Guided Excursions



‘Thanks Chris for the sumptuous breakfasts and for the tour of Sveshtari and Demir Baba Tekke  … truly a sacred area of the world and an absolute treasure.’ Mark, New Zealand, 2013

Discover the amazing archaeology of north Bulgaria on small group archaeological tours led by Chris, an archaeologist with over 20 years experience.  The archaeological tours are based in the historic village of Palamartsa, within easy reach of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Madara, Sbvoryanovo archaeological reserve and Ivanovo rock monastery.  Tours also include visits to some undiscovered gems where few visitors go.

Bulgarian history lies at the heart of antiquity, at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, where Christianity and Islam overlapped and where the history and politics of the twentieth century were played out.  There were ancient Greek trading colonies along the Black Sea coast and Thracian horsemen buried in lavish stone tombs with rich gold treasures.  Still surviving are streets and houses from old Roman towns; medieval rock monasteries with coloured wall paintings; and the two earliest capital cities of the first Bulgarian empire, a rival to nearby Byzantium.

This eclectic historical mix blends Thracian, Greek, Roman, Bulgarian, Byzantine, Turkish and Russian influences where ancient classical remains sit side by side with decorated mosques and huge concrete communist era monuments.

Preobrajenszhi Monastary

Archaeological excursion with Chris as guide: 100 Bg lev/day (drive your own car, pay entrance fees and lunch)

If you would like Chris to drive, add 100 Bg lev per group to cover driving and fuel.

Remember to budget for entry fees and lunch.

We also create unique archaeological holidays for guests (minimum 2 people) based on their individual interests.  We will send you a questionnaire to find out about your interests; catering and accommodation needs; transport requirements and create a unique experience for you and your group.


Chris Fenton-ThomasChris is an archaeologist of over 20 years experience. His extensive teaching and lecturing experience and his friendly manner make him a wonderful, personable guide.

He specialised in prehistoric landscape archaeology and his PhD was a multiperiod study of the Yorkshire Wolds. Chris was a lecturer at Trinity College, Carmarthen for a number of years and then worked for over ten years as a professional archaeologist based in York. Author of four books and many published papers, he has spoken extensively at conferences and to local archaeological groups on topics ranging from neolithic burials to medieval farming.

Not just an academic, he has worked on excavations in St Kilda, Orkney, South of France and Syria and has led many excavations in the north of England. Since moving to Bulgaria he has developed a great and growing interest in the archaeology of the region. 

sveshtari 2

Sboryanovo Archaeological Reserve & the Roman town of Abritus

  • Sveshtari Thracian tomb
  • Thracian sanctuaries and stronghold
  • Tomb of Demir Baba
  • Roman town of Abritus

The archaeological reserve at Sboryanovo is one of the highlights of Bulgarian archaeology. It contains the Sveshtari tomb which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The tomb is one of the finest Thracian burials in Bulgaria and visitors are allowed entry inside the mausoleum to see the wall paintings and sculptures. The expansive reserve also contains hundreds of other burial mounds, as well as the remains of long-lived Thracian ritual places and sanctuaries.

There are also the remains of a fortified fourth century BC town which is probably the political and military centre of the local tribe, the Getae. This place was called Hellis and was mentioned by ancient Greek historians.

From a much later time, there is the seventeenth century tomb of Demir Baba, a mysterious figure revered by an obscure mystical Moslem sect known as the Alevi. The tomb continues to be visited and respected by Moslems and local Christians. It was built into the site of a much earlier Thracian shrine. This day tour will also take in the remains of the Roman town of Abritus.


  • Roman ruinsborovo treasure
  • Historic buildings
  • Borovo treasure & museum
  • River Danube
  • Lunch at restaurant (not included in price)

Ruse stands beside the river Danube which has been an important boundary since Roman times when a military fortress was built here to monitor the frontier of the Roman Empire.  We will visit the ruins of this fortress.

The river has also brought trade as it links the Black Sea with the great cities of central Europe.  Many fine buildings from the nineteenth century survive in the town and have earned it the name of ‘Little Vienna’.

Ruse also houses some fine museums and here you can see the fantastic Thracian treasure from Borovo.

ivanovo monastry

Medieval rock monasteries and the medieval fortress at Cherven

  • Ivanovo rock monastery
  • Krepcha rock monastery
  • Cherven medieval fortress

The Rusenski Lom Nature Reserve is a protected area known for its scenic and quiet countryside with distinctive limestone cliffs and riverside walks.  Here there are three very fine medieval rock monasteries where churches, monk cells and chapels were cut into the living rock.  At the World Heritage Site of Ivanovo, the wall paintings are exceptionally well preserved.

The little known rock monastery at Krepcha has interesting wall etchings.  These include probably the earliest surviving Cyrillic insciption as well as runic and Hebrew characters.

