A Taste of Eastern Turkey

Discover a magical fusion of diverse cultures, mysterious monuments, wild landscapes and lost cities on this tour through Turkey’s wild east – an intriguing journey through breath-taking rugged scenery and sites from the ancient world.

We visit some of the region’s most important historical monuments, such as Antakya’s Christian Church of St Peter and the tombs of Urartian kings at Van Castle, dating as far back as the 2nd century. Enjoy a stop at the lovingly-preserved Roman mosaics at Antakya and Gaziantep and join local pilgrims at Abraham’s cave, birthplace of the prophet. We also explore the oldest temple in the world at Gobekli Tepe, and make a sunset visit to Mount Nemrut with its giant Commagene stone heads that guard the burial mound of Antiochus.

Take in spectacular scenery around the vast crystal lakes of Ataturk and Van and board a boat to see the frescoes at the beautiful Armenian church on Akdamar Island. Hiking amongst the remote settlements of the Kackar Mountains provides real insight into rural mountain life from interactions with villagers. Home here will be a traditional village guesthouse, the perfect opportunity to sample typical, authentic local dishes.

We explore Eastern’s Turkey’s tantalising flavours with street food in Urfa and in the elegant streets of Kars, famed for its cheese markets. In this eastern region, there is always opportunity to wander through hidden ancient quarters, bustling bazaars and artisan workshops.

A trip highlight is the eerie, abandoned ‘ghost city’ of Ani, the walled Armenian capital, concealing a mix of Medieval palaces, old ruins and churches – a vital stop on the Silk Road of old. We finally head to the contrasting coastal scenery of the Black Sea, seeing the precariously sited Sumela Monastery and enjoying delicious seafood at the town of Trabzon.

This tour encompasses everything that Eastern Turkey has to offer, in a perfect balance – rich cultural heritage, natural landscapes – from craggy mountain-tops and rolling flowered valleys, to tucked away untouched villages, and a fascinating history to enchant even the most experienced traveller. Away from the resorts of the Mediterranean, this is the real Turkey that most don’t get to see.

Highlights

  • Explore the ghost city of Ani
  • Gentle hikes in the Kackar Mountains
  • The ancient temple of Gobekli Tepe
  • Wander the bazaars and taste great local food

Day 1 - Antakya

Arrive in Antakya and transfer to your hotel. Overnight Liwan Hotel or similar.

Antakya
Antakya is the ancient site of Antioch, founded in the 4th century BC by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, and was one of the great cities of the ancient world. Situated in the small corner of Turkey that juts out towards Syria, it’s rather a multicultural place, feeling a little more Arabic than other places in the country. It’s also the site of one of Christianity’s oldest sites – the Church of St Peter is reputedly the site where Jesus’s disciple Peter preached to Antioch’s Christians. Antakya still has a Christian population – largely of the Greek Orthodox variety – and there are Protestant, Catholic and Jewish populations as well. Its Roman heritage is best exemplified by the excellent collection of mosaics displayed in the Archaeology Museum – among the best preserved in the world.

The city is renowned within Turkey for its cuisine, which borrows heavily from its Arab neighbours – there are excellent mezzes, kebabs and desserts on offer here.

Day 2 - Antakya

Today we explore Antakya, including a visit to the Archaeology Museum, home to some remarkable Roman era mosaics. We also visit St Peter’s Church, one of the earliest Christian churches, and explore some of the older historic districts. Antakya is known for its excellent cuisine, and we’ll also spend some time sampling some local delicacies as a great introduction to the cuisine of this region. Overnight Liwan Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 3 - Gaziantep

Drive west to the city of Gaziantep, where we have a delicious traditional lunch on arrival. We’ll also see the impressive mosaics of Zeugma, and have some time to explore the bazaars of the historic quarter, tasting some of the excellent baklava made here. Overnight Sirehan Hotel or similar. (BL)

Gaziantep
One of eastern Turkey’s most important cities, Gaziantep has undergone some serious restoration projects in recent years, with its old Seljuk quarter now very much rejuvenated and with some delightful old buildings to explore. The historic district stretches out from the citadel, with Ottoman mansions, bazaars and traditional workshops jostling for space and providing a tangible link with the city’s heritage. Gaziantep is also home to a fine collection of old Roman mosaics, testament to the erstwhile wealth of the city due its strategic position on old trading routes – like those in Antakya these are particularly worth seeing while here.

