It's a surreal start to the vacation as you land in Cappadocia. Strange chimney like geological formations extend across the valleys; entrances to caves and troglodyte dwellings can be spotted all around, and there's a feeling of incredulity as you say hello to your boutique cave hotel. Your international flight will have landed in Istanbul. Then it's a short transfer and domestic flight to Kayseri, where your driver and guide are waiting to transfer you into the fairytale landscape. The rest of the day is free, giving you a chance to relax and gaze out at the Cappadocia geology. Dependent on your energy levels, it's possible to arrange a visit to Mustafapasa Town, where old Greek houses stand resplendent in the late afternoon light. Tonight's dinner is included and will involve a traditional Turkish banquet at a local restaurant. Think meze, dolma, and a blend of fresh Mediterranean flavors.
Cappadocia offers a playground for adventure. While photos of the valleys indicate an ethereal beauty, they struggle to portray the scale of this lunar-like landscape. These chimneys and caves stretch for hundreds of miles and a mountain bike is one of the best ways to explore. By road, the surreal valleys extend in all directions. But by bike, you cycle through the chimneys and immerse yourself in a unique natural wonder. Peddle along dramatically cut cliffs and then sharply descend onto the valley floor where winding trails dissect the eroded geological formations. The trails are almost exclusively off-road, and as the asphalt rescinds into the distance you're engulfed by the inimitability of Cappadocia. In particular, the valleys of Dervent and Pasabag make for some pristine adventures.
Today's mountain bike tour is private and will be tailored to your interests and fitness level. There are many days of trails to choose from and your guide will offer routes that reflect the mood. A support vehicle is included and will transfer you to the most interesting and impressive sections, negating any mundane riding on the tarmac. Lunch is included and it's of the gourmet picnic variety, served in a setting with unrivaled views onto the landscape you're exploring.
Cappadocia's landscape is a visual treat, a treasure chest of panoramas that flicker beneath a Mediterranean sun. Yet this is not merely an aesthetic destination. Culture hides below the valley floor and amongst the caves. Today's tour explores the beautiful and sometimes bizarre history of the region. Visit the Zelve and Goreme open-air museums, where churches have been sculpted into towering cliffs. Square holes have been carved as entrances and the churches stand side by side in stylistic unison. Frescos line their walls, shocks of color brightening ascetic interiors. Monasteries line the paths and the congruence of architecture imbues an old-world feel.
Enjoy a traditional lunch before seeking out a history beneath the ground. Descend steep narrow staircases and enter the gloomy world of Kaymakli underground city. It's dark and eerie, yet there's a poignant beauty to the multileveled corridors, caves, and remarkable living space. Thousands once lived here, persecuted Christians who hid underground. Emerge from below and discover the rock cut churches of Soganli village, a vast contrast to Kaymakli and another narrative on Cappadocia's history.
As the sun begins to rise, the chimneys of Cappadocia move through a kaleidoscope of colors. Warm tones reflect across the valleys and the phenomenon is best observed from the sky. Today's hot air balloon flight means an early start, but it's more than worth it. Soar above this fairytale landscape and you begin to grasp the scale of the region. Hundreds of square miles are covered in weird geology and the panoramas are further enhanced by the morning light. A light breakfast and coffee is served before your departure. Then after a one hour flight, return to the hotel where a full breakfast is waiting. The rest of the morning is free and there are some intriguing souvenir shops to explore within walking distance.
This afternoon's tour is also an aerial one. As you might expect in a landscape of weird cliffs, Cappadocia is an internationally regarded rock climbing destination. No experience is necessary as there is a wide diversity of bolted routes spread across different areas. It's a private tour and the guide will select routes that respond to your experience. Some instruction will be provided but it's not too detailed or serious. This is a fun afternoon, climbing up cliffs and then rappelling back down with the charms of Cappadocia all around. Tonight's dinner provides an antidote to the exertion. Visit a traditional village and be invited inside by a local family. They've cooked up a huge feast of Cappadocian food and there are few better tastes than generations-old home cooking.
Istanbul offers a very different landscape to Cappadocia. An eclectic architectural blend fills every street, evidence of both east and west harmoniously coming together as you soak up initial impressions of a city on two continents. After the flight from Kayseri the rest of the morning is free to settle into the city and enjoy the views from the hotel's terrace. The call to prayer adds beautiful resonance to the atmosphere, smells mingle and waft across the rooftops, and the city is remarkably quiet given its fame and size.
After lunch, take a private walking tour through Sultanahmet, the centerpiece of Byzantia and now Istanbul. Start in the Hippodrome Square and picture the raucous ambiance of chariot races and Roman rule. Flanking the square's remains are two renowned World Wonders. The domes of the Blue Mosque scream of grandeur yet they hide a serene atmosphere. Thousands of tiles provide the unique blue color, so remove your shoes and step inside. On the opposite side of the square, behind the roving tea sellers, you find the domes of the Hagia Sophia, once the second largest building in the world (after the Egyptian pyramids). Christian frescos showcase its 5th century history as a cathedral, and Arabic script reveals its many centuries as a mosque. Over a succession of rooms you discover a very impressive religious harmony.
