Black sea odyssey
A MELANCHOLIC ROUND TRIP ALONG THE MIGHTY SHORES OF THE SOVIET MEDITERRANEAN
Romania – Moldova – Ukraine – Georgia – Turkey – Bulgaria
Regular monthly departures: this tour is offered regularly once a month spring (March to June) and autumn (August to November). Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the ask-us button below and we will match your preferences with the relevant scheduled group departure. If you are unsure about the month you wish to travel in, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with friends and there are 5 or more of you, you can set your own dates and we will organise a tour just for you without charging any additional fee. If you are travelling solo or with less than 4 companions we will organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
DAY 1 - Bucharest
In the morning you will meet your tour guide in the lobby of the designated hotel (exact hotel address and meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email; private airport pickup and shuttle service available for a small additional fee).
Introductory briefing about the region and the route of this journey.
We’ll devote the entire day to Bucharest and its socialist heritage visiting both the main architectonic sights, such as the gargantuan Parliament and the elegant Academy, and some truly off-the-beaten-path places like the raw-concrete hinterlands of the town and the much-feared but actually friendly neighbourhood of Ferentari, the largest gypsy ghetto in Romania.
We’ll also pay a visit to Nicolae Ceaușescu’s grave in the outskirts of town, a site of pilgrimage for many Romanian hardcore nostalgics and international lefties.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Bucharest.
Dinner and overnight in Bucharest.
DAY 2 - Constanța
From Bucharest we’ll move east and reach the classy city of Constanta, the main Romanian town along the melancholic, tacky and slightly depressing Black Sea coast.
Constanta is famous for its splendidly abandoned Art Nouveau casino as well for its fair-share of elegant neoclassical buildings, exotic Ottoman heritage and ancient Roman ruins.
We’ll spend a relaxing day in town touring its many architectonic wonders, sampling delicious seafood and hunting for the decrepit remnants of its socialist past.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Constanta.
DAY 3 - Danube Delta
From Constanta will move north and head to Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage that is a labyrinth of water and land, made up of countless lakes, channels, islands at the end of the 2,860 km long river: the Danube Delta is the largest European wetland and reed bed, forming also Europe’s largest water purification system.
The Danube Delta is also home to a rich mix of Ukrainian, Russian, Lipovan, Bulgarian, Moldavan, Turkish, and Gagauz people, scattered around the region in small melancholic villages full of Soviet nostalgia and rusting fishing boats.
We’ll spend the day touring the Delta both in its natural and cultural terms and indulge in some gastronomic delicacies offered by the river such as herring, grilled sturgeon fish and zander croquettes, tastily washed down with Aligote, Muscat or Merlot.
In the late afternoon we will transfer to the sleepy provincial town of Tulcea, where we’ll spend our last Romanian night.
Dinner and overnight in Tulcea.
DAY 4 - Southern Gagauzia and Budjak Steppes
From Romania we’ll head to Ukraine making a forced but pleasant detour through Southern Moldova and Gagauzia.
First we’ll cross the Romania-Moldova border at the remote and desolate post of Giurgiulești, Moldova’s only port on the Danube, and then head to the sleepy Gagauz city of Vulcănești, a forgotten provincial outpost of concrete Soviet blocks and exotic cultural heritage: the Gagauzes are a heavily Russified obscure Turkic ethnicity, professing Christian Orthodoxy and speaking an endangered language very few people outside the region have ever heard the sound of.
From Vulcănești we’ll then enter Ukraine and specifically the remote and melancholic region of Budjak, a multiethnic flatland of Wes-Anderson-style roadside cafés and crumbling Soviet blocks.
Travelling through the Budjak steppes we’ll reach the Tuslovsky Lagoons, a group of limans boasting a rich and diverse ecosystem with thriving bird rookeries and ichthyic fauna.
In the evening we’ll drive to the end-of-the-world town of Tatarbunary to spend a night of fish and vodka with the locals.
Dinner and overnight on the Tatarbunary.
DAY 5/6 - Odessa
From Tatarbunary, driving across Northern Budjak, we’ll reach the elegant city of Odessa, glory of the Soviet Union.
We’ll spend two full days in this city of elegant Tsarist buildings, heroic Soviet history and legendary stairways.
During our stay in the area we’ll also visit the remote Kinburn Spit, home to the National Park Biloberezhia Sviatoslava, a paradise for birdwatchers, beachgoers and scuba-divers.
Dinners and overnights in Odessa.
DAY 7/8 - Black Sea Ferry
Today we’ll board the Soviet-era Black Sea Ferry travelling from Odessa to Batumi, in Georgia.
We’ll spend two days on the ferry, sailing slowly and melancholically across the dark waters of the Soviet Mediterranean.
Dinners and overnights on the ferry.
DAY 9 - Batumi
Early morning arrival in Batumi, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.
Batumi sightseeing: Sea Promenade, Central Mosque, Old Town, Medea Monument, Fish Market.
Traditional Adjaran lunch.
Chillout afternoon at the beach.
Dinner and overnight in Batumi.
DAY 10 - Mountainous Adjara
Scenic morning drive to Khulo, a little mountain town mainly inhabited by Muslim Adjarans.
Visit to the Soviet-era cable car and tour of the nearby yaylas, traditional shepherd settlements.
Adjaran lunch in Khulo.
Short hike into the lush forest of the Mtirala National Park.