Day 4 - Mount Nemrut - Adiyaman

Drive to Kahta, and have lunch by Ataturk Lake, created when the Euphrates River was dammed. From here we visit the Karakus tumulus, an ancient burial site, and the 2nd century Roman bridge. We continue from here to Mount Nemrut, known for its giant Commagene stone heads which sit guarding the burial mound of Antiochus. We watch the sun set over the plains below, before driving to Adiyaman for the night. Overnight Hotel Bozdogan or similar. (BL)


Day 5 - Urfa

Drive to Urfa, stopping for views over the vast Lake Ataturk Lake. In Urfa we visit the archaeology museum, then head to Abraham’s Cave, supposedly the site where the Biblical prophet was born and a popular place of pilgrimage for local people who come to see the sacred fish in the pools nearby. We then explore Urfa’s lively bazaar, with opportunities to taste some of the great street food to be found here. Overnight Hotel Uludag or similar. (BL)


Day 6 - Harran - Gobekli Tepe - Mardin

Drive to the small town of Harran, best known for its beehive style houses. Built from mud, their design has changed little since Biblical times, and they are perfectly adapted for the extremes of temperature found here. From here we drive to the remarkable site of Gobekli Tepe. Only discovered in the late 20th century, this is the oldest temple in the world, dating back 9000 years, with stone circles and carved pillars giving a tantalizing hint into the lives of Neolithic people. Finally, we drive to Mardin for the night. Overnight Kaya Ninova Hotel or similar. (BL)

Gobekli Tepe
The remarkable site of Gobekli Tepe is one of the oldest temples in the world, dating back to around 9000BC, yet was only discovered in the 1990s. Since then excavations have been ongoing, but so far only a fraction of the site has been uncovered. A number of stone circles have been revealed, with the expectation that many more lie beneath the surface, and the gigantic monoliths are decorated with intricate carvings of animals and humans. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe had profound repercussions for our understanding of history – experts had previously thought that the first ancient monuments were built by ancient Egyptians, but the temple here is six thousand years older

Mardin
Located on a hill overlooking plains below, Mardin is known for its beautiful stone carved houses, its architecture drawing from the Artukid period of the 12th century. Today its population is mainly of Arabic heritage, but up until the early 20th century Mardin was home to a large Christian population, who mostly left following persecution. Its long Christian history is in evidence though in some of the nearby monasteries, where monks still speak Aramaic, the original language of the Bible.

 

Day 7 - Mardin

Visit the ancient Deyrulzafaran Monastery, where services are still conducted in Aramaic, the language of the Bible. The Byzantine church here dates back to the 5th century, and the monastery is a tangible link with early Christianity. This afternoon we explore Mardin, with its beautifully carved stone houses. Overnight Kaya Ninova Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 8 - Zerzevan - Diyarbakir

This morning we head to the Roman castle of Zerzevan, home to a temple dedicated to the ancient religion of Mithraism – accompanied by a local archaeologist we learn about this mystical cult. We then continue to Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkey’s Kurdish population. We walk along the impressive city walls, which originally date back to the 3rd century and are dotted with watchtowers, as well as visiting one of the traditional caravanserais and exploring the historic old city. Overnight Amida Hotel or similar. (BL)

The Kurdish people
The Kurds are spread between Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Armenia, without a homeland to call their own, although in Iraq they largely reside in a self governing autonomous region. Some experts believe they are descended from the Medes, an ancient group from Iran who settled in the area around 2,700 years ago. Their language is closely related to Persian, and most are Muslim, although there is a small Yazidi minority. Although Kurdish society is largely patriarchal, Kurdish women enjoy more freedoms than women of other neighbouring ethnic groups, with more involvement in community decisions and the choice of whether to wear the veil or not. These days most Kurds are settled, but their nomadic traditions are not far in the past.

