Beyond the Black Sea
Beyond the Black Sea is a wonderful tour to a corner of Europe that is little-visited but no less fascinating or beautiful than other parts of the continent. Our 27-day itinerary takes us to Western Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, before finishing in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.
The journey begins in Ukraine’s capital Kiev before moving 132 kilometers north to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl. Twenty-five years on, with radiation levels normalised, we visit the infamous plant and the abandoned town of Pripyat. We then travel west to the historic city of Kamyanets Podilskyi, stopping at Chernivtsy en route before heading to the lovely city of Lviv, then south to Odessa. We then cross the border into mysterious Moldova and the breakaway republic known as Transnistria. There, in the only unrecognised country in Europe, lie the last vestiges in the world of a Soviet-style system. Moldova is also home to Europe’s largest winery, Milestii Mici, with 250 kms of limestone tunnels forming underground streets. Next stop is Romania and it is here, deep in the Transylvanian Alps, that we visit Dracula’s castle. Everything in this pocket of Romania is interwoven with truth and legend and the perpetuation of mystery. Romania and Bulgaria have some of the most remarkable fairy tale towns in the world – without the tourist hordes found in more mainstream European cities. This is a journey that is a heady mix of contemporary and ancient history, rustic medieval settlements, myths and legends, set against the backdrop of the Black Sea, Transylvanian Alps and the Carpathian Mountains. This is undiscovered Europe with a capital U!
Tour Fitness Level: Moderate
- Visit the fascinating cave complex at Pechersk Lavra monastery in Kiev
- Extraordinary full-day visit to Chernobyl
- Walk through the deserted village of Pripyat near Chernobyl
- Travel by train from Kiev to Kamyanets-Podilsky
- See the magnificent Kamanyets Fortress
- Look across the Dnieper River to the fortress at Khotyn
- Explore the stunning city of Lviv
- Walk up the famous Potemkin Steps and take in the magnificent city of Odessa
- Explore the labyrinth of catacombs under the city of Odessa that were used by the resistance during World War II
- Cross through the incredibly isolated breakaway republic of Transnistria, Europe’s ‘North Korea’
- Visit the ancient cave monastery of Orheiul Vechi
- Enjoy a traditional picnic on a riverbank with a Moldovan family
- Exclusive Travel Directors’ tour of Europe’s largest underground winery, Milestii Mici
- Visit Dracula’s Castle and enjoy an exclusive Travel Directors’ party and dinner inside the castle
- Enjoy a typical organic lunch with local family in a remote Romanian village
- Dine in the house where Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was born and where he grew up
- Marvel at the beautiful architecture of Romania’s walled Saxon villages and towns of Brasov, Sighisoara and Sibiu
- Stay in beautiful and cosy ‘Casa’ accommodation
- Participate in a Romanian wedding
- Drive along the road that TV’s ‘Top Gear’ describes as the world’s most stunning – The Transfagarasan
- Have dinner in the wonderfully historic Caru Cu Bere restaurant in Bucharest’s old city
- Cross the river Danube between Romania and Bulgaria
- Visit the ancient cultural capital of the Balkans, Veliko Tarnovo
- Explore the fantastic open-air ‘museum’village of Etara
- Walk through Europe’s oldest city, Plovdiv, and visit its extraordinary Roman theatre
- Two-night stay in the beautiful capital, Sofia
- All flights between Australia and Europe/Europe and Australia
- All accommodation (twin-share)
- All transfers
- All meals as specified
- Travel Directors tour leader throughout
- Expert local guides throughout
- All entrance fees for specified sightseeing
- All ticketable air taxes (NB. may be subject to change)
- All visas and courier fees
- All tips and gratuities
Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $3,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.
25/08/2018 Australia – Dubai
Check-in at your chosen Australian airport for your flight to Dubai with Emirates.
26/08/2018 Dubai – Kiev (D)
Depart Dubai Emirates EK 2210, 09.20
Arrive Kiev 14.10
On arrival in Kiev we transfer to our hotel in the heart of the city.
27/08/2018 Kiev (BLD)
Situated on the Dnieper River, Kiev is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. This morning we explore the old city on foot and stroll down its most famous street, Andriyivsky Uzviz (Andrew’s Descent). After lunch we continue our city tour, visiting the Golden Gate and taking a tour on the metro.
28/08/2018 Kiev – Chernobyl – Kiev (BLD)
In 1986 the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred at Chernobyl. Today, radiation levels are normal and, in fact, are similar to that of Kiev. This enables us to travel safely to the site itself. In a fascinating day, we get to within 100 metres of Reactor 4 and visit the deserted ghost town of Pripyat. We may also have time to visit a village where we can meet and speak to the people who were resettled. As a travel experience this day is unparalleled and Travel Directors is the first Australian company to offer this enthralling excursion.
