Turkey's land is one of intrigue and tradition. Many empires have come and gone, leaving behind evocative fragments and endearing impressions that modern Turkey has made whole. Few countries are as welcoming or quaintly historic. From Cappadocia to Southeastern Turkey to Istanbul, this handcrafted itinerary immerses you in the culture and traditions of an ancient land, revealing the influence of empires and the untouched hospitality of generations.
Cappadocia – Landing in a Surreal Landscape
Cappadocia doesn't look real. As you're transferred to your cave hotel there's a feeling of incredulity as the panoramas pass the window. Eroded rock chimneys fill valleys, cliffs stand above carved caves, and the vistas are eminently unadulterated. The cave hotel draws comparisons with a Dr Seuss adventure, mysterious yet compelling. This is a chance to experience the centuries old tradition of living in the landscape, and it's elevated by some modern luxury touches. A whole valley of wonder extends from the cave and there are few better welcomes to Turkey than watching the sunset bring kaleidoscopic changes to the lunar landscape. A traditional dinner is included and provides an introduction to the exotic range of flavors you'll be enjoying over the next 12 days.
Cappadocia – Exploring Traditional Villages and Open-air Museums
As the sun rises the landscape comes alive. Entrances to troglodyte dwellings come out of the shadows, exquisite mushroomed rocks burn red, and the valleys hide a thousand notes of tradition. Cappadocia's history is a religious one. In the Dervent and Pasabag valleys you find caves once inhabited by monks and vast stretches of geological formations resembling a surrealist's paintings. At Zelva and Goreme open-air museums the rock churches stand proud and resplendent. Frescos adorn walls, rooms have been carved from cliffs and monasteries flank lanes that traverse the valley. Despite being uninhabited for centuries, there's a real poignancy to the exploration here.
After a local lunch, the afternoon reveals the ongoing traditions and lifestyles of life in the valley. Tile and pottery workshops fill the streets of Avanos, a cute town of women in floral dresses and stone-carved houses. Up on the hill, Uchisar rock castle indicates the fame of the town, pointing to its strategic importance as the ancient defender of Cappadocia. Your guide continues to narrate the story, redolently evoking life that dates from the 3rd to 18th century.
Cappadocia – Hot Air Ballooning and Kaymakli Underground City
Stand on a valley edge and the lunar imbued landscape of Cappadocia seems to stretch for miles. Stand in a hot air balloon and it seems to stretch for eternity. You ascend at sunrise, the first light of day casting a dazzling glow on the strange geological formations. Slowly you float, enchanted by the panoramas and baffled by the scale. This is one of Turkey's most iconic visual treats, the country's most famous landscape revealed from a gentle vantage point.
Come down from the sky and keep descending, taking the narrow staircases into Kaymakli underground city and entering a mysterious multileveled lair that was once home to thousands of persecuted Christians. There are more memories from the 13th and 14th centuries nearby, this time examples of expressionism and freedom. Visit the Taskinpasa Mosque, the quaint rock churches of Sognali Village, and the beautiful Keslik Monastery. While these places are relics from the past, they're essential stops in understanding the modern traditions of the region.
A local family invites you into their village home. While the rooms are austere there's a homeliness and quiet beauty to the house, particularly the orchards of green hanging outside. Sit cross-legged on the floor as tea is served and questions come from both sides; as much as you're intrigued by their traditions, the family wants to hear your story and ask questions about your country. A traditional feast is laid out on a detailed tablecloth and you join the family in a long drawn out lunch. While not everyone can speak English, your guide helps to translate and a lot can be said through smiles. Relax and take your time. After all, in this part of the world, this house is now your house. After lunch there's time to visit the old Greek houses of Mustafaspasa Town before returning to the hotel in the late afternoon.
Kahta – Beautiful Journeys to World Famous Ice cream
Eastern Turkey is far less developed than Istanbul and the western half of the country. While buildings glisten and glimmer in the cities, the villages of the East stoically maintain their traditions and lifestyles. Today's drive starts your journey into these remote and expressive lands; horse-drawn carts cross fields of heather, old men natter outside vividly painted houses, and the hills roll past crumbled rock. Stop in Kahramanmaras and take coffee at a street-side cafe and then continue to Maras, where dreams of ice cream await. Famous around the world, the Maras ice cream has been cultivated and perfected over centuries. So don't just have one scoop. Try different flavors and indulge in the rich flavors. You spend the night in Kahta, an adorable town that's far more Eastern than European.
