Beneath dazzling Mediterranean skies a crossroads of civilizations splendidly traces human history through the ages. Scattered amidst landscapes of ethereal beauty, this unique vacation visits 11 of the country's 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus many more on the tentative list. Journey from Neolithic Catalhoyuk to Bronze Age Hattusha, explore ancient Greco Roman cities, continue to Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, and discover some of the planet's finest religious buildings.
Istanbul – A Whirling Dervish Welcome
Spinning and spinning, the famous Whirling Dervishes provide a glimpse at the surreal wonder that's to come. These Sufis are lost in a trance, resplendent in white and turning to the harmonic poetry of local music. After landing in Istanbul you're greeted by your driver guide and transferred to the hotel. Freshen up and relax before an evening of entertainment that showcases one of the country's most bewitching traditions. A lavish banquet accompanies the Whirling Dervishes as delicate choral tones float across the domes of historic Sultanahmet. Welcome to Istanbul and welcome to Turkey, a country that revels in preserving the beauty of a forgotten time.
Istanbul – Exploring Istanbul's Historic Neighborhoods
Like many mornings, it's the smells and sounds that arouse you from slumber. An elegant chorus emanates across the old neighborhood as aromas slip through the curtains. Istanbul's historic suburbs are your first UNESCO Site and your hotel is perfectly situated amidst the charm. Today's guided tour offers the memoirs to Roman rule, like the stunning 6th century Hagia Sophia and columns now hidden beneath the ground. It traces a path through Ottoman treasures with visits to the Blue Mosque and opulent Topkapi Palace, a home to Sultans and their indulgent tastes. Each building could make a strong claim to individual inclusion as a World Heritage Site, yet the area is more than a concoction of its individual parts. Each street takes you on journeys into the boutique and poignant, every corner reveals something handcrafted, and the atmosphere maintains your immersion in a historic time. Complete the tour with a wander through the Grand Bazaar before retiring to watch the sun leave orange tones on sparkling domes.
Istanbul – The Elegant Beauty of Selimiye Mosque
The Selimiye Mosque minarets glimmer in the distance, four pointed turrets guiding you into the town of Erdine, just over an hour from Istanbul. This 16th century Ottoman mosque epitomizes the intricate beauty of Islamic architecture, every square inch expertly maintaining its geometric conformity. Lose your eyes in the domed ceilings; it glistens of gold and turquoise, its calligraphy taking you into a trance. Admire the simple and humble white walls, each deliberately left blank so that they reflect natural light and allow the surrounding colors to shine. Now savor the silence of the open interior, an innovative space that ensures the holy mihrab is forever in view. Just like Christianity has astonishing cathedrals funded by monarchs seeking eternal remembrance, Islam has mosques that redefined places of worship and architectural tastes. Selimiye Mosque is one of these.
Cannakale –Discovering the Birthplace of the Ottoman Empire in Bursa
Cobbled streets bend between 15th century wood and rubblestone houses. Donkeys occasionally block the narrow passageways before their hooves send echoes amongst the earliest Ottoman history. You're in Cumalikizki, on the outskirts of Bursa, exploring the foundations and birthplace of the Ottoman Empire. This is one of Turkey's newest World Heritage Sites and it's virtually untouched by tourism. After leaving Istanbul, today's tour first heads to Bursa itself, where the Archaeological Museum provides a poignant historical narrative. Visit a couple of caravansaries from Silk Road times before losing yourself amongst the unspoiled streets of Cumalikizki. Lunch is served with fresh raspberries and you may choose to visit one or two of the other early Ottoman villages nearby. Cumalikizki has been wonderfully preserved and you can't escape the feeling of discovering 15th century lifestyles; yet nearby Derekizik and Hamamlilkizik offer compelling states of ruin. After touring, continue to Cannakale, your base for the next two nights.
