Turkey is an intriguing country with a unique identity straddling both Europe and Asia. In a place where familiarity merges with the exotic, we find a magical blend of the ancient, Christian and Ottoman worlds.
One of the greatest pleasures of visiting this diverse country is to meet the Turks themselves, a wonderfully, welcoming people with a well-deserved reputation for friendliness. Genuine hospitality has been refined to an art-form here with even the smallest transaction often being accompanied by a cup of refreshing apple tea.
We see the very best of Cappadocia and Anatolia, including the unique underground city of Kaymakli and the amazingly shaped rocks of Monks Valley and Goreme where early Christian buildings are carved into the mesmerising rock formations themselves. The unique 30 million-year-old volcanic scenery in Cappadocia is utterly striking with a variety of rocks eroding at different rates creating valleys of contorted shapes probably unmatched anywhere in the world.
Following the ancient Silk Road, with its astonishing sense of history, we visit the Sultanhani Caravanserai and the historic home of the Whirling Dervishes in Konya and staying in the brilliant white wonderland of Pamukkale, with its extraordinary mineral-rich pools and falls. We also discover Aphrodisias, the delightfully ancient city of Aphrodite - the Greek goddess of love with its outstanding relics.
We discover Ankara, today's capital where the wealth of history underpinning the emergence of Turkey as a nation is clearly encapsulated in the Anatolian Civilizations Museum and where the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, lies in his Mausoleum. We visit three of the most famous ancient sites in the country: Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus. Each one is very different, with Troy being the oldest, dating from 3,000BC. Pergamon, once a Greek colony, has amazing views in all directions and flourished as one of the ancient world's greatest centres of learning and healing. During Roman times, the greatest city in the eastern Mediterranean was Ephesus, boasting an extraordinary number of superbly preserved monuments.
The jewel in the crown is the incredible city of Istanbul. A city of great diversity, it's a combination of tree-lined boulevards, cafes and cosmopolitan restaurants set against a backdrop where little else has changed for centuries. You still see the thriving street market-stalls, groaning with immense displays of produce and even live poultry for sale, with noise and atmosphere in abundance.
Turkish cuisine is an interesting blend of Mediterranean specialities: lots of freshly grilled lamb, fish and shellfish combine with aubergines, peppers and various fragrant olive oils, to create tasty, healthy menus all washed down with the excellent local and very reasonably priced red wine.
Turkey is the perfect place if you are looking for something a little different - a genuinely unique blend of diverse cultures, centuries of history and an atmosphere which links the mysterious east and modern west.
Fly to Ankara via Istanbul staying overnight at the five-star Mövenpick Ankara Hotel with dinner.
Morning Today we head straight to the Anatolian Civilisations Museum for a guided tour. We will learn about the ancient history of Anatolia, the migration of humans from Africa and the subsequent societies that evolved. From the Stone Age came some of the first actual societies, like the remarkable Hittites who discovered iron making, invented the wheel, signed the world’s first written peace treaty and had laws and social systems we could recognise. We then enjoy a guided tour of the Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk. He was commander of the Turkish forces at Gallipoli. Known to be a national hero, he “founded” modern day Turkey in the 1920s. After the guided tour, you have some free time to explore as you wish. Afternoon We begin our journey to Cappadocia, stopping for lunch along the way. We drive alongside Tuz Golu, one of the world’s largest salt lakes, entering our destination and one of the planet’s most unique landscapes, a remarkably fertile volcanic plateau eroded into bizarrely contorted shapes. We stay two nights with dinner at the four-star Best Western Premier Hotel.
