Turkey: From Towering Minarets to Fairy Chimneys
Visitors have been beguiled by Istanbul for centuries. Combine a stay in this marvellous city with time in Turkey's wondrous Cappadocia region, where you can hike among 'fairy chimneys' and visit troglodyte homes in one of the country's most enchanting destinations.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
- Haggle in Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar
- Soak up the atmosphere of the underground Basilica Cistern
- Hike through Cappadocian valleys past troglodyte homes, cave churches and 'fairy chimneys'
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Day 1: Istanbul
Your direct flight to Istanbul leaves London late morning and takes just under four hours. This evening you'll be met on arrival by a driver for your private transfer to your city centre hotel. Check in and enjoy a leisurely evening.
Day 2: Ottoman Istanbul
The city formerly known as Constantinople is one of the world's most exotic and atmospheric. Straddling Asia and Europe, this strategic location has drawn warriors, traders and Silk Road travellers for centuries. Its cultural diversity and myriad attractions make this an exciting choice for a short break and the perfect way to start a Turkish adventure.
Travel back to Ottoman times as you visit the splendidly ornate Topkapi Palace. Overlooking the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus, it was built in the 15th century and was the official residence of the Sultan until the 19th century. One of the most intriguing parts of the palace is the Harem. Hundreds of women lived in this sprawling wing of the palace and were wives, concubines or slaves of the ruler.
This afternoon, you'll visit the vast Grand Bazaar. Over 4,000 tiny shops are crammed within its walls selling everything you could imagine: carpets, jewellery, leather goods, clothing and antiques. Dotted throughout the market are cafés where you can try thick, syrupy Turkish coffee or a glass of refreshing tea.
Day 3: Istanbul’s Architectural Marvels
On today's programme are some of the city's most iconic sights. This morning, approaching from the Hippodrome, you'll visit the enormous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, nicknamed the Blue Mosque on account of the tiles which cover its interior walls. Nearby, the 1500-year old Hagia Sophia is even more magnificent.
Once a church and later a mosque, the building is an architectural mongrel and affords a fascinating glimpse into Istanbul's long and chequered history. From there, you'll head underground to the atmospheric Basilica Cistern. Built during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century to provide water for the city, the columns and pools inhabit an echoey, atmospheric void in stark contrast to the bustle of the modern city above. Round off the day shopping for spices and Turkish Delight at the aromatic Spice Bazaar.
Day 4: Set Off for Cappadocia
Your flight to Cappadocia in the heart of Turkey departs late this afternoon, leaving the morning free for additional sightseeing and souvenir hunting in the bazaar. Check out and transfer to the airport in the company of your private driver.
On arrival in Kayseri after the one-and-a-half-hour flight you'll be met and driven to Uchisar. This ancient village is strung out along Pigeon Valley and overlooks medieval fortresses and spectacular rock outcrops. You'll be based in a cave hotel - a former monastery whose buildings, underground tunnels and caves have been sympathetically restored and converted into extremely original accommodation. Unpack, settle in and enjoy dinner in this beautiful setting.
Day 5: Magical Cappadocia
Cappadocia is world-renowned for its otherworldly rock formations. Start the day in the Devrent Valley, otherwise known as the Pink Valley.
This lunar landscape is just a taster for the even more spectacular Pasabag Valley, where you'll encounter the strange wind-carved landscape dotted with so-called 'fairy chimneys', as well as extraordinary caves hewn from the rock that were inhabited by troglodytes for centuries.
Continue to Zelve to see more cave dwellings and a ruined Byzantine-era monastery, then visit Avanos, a village whose inhabitants have been producing terracotta handicrafts for five thousand years. Learn how it's done before visiting the medieval cave churches of the Goreme open Air Museum and their UNESCO recognised painted frescoes. Finish up at Uchisar rock castle and watch the sun set over Cappadocia.
Day 6: Explore More of Cappadocia
Today you'll head underground for the chance to visit the astonishing Kaymaklı underground city. Opened to the public in 1964, this labyrinthine city incorporates over 100 tunnels spanning eight floors.
Back above ground your expert guide will take you to the pretty Soganlı Valley. The views across the valley are superb, but it's the warm welcome you'll receive from the locals that make this place even more special.
This afternoon visit Sahinefendi, where the first signs of a Roman settlement were uncovered in 2002. Now you can see the intricate mosaics which adorn these ancient homes. The tour finishes with a reminder of the varied history of settlement in this region, as you explore the houses of Mustafapaşa (Sinasos), once a Greek town.
Day 7: Hiking in Cappadocia
Pull on your hiking boots to tackle one of Cappadocia's most famous walking trails. The nine-mile walk through Ihlara Canyon showcases some of the region's most dramatic scenery.
Follow the lush landscape along the valley floor of the Melendiz River, clambering over boulders shaded by poplar and pistachio trees. 80,000 people once lived in the valley and you'll pass ancient cave churches almost forgotten by the region's present-day inhabitants. Bird song and the chirruping of frogs, as well as the sound of trickling water, provides the soundtrack to this rewarding walk which ends at Selime village. Selime Monastery is the reward for your efforts; its cave cathedral is the largest such space in the region and the centuries-old frescoes are captivating.
Day 8: Head Home
This morning it's time to say goodbye to Turkey as you are driven back to Kayseri to catch your one-hour-45-minute domestic flight to Istanbul. Connect across to your early afternoon four-hour international flight back to London, which lands in the late afternoon.
Harriet and Kate L are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.