Sanliurfa – Dazzling Sunrise on Mt. Nemrut
Awake early. You trundle along in the darkness, heading uphill and perhaps wondering why such an early start. Keep ascending and as the first beams of light arrive on the horizon you're almost on the peak of Mt. Nemrut. The sun rises. First come the orange tones blazing along the horizon. Now the valleys and villages are illuminated through wispy curls of mist. Then the sun makes its first appearance, burning red as it pierces the horizon and spreading its warmth across the whole of Eastern Turkey. From your vantage point, the panoramas can sometimes stretch for a hundred miles, and glimpsing such splendor before the clouds takeover is a special experience.
It's not just aesthetics that draw you here. Visit the burial mounds at the peak as your guide explains the mountain's importance to local history. The immense statues of Commagene are now illuminated and they provide resonant impressions of an ancient kingdom. Stop for a second breakfast and coffee in a small village before you wind and weave into the Kurdish part of Eastern Turkey. Cross Cendere Bridge and stop at Ataturk Dam, the fourth largest in the world, and an impressive piece of mountain engineering. Today's destination is Sanliurfa, a town of old stone houses and prayer calls that float across rooftops.
Sanliurfa – Religious History and Quaint Towns in Southeastern Turkey
Intriguing fumes mingle on the streets of Sanliurfa; clove and cardamon chai, bread that's fresh from a stone oven, floral scents from parks of cute bridges and carp filled rivers. Sanliurfa offers an easy immersion in traditional Arabia. The atmosphere is one that personifies the rich hospitality and humility of the Middle East, and it comes complete with vivid dashes of exoticism. Religious history surrounds the town. Visit Harran, where God left his message with Abraham, then explore Baliki Gol, the city center that reveals a thousand years of mosques and traditional cafes. Spend a leisurely afternoon with the locals, relaxing in the park beneath towering trees and besides babbling streams.
Yuvacali – Becoming Part of the Family at a Village Homestay
With broad smiles and open arms, you're welcomed to Yuvacali, population less than a thousand. Nestled in verdant fields and connected to Sanliurfa via potholed tracks, Yuvacali provides a complete immersion in rural life. Horses wildly graze nearby, locals wander past in centuries-old dress, and a welcome drink is pressed from freshly plucked fruit. Over the next two days, you're invited to get involved with all the family's activities. Join Mama in frying fresh bread over a hot stone. Spend many hours over lunch, sitting on the floor, and sharing a multitude of vegetable dishes. Drink sugary tea with endless views over the wandering livestock. And relax. There's a serenity and solitude to Yuvacali, a village where time moves slowly and everybody greets strangers.
Yuvacali – Cultural Immersion in Rural Turkey
Breakfast smells flicker through the house. One of the children boils water on a fire outside. Out on the terrace, you enjoy the silence. While the homestay is not luxurious in its strictest sense, it's extremely comfortable and the effervescent hospitality provides endearing warmth. Tradition dictates that guests are looked after better than your own family, so don't be surprised to find that the guest bedroom is far larger than a bedroom shared by all the children. And while rural Eastern Turkey is certainly traditional, it's by no means poor and completely undeveloped. They've had electricity, hot water, and Western toilets for a long time. The meal times bring everyone together and occupy a large chunk of the day. Go with the children to milk cows. Take a local cooking class and help Mama prepare lunch or dinner. Visit the local school and be welcomed by a hundred excited cheers. Or just sit back and watch the world go by.
Istanbul – Cute Mardin and Flying to Istanbul
Shake hands, share embraces, and wave goodbye to your host family. Nearby Mardin provides the final stop in Eastern Turkey. Narrow streets linger beneath a skyline of minarets, an old castle stands half ruined on the outskirts of town, and the narrowest of alleys takes you past barbecue stalls and wandering donkeys. Watch the town from a first-floor balcony, the streets are filled with handshakes and the odd herd of sheep sauntering by. Then visit Deyr-ul Zaferan, a monastery that forms an ode to historical musings. Like each of the last few days, lunch is a traditional and languid one, enjoyed over a couple of hours with memorable views of life in Eastern Turkey. Then transfer to Diyarbakir Airport where you bid farewell to your guide and fly to Istanbul. A driver is waiting to transfer you to your hotel in the historic suburb of Sultanahmet.
Istanbul – Ottoman and Byzantine Treasures in Istanbul
A lone baritone voice comes from the Blue Mosque. A dozen other mosques reply in unison, forging a resonant chorus that wakes Istanbul from slumber. Coffee smells rise towards the terrace and four centuries of architecture glisten across the street. Today's tour takes you to the famous Ottoman and Byzantine treasures of Istanbul and it starts from the hotel terrace. Merely enjoying breakfast and absorbing how the city comes to life is a memorable highlight.
