You are free to arrive in Istanbul at any time. Please note that check in time is approximately 2pm, but the hotel will be happy to store luggage if you arrive early. There are no planned activities today, until the evening when you will meet your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and fellow group members for a welcome meeting. Check the notice board for a message from your CEO or ask at the hotel reception for the exact time and location of this group meeting. Today is a good day to explore the Grand Bazaar, as it's closed on Sundays.
Fly to Kars. Located near the Armenian border, the city of Kars offers a mixture of cultures and a wealth of stone structures and colourful houses. Enjoy a visit to Ani, once the capital of the Armenian kingdom, the city was renowned for its sizeable population and variety of religious structures. Located at the crossroads of many important trade routes, when the medieval city was flourishing the buildings were some of the most complex and beautiful around. Currently, hundreds of churches lie in ruin as the abandoned city creates a dramatic backdrop for the landscape. Approx travel time:
Enjoy a visit the incredible Ishak Pasha Palace. Perched high on a cliff, this half-ruined fortified palace is the place Arabian tales are made of. Explore the many bedrooms of the harem, the ornate dining room and even the palace toilet, while enjoying stunning views over the plains below and onwards to Mt Ararat. The afternoon is free for you to explore this dusty but interesting frontier town. You might want to visit the women's co-op for a local lunch or perhaps purchase one of this region's beautiful carpets before continuing on to Van for the night. Lake Van is a vast inland sea that is the biggest in Turkey. Approx travel time: Kars to Van, 6 hours
The beautiful and ancient hill-top town of Mardin is a real treasure. Explore streets of carved stone houses and bazaars scattered with picturesque mosques. Stand in awe as the remains of an imposing castle tower above you. Visit one of the most beautiful post offices in the world, it used to be a family mansion! Wander the atmospheric old bazaar where you can see many traditional craftsmen at work. Pick yourself up some locally made soap and see if you can spot Shahmeran, Queen of the Snakes. Her portrait is traditionally hung on walls inside houses in Mardin to bring good luck and fertility to the occupants. The local baklava is reputably some of the best in Turkey, make sure to try some at an outdoor teashops with stunning views over the border and into the plains of Syria. On the morning of Day 5, visit the Deyrül Zaferan Monastery, which is still used by local Syrian Christian community. Founded in 493AD on the site of an older temple whose remains are still visible, this beautiful and important building was the home of the Head of the Syrian Orthodox church until the 1920s. Mardin is a great place to experience a local hammam, or Turkish communal bathhouse. Take along your towel, soap and shampoo and enjoy a scrub like no other. The friendly locals will show you the correct protocol. Make sure you check the hours as the bathhouses are strictly segregated, usually being used by men in the morning and evenings, and women in the afternoons. In the evening, why not take the chance to enjoy the local cuisine in an beautifully restored caravanserai, an ancient inn for traders and their animals. Please note, our hotel in Mardin is in new Mardin town (about 1km from the centre) Old Mardin town is ancient, and does not have hotels large enough to accommodate groups. The local bus (dolmus) into town passes right outside our hotel, cost only around one Turkish lira, and will drop you right in the centre of the action and safely back to the hotel again. Your CEO will show you the correct bus number to take. Approx travel time: Van to Mardin, 6 hours
Travel to Kahta, the small town which is our base for exploring Nemrut Mountain and the area surrounding it. Our first stop is the Karakus Tumulus. While It is common that males of the royal family have their tombs in their ancient capital city, the funerary mounds found on top of Mount Nemrut are believed to be the burial monuments for the royal women. Pass the Severan Bridge, which at 34.2m is the second largest arched bridge ever achieved by the Romans and is still in very impressive shape for being 2,000 years old. Also en route are the ruins of Arsameia, once the capital of the ancient Commagene kingdom whose rulers built the giant temple and tomb at the top of Mount Nemrut. Nemrut Dagi is simply one of the must-see attractions in Turkey. Upon reaching the carpark, it is around a 15-20 minutes walk up to the mountain summit. Learn about the fascinating history behind this site, basically one man's celebration of himself, before watching the sun set among the giant fallen heads of 2,000 year-old statues. A simply unforgettable experience. Approx travel time: Mardin to Mount Nemrut, 5 hours Approx travel time: Mount Nemrut to Kahta, 3 hours
A world away from Istanbul, exotic Sanli Urfa gives you the chance to experience some true Middle Eastern flavour. Begin the day with a visit to Harran, famous for its unique beehive houses. Constructed entirely without wood or nails, they are designed to be cool in summer and warm in winter. It must be a winning recipe as they have been built using the same design for at least 3,000 years. Some were still in use as dwellings until the 1980s, but now most of Harran's population lives in a newly built village nearby. After returning to Sanli Urfa we head to Golbasi Park. After exploring the surrounding mosque complex, enter the cave that is thought to be the birthplace of biblical Abraham before joining the many pilgrims at the pond below in feeding the sacred fish, which are believed to have helped save Abraham from death later in his life. Later, explore the town’s fascinating covered bazaars, taking the chance to enjoy a glass of sweet tea and perhaps a game of backgammon in a local tea house. At night don't miss the chance to try the local specialties, the spicy Urfa kebab and lahmacun, which resembles a thin crust pizza topped with spicy ground meat. Approx travel time: Kahta to Sanli Urfa, 4 hours
Fly to Istanbul. Please do not book any onward travel until after 5pm to allow for possible delays. We are able to organize extra post-trip accommodation if you wish to extend your stay for a few more days. Please ask at the time of booking.