The Cappadocia region is incredibly rich in amazing natural phenomena and extraordinary settlements built by its resourceful peoples throughout the ages. Its history is unparalleled; it was once the land of the Hittites, then the Lydians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Turks and then the Mongols. Their remarkable legacies are astonishing. To survive periodic marauding invasions, entire cities were built underground here, some boasted a staggering 3,000 inhabitants. This morning we visit the underground city of Kaymakli, which had eight levels. We have free time to wander around and you’ll be amazed by the rooms, passages and recesses; ranging from stables, wine presses and kitchens even a church and a copper smelter. Then we visit nearby Pasabaglari where over the millennia, weathered rocks have formed almost unbelievable shapes capped with mushroom-like pinnacles. Some of these resulting “Fairy Chimney” rock pillars have been hollowed out by monks who distanced themselves from the outside world. Perhaps the highlight of the day is our visit to Goreme. This vast monastic complex boasts some of the finest rock cut churches and exquisite frescoes and is particularly noted for the surprising freshness of their original 10th-century colours. This is Byzantine art at its most astonishing, cleverly utilising the rock’s rugged surface to highlight shadow. We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
Morning We start the day with a visit to the pottery making village of Avanos and see a demonstration of the potter’s art before beginning our journey south-west to Konya. Leaving Cappadocia’s hills you can really appreciate the wide-open vistas of the Anatolian Plateau. Seemingly unremarkable today, this is the ancient Silk Road from the east. Afternoon After our lunch stop, we continue the journey and soon reach the great Caravanserai of Sultanhani, one of the Seljuk caravanserais – essentially camel “truck stops” – used by travellers since earliest times. Rebuilt many times during its turbulent history, the current 13th-century complex is probably the finest and best preserved, noted for its magnificent portal and the elegant simplicity of its massive walls. Exploring the great courtyard and surrounding rooms, it’s not hard to imagine the relief with which weary camel trains and their minders would rest here before continuing their epic journeys. We have a guided tour here and enjoy some free time to explore before continuing our journey. On arrival in Konya we visit the Mevlâna Museum, the Mausoleum of Rumi, one of Islam’s greatest philosophers. Renowned for its green dome, it is sacred to the Muslim order of Mevlevi, sometimes called the Whirling Dervishes, and remains a site of pilgrimage today. We stay for one night with dinner at the four-star Hotel Novotel.
Today we drive to Pamukkale, passing great lakes and dramatic mountain scenery along the way. On arrival we take a guided tour of the thermal pools and enjoy some free time to explore the ancient city of Heirapolis. Pamukkale – Turkish for “cotton castle” – holds one of the world’s most extraordinary phenomena. By a freak of nature, calcium carbonate has been deposited by the evaporation of mineral-rich springs, causing water to slowly drip down the mountainside, collecting in shallow terraces and spilling over cascades of travertine stalactites into thermal pools. Over the millennia, it has created a shimmering, brilliant-white scene that really is something special to behold. There’s also the ruined city-spa of Hierapolis, where emperors bathed two millennia ago. We stay at the four-star Colossae Thermal Hotel, near Pamukkale, for one night with dinner.
Morning This morning we visit another momentous site in civilisation’s history, the enticingly named Aphrodisias, for a guided tour. As significant as Ephesus, this is one of Turkey’s finest archaeological sites, yet much remains undiscovered. Evidence suggests Neolithic farmers worshipped the Mother Goddess of Fertility here 7,000 years ago. Our tour explores Greek and Roman remains and their legends, immersing us in those societies’ passion for passion. Pre-eminent amongst the ruins is of course the great Temple of Aphrodite, subsequently transformed into a Christian basilica, and one of the most intact stadiums in the ancient world. Afternoon After lunch, we travel towards the azure-blue Mediterranean and Kusadasi. We stay at the four-star Hotel Korumar for two nights with dinner.
Morning Today we have a guided tour of Ephesus, an ancient city with breathtaking buildings. So great was Ephesus, with its amazing two-storey Library of Celsus and the enormous amphitheatre, that the Romans made it their capital of Asia. We’ll see the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the original ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’. Intriguingly, only a fraction of the city has been excavated to date, but the discoveries indicate a highly sophisticated society living in luxurious houses with marble-lined halls, mosaics and beautiful frescoes. Strolling through the centre of Ephesus, you’ll be walking the same streets as St Paul and St John, who both lived here for several years. We also discover the remains of St John’s Basilica, built by the Emperor Justinian over St John’s tomb. Afternoon In complete contrast, we visit the hillside site of the House of the Virgin Mary. St John was entrusted to care for her, and it’s believed she travelled with him to Ephesus. We return to our hotel in Kusadasi in the late afternoon, and the rest of the day at leisure.
