Absolute Turkey: Winter
Day 1 Istanbul
You can arrive at any time on Day 1 as there are no activities planned. Today is a good day to explore the Aya Sofya as it's closed on Mondays. There will be a welcome meeting in the evening where you will meet your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and fellow group members. After the meeting, you may choose to join your leader and group for an optional dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 2 Istanbul/Ankara (1B)
We begin our day with an orientation tour of Istanbul on foot, with your CEO. During this tour we will point out attractions such as the Aya Sofya and the Topkapi Palace, which you will want to return to and explore during your free time, as well as visiting and hearing the stories behind many of Istanbul’s sights and discovering some of your leader's hidden city secrets. Our walk will include a wander through the atmospheric Spice Bazaar. Built in 1660, and also known as the Egyptian Bazaar as this is where many of the spices were originally imported. This market was, and is the centre of Istanbul's spice trade. We head downhill to the Bosphorus. The many local ferries departing from here are a great way to see the city from the water, on the cheap! The newly renovated Galata Bridge which has a great view of Golden Horn and Bosphorus houses many bars. Why not grabbing a cold beer while enjoying this view! Walking back towards the Sultanahmet area, your CEO will point out the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultans and their harems, as well as the fascinating Archaeological and Ancient Oriental Museums located in a nearby park. Once in Sutanahmet Park, your leader will explain a little of the tumultuous history behind the Aya Sofya – we recommend a visit during your free time. We explore the fabulous Blue Mosque, admiring the beautiful symmetry and internal tile work of the building. As it is a working mosque, take the chance to learn more about the ceremony behind Islam, the religion of around 98% of today's Turks. In front of the Blue Mosque, the ancient Hippodrome was once the scene of chariot races and now houses monuments from various moments in Istanbul’s history. Although there is little sign of it now, Divan Yolu was once famous amongst travellers on the 70’s Hippy Trail for its western food and relaxed atmosphere. En route, your CEO will point out a couple of hamams, or Turkish baths- an unmissable Turkish experience for any visitor. Passing by various graveyards, mosques and tea houses, our path leads uphill to Istanbul’s grandest mosque complex and hilltop landmark, the Suleymaniye Camii. Learn more about the famous Sultan who is buried here, as well as the master architect who designed these beautiful buildings almost 500 years ago. There are many traditionally dressed sellers in this area touting refreshing glasses of sherbet for just a few cents- worth a try on a hot day. Transfer to Ankara for the evening. Approx travel time: Istanbul to Ankara, 6 hours
Days 3-5 Cappadocia (3B,1D)
In the morning we visit Anitkabir, the monumental tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of republic of Turkey. Then we transfer by private vehicle from Ankara to the town of Goreme, our base for exploring Cappadocia, where there will be plenty of free time for exploration. Included visit to the Goreme Open Air Museum, a complex of medieval painted cave churches carved out by Orthodox monks. There are more than 10 caves to visit, with many of the churches up to 1000 years old and still retaining amazing colour and vibrancy. You can hire a bike to explore around. There are also local buses from town to town if you would like to see other villages of this region. One of the best ways to explore Cappadocia is on foot. You can join an optional trekking tour through one of the beautiful valleys guided by your CEO to explore old houses, churches, pigeon holes and orchards, all blessed with stunning views over the surrounding countryside. Ask your CEO about the many other walking and hiking options available in the area. While here, there will be the chance to visit a local pottery centre where you can take the opportunity to create your own masterpiece, as well as a carpet demonstration, to learn more about the process involved in making these Turkish works of art. During one of your evenings here, we will travel to a village and have dinner with a local family. While enjoying the home made menu, with dishes which change according to the food in season, take the chance to ask our friendly hosts all about life in rural Cappadocia. Approx travel time: Ankara to Göreme, 5 hours
Day 6 Konya/Village homestay (1B,1D)
A busy day today as we depart Göreme early and head an underground city. First built by the Phrygians in the eighth–seventh centuries BC, the underground cities were most famously used as the hiding places for the first Christians who were escaping from the persecution of the Roman Empire between the fifth and tenth centuries AD. See how people transferred their surface lives to this underground world. There are cellars, rooms for food storage, kitchens, churches, stables, wine or oil presses, and shafts for ventilation. There are around 30 underground cities in the region. We are going to visit one sample of those today. After a quick lunch, we make our way to the city of Konya. Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Turks, and is home to some of the best Seljuk architecture in the country. Wander the streets and enjoy these beautiful and historic buildings. It was also here in the thirteenth century that the poet, Mevlana Rumi, founded the mystic Islamic sect known as the whirling dervishes. Consider visiting the museum, dedicated to Mevlana Rumi. As well as finding out more about the history of the dervishes, it is a fascinating place to people watch, continuously flooded with faithful pilgrims coming to pay homage. In the afternoon, we travel one hour to a local village. On the way, we stop at Catalhoyuk, this uniquely well preserved Neolithic site has recently been established as a Unesco World Heritage site. Explore the area and note there are no streets and houses are closely clustered with roof top access for travel. Witness the cultural evolution from the first settlers in 7500 BC, to the remnants of the urban centre that we see today. Here we will learn about local life and enjoy a home cooked dinner in our village homestay. Accommodations are very simple - mattresses on the floor of the family's living room - and include shared bathroom facilities but there is no better chance to learn about local Turkish life. All bedding is supplied for our overnight stay. Overnight in village homestay with simple accommodation. Approx travel times: Goreme to Underground city site, 30mins; Underground city to Konya, 2,5hrs, Konya to village stay, approx 1 hour.