At Cherven, you will see extensive remains of a fortified medieval settlement high up on the limestone plateau commanding great views across the nature park.

pliska ruins

Madara and Pliska

  • Madara UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Pliska – first capital of the early Bulgarian empire

At Madara, you can literally see thousands of years of history which have earned it the name, ‘The Bulgarian Troy’. The early medieval carving of a horse and rider dates from the 8th century AD and is another UNESCO World Heritage site. However, there is much more here including a prehistoric settlement, Thracian sanctuary, Roman villa estate with farm buildings and a medieval hill top fortress with houses and churches.

The Pliska reserve is 20km away and here are the remains of the first capital of the early medieval Bulgarian empire in the seventh and eighth century AD. This extensive and rich town contained palaces, basilica churches, workshops and fortifications. All of this is laid out for visitors in the archaeological reserve. It dates from a time when the Bulgarian Tsars and Khans were expanding their territory and even rivalled the power of nearby Byzantium.

veliki preslav

Veliki Preslav

  • Veliki Preslav – Early medieval capital
  • Targovishte Revival Period houses
  • Ethnography museum

In the ninth century AD, the capital was Veliki Preslav.  The remains of this rich and powerful early medieval town are laid out for visitors in a reserve.  Veliki Preslav was not only the home of the Bulgarian Tsars but it also became a centre of cultural arts.  These included literature, sculpture, painted ceramics and glass, including the icon of Saint Theodore Stratelates produced at the nearby monastery of Saint Pantaleimon.

A highlight is the tenth century Golden Church which had lavish architectural decoration including marble columns and pulpit.  The on-site museum houses all kinds of objects recovered from excavations including the lead seals of Bulgarian and Byzantine officials.

This day tour will also include a visit to the nineteenth century revival period houses and the ethnography museum in Targovishte.

Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo

  • Old Town, Veliko Tarnovo
  • Tsaravets medieval fortress
  • Museum
  • Churches, Arbanasi

Veliko Tarnovo was the medieval capital of Bulgaria in the fifteenth century when Turkish forces defeated the Tsar’s armies.  This saw the beginning of four hundred years of Ottoman rule.  It is an historic town par excellence with winding cobbled streets flanked by beautifully restored traditional Bulgarian houses in dark wood and white plaster.  Many have now been turned into art galleries, cafes and hotels.

Here you can walk down the street named after the Russian general Gurko who led the victorious Russian armies in 1877.  It probably hasn’t changed that much.

There are also fine monasteries and churches both here and in the nearby village of Arbanasi.

The city museum has a good collection of Roman statues and the old medieval fortress of Tsaravets dominates one end of the old town.  From more recent times, Hotel Veliko Tarnovo is a good example of modernist architecture constructed under Communism.  You can still sit on its open-air terrace enjoying views of the houses of the old town across the gorge.


The Roman town at Nikopolis ad Istrum & the Preobrazhenski Monastery

  • Roman town at Nikopolis ad Istrum
  • Preobrazhenski Monastery

The Roman town at Nikopolis ad Istrum was established by the emperor Trajan in the second century AD and became a big commercial centre.  The remains of its temples, public buildings, streets, bath houses and statues can still be seen here in the archaeological reserve.  The town survived until it was destroyed in the seventh century by the Avars.

The Preobrazhenski (The Transfiguration of the Lord) Monastery is decorated with fine nineteenth century icon paintings and is important for its part in the national revival movement where Bulgarian arts and culture flourished and eventually led to independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s.


  • Tomboul Mosque, Shumen
  • Revival period houses, Shumen
  • Shumen Museum
  • Medieval fortress
  • Monument to the founders of the Bulgarian State

Shumen was a fortified town during the middle ages.  During Ottoman rule it housed a cosmopolitan community of traders including Armenians, Jews and Turks, as well as merchants from Dobrovnik.  After 1848, there was a sizeable community of Hungarians here and the Turkish community remains very strong to this day.

The Tomboul Mosque has recently been restored and is the largest and most beautifully decorated in Bulgaria.  Elsewhere in the town, there are revival period houses and museums, one with a fine display of Thracian weaponry.

On the hill above the town are the well preserved remains of the medieval fortress.  Nearby is the huge Communist era monument to the founders of the Bulgarian state, built for the 1300th anniversary in 1981.  The sheer scale of the monument is awe inspiring.

The village


  • Kalakoch Thracian settlement
  • Thracian burial mounds

From home, this walking tour takes you to Kalakoch, one of the highest hills in the Danube valley. Covered in mounds and scattered stone, it was once the site of a Thracian settlement. It is a wild monument, not laid out for public viewing, but this gives any visit here a sense of excitement and discovery.

After walking around the ruins, visit the nearby Thracian burial mound built during the Roman period for which there is a local legend about a princess.