The Black Sea Express

Thursday 12th September to Saturday 21st September 2019
10 - Days


Prices from: £2495


Travel in Royal style from Sofia across the Thracian plains to the Black Sea and back on this luxury steam tour in magical Bulgaria.


Departure Date: 12-Sep-2019
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Accommodated in luxury coaches from the time of Tsar King Boris III, your Royal ‘Corona Express’ Train will be hauled by a variety of iconic locomotives as you travel, largely steam-hauled, to the Black Sea Coast. You first steam from the Bulgarian capital Sofia to the famous town of Veliko Tarnovo, for a city tour of its iconic landmarks, then head across the Balkan Mountains to Burgas on the Black Sea. From low-lying plains to wide river valleys and dizzy summits you’ll experience the best of Bulgaria behind rugged locos such as the 2-8-2 Swiss-built loco 01.23 and the 2-10-0 16.27, as well as the world’s largest working tank engine, 2-12-4T 46.03! With two days of steam on the scenic narrow-gauge Rhodope Mountains line hauled by the impressive 2-10-2T loco 609.76 as one of the tour highlights, and an all-day trip to the sea resort of Nesebar another, this is the ideal holiday tour for both rail enthusiasts and those wanting to discover the secrets of a country that remains one of Europe’s hidden gems.

Thursday 12th September
Flight from Heathrow to Sofia; sightseeing in Bulgaria’s capital
You fly from Heathrow airport to Sofia in the morning with BA. On arrival in Sofia you book into your comfortable hotel before a private sightseeing tram tour around Bulgaria’s capital. Marvel at the onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments in the city that boasts many of Bulgaria’s finest museums, galleries, restaurants and clubs. Dinner is served in your hotel this evening. (D)

Friday 13th September
Steam with the Royal Train from Sofia to Gorna Orjahovitsa, transfer to Veliko Tarnovo
Today is your first experience of the Royal ‘Corona Express’ Train, consisting of specialized cars and historic carriages of Tsar King Boris III (1894 –1943) with comfortable and pleasantly furnished interiors. Today you’ll be hauled by the newly overhauled 2-8-2 Swiss-built loco 01.23 from Sofia to Pleven Zapad and the powerful 2-10-0 16.27 locomotive from Cherven Brjag onward to Gorna Orjahovitsa in North-Central Bulgaria, at the northern foothills of the Tarnovo Elevations. The first settlement here dates back to the second half of the fifth millennium BC, although nowadays it is best known as the biggest railway centre in Northern Bulgaria. From here you have a short bus transfer to the 4-star in Veliko Tarnovo, where you stay for the next two nights. (B D)

Saturday 14th September
Guided Walking tour of Veliko Tarnovo or visit to Gorna Orjahovitsa loco depot
Today you have two options, the first being a guided walking tour of the old town of Veliko Tarnovo for a pleasant discovery of this ancient capital city. Veliko Tarnovo was the medieval capital of Bulgaria, and walking through the old part of the town is a veritable trip into the past, surrounded as you are by houses built over 200 years ago. Veliko Tarnovo’s most significant monument is the medieval fortress Tsarevets, sited on a hilltop overlooking the town and surrounded on three sides by the river Yantra. This reconstructed fortress dominates the skyline and boasts the remains of more than 400 houses, 18 churches, the royal palace, an execution rock and much more. Your second option today, however, is a trip by bus to first visit Gorna Orjahovitsa loco depot to see a rare 4-10 0 loco and some active steam locomotives, and to Asenovo Steam Reserve to see the preserved rare steam locomotives there. Whatever option you take, dinner is back at your 4-star hotel in Veliko Tarnovo this evening. (B D)

Sunday 15th September
Across the Balkan Mountains to Stara Zagora
After breakfast today, we hope to arrange a journey across the Balkan Mountains hauled once more by the rugged 2-10-0 16.27 steam locomotive from Veliko Tarnovo to Stara Zagora via Dabovo and Tulovo. You travel across a rich and diverse landscape, across lowlands, hilly plains, river valleys and the heights of the Balkan Mountains. From Stara Zagora your Royal coaches will either be hauled by a service train or by a special loco to Burgas. On arrival in to Burgas a coach will await to transfer you to the nearby town of Nesebar, where you check in to a 4-star hotel for the next two nights. (B D)

Monday 16th September
Trip along the Black Sea Coast
Today you have a trip of Nesebar on the Black Sea, where you will enjoy some sightseeing of the ancient city or just to relax on the nearby beaches. This ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’ is one of the major seaside attractions on the Black Sea Coast, defined by more than three millennia of ever-changing history. It consists of two parts separated by a narrow man-made isthmus with the ancient part of the settlement on the peninsula (previously an island), and the more modern section (i.e. hotels, later development) on the mainland side. There are several local beaches, which stretch for several kilometres along the coast. After your relaxing day you return back to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B D)