29/08/2018 Kiev – Kamyanets-Podilsky (BLD)
Today we visit the stunning Peschersk Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves. A UNESCO World Heritage monument, the monastery is a dazzling combination of beautiful domed buildings and catacombs. Below the Lavra are numerous caves where monks once lived and prayed, and which were later used as burial sites. In the evening we board our train for the journey to Western Ukraine.
Depart Kiev Train 05, 16.30
Arrive Kamyanets 23.08
On arrival in Kamyanets-Podilsky we transfer to our hotel.
30/08/2018 Kamyanets-Podilsky (BLD)
After breakfast this morning we explore one of the oldest cities in Ukraine, which is considered a phenomenon of great cultural importance. A rocky island skirted by the tight loop of the Smotrich River flowing in a picturesque canyon, served as a unique pedestal on which, over more than a thousand years, both well-known and anonymous masters created a miracle in stone. Kamyanets-Podilsky is striking for the harmonious blend of landscape and architecture.
31/08/2018 Kamyanets-Podilsky – Lviv (BLD)
Early this morning we drive to the nearby city of Chernivtsy, originally the farthest Eastern outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Among the sights which we will visit is the Chernivtsy University, a masterpiece of architecture and now included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, taking almost 18 years to complete. After our visit to the fortress we continue onto the Western Ukrainian capital, Lviv.
01/09/2018 Lviv (BLD)
Today we set out to see Lviv, a unique combination of Western and Eastern cultures. Here we see wonderful examples of Ukrainian, Polish, Armenian, Jewish, German and Austrian, and other cultures within a span of a 10-minute walk. Lviv is a very poetic city steeped in legends both ancient and modern. Narrow medieval streets paved with stones, architectural decoration done in different styles and all preserved in original form. In ancient times Lviv was the capital of a mighty Slavic state called the Galicia-Volyn.
02/09/2018 Lviv – Odessa (BLD)
Having been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Poland has contributed to the city’s unique architectural style. In many ways Lviv encapsulates the Ukrainian spirit in a far more succinct way than Kiev. Despite two world wars that swept through the city, it sustained little damage and all architectural masterpieces are original. This UNESCO world heritage site was also spared from Soviet style architecture as Moscow considered that it could not improve Lviv. This evening we transfer to the train station for our overnight journey to Odessa.
Depart Lviv Train 09, 20.23
03/09/2018 Arrive Odessa (BLD)
Arrive Odessa 08.37
Odessa is the Ukraine’s crossroad of cultures, languages and trade. As we walk around the town we visit masterpieces of architecture, such as the famous Opera and Ballet Theatre, Primorskiy Boulevard, and the One-Wall building. We also view the Sea Port Terminal from the top of the world-famous Potemkin Steps. These stairs are the formal entrance into Odessa from the Black Sea and are the symbol of the city.
Hotel De Paris
04/09/2018 Odessa (BLD)
After breakfast we take a look at the fascinating catacombs, which were built nearly 200 years ago. This vast maze covers around 2,500 kms, with hundreds of entrances, exits, caves, and tunnels. In 1941, when the German and Romanian armies occupied Odessa, the Soviet military gave the order to organise the partisan resistance and the catacombs were chosen as the headquarters. There were enough provisions and weapons stored underground to last almost a year. As we explore the tunnels and caves we gain an understanding of the conditions under which the partisans operated.
05/09/2018 Odessa – Transnistria – Chisinau (Moldova) (BLD)
This morning we leave Odessa for the 200-km journey to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. On the way we pass through the only unrecognised country in Europe, Transnistria. Still rigidly clinging to a Stalanist system, the country declared independence from Moldova in 1990, resulting in a civil war that lasted for two years. Today Transnistria maintains autonomy with financial and military support from Russia and bears a remarkable resemblance to North Korea. The country has its own president, currency, flag and judicial system. After lunch in Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, we head to Chisinau.
06/09/2018 Chisinau (BLD)
This morning we begin to explore Chisinau, a city of wide tree-lined boulevards and impressive architecture, as well as many parks and lakes. In the afternoon we depart for the village of Milestii Mici. Here we plunge 60 metres below the surface through a series of limestone tunnels to the underground wine city – the largest wine cellar in the world – where 250-kms of ‘tunnel streets’ wind their way under mountains. The subterranean streets have names such as Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon. Cars and bicycles are the means of transportation through this maze that holds more than two million bottles of wine.
07/09/2018 Chisinau – Brasov (BLD)
Today we start the 450-km drive to one of the most famous towns in Romania, Brasov. Crossing the border at Albida we arrive in the town of Onesti. The town is well known in Romania as its most illustrious resident is the great Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. After lunch here we continue through to Brasov.