Cannakale – The Dazzling Ancient City of Troy
Troy has been glamorized for thousands of years, starting with Homer's Iliad and continued with the recent Hollywood epic. Wooden horses, Greek ruins, towering temples; it's an ancient city that takes the imagination on an almost fictional journey, many classical impressions juxtaposed along excavated streets of marble and stone. One of Turkey's most famous heritage sites, Troy is the epitome of historic dreams. It's all here; columns marked by carved lions, towering steps leading to mythical gods, outskirts that allow the lives of peasants to be imagined. You spend a leisurely day exploring the ancient city, starting relatively early in the morning to avoid the tour bus crowds of midday.
Sirince – Greco Roman Brilliance at Pergamon
Today's tour has a satanic slant, taking you to the Greco Roman city of Pergamon, the place declared as the city of Satan in the Book of Revelations. Pillars of the devil's temple dominate a terrace of green and marble; yet are they that much different from temples dedicated to Greek gods? Your expert historical guide picks up the narrative as you explore the steep amphitheater and ruins that topple down the green valley. While Troy offers impressions of an almost complete city, Pergamon provides splendid examples of Greco Roman power. The marble pillars and amphitheater are amongst the largest on the planet while the fortressed walls seem to impossibly cling onto the landscape. You spend the night in nearby Sirince, in a quaint guesthouse with lingering views across the valley.
Pamukkale – The Evocative Ruins of Ephesus and Aphrodisias
Stand beneath temples, sit on the remainders of amphitheaters, watch the sun leave twinkling hues on intricately carved marble, and wonder just how Ephesus and Aphrodisias aren't on the UNESCO World Heritage list. They've been on the tentative list for decades, yet Turkey is almost overrun with these famous Greco Roman attractions. In a less historical land, both these cities would surely have been promoted to full UNESCO status. Ephesus has been painstakingly restored and stands as testament to the architectural ingenuity of the earliest Western civilizations. It's a city that dazzles in photos, each temple and library towering towards the luxurious blue sky. Nearby Aphrodisias is about charm and intricacy, the city dedicated to the goddess of love and fulfilling its promise as romantic centerpiece. After visiting both cities you continue to Pamukkale, where the spa is waiting to lull you towards hibernation.
Pamukkale – Soothing Beauty in Pamukkale and Hierapolis
Pamukkale doesn't look real from a distance. The calcite terraces shine inconceivably, spilling shocks of white and turquoise down the hillside. Get up close and the site is more unfathomable. A sparkling wonderland of Antarctic musings stands before you, the alcoves of transparent water as white as snow on a clear winter day. Now time to swim above Hierapolis. These natural thermals were the rationale for both Greek and Roman empires to build here and they continue to sooth expectant visitors. But as your head rocks back and the therapeutic waters work away at joints, something glimmers in the periphery. Beneath the surface lies the ruins of Hierapolis, toppled by an earthquake and left unspoiled in the pools. Take your time, relax, and swim above the markers of history.
Pamukkale – Pisidian Termessos and the Archaeological Splendor of Zanthos
Latticed sarcophagi lures you towards rock-cut tombs. Sorcerous inscriptions dominate courtyards and columns. Now the theatre takes you by chance as you gasp at its size. Soaring amongst the mountains of Antalya, Termessos is a city of myths and postulations, competing historians struggling to decipher between Alexander the Great and the cult of Zeus. This capital of Pisidia is a place where your mind wanders amongst extraordinary architecture; few world sites can match this feeling of realizing that so much of our planet's ancient history remains unknown. Letoon is very different. Little of the Lycian capital remains. Yet what does remain forms an essential religious center in our understanding of Greek mythology and the worshipping of its gods. A local guide accompanies you through this World Heritage Site and explains the cults and sacrosanctity.
Konya – Neolithic Catalhoyuk and the Classical Wonder of Konya
As you leave Antalya, the next few days of UNESCO Sites come from a different period. After the crisscrossing stories of Rome and Greece, the final six days of the itinerary fill in the unique pieces in Turkey's jigsaw. Drive to Catalhoyok, where Neolithic discoveries provide a key piece of evidence in man's development. Nine thousand years of history are being excavated, the mud walls pointing to the forefather of modern cities. It's here that villages first transposed into an urban center and a local guide narrates the fascinating archaeological discovery. After a hearty lunch you continue to Konya and admire some of the world's earliest copies of the Quran at the birthplace of the Whirling Dervishes.