Day 9 - Lake Van - Van

Drive to Turkey’s largest lake and from here take a boat to the island of Akdamar. Here we visit the beautiful Armenian church, with its frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible. After returning to the lake shore, we continue to Van for the night. Overnight Elite World Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 10 - Van Castle – Ishak Pasa – Kars

We first visit the ancient Urartian citadel, which dates back almost three thousand years and is home to the tombs of the kings of Urartu. Continue to the picturesque palace of Ishak Pasa, a well preserved and far flung outpost of the Ottoman empire close to the border with Iran, with views of the mighty Mount Ararat. From here drive to Kars. Much of the city was constructed by the Russians in the 19th century and we explore its elegant streets with their typical architecture. Kars produces some excellent cheese, and we visit one of the local cheese markets to sample some of the produce. Overnight Cheltikov Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 11 - Ani - Erzurum

This morning we visit the abandoned Armenian capital of Ani, a vast walled city with numerous palaces, churches and other buildings to explore. This is one of eastern Turkey’s most atmospheric sites, and is a testament to the erstwhile power of the Armenian empire. From here we continue to Erzurum for the night. Overnight Hotel Zade or similar. (BL)

Ani
Often described as a ghost city, the atmospheric ruins of Ani lie abandoned on the border with Armenia. This was part of the ancient empire of Armenia, now largely absorbed into Turkey, and dates back to the 5th century when this was an important stop on the old caravan routes of the Silk Road – at its height it is thought to have been home to around 100,000 people. The city is mostly enclosed by enormous 10th century stone walls, and contains ancient Armenian churches, some of which are decorated with beautiful frescoes, as well as the ruins of old houses. For many years its strategic position close to the Soviet border rendered it out of bounds, but today visitors can explore some of the best examples of medieval Armenian architecture and gain a sense of the once mighty power of the Armenian Bagratid dynasty.

Day 12 - Erzurum - Kackar Mountains

This morning we explore Erzurum – the city has some great examples of Seljuk architecture, inclkding the 12th century Grand Mosque and the Yakutiye Madrassah. From here we head into the stunning Kackar Mountains, and the village of Barhal. We stay tonight in a village guesthouse and can explore the village to meet the locals and learn something about rural life in the region. Tonight we’ll be treated to some typical dishes made for us by the villagers. Overnight village guesthouse. (BLD)

Kackar Mountains
The Kackar Mountains – also known as the Pontic Alps – act as a barrier between the Anatolian Plateau and the Black Sea, and the highest peak here reaches up to 3937 metres. The name is derived from the Armenian word ‘khachkar’, which is used to describe the ornately carved stone crosses that are typical of that country. The region is ethnically diverse, from Georgian speaking Muslims to the Laz people, and it is dotted with old Georgian and Armenian churches. This is a very traditional area, where herders still move between the valleys with their livestock in search of seasonal pastures, and dotted with picturesque lakes.

Day 13 - Kackar Mountains

Today we explore the valleys of the Kackar, visiting an old Georgian Orthodox church and hiking to a small lake. We expect to meet local shepherds who have moved up to the high valleys to find grazing for their animals – this is a very traditional part of Turkey, where not much has changed for generations, particularly in the more remote settlements. Overnight village guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 14 - Sumela Monastery - Trabzon

Drive out of the mountains towards the Black Sea. On the way we stop at Sumela Monastery, built against a sheer rock face and decorated with Biblical frescoes. Continue to Trabzon, on the coast, where we’ll sample some of its local seafood, and visit the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. Overnight Axis Suites Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 15 - Trabzon

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

    Please note that while we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by English-speaking guides.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If, however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves, we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Americans, Canadians, Australians and most European nationalities, including British citizens, do not require visas to enter Turkey. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information. 

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. However, there are no compulsory vaccinations needed to enter either country. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk. 

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

Turkey’s currency is the lira, and it’s likely you will be able to obtain this from your local exchange bureau. Major currencies like UK pounds, US dollars and Euros are easy to exchange in Turkey.

Changing money is fairly simple – many hotels will offer this service and there are also banks and exchange bureaus in larger towns. Your guide will be able to advise of the best option. In most towns there are also ATMs which accept foreign cards, although don’t count on these always working. Eastern Turkey is a little less developed than its western cities, and credit cards are not used as widely here as they are in other European countries, so you should only think of this as a back up rather than the main source of obtaining money

Local conditions

When travelling in countries such as Turkey, which are comparatively underdeveloped in places (particularly the east of the country), it’s important to understand that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience. 

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the UK government advises against travel to certain provinces of eastern Turkey.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in eastern Turkey. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
28 August 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,199
Single Supplement -
£460
Trip Status -
Contact us
Date -
27 August 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,299
Single Supplement -
£460
Trip Status -
Available