Hotel Bella Muzica
08/09/2018 Brasov – Peles – Bran – Brasov (BLD)
Today we visit the magnificent Peles Castle, with its fairytale turrets and pointed towers nestling in the Carpathians. It is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful castles in Europe and has played host to many famous guests, including Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Richard Nixon and Yasser Arafat. After lunch we head to the small village of Bran where we visit perhaps the most talked-about structure in the world, Bran Castle. Much older than Peles, this spectacular fortress was made famous by Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, Dracula. The fortification, popularly known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, was built on top of a steep rock in the Carpathian Mountains in 1377.
09/09/2018 Brasov – Sighisoara (BLD)
After breakfast we take a cable car ride to Mount Tampa which has spectacular views overlooking Brasov. We then start our drive to Sighisoara, turning off the main road to visit the wonderfully restored medieval village of Viscri. Totally unspoilt, with horses and carts trudging its streets, this is Romania as it was 200 years ago. We have lunch in Viscri as we soak up the atmosphere of years gone by. We then continue to the oldest-inhabited citadel in Europe, Sighisoara, the best preserved of all the medieval towns in Romania. This is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) and we visit the house where he was born in 1431. We also walk across town to the famous Clock Tower Museum with its torture and weapons rooms.
Central Park Hotel
10/09/2018 Sighisoara – Sibiu (BLD)
Leaving Sighisoara we head to the walled town of Sibiu. Just outside the town we visit the Astra Village Museum. Here, in this 96-hectare park, we see replicas of the Romanian traditional villages, with mills, churches and houses as they used to be in different parts of the country. The museum, which is set around a beautiful lake, is an invaluable piece of Romanian culture and identity.
Hotel Forum Continental
11/09/2018 Sibiu (BLD)
Sibiu attracts visitors due to its beautiful surrounding landscapes and a rich medieval and Baroque heritage. It was designated a European Capital of Culture for the year 2007. Formerly the centre of the Transylvanian Saxons, the old city of Sibiu is ranked as Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live. Today we walk around some of the beautiful landmarks of the town including the 13th-century Stairway Tower, and across Liar’s Bridge to Haller Bastion and the Town Hall. We also visit the Cathedral where the son of Vlad the Impaler was assassinated. Sibiu is a true Eastern European gem that has yet to be discovered by the tourist hordes.
12/09/2018 Sibiu – Bucharest (BLD)
This morning we start our drive on the magnificent Transfagarasan road, stopping at the beautiful glacial lake of Balea. Our journey crosses the mighty Fagaras Mountains, passing Moldoveanu peak (2544m). We then drive along the Vidraru Dam and lake before entering the longest tunnel in Romania, which is nearly a kilometre in length. The Transfagarasan, which is open only from June to October, is a breathtaking engineering feat that literally takes the road straight over and into the mountains. Jeremy Clarkson from ‘Top Gear’ recently called it ‘the greatest road in the world’. The road was constructed between 1970 and 1974 during the rule of Ceausescu, to provide quick military access across the mountains in the event of a Soviet invasion.
Athenee Palace Hilton
13/09/2018 Bucharest (BLD)
Bucharest, Romania’s largest city and capital, is today a bustling metropolis, known for its glorious Belle Époque buildings and a reputation for the high life. We visit the most important sights of the capital including the Triumph Arch and the gigantic Palace of the Parliament. We also visit Revolution Square, which gained worldwide notoriety when TV stations around the globe broadcast Nicolae Ceausescu’s final moments in power on December 21, 1989. It was here, at the balcony of the former Communist Party headquarters, that Ceausescu stared in disbelief as the people who had gathered in the square below turned on him. In the afternoon we walk through the fascinating Old District of the city.
14/09/2018 Bucharest – Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) (BLD)
Heading south towards the border of Romania and Bulgaria, we cross the Danube by the impressive Friendship Bridge that divides the two countries. By lunchtime we reach the former capital of the Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tarnovo, one of the most ancient towns in Bulgaria. Strolling through the Samovodska marketplace we see pastry cooks, master goldsmiths, potters and carvers pursuing their crafts as they have in centuries past. In the afternoon we visit the nearby village of Arbanassi, a mass of stone houses and red tile roofs.
Yantra Grand Hotel
15/09/2018 Veliko Tarnovo – Etara – Plovdiv (BLD)
Soon after leaving Veliko Tarnovo we arrive at Etara village, an open-air museum, where master-craftsmen fashion beautiful gold, silver, copper, leather and wooden articles right before our eyes. The aroma of freshly baked bread drifts across from an old bakery and a tiny coffee shop serves sweet Turkish coffee cooked in a copper pot. This open-air exhibition contains nearly 50 shops and workshops and the village has been designed in a style typical of the Bulgarian National Revival period (18th and 19th centuries). Leaving Etara, we climb through the mountains and into the magnificent Valley of the Roses, arriving in Plovdiv by late afternoon.