Cappadocia – First Impressions of a Sublime Landscape
Today you drive to Cappadocia, where the valleys roll to the beat of a magician's drum. Thousands of eroded rock pinnacles fill two of the valleys. Some call them fairytale chimneys, others claim they're upside down mushrooms, and there's hardly a square meter that doesn't appear to have been transposed from another world. In another valley, the cliffs rise vertically and a river of blue dissects the forest of green. Yet another valley is protected from the wind and the weird rocks have become troglodyte caves once inhabited by preaching monks. After the short drive from Konya, today is a very relaxed one. Watch the landscapes extend from your unique cave hotel, sit in cafes overlooking geological inimitability, and allow the sublimity of Cappadocia to compel and confound.
Cappadocia – Exploring Goreme and Cappadocia's Underground Cities
The lunar world awakens to the orange hues of a lingering sunrise. Cave entrances are illuminated and whiffs of fresh bread linger in the air. The landscape is alive and its secrets are revealed on this day of discovery. First you will come to Goreme, where churches are marvelously carved into the cliffs and decorated with frescos of pastel beauty. Monasteries stand side-by-side as this UNESCO World Heritage Site combines asceticism with aesthetics, each humble Christian room complimented by exteriors of artistic indulgence. Now you go underground, into a hidden labyrinthine of corridors once home to thousands of persecuted Christians. It's moving and mysterious, each corridor lined with the caved homes of fleeing families. Back above ground, the afternoon is left free for you to enjoy Cappadocia's natural bounty from your cave hotel base.
Corum – The Hittite Capital of Hattusha
Two Bronze Age lions greet you in Hattusha, their faces simple yet eerily imposing. Corridors of rocky slabs wind across the old Hittite capital, enabling journeys to sculpted gods of the underworld and sphinxes that warn of upsetting the kings. Scripted clay tablets forge messages of cremated souls and a ceasefire with the Egyptians. You have to go back some 8000 years to grasp and grapple at Hattusha's history. While the peasants' dwellings have disappeared, the elaborate gateways and inscribed temple ruins reveal a city that once numbered 50,000 residents. Huge walls protect the inner city and the photogenic ramparts are all the more impressive when you consider the Hittite Era. What you're exploring dates back to well before the perceived birthplace of modern Western civilization. While the romantics point to Athens as the grandparent of our times, evidence is weighted into the favor of Hattusha and its elaborate structure of rule.
Day 14 - 15
Safranbolu – Relaxing in the Quaint City of Safranbolu
Delightful streets run downhill past shoemakers and rock tombs. Faces peer from the terraces of traditional Ottoman houses, eyes shining beneath the shadow of a veil. It's quiet, little more than the odd pair of footsteps and sporadic birdsong breaking the tranquility. This is Sanfranbolu, an unspoiled trading town with its roots in the old Silk Road. Saffron was its specialty (hence the town's name), a sought after spice that went both east and west from the caravansaries that linger in the town. After a lunchtime arrival, today is left for you to casually explore on your own. Turn corners and find surprises; perhaps a creaking wooden bridge, working sundial, or elaborate entrance to a hamam. Stand on terraces and watch the red roofs as they catch the sunlight, then get lost amidst the houses of your final UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On day 15 your guide accompanies you to the old town's sights. Start in the market place where 17Th century mosques are resplendent, standing beside the guesthouses used by passing traders. Bright shocks of saffron fill marketer's sacks as negotiations ramble across the courtyards. The ancient madrasa and old hamam have been left untouched and unspoiled since the 14th century, both iconic examples of the design that inspired Ottoman architecture all across the region. But for all the thousand-plus monuments, Sanfranbolu is not necessarily a historic attraction. It's a real lived-in city, where the lives of locals continue to mingle amidst the cobbled stone.
