Turkey's architectural wonders compel and confound, but the country's heart lies in its villages and traditions. Step far off the beaten track as you’re invited by host families to experience the real culture of Turkey. Homestays, tiny villages, home-cooked banquets, hidden histories; this vacation reveals an unforgettable warmth that matches Turkey's beautiful landscapes and exotic grandeur.
Istanbul – Soaking up Ottoman Charms
Istanbul's Ottoman treasures aren't restricted to its renowned wonders. Ornate sculpted stone lines streets of cobblestone and intrigue. Mosques are camouflaged within bustling markets of rainbow colors. Juice vendors squash fruit beneath the domes of history. And your hotel radiates the opulence of the Ottoman Empire. Each corridor is lined with antiques and an intricately carved four poster bed dominates your room. Gaze across the rooftops from the window and absorb the skyline. Then head out onto the streets and find something to admire with every footstep. Settling into Istanbul's beauty comes naturally but let's quickly rewind to earlier in the day. You're picked up from the airport by a luxury chauffeur and transferred to the Ottoman-style hotel in central Sultanahmet. Relax and settle in. The hotel's prime location enables easy wanderings through pedestrianized streets with 2,000 years of history.
Istanbul – Exploring the Hypnotic History and Culture of Istanbul
Like every morning in Istanbul it's the sounds that first impress. The call to prayer cascades across red rooftops. A bell mesmerizingly twinkles in the distance. Then come the smells: sweet pastry emanating from a just-opened bakery, infused chai coming from the hotel's dining room as you head for breakfast. So many impressions and you're yet to go outside. Your guide greets you at the hotel reception and you head off on a full-day walking tour of historic Sultanahmet, a suburb that's absorbed the influence of many empires. First comes Rome; the remains of Hippodrome Square are few but they evoke a time of chariot races and gladiatorial contests. Beneath the ground you explore the mysterious Basilica Cistern and the columns that line a historic pathway.
Next it's Byzantine as you stand beneath the towering domes of the Hagia Sophia, each framed against a Mediterranean sky and splendidly capturing the elegance of a 1,400 year old history. As Christian frescoes and Arabic calligraphy juxtapose you get a sense that Turkey's history is not always clear cut. Both cathedral and mosque during its time, the Hagia Sophia epitomizes the remarkable culture to be discovered on this vacation. Across the square, the minarets of the Blue Mosque beckon you forward and you walk into courtyards of elegance.
On a cute side street you sit down to a traditional lunch and famous Turkish coffee before the tour fast forwards to Ottoman wonders. Opulence and extravagance guides you through the Royal Topkapi Palace. This was the home of sultans and it's stuffed with dazzling collections of porcelain, antiquated furniture, carpets, art, and jewels. Such superlative wares also line the corridors of the Grand Bazaar. Explore the labyrinth of covered streets; handicrafts spill onto the stone floor, silver twinkles, carpets cover walls, and etched into the domes are evidence of fire and destruction. It's a confusing place, each corridor curling until your body's compass is fully discombobulated. So allow your guide to take over and reveal the path back to your hotel.
Sapanca – Warm Welcomes to Your First Homestay Experience
Leaving Istanbul, it's not long before the road ascends past fertile slopes and the Bosphorus disappears. You've now passed from Europe to Asia, although the changes go unnoticed to the naked eye. Dotted beside the road are the remains of empires; a Greek marble sculpture, ancient towns reduced to rubble, tombs hidden in cliffs, and tales that span from Greece to Rome and back. Spend a few hours exploring the historical sites around Izmit before a leisurely lunch with gaping views back towards Europe.
Your host family is waiting outside their door, all smiles and waves as you arrive in the village of Sapanca. Step inside and be shown to the guest room. Don't be surprised if it's almost as big as the rest of the house; local tradition dictates that even strangers should be received with a luxury that far exceeds what the family is used to. There will be time for a stroll through the village; curious villagers stop to shake your hand and whiffs of home cooking engulf the streets as dusk arrives. Return to your new home, where a lavish feast is laid out on the terrace. You might know it as a meze. To your host family it's a dinner of fresh local produce enjoyed over languid hours of shared stories. Retire to your bedroom and savor the serenity of this hidden slice of Turkey.
