• This morning we fly from London to Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. On arrival we drive south to Melnik, the smallest town in Bulgaria yet rich in history and home to unique sandstone pyramids that are formed by soil erosion. 
    • On the drive we stop at Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is one of Bulgaria’s most significant cultural monuments, as well as for the entire region of Southern Europe.
    • We also stop to look for our first butterflies of the trip at Kresna Gorge, where we may be lucky and see the rare Frivaldsky’s white-banded grayling along with Krueper’s small white, iolas blue, Balkan marbled white among many others. The gorge is also an excellent birding site.
    • Accommodation: Boliarka Hotel, 3-nights on full board basis.
    • During the two full days we spend in Melnik, we take time to explore the town, its surroundings and nearby Rozhen Monastery. We will be on the lookout for Hungarian glider, cardinal, nettle tree butterfly, lattice brown amongst other butterfly species. The region’s birds include honey buzzard, lesser and middle spotted woodpeckers, subalpine warbler and blue rock thrush.
    • On one day we head to Kozhuh Hill, an extinct volcano that creates an arid and rocky habitat with an abundance of natural mineral hot springs. Here we hope to see interesting butterflies such as powdered brimstone, Freyer’s purple emperor and inky skipper, and watch for birds like olivaceous warbler, hoopoe and long-legged buzzard. 
    • We drive on to our next base of Trigrad, a village in the western Rhodopes. En route we stop at the meadows of Popovi Livadi, which are full of flowering orchids, to search for mountain and clouded Apollo, common brimstone and Balkan fritillary. We make an additional stop at the nearby Roman Bridge to look for more butterflies.
    • On our full day in the area, we visit Trigrad Gorge, a dramatic location where huge cliffs tower above a deep and rocky valley where the river can be seen in the distance. Here we hope to spot Higgin’s anomalous blue along with the Apollo and the endemic Kolev’s anomalous blue. While exploring the gorge we may be lucky enough to see wallcreepers, along with a variety of woodpeckers including black, grey and great spotted, plus Alpine and pallid swifts.
    • Accommodation: Arkan Han Hotel, 2-nights on full board basis.
    • Heading east to the town of Krumovgrad, our first stop is at the lakes of Smoljanski Ezera for butterfly watching. We then cross to the eastern side of the Rhodope Mountains, where the landscape changes to stubby vegetation and sparse groves of broadleaf trees, providing the ideal conditions for birds of prey to flourish.
    • On one of the days we spend in the Eastern Rhodopes we visit Studen Kladenets, an area whose unusual landscape resembles the surface of the moon. Spending some time in the crater of an extinct volcano, we watch vultures and black stork soaring above us and should see many other birds of prey including golden, imperial, booted, lesser spotted and short-toed eagles, and long-legged buzzard. There will also be opportunities to look for smaller birds and discover yet more interesting butterflies.
    • As a contrast to the lunar landscape of Studen Kladenets we also visit the town of Madzharovo and surrounding area, which has a greener landscape of small deciduous woods dominated by oak trees. While still a good location to see large birds of prey including Egyptian, griffon and black vultures, we will be on the lookout for butterflies such as eastern pale clouded yellow, blue argus and eastern rock grayling.
    • Accommodation: Hotel Via, 3-nights on full board basis.
    • This morning after an early breakfast we depart for Sofia, where we catch our return flight to London.

All prices are per person and include:

  • Services of the naturalist leader
  • Flights
  • Transfers
  • Accommodation
  • Guided activities
  • All meals

Accommodation

We stay in traditional Bulgarian 3-star hotels; all rooms have an en suite bathroom. 

Meals

All meals are included.

Breakfast and dinner are taken at the hotel. Lunch is either a picnic or occasionally a simple meal at a local restaurant. On arrival in Sofia a packed lunch will be provided.   

Birds

The Eastern Rhodopes are widely accepted as one of the best places in Europe to see large birds of prey such as eagles, vultures and buzzards, while a visit to Kresna Gorge offers good birdwatching for both small and large species in a wonderfully diverse site that is classified as a significant birding area. 

  • Long-legged buzzard
  • Eastern imperial eagle
  • Wallcreeper
  • European bee-eater 

Butterflies

Bulgaria’s location on the Balkan Peninsula gives rise to two distinct climatic zones and, as a consequence, the country’s butterfly fauna is some of the richest in Europe, with 218 species recorded to date. This allows us to search for rarities and endemics such as Frivaldsky’s white-banded grayling. Many species of butterfly that exist naturally here - such as the Apollo - have stable native populations, whereas in other areas of continental Europe they have seen an abrupt decline. 

  • Frivaldsky’s white-banded grayling
  • Higgin’s anomalous blue
  • Apollo
  • Inky skipper 

Scenery

We cover a wide diversity of habitats from transitional-Mediterranean to high alpine areas, and explore gorges with towering cliffs, extinct volcanoes, meadows with flowering orchids, lakes, river valleys, woodland and forested areas. 

Flights

Price includes scheduled return flights London-Sofia-London. 

Ground transport

Minibus with driver.

Altitude

On this tour we reach 1,500 metres above sea level when we visit the lakes of Smoljanski Ezera. 

Climate

Bulgaria has a continental climate with Mediterranean influences from the Aegean Sea. In spring it enjoys fairly mild temperatures while summers are hot and dry. Average temperatures in June are around 20⁰C, with highs reaching up to 26⁰C. Travel in mountainous regions inevitably means changeable weather, so be prepared for occasional rain. 

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