Tuesday 17th September
Royal train from Burgas to Plovdiv via Karlovo
Today your Royal train will be attached to a service train to take you from Burgas to Karlovo, from where we have requested travel onwards to Plovdiv hauled by a BZK ex-British Class 87 electric. Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest inhabited city, dating back as far as 4000 BC, and is set to be European Capital of Culture in 2019. On arrival you check in to your comfortable hotel for dinner and overnight accommodation. (B D)

Wednesday 18th September
Narrow-gauge experience in the Rhodope Mountains with steam loco 609.76
A tour highlight awaits as you travel by bus to Septemvri, here you will experience a private charter on the narrow gauge steam hauled by the 2-10-2T loco 609.76 to Velingrad into the Rhodope Mountains, with plenty of photo stops scheduled. The initial 39 km of the 760 mm narrow-gauge line from Septemvri to Velingrad has just completed its 93rd year, having opened in 1926. The 2-10-2T loco 609.76 was built by Chrzanow in Poland in 1949 and is said to be one of the most powerful of its gauge in the world. After a few miles of open countryside alongside the main road the line reaches Varvara and enters the gorge of the Cepina river on a highly scenic stretch, and the climbing starts in earnest. The line twists through the gorge for some miles before the valley broadens and the line reaches Dolene, some miles from the main road. Here the line crosses the river, makes a 180 degree turn and heads off along a side valley, eventually reaching the large spa town of Velingrad. On arrival you book in to your hotel in Velingrad for dinner and an overnight stay. (B D)

Thursday 19th September
Continued narrow-gauge excitement to Dobronishte behind 609.76
Today you continue your exploration of the last remaining public narrow-gauge line in Bulgaria hauled by 609.76 over the summit of Rhodope Mountains from Velingrad to Dobronishte, with plenty more photo opportunities. Thanks to its superbly engineered spiral tunnels, this branch line has been called the ‘Rhaetian Railway of the Balkans’. As the tank engine battles the steep gradients, plenty of steam spectacle is on offer, although some diesel assistance is required just to climb through the tunnels up to the summit at Avramovo station, 1267 metres above sea level and the highest station in Bulgaria. The line then passes Razlog, the site of a former large paper factory, and Bansko, before reaching the terminus at Dobrinishte. You then return to Bansko by coach and check in to your hotel, for overnight accommodation. (B D) Note: We have been advised that the sole narrow gauge steam loco 609.76 has a valid boiler certificate to enable us to use it. In the event of the loco not being available for any reason we will use diesel traction.

Friday 20th September
Steam with the largest tank engine in the world
This morning you take a bus from Bansko to Petrich, Where you will travel once more behind the Royal train hauled by reputedly the world’s largest working tank engine, 2-12-4T 46.03. The beautifully overhauled 2-12-4 ‘beast’ 46.03 was built by Cegielski in Poland, and is now the only operational, 12-coupled steam locomotive in the world. The route takes you from Petrich near the Greek border to Sofia, with a stop for servicing at Dupnitsa depot. Alternately, you can take a bus trip to the famous Rila Monastery, re-joining your Royal train at Dupnitsa. Rila Monastery is the most famous monastery in Bulgaria, now under UNESCO protection. The exterior of the monastery has high stone walls cut through by small windows – reminding the visitor of a military fort rather than a monastery. Once in the complex, it’s worth visiting the monastery’s museum, which hosts the famous Raphael’s Cross, made of a whole piece of wood (81cm x 43cm) and named after its creator. Whatever option you choose today, later you return to Sofia and check in to your hotel in Sofia for overnight accommodation. (B D)

Saturday 21st September
Free time or a visit to Sofia locomotive depot; afternoon flight to London Heathrow
This morning you have the option of either a visit to Sofia Loco depot or free time to explore Sofia further. In the afternoon you return to London Heathrow airport on a BA flight. (B)


Details

Price

  • Tour price £2695
  • Single supplement £295
  • Ground only (Sofia – Sofia) £2495

All prices shown are per person.

Price Includes

  • Flights from London Heathrow and return
  • Accommodation in excellent hotels with breakfast and evening meals
  • Light lunch on the train operating days
  • All train and coach travel as detailed in the itinerary with all transfers
  • Services of UK and local tour guides
  • The services of a tour manager

Meals included each day are shown as:
B = Breakfast - L = Lunch - D = Dinner

 

Map feature coming soon!