Day 7-8 Antalya (2B)
Today is an relatively early start (8am) as we travel by private vehicle directly to the city of Antalya. Arriving around lunchtime, spend your time wandering the charming cobbled hillside streets of the district of Kaleici. This is a great place to stop and have a drink at one of the restaurants with great views of the marina below. Those searching for a little culture may want to check out the Antalya Museum, offering some great reconstructions of life under the Ottoman Empire. For a break from the hustle and bustle why not head for the greenery and teashops of one of Antalya's beautiful parks. Those that love the sun may want to head to one of the nearby beaches. Approx travel time: Village stay to Antalya, 5hrs
Days 9 Pamukkale (1B)
Time to leave sea level behind. as passing through fruit orchards we make our way from to Pamukkale. In the afternoon, we'll visit the famous white cliffs of Pamukkale. 2700m long and 160m high, visible from up to 20kms away, Pamukkale is made up of 17 hot water springs in which the temperature varies between 35 and 100 degrees. The white cliffs, or travertine are formed when the calcium carbonate, which is deposited at first as a soft jelly, hardens with time. We also explore the ancient site of Hierapolis built on top of the white "castle". This UNESCO world heritage site is evidence that the hot springs of Pamukkale were used as a spa since the second century BC, and there are large, ancient baths within the city.
Days 10-11 Selçuk (2B)
Today we travel to the town of Selçuk. In the afternoon visit the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Ephesus. One of the foremost cities of the world in its time, with a strategic location on the trade route, this well preserved city is one of the best places in the world to get a real feeling of what life must have been like during Roman times. The massive, well-preserved theatre dominates the view down Harbour Street, which leads to the long-silted-up harbour. On Day 11, there will be some free time to walk up to the remains of St John's Basilica, visit the mosque of Isa Bey or just wander the streets and cafes of this vibrant Turkish town. Catch a local “dolmus” bus 8kms to the picturesque village of sirence where you can sample some of the local wine or shop for crafts. Late in the afternoon we drive to Kirazli village for a local cooking class. Our host will teach us some Turkish dishes which we'll eat at the end of the class. Approx travel time: Pamukkale to Selçuk, 3hrs
Day 12 Ayvalik (1B)
You’ll be charmed by Ayvalik’s blend of old Ottoman architecture, cobbled streets and attractive harbour. If you are itching to get back into the turquoise sea, the beach of Sarimsakli is only a short bus ride away. After you have finished exploring, head down to one of the waterside restaurants for a sunset drink or meal. Enjoy the hospitality and beautiful views from our family-run pension. Located in a restored Ottoman house, it is always a highlight for our travellers. Please note that this accommodation has shared bathroom facilities and some rooms may be multi-share. Approx travel time: Selçuk to Ayvalik, 2.5hrs
Day 13 Troy/Çanakkale (1B)
On our way to the city of Çanakkale, our base for the night, we pay a visit to the world famous Troy. Troy was first made famous by the Iliad, Homer's epic poem, and more recently by Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt in the film of the same name! For centuries this story in the Iliad, was regarded as just a myth, until the ruins of the city were found in in the mid-nineteenth century. While today not too much remains, it is possible, with a bit of imagination to get a feel for what a great city this must once have been. Of course you won’t want to miss your chance to have your photo taken with the Trojan horse! We continue a further 32km to the harbour town of Çanakkale, a busy port with a thriving student population. Join the crowds as they stroll the waterfront nightly, seeing and being seen. Approx travel time: Ayvalik to Troy, 2.5hrs; Troy to Çanakkale, 40mins
Day 14 Gallipoli/Istanbul (1B)
This morning we make an early morning visit to Gallipoli, where thousands gave their lives during WWI in the battle of the same name. Here the Turks fought off the numerically superior but badly commanded Allied forces who were forced to withdraw nine months later. We will visit ANZAC Cove, the war cemeteries, Lone Pine and other important sites. Even for those who are not familiar with this battle, this is a moving and beautiful site, completing any trip to Turkey. We'll continue our journey to Istanbul where there will be the opportunity to continue your sightseeing or get in some last minute shopping. Why not top off a wonderful adventure with dinner at one of Istanbul's atmospheric restaurants. Approx travel time: Çanakkale to Gallipoli, 20mins (ferry) + 20mins (bus); Gallipoli to Istanbul, 5hrs
Day 15 Istanbul (1B)
You are free to depart at any time today. Please note that check-out time from the hotel is normally mid-morning, but luggage storage facilities are available. We are able to organise extra post-trip accommodation if you wish to extend your stay for a few more days. Please ask at the time of booking.