Dinner and overnight in Batumi.
DAY 11 - Lazistan
We’ll leave Batumi in the morning, cross over the Chorokhi river and head to Turkey.
After completing border formalities, we’ll travel across a dreamlike region of tea plantations and subtropical climate inhabited by concoction of cultures and ethnicities: Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks and Lazes.
The latter are little-known Kartvelian people who once even had their own semi-autonomous province: Lazistan, a remote, but strategically important, Ottoman sanjak.
Passing by ancient wooden villages and decrepit stone minarets, we’ll drive towards the majestic landscapes of the Kaçkar Mountains, the highest range within the Pontic Mountains, a glaciated massive that is alpine in character, with steep rocky peaks and numerous crystal-clear altitude lakes.
The Kaçkar Mountains are one of the best hiking and trekking natural sites in Turkey and we’ll try to get the best out of it by staying in one of the many traditional yaylas (mountain hamlets) dotting the area and exploring by foot the surrounding areas.
Dinner and overnight in the Kaçkar Mountains National Park.
DAY 12/13 - Turkish Riviera
From the Kaçkar Mountains we’ll descend again towards the Black Sea Riviera and slowly travel west towards the Bosphorus.
Highlights along the way will include: the breathtaking Sumela Monastery, the seedy port town of Trabzon, traditional fishing hamlets and booming resort towns, pristine beaches and rocky bays, the prosperous and libertine atmospheres of Samsun, the green fields and the gentle slopes of the Western Pontus and - of course - lots of Turkish seafood delicacies.
Dinners and overnights in Trabzon and Samsun.
DAY 14 - Safranbolu
Our last stop before the Bosphorus will be the old city of Safranbolu, a true urban jewel boasting an incredible amount of perfectly preserved - albeit sometimes excessively restored - traditional Ottoman mansions.
We’ll spend a slow-paced day in town, walking around the historical centre, sipping tea and smoking water-pipes.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Safranbolu.
DAY 15/16 - Istanbul
Early in the morning we’ll leave Safranbolu and travel again along the Black Sea Coast towards European Turkey.
In the afternoon we’ll eventually reach İstanbul, aka Constantinople, aka Byzantium, aka the Queen of the Bosphorus.
We’ll spend a full-packed 36 hours in this mesmerising town of sixteen millions, focussing our visit on the offbeat attractions of this bustling metropolis: the rundown districts by the port, the multiethnic atmosphere of the African and Central Asian hoods, the melancholic remnants of the once-thriving Russian community, the smoky dens of the old Turkish men down and the colourful street scenes of the Kurdish ghettoes.
Dinners and overnights in Istanbul.
DAY 17 - Çilingoz Nature Park
From Istanbul we’ll move northwest to Çilingoz, a natural park located on a bay overlooking the Black Sea and featuring a combination of beach, forest, lake and reedy ecosystems.
We’ll spend the day in the park looking for wild fauna and local delicacies and then transfer to the border town of Kırklareli for the night.
Dinner and overnight in Kırklareli.
DAY 18 - Burgas
From Turkey we’ll head north and enter Bulgaria, a quintessential southern Slavic nation once famously labelled as the sixteenth Soviet republic due to its close cultural, political and linguistic ties with the former USSR.
We’ll drive across the bucolic landscapes of the Strandzha Mountains, admiring and breathing the nature of the namesake national park, and follow the road down to Burgas, a large Black Sea port famous for its holiday resorts and its huge oil refineries (a typical Eastern European combo).
We’ll spend the rest of the day strolling around Burgas, enjoying its industrial decay and joining the locals for a refreshing beer at the city beach.
Dinner and overnight in Burgas.
DAY 19 - Varna
We’ll travel along the Black Sea coast crossing little fishing villages, rusty marinas and kitschy resorts until we’ll eventually arrive in Varna, the third-largest city in Bulgaria.
We’ll spend the day touring Varna, a true architectural paradise by the sea where Ottoman, Neo-Renaissance, Neoclassicism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and - most importantly - socialist shapes blend, more or less harmoniously - together.
Dinner and overnight in Varna.
DAY 20 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last Bulgarian-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: we will arrange transfer to Varna International Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: we will arrange transport to the local train/bus station.
End of the tour.
4 to 6 participants: 3800 €
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 20 euros/night), private transport in the region (minivan and/or jeep), one-way ferry ticket from Odessa to Batumi, entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights and any other flight not explicitly included in the tour price and itinerary, meals, drinks and tips, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility. It is also possible to make the tour the other way around, starting from Bulgaria and finishing in Romania.
Please note: It’s advisable to arrive in Bucharest one day before the actual tour begins. You should notice, however, that you’ll have to take care of your accommodation for any day and night preceding the actual start date of the tour. Without any additional charge we will readily and gladly reserve a room for you at our hotel of choice and you’ll be able to pay for it by cash or credit card once you check-in. If your flight lands on the same day as the tour begins and you prefer to rest a bit before going out sightseeing, you will then meet your tour guide and the rest of the group at the designated hotel in the late afternoon.
Airport pickup/transfer in Bucharest and Varna is available for just 35 euros per ride.
where the heck am i travelling to?
BELOW you can see the different tour stages marked on a map of the region you are going to explore with us
POSSIBLE TOUR COMBINATIONS FOR THIS ITINERARY INCLUDE
Balkanistan and/or Albania