Continue the wander through Sultanahmet, shoes walking across cobblestone and eyes darting into small cafes. The pace is leisurely and the attractions revel in their opulent glory. Take a peek in the Topkapi Palace, dozens of rooms revealing untamed indulgence, then meander into the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar. Etched into the ceilings are four centuries of history; evidence of fires and rebuilding, carvings of grandeur, domes bringing light that illuminates stalls of silver, trinkets, souvenirs, and carpets. Get lost and explore; your guide is alongside and knows how to exit the maze. Return to the hotel and the evening is free to continue your exploration of Sultanahmet.
Istanbul stands on the continental divide, uniting Europe and Asia in its inimitable style. A city of such fame may not seem like the perfect choice for outdoor adventure. However, Istanbul's central area has limited traffic and both continents can be explored on two legs or two wheels. Today's full-day tour is by bicycle, taking you from Europe to Asia and into hidden parts of the city. Cycle alongside the Bosphorus, peddle across bridges lined by expectant fishermen, and coast into suburbs well off the tourist trail. There's a leisurely pace and dozens of places to stop, take a photo, and savor the view. Again, this is a private tour so you dictate the speed and when to stop for an energizing mug of Turkish coffee.
Explore food markets bursting with fragrant produce and wind a trail through narrow city streets. Lunch is included at Ciya, one of Turkey's most famous restaurants. One time street stall, now multileveled restaurant, Ciya is an ode to the experimentation and freshness of the local cuisine. Handpick your meze by selecting from dozens of unique dishes. After lunch there's less cycling as you coast back to Sultanahmet and the hotel. The evening is at your leisure.
Your final day is one for all the senses. Follow the scents and explore the Spice Market, where saffron and cumin are amongst the flavors that spill onto narrow corridors. Whole sacks of spice line this huge covered bazaar and your guide provides a narrative about their uses. After the exertion of the last few days, today is tranquil and easy on the legs. From the Spice Market you transfer onto an elegant cruise ship and spend a couple of hours following the continental divide. On one side is Europe. On the other is Asia. Both leave lasting impressions with their riverside architecture and cityscapes.
Disembark yet stay alongside the Bosphorus as you take lunch in a traditional fish restaurant. The afternoon then provides a couple of final Istanbul delights. First the Dolmabahce Palace with its 365 rooms and 22 saloons, each furnished with abundant collections of European antiquity and furniture. Then drive uphill and enjoy vistas over the city; domes, minarets, palaces, markets, bridges, and the great Bosphorus dissecting the two sides. You'll return to the hotel around mid-afternoon and the rest of the day is free. For your convenience, a dinner table has been booked at Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine, an elegant restaurant that combines gourmet cuisine with a classical setting.
After seven action filled days you bid farewell to Istanbul and Turkey. Final memories come from a final glimpse at the city as you're transferred to the airport and your international departure.
Think about Turkey and there's an evocative history that springs to mind. It's true that the country excels in revealing architectural brilliance and archaeological remains. The blend of East and West is also non-fiction and it fills the country with unrivaled charm. However, few are aware of the country's playground for outdoor adventures. Mountain biking, rock climbing, hot air ballooning, cycling across two continents in two hours; not only do the activities provide excitement, they offer a unique angle from which to explore the wonders of Turkey. Furthermore, experiencing this playground combines journeys into both world-renowned and off-the-beaten-track Turkey.
This itinerary includes four nights in Cappadocia and three nights in Istanbul. The destinations provide two very different landscapes and platforms to explore. First you will discover Cappadocia, where a strange concoction of geological chimneys and troglodyte caves fill valleys of intrigue. Immerse yourself in the lunar-like wonder with a full day mountain bike tour that weaves a trail through the bizarre rock formations. Hot air balloon above it all and revel in the scale. Then try some rock climbing and rappel down cliffs that stand above the caves. You'll also explore the region's fascinating history and longstanding culture; visit underground cities and rock cut churches, enjoy a home cooked dinner in a traditional village, and see the Greek style houses of Avanos.
On the morning of day five you fly to Istanbul where the adventure is all about two legs and two wheels. Take a private walking tour of the city's famous wonders on day five, including visits to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. Day six is about hidden Istanbul, a private cycling tour taking you across the Bosphorus as you cycle on two different continents. Explore markets and local suburbs, stop for photos of steeped domes, and then cruise back to your boutique hotel in Sultanahmet. You're staying in Istanbul's most historic suburb, so you're ideally positioned to soak up the charm in the evenings. The final day crosses off the remaining must-do Istanbul experiences; the scents of the Spice Market, a serene river cruise, and the opulence of Dolmabahce Palace.
Throughout the itinerary a number of lunches and dinners have been included. Each of these offers a unique take on local cuisine and ambiance. All tours are private and conducted by specialist local guides. This allows them to be handcrafted to your pace and fitness levels; for example, there are hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails in Cappadocia and your guide will meet with you to select an appropriate route.
$2075 per person (excluding international flights)
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