Travel in Royal style from Sofia across the Thracian plains to the Black Sea and back on this luxury steam tour in magical Bulgaria.
Travel in Royal style from Sofia across the Thracian plains to the Black Sea and back on this luxury steam tour of magical Bulgaria. 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 60976 as one of the tour highlights, and a day at the Black 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 tram tour of Bulgaria’s capital
You fly from Heathrow to Sofia this morning with BA. On arrival in Sofia you book into your comfortable hotel before a private tram sightseeing tour around Bulgaria’s capital. Marvel at the ancient churches, Ottoman mosques and other monuments in the city that boasts many of Bulgaria’s finest museums, galleries, restaurants and clubs. Dinner is served at 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 specialised cars and historic carriages of Tsar Boris III (1894-1943) with comfortable and pleasantly furnished interiors. Today you’ll be hauled by the recently overhauled 2-8-2 Swiss-built loco 01.23 from Sofia to Pleven Zapad and the powerful 2-10-0 16.27 from Cherven Brjag onward to Gorna Orjahovitsa in North-Central Bulgaria. The first settlement here dates back to the second half of the fifth millennium BC, although nowadays it is the biggest railway centre in Northern Bulgaria. From here you have a short bus transfer to your 4-star hotel in the famous town of Veliko Tarnovo, where you will stay for two nights. (B D)
Saturday 14th September
Guided walking tour of Veliko Tarnovo or visit to Gorna Orjahovitsa 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 city, once the medieval capital of Bulgaria. You’ll stroll through the old part of town surrounded by houses built over 200 years ago and visit Veliko Tarnovo’s most significant monument, the ancient medieval fortress called Tsarevets, situated on a hillside overlooking the town and surrounded on three sides by the gorge of the Yantra River. This partly reconstructed fortress dominates the skyline and boasts the remains of many houses, 18 churches, the royal palace and much more. Your second option is a trip by bus to visit the Gorna Orjahovitsa rail depot to see a rare 4-10-0 steam loco and the depot’s active steam locos, and to the Asenovo Steam Reserve where preserved rare steam locomotives are stored. Whatever option you take, dinner is served at your 4-star hotel in Veliko Tarnovo this evening. (B D)
Sunday 15th September
Across the Balkan Mountains to Stara Zagora and Burgas
After breakfast today you journey across the Central Mountains hauled once more by the rugged 2-10-0 16.27 from Veliko Tarnovo to Stara Zagora via Dabovo and Tulovo. You travel across a diverse landscape of lowlands, hilly plains, river valleys and the heights of the Balkan Mountains. From Stara Zagora your Royal coaches will be hauled by a special diesel or electric locomotive to Burgas and your bus will then transfer you to a 4-star hotel on the Black Sea at Nesebar for the next two nights. (B D).
Monday 16th September
All day in the famous resort of Nesebar
Today you initially have a walking tour of the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’ - the ancient settlement of Nesebar - an island linked by a causeway to the mainland with a wealth of historic buildings, shopping opportunities and many fish restaurants, followed by free time to explore at your leisure. After a relaxing day you return to your nearby hotel for dinner and overnight accommodation. (B D)
Tuesday 17th September
Royal train from Burgas to Plovdiv, via Karlovo
After a transfer to Burgas you rejoin the Royal Train early this morning. Your coaches will be added to the Burgas to Sofia express service train as far as Karlovo, from where an ex- British Class 87 electric loco belonging to the freight company BZK has been requested to haul you to Plovdiv. Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest inhabited city, dating back as far as 4000 BC, and is due to be European Capital of Culture in 2019. You check in to your comfortable hotel for dinner and overnight accommodation. (B D)
Wednesday 18th September
Narrow-gauge train into the Rhodope Mountains with steam loco 60976
A highlight of the trip awaits today as you travel by bus to Septemvri to join a retro narrow-gauge train hauled by the massive 2-10-2 tank engine 60976 to Velingrad in the Rhodope Mountains, with several photo stops planned. The initial 39 km of this 760 mm gauge line opened 93 years ago in 1926. The 2-10-2 tank loco was built by Chrzanow in Poland in 1949 and is one of the most powerful of its gauge in the world. Starting off in flat countryside you soon enter the hills at Varvara and then the scenic gorge of the Chepina River through which you climb towards Dolene, where the line heads off up a side valley, before eventually reaching the spa town of Velingrad, where you book into a comfortable hotel for dinner and overnight. (B D)
Thursday 19th September
Continued narrow-gauge excitement across the Rhodope Mountains to Dobronishte
Today you continue to explore Bulgaria’s last remaining narrow-gauge line hauled by 60976 over the Rhodope Mountains and down to the end of the line at Dobronishte. There are many spirals and tunnels as your train climbs through the forested mountains. Some diesel assistance is required on the steep climb before the summit at Avromovo station, 1267 metres above sea level. You then descend with more spirals, via Razlog, to the terminus at Dobronishte, with more photo opportunities along the way. You transfer by bus to your luxury hotel in the ski resort of Bansko for dinner and overnight stay. We have been advised that the sole narrow gauge loco 60976 has a valid boiler certificate to enable us to use it. If for any reason it is not available we will use diesel traction. (B D)
Friday 20th September
Steam with the largest working tank engine in the world.
This morning you have a bus transfer from Bansko south to Petrich, near the Greek border. Here you rejoin the Royal train hauled by reputedly the world’s largest working tank engine 2-12-4T 46.03. This beautifully overhauled ‘beast’ was built by Cegielski in Poland in 1931 and is now the only operational 12-coupled steam locomotive in the world. You travel north, stopping at the Dupnitsa Depot for servicing, before continuing to Sofia. Alternatively, you have the chance to travel from Bansko to visit the attractive Rila Monastery, before rejoining your train at Dupnitsa. Rila Monastery is the most famous monastery in Bulgaria, now under UNESCO protection. The exterior has high stone walls with small windows, reminding the visitor of a fortress rather than a monastery. Once inside the main attraction is the church with amazing exterior paintings of the gospel. It is also worth visiting the museum, which hosts the famous Raphael’s cross, carved from one piece of wood and named after its creator. Whatever you do you will later check into your Sofia hotel for dinner and overnight accommodation. (B D)
Saturday 21st September
Free time or a visit to the Sofia loco depot; afternoon flight to Heathrow
This morning you have the option of either a visit to the Sofia Loco Depot or free time to explore Sofia further. In the afternoon you return to Heathrow on a BA flight. (B)
All prices shown are per person.
Meals included each day are shown as:
B = Breakfast - L = Lunch - D = Dinner