Our trip begins in Istanbul. As Constantinople, the city was the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, so today it is steeped in history and fascinating architecture. Geographically, the city straddles Europe and Asia and because of this, it was an important stop on the old Silk Road and a melting pot of different cultures which is demonstrated in its gastronomy. Turkish food is a hearty mix of Middle Eastern, Asian and Balkan style dishes that range from barbecued meat kebabs to vine leaf wrapped vegetable and rice parcels.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Istanbul at any time, if you miss the briefing, your Tour Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive at Istanbul Airport (IST), which is about one hour and 30 minutes' drive or Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW), which is around two hours' drive from the hotel, depending on traffic, which can be heavy at times.
This morning we'll get our first chance to try a traditional Turkish breakfast, one of the most important meals in Turkish culture. Breakfasts are big and savoury, including; fresh tomats, cucumbers, olives, different kinds of cheese, eggs, jams, honey, and a clotted cream known as kaymak, along with tea and fruit juice.
Heading out on foot, we walk to the Sultanahmet district, passing through historic Istanbul's lively and colourful streets to reach the hub of Sultanahmet Square. Also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople the square was used for chariot racing in the Roman era; nowadays it's more sedate with a number of landmarks including the Serpentine Column, Obelisk of Theodosius and the Walled Obelisk. We have a guided tour of the square, ending up at its most famous building the impressive Sultanahmet Blue Mosque, one of the most widely recognized sites in Istanbul, which still dominates the skyline to this day.
Colourful and varied, Istanbul is a street food lover's paradise, it's diverse, delicious and sold everywhere from small carts, to street corners, shop fronts & restaurants. For lunch we will try a popular on-the-go meal, balik ekmek (grilled mackerel sandwich) accompanied by a glass of pickle juice!
The afternoon is left free to continue your exploration of the city independently. You may choose to visit the impressive 6th century Sunken Palace cisterns or there is the chance to take a boat trip on the Bosphorus, offering stunning views of the Istanbul skyline. To appreciate the wonderful skyline of domes and minarets further, you may opt to climb the Galata Tower.
Tonight's dinner location is Galata Bridge, there's an array of street food stalls where the locals head to after work and the restaurants under the bridge serve a variety of dishes including the speciality of fresh fish caught daily.
This morning we explore a locals residential area, walking to the Suleymaniye Mosque, and from the back streets head down to the Golden Horn waterway.
We take the public ferry across the straits of the Bosphorus to the Asian side. Taking around thirty minutes, the ferry offers great views of the city skyline from the busy waterway that separates the continents of Europe and Asia. During the crossing we can sip Turkish tea and munch on a simit, a round, sesame-coated bread that is a very popular Turkish street snack. Kadikoy district has a quieter more laid-back feel, we wander through the market tasting local specialities such as pickles, olives, cheese and honey. We'll break in a cafe to be revived with Turkish coffee - an essential part of Turkey's culinary heritage, their coffee, poured from a cezve (small long-handled copper pot) is unfiltered making it thicker and richer.
On the way back to the hotel we'll make a stop at the Spice Bazaar, an expansive covered market filled with delicious treats and exotic smells. We'll snack on a pick 'n mix of Baklava and lokum (Turkish delight) the local's favourite remains plain jelly combined with pistachios.
This evening, you might choose to enjoy Istanbul's nightlife, with its large selection of restaurants, bars and entertainment. There will be the opportunity to book your own dining experience in Istanbul for tonight if you wish. Istanbul offers so many great places to eat but for those interested in fine dining, Michelin Guide's first restaurant selection for Istanbul was unveiled for 2023. For the more popular places be sure to check availability and book a place well in advance of travel. Your Tour Leader will be able to offer you advice based on your preferences.
Today we leave the city lights behind and drive south to Ayvalik, a five hour journey. This old town has a long history of occupations and origins in Greek mythology. For lunch we'll feast on meze, an assortment of small dishes eaten as appetizers or a light meal, designed to be shared by the table. They can be served hot or cold and may contain meat or fish accompanied by fresh and grilled vegetables, olives and a selection of dips - the selection of Ayvalik meze will vary depending on the time of year.
After lunch we continue south, passing endless olive groves and pomegranate trees before stopping to visit the Greco-Roman remains of Pergamum. Now the typical Turkish town of Bergama, Pergamum gave its name to the word 'parchment', for which it was famous for throughout the Middle East.
Finally we will drive for a bit less than three hours to our hotel for the next three nights in the Aegean town of Selcuk.
Today we visit the great Greco-Roman city of Ephesus. We aim to get there in time for the site opening and before it becomes overly crowded with visitors. Once visited by Mark Antony and Cleopatra, this famous Asia Minor seaport reached its zenith in the 2nd century AD, becoming one of the main cultural and economic centres of the ancient world until it went into decline after the 7th century. It boasted an excellent gymnasia and a stadium with seating for 70,000 spectators. Other highlights include the Baths of Constantine, the Temple of Hadrian with its beautiful facade, the theatre (a giant with 24,000 seats), the Arcadian Way (where Cleopatra entered from the harbour) and the Marble Avenue featuring the 2-storey Library of Celsus, which is one of the most photographed Greco-Roman buildings in the world.