Morning Departing Kusadasi, we follow the coast towards the ancient Hellenistic city of Pergamon, where we have a guided tour. Perched on a high rocky outcrop, with stunning views for miles around, the city was famed for its library, so concerned were the Egyptians about this competition that they cut off supplies of papyrus to Pergamon, thus prompting the invention of parchment. We’ll see the remains of the Temple of Trajan, the altar of Zeus and the world’s steepest ancient amphitheatre. Afternoon We continue our journey along the scenic coastline to Canakkale. We stay for one night at the four-star Kolin Hotel, overlooking the Dardanelles, with dinner.
Morning A fascinating day of contrasts awaits today. Firstly, there’s free time in Troy, famous for the ‘wooden horse’ story, when Queen Helen of Sparta eloped with Prince Paris to Troy and her enraged husband followed seeking her return. Today, Troy is a complex archaeological site that spans nine separate cities. It nevertheless remains a romantic and alluring place to anyone who has read about the heroic struggles recounted in Homer’s Iliad. We then take a short ferry cruise from Asia to Europe over the extremely scenic, steep-sided Dardanelles, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, to the Gallipoli peninsula. This was made famous during the First World War as the scene of one of the greatest and most tragic campaigns of the conflict. Afternoon We visit the Lone Pine memorial and Anzac Cove, where the Australians mistakenly landed and were forced to scale steep cliffs and ravines under constant bombardment. After some free time here, we continue our journey through this refreshingly picturesque landscape to Istanbul. We stay at the superbly located four-star Armada Old City Hotel for three nights, with breakfast.
Morning This morning, we enjoy a comprehensive guided tour of the breathtaking Hagia Sophia, one of the city’s best landmarks and quite simply one of the world’s greatest architectural achievements. Built in the 6th century, it was the largest enclosed space in the world for 1,400 years. The artistic highlights are the amazing Byzantine mosaics that seem to cover every wall with their vibrant golds, reds and yellows, plus the stunning blue ceramics so typical of the East after it was converted to a mosque some thousand years later. The marble that lines the walls has to be seen to be believed, with each piece specially quarried so the grain blends in a most harmonious manner. Afternoon We have a guided walk of Istanbul and experience the sights and sounds of this magnificent city. There are few places where you’ll find such a diverse array of monuments and fascinating places to visit. We’ll see the immense and beautifully preserved city walls, still dominant after a thousand years, and the remains of the Hippodrome, where the emperors entertained a staggering 50,000 people. For thousands of years, Istanbul sat at the centre of the overland trade routes, and its Grand Bazaar became home to merchants from all over the known world. Today, more than 4,000 shops sell all types of goods, mainly gold, silver, leatherwear, ceramics and carpets, including fine collectors’ items.
Morning We start the day with a guided tour of the Topkapi Palace, the glittering and labyrinthine imperial residence of the sultans for over 400 years. Today, it is a spectacular museum, but in its heyday, it functioned as a city within a city, a home to over 4,000 guards, eunuchs, courtiers and the ladies of the harem. There is a superb display of weapons from throughout history: crossbows, firearms inlaid with ivory and beautifully crafted armour from as far afield as Japan. The treasury is breathtaking too, with an amazing display of jewellery including the world’s fifth-largest diamond, emeralds, jewel-encrusted thrones and the famous Topkapi. Afternoon Next, we have a short walk around the Spice Bazaar, where your senses are bombarded by the vibrant colours and fragrant smells of herbs and spices from around the world: high-quality saffron from Iran; vanilla from Madagascar; turmeric from India; fresh peppercorns from Indonesia and much more. This entire area encapsulates the spirit of old Istanbul: a maze of tiny busy streets, where the locals chat over apple tea from numerous street vendors, as the commanding horns of the passenger ferries resound under the famous Galata Bridge. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
Today at the appropriate time, the coach will transfer you to the airport to take your return flight, after a most fascinating tour.
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