A guided tour of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Old-fashioned hospitality in the communist D
On this action-packed 7-day tour we will cover more than 1,600km, crossing two mountain ranges and travelling all the way to the Black Sea coast – as we visit some of the most fantastic architectural wonders built during Bulgaria’s socialist period.
Read on to find a full itinerary for this unique tour of the country’s brutal, bizarre & otherworldly monuments.
7 Days & 7 Nights
7-13 May 2018
I’ve packed a lot into this week-long tour. Here’s what you can expect to find included in the price:
Transport. During the course of the week we’ll be driving all over the country and stopping off in a total of 15 different towns and cities. Comfort is a priority – so we’ll have our own private bus for the journey, a modern, air-conditioned vehicle with a professional driver.
Hotels. All 7 nights of accommodation, Monday to Sunday, are included in the price. Some nights we’ll get to enjoy traditional, rustic settings, while other hotels are architectural attractions in their own right – including one hotel designed by the architect responsible for the Buzludzha monument.
Food. The price of the tour includes a daily breakfast, either at the hotel or on the road – as well as a proper meal every evening. Over the week we’ll try a range of different local specialities, with vegetarian and vegan options available on request.
The Tour. All entry fees related to the tour are included in the cost. In addition to a dedicated driver there’ll be two guides on hand throughout: myself and a Bulgarian colleague, who between us will be able to regale you with historical anecdotes, answer your questions, provide translations and generally show you a good time.
We’ll meet in the Bulgarian capital on Monday, and take a walk through the city centre. There’ll be stops at various historical sites – Roman ruins, Ottoman baths, the cathedral – as well as a whole host of socialist-era monuments. We’ll see the Monument to the Soviet Army, visit the site of the recently demolished Monument to 1,300 Years of Bulgaria, we’ll take a look inside the National Palace of Culture and admire the socialist-classical plaza known as the Largo.
Later, we’ll have a banquet dinner at a wonderfully bizarre communism-themed restaurant.
TUESDAY: Koprivshtitsa – Beklemeto – Troyan
After breakfast we’ll meet our driver, then visit the sculpture garden at the Museum of Socialist Art. From there we drive to the Banner of Peace to ring the ornamental bells gifted by former allies such as the USSR and North Korea.
In the afternoon we’ll leave Sofia behind, heading east into the foothills of the Balkans. We’ll see the Monument to Georgi Benkovski at Koprivshtitsa, and then ascend the mountain – to find the Arc of Liberty, a massive monument situated at an altitude of 1,520m in the Beklemeto Pass. We’ll spend the night nearby, in the historic town of Troyan.
WEDNESDAY: Veliko Turnovo
Perched precariously on the side of a steep river valley, Bulgaria’s ancient capital is easily one of the most beautiful cities anywhere in the Balkans.
We’ll stop at a couple of interesting roadside monuments on the way from Troyan, and then spend the rest of the day in Veliko Turnovo. Here we can explore the Old Quarter, visit the fortress and see the striking Monument to the Asen Dynasty. There will be some free time in the afternoon, and then we’ll meet up again in the evening to sample some traditional local cuisine.
THURSDAY: Shumen – Varna
In the morning we’ll drive to Shumen, and visit the Monument to the Founders of the Bulgarian State. Prepare to be blown away by the sheer size and intensity of this unique, cubist memorial complex, which sits on a mountain plateau overlooking the city.
From there we drive to Varna, Bulgaria’s ‘Summer Capital’ on the Black Sea coast – where we’ll visit the imposing Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship. After that we’ll check into our hotel, then head to the beach for cocktails and dinner.
After breakfast today we’ll have some free time. You could explore the city, see the former Roman baths, visit the museum and see the oldest gold jewellery in the world… or, simply unwind on the beach. I will also provide you with a map, detailing some of Varna’s architectural highlights.
Later on we’ll hit the road, following the coast south to get to Burgas. We’ll visit a MiG graveyard, then take a walk through the sleepy, cobbled streets: from the Monument to the Soviet Army in the city centre, down to the waterfront, and the socialist-era Pantheon in the Sea Gardens.
SATURDAY: Stara Zagora – Buzludzha – Plovdiv
Saturday is our busiest day, so we’ll get an early start – and head first to the Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship, on its lonely hilltop near the city of Yambol. After that we’ll visit the Memorial Complex to the Defenders of Stara Zagora, which commemorates the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who fought here during one of the bloodiest battles of the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War.
Nearby, we’ll stop for lunch at a traditional mehana decorated in old propaganda posters… before heading up the mountain for the main attraction.
For many people, Buzludzha will be the highlight of the tour. The House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party sits at the top of the mountain, abandoned since the 1990s and now one of the world’s most famous modern ruins. At a height of 1,432m, the views are just incredible… but the monument itself is more impressive still. We’ll spend the whole afternoon admiring it, before heading back to the bus and driving south to Plovdiv.
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe – with a history dating back 5,000 years or more. We’ll find our hotel, have dinner, then enjoy an evening stroll through the colourful streets and Roman ruins of the lively Old Town area.
SUNDAY: Perushtitsa – Batak – Sofia
Our final day will be spent touring historic sites around the Rhodope Mountains – stopping first to visit the Fraternal Barrow monument on our way out of Plovdiv.
At Perushtitsa we’ll see the Monument to the Three Generations, a beautiful stone crypt overlooking the plains. After that we visit Batak – the site of a terrible massacre in 1876. We’ll walk up to the monument overlooking the town, as well as visiting the church that contains the preserved bones of massacre victims. Finally, we head back to Sofia: for one last group dinner and farewell drinks.
