severely damaged during the Croatian War of Independence and its restoration has made the town even more lovely. We will also see the Dominican Monastery and Franciscan Monastery with its Pharmacy, one of the oldest in the world.
Leaving Dubrovnik behind we head further south to the mouth of the Bay of Kotor and along the curving roadway through the towns of Risan and Perast to Kotor. The old town of Kotor, which is under UNESCO protection is a small place and today full of cafes, shops and visual delights. The town is known for its rich maritime tradition; also its cathedral of St. Triphon and St. Nicolas church.
After a short break, we continue along the Lovcen serpentines, to the heart of Montenegro, with the panoramic view of Boka Kotorska bay, from the height of over 1000 m above sea level.
We have a short break in Bukovica, a tiny village with the oldest Montenegrin restaurant. There, you can taste a famous and characteristically smoked ham “pršut”, home made “Njeguski” cheese, and with a glass of homemade drink (honey wine). I must admit the cheese is not for all, but another must-try.
After that we proceed to the old royal capital, Cetinje and visit the home/museum of the king Nikola. Along the way we have had glimpses of the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire and this house museum will help us understand more of the Habsburgs’ influence in this area.
Tonight, we sleep near Budva, one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic Sea. It’s history dates back to Greek civilisation in the 4th century BC , today it is more the playground for the rich and famous.
We can’t leave Budva without a short walking tour to see some of its charms (and how the rich like to spend their money). Then it’s off and away to Tirana in Albania.
On the way we visit the town of Shkodra, a cultural centre and one of Albania’s oldest cities. We intend to see the ruins of Rozafa Castle, set on a hill high above the city and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
Tirana is the capital city of Albania and has some very colourful buildings. The city has been around for a long time and dates back to the Iron Age; the Romans were here and so were the Ottomans. Today it has a more modern façade and an unusually high number of car washers.
It’s been a long day so dinner is at our hotel tonight.
This morning we have a sightseeing tour and see the Skanderbeg Square, the Mosque of Et’hemBey, the Clock Tower, the statue of G.K. Skanderbeg, Albania’s national hero and the Palace of Culture, built with Soviet assistance.
Albania has a long and complicated history, and its capital reflects many influences over the centuries with its mix of east and west.
This afternoon we travel outside the city to Kruje, a small town with a castle and an Ethnographic Museum. On the walk to the castle we pass through a bazaar which has all the local treasures on offer.
This evening we have dinner at a traditional Albanian Inn, so it will be great food alongside some lively folk music.
This morning we travel to Durres, located on the Adriatic Sea coast. Once a Roman town this small place has lots of bits and pieces left behind by its conquerors. Our sightseeing tour includes a visit to the Amphitheatre and the Archaeological Museum. (The last time we were here, the Museum guide was also the local archaeologist and he had some interesting stories about recovering Roman artefacts from wrecks just off the coast; let’s hope he’s on duty when we visit).
Breakfast in Albania and Dinner in Northern Macedonia as we travel to Ohrid with an independent lunch on the way.
Ohrid is the largest city on Lake Ohrid and comes as a pleasant surprise after stark Albanian landscapes.
Part of this surprise is created because Tito refused to allow the locals to keep goats, so the trees have been covering the countryside for decades. Ohrid is also known as the Macedonia Jerusalem and there is no denying there is something special about the place.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant and we hope you get to feel the unique peace about this lakeside town.
We start our Ohrid sightseeing tour with a walk through the cobblestone streets of the old town; including entrance to the Cathedral of St. Sofia, containing some magnificent frescoes from the 10th century.
We then travel to the wonderful St Naum Monastery, first established in the 10th century, which is notable for its fabulous iconostasis with gold plating dating from 1711. St Naum has a unique history as its founder was concerned for the less able and created a place where people could work the land and find their way to better mental and physical health.
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure at Lake Ohrid, so time for you to catch up with yourself and maybe enjoy a coffee at a local café.
Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
This morning we travel towards Bitola and visit the archaeological site of the ancient Macedonian city of Heraclea Lyncestis (2km from Bitola). We are sure you have heard of Alexander the Great; his father King Phillip II founded this town.
We then travel to Kavadartsi and have lunch at the Tikves Winery Restaurant. Yes, its time for some wine tasting.
Then we travel to Skopje and check in to our hotel. Skopje is North Macedonia’s capital and everywhere there are reminders of Phillip II and his famous son, Alexander. The city was rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake and so its city centre looks fresh and open compared to some ancient towns. There is a local bazaar which is full of treasure.
This morning we have a sightseeing tour of Skopje: Old and new part of the town, Old Stone Bridge, Mustafa Pasha mosque, Skopje Fortress Kale, Old Bazaar and the Memorial House of Mother Teresa. If you look carefully you will find in many places sayings of Mother Teresa on bronze plaques around the city centre. Her memorial house is not large yet somehow fitting for her modest life.
This afternoon is at leisure.
This evening we have dinner with music in a traditional Macedonian restaurant.
This morning we travel to Rila Monastery, one of the greatest centres of scholarship and religion in Bulgaria during the National Revival Period. After being founded in the middle of the 10th century, it played a key role in preserving Bulgarian culture and language.
After lunch in a local restaurant near Rila Monastery we visit the monastery church and museum. A visual feast for the eyes awaits you at Rila with its ancient structures and decorations.
In the afternoon we travel on to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, situated halfway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. Humans have lived here since 7,000 BC so its layer upon layer of history.
This evening we have dinner at our hotel.
We see the highlights of Sofia on a morning tour; visiting the National History Museum where gold and silver Thracian treasures are displayed, and seeing the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Alexander Nevski Crypt and more. Yes, there is a Russian influence and we will hear about how this previous satellite country of the USSR has developed its own identity.
The balance of the day is at leisure.
This evening we have a special farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning we transfer to Sofia airport for our flight to Doha.
On arrival at Doha airport this evening we have the use of an Airport Lounge.
Very early this morning we board our flight to Auckland.
Home to New Zealand with wonderful memories of the beauty and culture of the Balkans.