Explore the remains of the Hippodrome Square and the tales of Roman rule. Remove your shoes and step onto the red carpet of the Blue Mosque, admiring the intricate detail that winds across every inch of 21,000 Iznik tiles. Gaze up at the huge domes of the Hagia Sophia and look across to see faded Christian frescos lining the walls. In another room, there's Islamic calligraphy and from the second-floor terrace you marvel at the congruence of religious history. Once a church, then a mosque, now a museum; the Hagia Sophia offers a wonderful journey through 1,400 years of history. On the nearby cobblestone streets, you stop for lunch, ancient panoramas accompanying your meal.
Today's tour continues at the Royal Topkapi Palace, an ode to indulgence and an epitome of opulence. Then the guided walking tour will finish at a 15th-century hammam. Enjoy a salubrious traditional treatment on a steaming hot stone beneath a misty 500-year-old domed ceiling; note than men and women have different areas in the hammam.
Istanbul – Evocative Bazaars and Palaces
Istanbul's architecture is not merely an ode to the past. While the sculpted exteriors and lavish interiors point to ancient empires, much of the city reveals a harmony of ancient ideas and modern living. For example, Sultanahmet isn't a place for supermarkets and air-conditioned stores. Locals buy their produce in markets that have survived for centuries. This morning you join them beneath the covers and domes of the world's largest bazaars. Start in the Spice Market, where flavors and colors mingle beside the footsteps. Continue to the Grand Bazaar, where every alley sells something in particular; fruit, porcelain, antiques, carpets, chandeliers, candles, something for every occasion and the ideal place to buy souvenirs. Take your time and get lost. The finest treats are discovered when you're deep within the bazaar.
From here it's a short walk to the Bosphorus where you cruise along the continental divide, the best of European and Asian architecture twinkling on the riverbanks. Lunch is a timeless Istanbul classic, served the same way it has been for centuries. Men barbecue fish on floating stalls, serving the Bosphorus's catch with airy white bread and sliced onion. As you bite into the meal you admire the fishermen's rods, dangling over the bridge beneath the backdrop of Istanbul's domes. Your final guided stop is Dolmabahce Palace, its 365 rooms and 22 saloons elegantly stretching along the river. The evening is free and there are many excellent restaurants that can be recommended.
- Experience the millenniums old traditions of an untouched part of the world as you venture into a realm of unrivaled welcomes and smiles
- Spend two days at a beautiful homestay in remote Southeastern Turkey, immersing yourself in local life and discovering lifestyles that span a dozen generations
- Feel history come to life as you explore Istanbul, a city that never stands still but always honors the past
- Explore the cute towns of Southeastern Turkey and revel in their hypnotic splendor
- Enjoy a vacation of sublime and inimitable highlights, like ice cream tasting, mountain sunrises, and spice bazaars
- Explore the soporific and surreal landscapes of Cappadocia; hot air balloon above the valleys, descend into underground cities, and admire dazzling rock carved churches
Turkey's landscape has been shaped by a thousand influences, the fragments of empires harmoniously blending together and forging one of the world's most welcoming countries. From Greek gods to Ottoman empires and from Lydia to Roman Byzantine, the land has always been graced by those valuing hospitality, elegance, and opulence. This unique vacation explores the traditions of a country, effortlessly bringing ancient history up to date and providing a compelling immersion in an untouched land. Spanning 3,000 years and as many smiles, the vacation offers a utopian mix of village life, quaint towns, famous sights, and unique experiences. It journeys deep into the heart of the country and enables you to discover one of the world's oldest cultures.
Start in Cappadocia, where lunar-like valleys provide an exquisite panorama and the historical portraits radiate poignancy. Rock cut churches reveal Christian expressionism while underground cities uncover a time of persecution. Exploring the villages almost feels like a time warp; get invited into a home for a Cappadocian lunch, wander the cute streets of whitewashed stone, and admire the centuries old pottery and weaving traditions. While in Cappadocia you also enjoy a hot air balloon ride above the magnificent landscapes.
On day four you start a journey into Southeastern Turkey. This part of the Mediterranean is well off the tourist trail and makes for unique encounters and experiences, all enhanced with a blanket of boutique luxury. Discover the world-famous ice cream of Maras, marvel at the immense statues of Commagene, and tour eccentric ancient towns that seem unchanged for centuries. With their castles and markets, places like Sanliurfa and Mardin provide a wonderful juxtaposition of traditions surviving into the 21st century. The highlight of these five days is an opportunity to stay with a family in a quiet Kurdish village. It's an immersive experience and epitomizes the almost unrivaled hospitality in this part of the world.
On day nine you fly to Istanbul for the final three nights. Explore the Roman and Ottoman wonders that fill the city, take slow journeys through famous bazaars, and admire how traditions can survive in a modern city. Many of Istanbul's attractions are not merely museum pieces, they're living breathing exemplars of exotic culture; the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, a 15th century hamam, fish restaurants along the Bosphorus. Throughout the whole tour, the pace is relaxed and the days combine exploration with relaxation.
$3,115 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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