Driving on a short distance, we will visit the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, before returning back to Selcuk for the chance to taste some typical specialities as you choose your own lunch (not included). Street food in Selcuk includes bulgar wheat balls (vegan) and stretchy ice cream that's dsn't melt! - traditionally, it's made with milk, sugar, salep flour and mastic gum, salep is a thickening agent, from the root of an orchid.
In your own time this afternoon, you may choose to explore St John's Basilica, the Isa Bey Mosque or Selcuk Museum. Alternatively, you may prefer to enjoy a bit of shopping or relaxation, soaking up the town's laid-back vibe. Selcuk is the ideal place to people-watch as you sip Turkish tea with the backgammon-playing locals in the many open air café's and parks.
This morning we drive a short distance into the mountains to the colourful little village of Sirince surrounded by fig trees, Aegean olive trees, walnut and apple trees. Famed for its fruit vines we'll try various flavours at a 'winehouse' including raspberry, banana, chocolate, pomegranate and mulberry. Wander the cobbled car-free streets, watching ladies cooking Gozleme (savoury spinach stuffed pancakes) and purchase some freshly collected mountain thyme.
Back in Selcuk, there is some free time before we take a cookery class in a local restaurant later in the afternoon, learning how to make four dishes - stuffed vine leaves, mucver (courgette fritters), lentil soup and refreshing Cacik (yogurt & cucumber dip).
Today we travel inland to Konya, stopped firstly after three hours to visit the ancient sites of Pamukkale and Hierapolis. Situated on a high escarpment, Pamukkale 'frozen waterfall' has been an attraction since Roman times. Stalactites of a bright white petrified waterfalls, formed from calciferous mineral deposits from the hot springs here, cascade from basin to basin. We visit the incredible travertine pools, where you can opt to swim and enjoy the views overlooking the Menderes Valley.
Above the terraced pools you'll find the ancient spa town of Hierapolis where the ruins date back to 2nd century BC and the time of Eumenes II. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site we visit the theatre, Temple of Apollo, Frontinus Gate and see a number of sarcophagi as well as having the chance to go into the Archaeology Museum housed in the former Roman baths.
This afternoon we continue by bus for around five hours to Konya. For dinner there will be the opportunity for those interested to try a succulent oven lamb kebab (cooked for around 6hrs in wood fire) served with flatbread. Konya is Turkey's holiest city and was the home of the Mevlana sect, better known as the Whirling Dervishes. There is the option to see a Dervishes show in Cappadocia.
Continuing our journey into the central region, our first stop is the 13th century Sultanhani Caravansarai - once the largest roadside inns in Turkey, supporting the flow of commerce between the East and the West. We then drive for a further two hours to the heart of Cappadocia.
On the menu for lunch is Turkish pide, a savoury oval shaped baked bread with various combinations of toppings or stuffing's, Turkey's version of pizza! The most common fillings are cheese and egg or ground meat and red pepper.
This afternoon we'll visit Kaymakli Underground City. Built by Christians escaping Arab oppression and once home to 3,500 people, this troglodyte cave-city is one of the largest of 34 similar excavations in Cappadocia. Built under the Citadel of Kaymakli, it contains nearly 100 tunnels on eight subterranean floors. We will explore the four that are open to the public, containing stables, a church and storage places.
Tonight's dinner is a real taste of Cappadocia, the speciality dish of 'pottery kebab' - meat and veg cooked slowly in special clay pots sealed with dough. The high temperature and pressure inside the sealed pots increase the flavour and tenderness of this dish. When ready, the blazing hot pot is cracked in front of us, releasing the aromas and adding a bit of spectacle to the evening!
Our last two nights are spent in a traditional style stone hotel on the outskirts of Goreme with, indoor & outdoor swimming pools, sauna, terrace bar and fantastic, mountain views - if you're up early you will be able to see hot air balloons filling the sky.
If you are considering a ballooning optional excursion we advise you book this yourself for today in case of cancellation so you have a chance to rebook for tomorrow. Please see optional excursions for more details.
After a leisurely breakfast there is the option of a three hour walk through the spectacular rock formations in the Red and Rose Valleys.
This afternoon we'll enjoy panoramic views from Uchisar Castle and spend time in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Goreme Open Air Museum. We'll take our time to explore its many rock-carved churches and monastic buildings; some of which feature a stunning collection of wall paintings. Formed by volcanic eruptions which covered the valleys with mud, ash and blocks of hard rock, over the ages this volcanic 'tufa' was sculpted by erosion into strange and improbable shapes. Byzantine hermits settled in this area and carved churches, houses, fortresses and even complete underground cities into these cone formations known as fairy-tale chimneys.
Cappadocia is considered to be one of the regions where the making of wine originated, nearly 7000 years ago. The mineral-rich volcanic soil and temperate climate makes the perfect growing conditions for grapes and fruits. The wines are smooth, dry and delightful, we'll have a cellar tour and sample the different varieties - red, blush and white wines, as well as dessert wines are produced here. Grape growing and harvesting is still carried out with ancient techniques in the many small vineyards and orchards that dot the landscape. We'll enjoy a final dinner together at a typical local restaurant.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Goreme.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Goreme at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Kayseri Airport (ASR), which is about an hours drive from the hotel.