Istanbul – Departure
An early start takes you over to Istanbul for a late lunch along the Bosphorus. One of Istanbul's elegant riverfront restaurants is the ideal place to relax before your evening international flight, the sounds and smells of two continents keeping you company on the roof terrace. Late in the afternoon you're transferred to the airport for your departing flight.
You may also want to browse the reviews for luxury tours operators for Turkey.
- Visit 11 of Turkey's 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a day dedicated to each sublime marker of history and beauty
- Explore many sites on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list, including the vast ruins of Ephesus and elegant splendor of Konya
- Fully immerse yourself in a historical paradigm by reliving chronicles dating to Neolithic periods, ancient Greece, Byzantine Rome, and Ottoman Turkey
- Experience the beauty of ancient Greco Roman cities by visiting Ephesus, Troy, Pergamon, Aphrodisias, and more
- Admire the intricacy and soporific charm of Turkey's religious landmarks, including the Selimiye Mosque and Hagia Sophia
- Settle into quaint destinations that beautifully recreate a sublime atmosphere of yesteryear, like serene Sanfranbolo and surreal Cappadocia
- Relive historic chronicles as you explore the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire and the Hittite capital of Hattusha
- Turkey's UNESCO sites are connected via scenic mountain and coastal roads, ensuring that each journey between destinations is dominated by photogenic panoramas and stops in traditional villages
Scattered across Turkey you'll find the odes to ancient Western civilization. Greco Roman cities have been built upon the country's rolling hills and natural thermals. Empires have elegantly developed from village bases. Classical chronicles hide amongst landscapes of grace and spring blossoms. Thirteen of Turkey's historic destinations have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites and this unique vacation visits 11 of them. In addition, the circular itinerary enables you to experience an eclectic range of sites that are on UNESCO's tentative list, including Ephesus and Konya. Each day is dedicated to a new site, a new effusion of beauty nestled amongst a diaphanous landscape. Yet despite the constant immersion in sublime markers and aesthetic delights, this itinerary maintains an easy pace and there's ample time to sit back, relax, and gaze out onto exquisite backdrops.
Start in Istanbul, in historic neighborhoods that dance to a beat of Roman and Ottoman history. Famous monuments shimmer as they dominate the cityscape: the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. But while these grab the attention, the rest don’t go unnoticed. You're submerged in one of the planet's oldest cradles of civilization, 20 centuries of artistic splendor extending across streets of cobblestone and boutiques. On day three you spend the afternoon at nearby Selimiye Mosque, where impressions of humility accompany the aesthetics. Heading east with a private driver guide, your journey then starts to connect empires and chronicles. Discover the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire in Bursa, admire the dramatic ruins of Troy, before day six unveils the Greco Roman resplendence of Pergamon, site of Satan's Throne as recorded in the Bible.
Pammukale is the world's original spa town, 3000 years of history built upon its natural springs and hypnotic waters. It becomes your base for three days; the hotel's spa is a soothing end to each day lost amidst odes to archaeological splendor. Visit the renowned sites of Ephesus and Aphrodisias, marvel at calcite terraces, and swim above Greek ruins collapsed into thermal pools. Pisidian Termessos and Zanthos; continue the ride through UNESCO sites, each showcasing new diversity to the country's history. Turkey's land has been a crossroads since the dawn of man, illustrated by Neolithic Catalhoyuk, the chief attraction on day ten. While the country's UNESCO list is filled with the famous, the lesser visited sites help to complete a fascinating jigsaw puzzle; Turkey has forever been at the forefront of human development and Western cultivation.
By day 11 you're lounging in a boutique cave hotel, marveling at the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia, before taking journeys into underground cities and churches carved from precipitous rock. The circular route takes you on a northern trail back to Istanbul, stopping at the remote and charming Hittite capital of Hattusha. Wander, indulge, step back in time, and soak up the Bronze Age brilliance of this hidden charm. Sanfranbolu is your final stop, the centuries old houses cascading and meandering down a verdant hillside. Like each of the other UNESCO World Heritage sites, inspiring first impressions give way to a gentle and unforgettable charm.
For more travel options, you may want to browse the tours to Turkey section on Zicasso.
$4,155 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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