This tour is the perfect way to understand Bulgaria’s relationship with its past – through its communist-era monuments, modernist architecture and abandoned buildings. Darmon’s knowledge and passion for the country, its architecture and monuments, is incredibly extensive. It’s an absorbing and fascinating week.
– Phil R.
You simply cannot do a trip to places like this at a better price, and Darmon is someone I would be happy to travel to the ends of the earth and back with.
– Hans K.
We saw incredible things which you simply wouldn’t find on the usual Lonely Planet style tour. To this day the UFO monument at Buzludzha stands with the most incredible things I have seen and visiting it with Darmon meant we got the full impact.
– Aram B.
The combination of breadth and depth of information, knowledge of hidden places, genuine warmth, and affordable prices is hard to beat. 100% recommended!
Darmon is an excellent guide, and this tour has become one of the highlights of my travelling experiences. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
– David J.
There’s such a huge amount of knowledge, time and love gone into the planning. I saw buildings and monuments that I never thought I would be able to visit… and stood in places that were more moving than I thought possible. It’s a fantastic experience, you should go.
– Matty M.
The Small Print
Still got questions? You might well find the answer below… but if not, feel free to just send me a message.
What does the price not include?
I planned this tour so that you’ll rarely need to reach for your wallet. The price includes all your transport inside Bulgaria, it includes 7 nights of accommodation, entry fees, and two meals each day. But it does not include:
Airfares. I’ll meet you in Sofia, but you’ll have to make your own way there and back.
Travel insurance. You need to sort this out for yourself before you travel, though I’m happy to offer advice.
Lunch and snacks. Even when we don’t share a group lunch, I’m happy to recommend places.
Drinks.Your evening meals are included, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to pick up your bar tab!
Other costs. This should go without saying, but just to be clear: I can’t help you with any additional airline charges, Paypal fees, credit card fines or bail payments.
What makes this tour so special?
This tour is like nothing else on the market. It’ll take you to places that don’t feature in guidebooks, and in some cases, places that even the locals have never heard of. The week-long itinerary represents the result of years of dedicated research, and countless weekend road trips around Bulgaria.
Right now I’m just putting the finishing touches to my own book about Bulgaria’s ideological architecture – a project for which I’ve researched these monuments in meticulous depth. I’ve studied blueprints, original press releases and newspaper clippings. I’ve interviewed Bulgarian historians, academics, and even some of the original architects. I can tell you things about these monuments that never made it into the history books; and I can show you how their symbolism served as an ever-mutating propaganda tool of the Bulgarian Communist Party. I know these monuments like the back of my hand, and it’ll be my pleasure to share their secrets with you.
Will I be sharing a room with someone?
Yes – for the standard price you’ll be sharing a twin room with someone else. Naturally, I’ll try to pair you with someone you get on with… or if you’re travelling with a friend or partner already, then that’s even easier.
Alternatively, if you’d like a room to yourself just let me know. There’ll be an additional €140 charge for having your own single room throughout the tour.
Will I have a chance to take photos?
I’ve been on a few of those tours in the past where groups are rushed from one place to another so fast that there’s barely time to set up a tripod. This isn’t going to be like that. If you follow this site then you’ll already know that I’m passionate about photography – and there’s no way I would bring you to places this photogenic, without ensuring you’ve got plenty of time to capture the experience.
Can I go off exploring on my own?
Sure. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from heading out on your own some days, if you want to. I can gladly recommend walking routes, shops, markets, museums, parks and various other places of interest. I’ve already factored some down-time into the itinerary, and I’m not going to be offended if you feel like you need a little more.
Just please, keep an eye on the schedule – I’d hate to keep the bus waiting because one of our crew’s gone missing.
But I’ve heard that Bulgaria is dangerous…
Anyone who has been to Bulgaria will already know how crazy this sounds – but nevertheless, I’ve met people who haven’t been, and do actually have concerns like this.
Having travelled extensively in this part of the world, I can assure you this is the safest, friendliest corner of Europe that you could ever hope to explore. By the end of the tour, I’m confident you’ll feel as comfortable here as I do.
Am I going to get tired of looking at concrete?
The truth is, there’s so much more to this tour than just the monuments themselves. These objects were typically built in really interesting places: on top of mountains, overlooking the coast, in city centres or right out in the middle of nowhere. As a result, our surroundings will constantly be changing.
Meanwhile, these tours seem to attract a reliably decent bunch of people. We trek over mountain peaks together, we drink cocktails on the beach, we explore tunnels, get lost in forests and generally have a good time.
A prior obsession with bizarre architecture will be a bonus – but it certainly isn’t mandatory.
What happens if I need to cancel my place? Can I get a refund?
I don’t want your money if you’re not coming with us… but at the same time, the moment you commit to this tour I’m going to start planning things around you. It’ll cost me money to receive your payment, and so 10% of the tour cost is non-refundable in order to cover these handling fees.
If you want to cancel your place more than a month before the tour starts, then just tell me – and I’ll send you back the full price minus handling fees right away. The closer we get to the tour though, the harder it’ll be for me to fill your place on the bus. For this reason, if you cancel less than a month before the tour starts then I’ll need to hang onto 50% of the amount as security against empty seats.
In the highly unlikely event that it’s me who cancels, then you’ll get everything back – I’ll refund you the whole lot, including any charges incurred during the transfer.
How do I sign up?
Your place on the tour is guaranteed the moment you put down your first payment.
The tour costs €945 per person. If you want a single hotel room throughout the tour, then it’ll be €1085. I’m also happy to take the payment in two instalments, if you prefer… though in this case there will be additional handling fees to consider.
For any more information, or to talk about reserving your seat, just get in touch.