Abant – Hidden Historical Sites in Unexplored Turkey
As the road winds east you continue the historical musing. Turkey was the birthplace of civilizations and the strategic space to be ruled by empires. Old stone mosques hang on hillsides. Theaters provide reminders of ancient worlds. Monastic remains are ascetic yet elegant. Today's drive enables you to explore these millennia old sights as you meander to Duzce, a quaint village that serves up a sumptuous lunch memorable for fresh bread and olives. Then continue to Abant, another village that rarely sees foreigners. Shake hands, return smiles, and make yourself at home. Then wait for the kitchen smells to transpose into another family dinner marked by laughter.
Ankara – Relaxing With Villagers and Onwards to Ankara
Abant's villagers have heard of your arrival. They're drinking in cafes and waiting by their gates for a word with the visitor. This tour enables you to fully explore an authentic culture. At the same time, the villagers are desperate to uncover your own culture. Questions are translated and photos taken. Children hold your hand while women laugh and hide behind each other as their English comes out confused. The locals want to learn and absorb so don't feel that you're intruding on their life. They're delighted and honored to show you around their village. After a full morning in Abant, and a leisurely lunch at the homestay, you drive to Ankara. While the humble stone may have been replaced with a gleaming modernity, your host family reveals that Ankara is an oversized village at heart. Their genuine and warm welcome is unlike any you would expect from a capital city around the world.
Cappadocia – Anatolian Civilizations and Exploring the Moon
There's a change of pace this morning as you visit the Anatolian Civilizations Museum. Archaeological finds and interwoven chronicles build a complex picture of the region's history. Lydian manuscripts, carved marble gods, 3,000 year old swords; the museum evokes sundry influences and tales of power. Leave the capital city and take lunch in a small village before crossing the valleys to the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia. After Istanbul, this is perhaps Turkey's most famous destination. However, your tour continues the paradigm of offering new angles. Dotted between the valleys of eroded geology are quaint Christian villages that remain virtually unchanged since the time when monks lived in the nearby caves. A homestay and local family is the best way to savor the ambiance of this bygone era.
Cappadocia – Dramatically Carved Churches and Vast Underground Cities
There's a powerful tranquility to Cappadocia. Very few vehicles drive through the village, every panorama imbues an elegant beauty, and time moves at the pace of yesteryear. Coffee smells wake you from slumber and the breakfast table is waiting. As always, eat with the family and gradually learn about their lifestyle and history. Today's Cappadocia exploration is very relaxed. First you will head out to the churches of Guzelyurt. Each is hypnotically carved into the cliffs and their sheer abundance paints a scene of Christian dedication. Then journey underground and discover the city of Kaymakli. Fifteen-thousand persecuted Christians once lived in this vast hidden complex, the streets illuminated by lanterns and their rooms merely holes in the rock. Return to the homestay for another leisurely evening soaking up rural village life.
Cappadocia – Beautiful Villages and Decorated History
A hearty breakfast prepares you for a day exploring Cappadocia. Rock churches stand resplendent in the hushed tones of dawn. From the cliffs you gaze upon valleys of fairytale chimneys and eroded stone. On deserted roads you spot monks' dwellings and the remains of monasteries. The valleys of Dervent and Pasabag engulf you in the region's lunar world, weird and wonderful formations extending at every angle. The road winds and the surreal exploration continues; Cappadocia is a visual and photogenic treat, one of the world's most remarkable and unusual landscapes stretching almost a hundred miles through peaceful valleys.
It's also an historical delight. In Zelve and Goreme, the rock-carved churches stand side by side, each with frescoes exquisitely painted onto the rock. Rambling lanes take you past ancient monasteries and there's a poignant ambiance of hope etched into the cliffs. After lunch you explore the Greek history that presides over a corner of Cappadocia. Distinct sounds emanate from tile and pottery workshops in Avanos town, while the whitewashed houses of Mustafapasa showcase another Cappadocian angle. It's a fairly long day of touring, but any tiredness is quickly relieved by a welcoming pot of tea and the smiles of your hosts.
Cappadocia – Stunning Hot Air Balloon Flight and Early Religious Memoirs
Cappadocia's scale can't be captured from the ground. Soar above it all in a hot air balloon and the landscape oscillates between fairytale fiction and geological wonder. Sunrise casts a photogenic hue and canyons cut dramatic scars through the red and orange. After an hour you touch back down and breakfast is waiting. The rest of the day is full of surprise. Hike into the Red Valley where troglodyte caves combine to form ancient thirteenth century mosques and even older monasteries form an ode to the region's religious history. Then you return to the village for a final afternoon and evening with your host family. After four days a real bond has been built and you're more friends than host and guest. Savor a final dinner on the terrace and share contact details, the mind already racing with ideas of returning.
