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.
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 now houses many bars and restaurants, and is a great place to grab the traditional Turkish fisherman's lunch of fresh, fried fish in a roll washed down with a cold beer. Walking back towards the Sultanahmet area, your leader 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 CEO 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 Lu 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
After alighting our train, we transfer by private vehicle from Ankara to the town of Goreme, our base for exploring Cappadocia, where we will have plenty of free time for exploration. Why not visit 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, many of the churches are up to 1000 years old and still retain amazing colour and vibrancy. Hire a bike or catch a local bus and explore some of the other villages in the area. The village of Mustafapasa, is a popular choice. Many of the houses date back to the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries and display fine examples of stonework. One of the best ways to explore Cappadocia is on foot. Take the two hour trek through the beautiful Pigeon Valley, named for its many dovecotes. Explore old houses, churches and orchards, all blessed with stunning views over the surrounding countryside. The walk finishes in the town of Uçhisar, which is well worth exploring. Its natural castle like fortress is riddled with man-made cave homes and dovecotes and dominates the skyline of Cappadocia. This is a great place to take a lunch break in one of the many restaurants before catching a local bus back to Goreme. During one of your evenings here, we will travel to a local 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. Please note if you have pre-booked the Cappadocia Balloon Ride, you will be flying on Day 4. Overnight in Goreme (3 nights). Approx travel time: Ankara to Goreme, 5hrs
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. The underground city, which covers eight levels and extends to a depth of 85m, was large enough to shelter thousands of people together with their livestock and food stores. Part of its mystery is that what you see is only one tenth of the city’s actual size. After our visit, we continue our journey to the beautiful Ihlara Valley. The Ihlara valley is a canyon with cliff-like walls 100-150m high and was created long ago when the Melendiz River eroded into the region’s porous volcanic rock. The valley proved to be an ideal place for the seclusion and worship of monks, and a hideaway and defense area for people during times of invasion. The churches in the valley were decorated between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. We will have time to wander the valley exploring the numerous dwellings, churches and graves built into the valley walls, some of which are connected by tunnels and corridors, all set in a spectacular riverside, canyon setting. 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 will stop at a rare traditional wooden mosque dating from the 13 century where we are lucky enough to have the local immam perform the call to prayer for us. This is a great chance to learn more about this and another Islamic religious traditions. Here we will learn about local life and enjoy a home cooked dinner in our village home. 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 with simple accommodation. Approx travel times: Goreme to Underground city site, 30mins; Underground city site to Ihlara, 50mins; Ihlara to Konya, 3hrs, Konya to village stay, approx 1 hour.
Wander 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, which offers 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 parks. Overnight in Antalya Approx travel time: Konya to Antalya, 5hrs
Our day begins with a visit to Chimaera, where we view the mysterious eternal flames that naturally spring from the rocks in this area. Continuing on to the beautiful coastal village of Uçagiz where after lunch, we board our boat for an unforgettable night on the sea. On board, the facilities are very basic. We sleep on deck under the stars, with mattresses and full bedding, which are provided. There is a toilet and an open air shower on board. Dinner tonight is included and cold drinks are available for purchase and we do ask that no external drinks are brought onboard. This really is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the crystal waters Turkey is famous for! Sleeping on the boat is seasonal from May to October and even during these months, will still be dependent on weather conditions. In other months, you will stay in a guesthouse at Uchagiz, but still spend a full day on a boat excursion on Day 9. Overnight on the top deck of a boat/pension (depending on season).
After waking up on board and enjoying breakfast in the fresh air, we begin our full day boat excursion. We'll travel around Kekova Island by boat, allowing us to enjoy the sunshine and scenery and later walk up to the Simena Castle to enjoy the views and archaeological ruins. Spend your time swimming in the crystal water and relaxing on deck. We return to Ucagiz to board our private bus and make our way to the coastal town of Kas where we spend this evening. You’ll be charmed by the cobbled streets and white washed buildings of pretty Kas. Spend time wandering the many small antiques stores, or enjoying a coffee and cake at one of the stylish cafes. Afterwards head down to the picturesque harbour. While there is no beach as such, buying a drink at one of the many seaside cafes entitles you to a deck chair and direct access to the turquoise water. In the evening, pick one of the many attractive outdoor restaurants for a meal of local seafood specialties. Approx travel time: Ucagiz to Kas, 40mins
Today we make our way from Kas 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 is evidence of large baths within the city. Overnight in Pamukkale. Approx travel time: Kas to Pamukkale, 5hrs
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. The impressive two storey library, whose façade has been carefully reconstructed from all original pieces, was built in 125 AD and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. There is even a chance to see 2000 year old public toilets! Once part of Ephesus but now the outskirts of Selçuk are the remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. Today only one column remains of this ancient structure. After our visit, we return to town where you can use your free time to visit the small but exquisite Ephesus Museum, walk up the the remains of the town's hilltop castle or just wander the streets and cafes of this vibrant Turkish town. Catch a local “dolmus” bus 7km to the picturesque village of Sirince where you can sample some of the local wine or shop for crafts. The beach at Kusadasi is also within reach for the dedicated sunseekers. Overnight in Selçuk. Approx travel time: Pamukkale to Selçuk, 3hrs
You’ll be charmed by Ayvalik’s blend of old Ottoman architecture, cobbled streets and attractive harbour. For those who cannot get enough of life at sea, it may also be possible to charter a boat from the harbour for a short cruise. Be sure to set the price before departure and check if it is per person or per boat. 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. Overnight in Ayvalik. Approx travel time: Selçuk to Ayvalik, 2.5hrs
On our way to the city of Çanakkale, our base for the night, we pay a visit to the world famous Troy. Troy was made famous first 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. Overnight in Çanakkale. Approx travel time: Ayvalik to Troy, 2.5hrs; Troy to Çanakkale, 40mins
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. Overnight in Istanbul. Approx travel time: Çanakkale to Gallipoli, 20mins (ferry) + 20mins (bus); Gallipoli to Istanbul, 5hrs Please note, as this is a combination trip, this evening you will attend a welcome briefing for the Eastern Turkey section of your tour. Please note your tour leader and group composition may change for the upcoming sector.
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 18, 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.