16/09/2018 Plovdiv (BLD)
One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, Old Plovdiv is quite simply, a living museum. It is an architectural phenomenon and many of the houses of prominent Bulgarians of former times have been turned into museums that stand beside the houses of active residents of the old quarter. A contemporary of Troy, Plovdiv today is a modern city with an ancient spirit and charm emanating from its illustrious past. We explore the fascinating sights of the Old Town, including the ancient Roman amphitheatre which dates back to the 2nd century AD.
17/09/2018 Plovdiv – Sofia (BLD)
This morning we continue to explore the delightful Old City of Plovdiv. After lunch we board our coach and head west on the three-hour drive to the capital Sofia. On arrival we check into our hotel, and later enjoy dinner in a local restaurant.
18/09/2018 Sofia (BLD)
Today we start to explore Sofia which, like Plovdiv, is one of the ancient European cities. Because of its location, Sofia has always been on the crossroads of eastern and western international routes. The city was named in the 14th century after St Sofia Church. Today numerous archaeological, cultural and historical monuments from its rich Thracian, Byzantine, Roman, Slav and Turkish history have been preserved among modern edifices. This blend of the new and old adds a charming quality to the capital.
19/09/2018 Sofia – Dubai (B)
This morning is at leisure to continue exploring Sofia. After lunch we transfer to the airport for our flight to Australia via Dubai.
Depart Sofia Emirates EK 2229, 16.10
Arrive Dubai 22.00
20/09/2018 Dubai – Australia
In Dubai we connect with the flight to our chosen Australian city.
Is it safe to visit Kiev and western Ukraine?
Ukraine is a big country and the places we visit are in the western part of the country, around a thousand kilometres from the Russian border in the east. Even the capital, Kiev, is 500kms from the eastern border and 900km from Crimea. The places we visit are operating normally, as indeed they always have, and there are no safety concerns apart from the normal precautions you would take when travelling anywhere.
How long is the flight from Australia to Kiev?
Total flying time to Dubai is between 11 and 15 hours, depending on your Australian capital city of departure. Flight time from Dubai to Kiev is 5 hours.
If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?
If you do not want to share a hotel room with another person in the group, you will have to pay the single supplement. However, if you are willing to share we will team you up with another passenger of the same sex and similar age in the hotels. If a match-up is not possible, we will upgrade you at our expense.
How much is a single supplement in the hotels?
The cost of a single supplement in the hotel is $2,930.
Are there dining cars on the trains we take in Ukraine?
There are no dining cars on these trains. Meals will be provided prior to boarding the trains.
What are the average temperatures along the route?
The weather is very pleasant in August. Average temperatures are: Kiev 21C. Odessa 21C. Moldova 23C. Romania 24C.
What is the best currency to take on this journey?
The best currency is Euros, in small denominations. ie 100, 50, 20, 10s.
How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?
Because almost everything is included, we would suggest an amount of 900 Euros per person as being ample for the whole month-long journey.
Are credit cards acceptable?
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the journey and ATMs are available along the entire route. However it is not recommended to rely on these as your main source of funds.
Do I need vaccinations for this journey?
No vaccinations are mandatory on this route but we would recommend you seek advice from your doctor. Tetanus should certainly be up to date.
Can I extend my stay in Istanbul at the end of the tour?
Yes, it is possible to stay on in Istanbul after the group departs. Our consultants will be happy to make the arrangements for you. If you wish to take up this option, all arrangements must be confirmed before leaving Australia.
Do I need any visas for this tour?
Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa for Ukraine, which is obtained by our office before departure. A Moldovan visa is also required. This comes in the form of a group visa. European passport holders do not require any visas for this tour.
A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?
We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore, practically everything is included in the tour cost.
Is the water safe to drink en-route and what is the general standard of hygiene?
We err on the side of caution on all of our tours and advise travellers to drink only bottled water. This is easy to obtain everywhere. The standard of hygiene is high along the entire route.
What is the standard of the hotels?
The hotels are generally 3 to 5-star quality, comfortable, clean and all with en-suites. Many of the hotels we use in Romania are unique boutique properties located in the centre of the cities or towns.
Are there internet facilities en-route?
Most of the hotels we use have internet facilities. There are also many internet cafes in the near vicinity of the hotels offering even cheaper access.
Do mobile telephones work?
Telstra and Optus mobiles work throughout the entire journey. You will need to ensure you have global roaming. Contact your service provider for further details.
How much should we tip the guides and porters?
There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tips and gratuities are included in the tour cost.
Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.
Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust
Taras Shevchenko; A life
What they Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past
Dracula: Prince of Many Faces
Red Horizon: Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu
Ion Mihai Pacepa
In Search of Dracula
Todor Zhivkov: Statesman and Builder