Note that throughout this itinerary there's an excellent chance of being invited to a Turkish wedding. This could happen at any of the villages en route and is obviously dependent on local people getting married. The itinerary may be altered slightly to ensure you get to experience this unique occasion.
Istanbul – A Sensual Indulgence in an Exotic City
After a long farewell you're transferred to the airport for the short flight back to Istanbul. Return to your Ottoman themed hotel and a day of exotic experiences awaits. Explore the Spice Market with its fabulous array of colors and gourmet indulgences. Get lost amongst the mountains of powders and aromas and suddenly you're stood beside Rustempasa Mosque on the edge of Europe. Courtyards glimmer, minarets tower, and the mosque transports you from complicated maze to tranquil haven. Take a ferry along the Bosphorus and admire the continental divide, the best of Eastern and Western architecture dominating the riverbanks. And finally, just as you thought that Turkey couldn't offer anything else unique, feel the therapeutic power of a 16th century hamam and a salubrious treatment at the forefather of spas.
Istanbul – Farewell to the Culture of Turkey
The Turkish cultural immersion comes to a conclusion this morning. Spend a final morning absorbing Istanbul's sensual feast then enjoy a luxury transfer to the airport and your return flight.
- Spend seven nights in local village homestays and enjoy the fabulous hospitality provided by host families
- Discover off-the-beaten-track Turkey on a winding journey through traditional villages and hidden historical sites
- Experience the authentic culture of the country with intimate stops to drink tea with villagers, hang out with families, and explore lifestyles unchanged for centuries
- Start and end the vacation in Istanbul, where exotic treasures paint a picture of old-world charm and architectural indulgence
- Fully explore Cappadocia's magnificent landscapes with four days of hot air ballooning, easy hiking, underground cities, and troglodyte caves
- Taste the splendor of home cooking as your meals are freshly prepared from recipes passed down through the generations
- The itinerary is sprinkled with sublime and unique experiences, including a therapeutic hamam experience and ongoing opportunities to get involved with village life
On the surface, Turkey is a country of lavish splendor and ancient grandeur. But delve beneath this rich exterior and the country's heart lies in the enchanting traditions of its villages and local lifestyles. Life continues as it has for many centuries; floral dressed women natter on village benches, families spend hours over lunchtime, and an endearing hospitality has survived in the modern world. This village-based itinerary seems to take you back in time, immersing you in the culture and charms of an ancient era. Sleep in quaint homestays and spend evenings with local families. Enjoy whole days soaking up the rhythm of villages clinging to mountaintops. Sit down to vast mezes, the dishes spread across an intricate tablecloth and washed down with sweet cups of tea. Including seven nights spent in authentic and intimate homestays, this vacation uncovers the heart and soul of Turkey, taking you on a journey to a bygone time when hospitality was the marker of social wealth.
Of course, no visit to Turkey would be complete without historical musings and architectural wonder. This trip starts and ends in Istanbul, a city of treasures dating to Roman and Ottoman times. Exotic markets unfurl mountains of color, hypnotic mosques cast serene hues across ornate interiors, and every narrow street reveals another boutique relic. From Istanbul you head into off the beaten track Turkey, a beautiful drive weaving east to your first host family. Village experiences are interspersed with rarely seen historical sites as you head towards Ankara. Expect to drink tea with the locals, explore villages that rarely see tourists, and absorb the irrefutable hospitality of the region. You're intrigued and fascinated, but the locals are equally curious of you. Questions are asked, photos are taken, and cultures come together on the beautiful valleys of central Turkey.
On day six you head further east to the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia. While this region of bizarre geology is one of Turkey's most celebrated destinations, you discover a new angle by spending four nights at a traditional village homestay. Spend the days touring the rock-carved churches and ethereal landscapes, each valley subtly completing the impression of being transported to a mythical world. A hot air balloon flight amplifies the metaphorical journey but the host family helps keep you grounded. Dinners are to be savored, enjoyed over a couple of hours as the sun cast new tones across Cappadocia. Bonds are forged and stories shared. This is not merely an invite. Like all the homestays, it's a family opening their home and receiving guests in a time honored tradition. Return to Istanbul on day 10 where a 16th century hamam offers a salubrious final memory of the country.
$2,855 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.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
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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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