Sierra Club Tours
Special Interest Tours
Discover Turkish History and Culture
This trip will introduce you to western Turkey, as we explore beyond the usual tourist attractions; Anatolia’s natural beauty will be our reward. Our visit begins in exotic Istanbul, the only capital city in the world that straddles two continents, then continues into Anatolia (classical “Asia Minor”), the true cradle of Western civilization. We will see breathtaking scenery -- mountains, valleys, plains, and seas – and marvel at the ancient civilizations whose castles, churches, mosques, bridges, and burial sites remain as monuments to their power. Along the way, we will meet with and be made welcome by the real people of Turkey, visiting them in their homes and learning about their culture and customs.
Traveling in the middle of spring, we will enjoy long days, moderate temperatures, and colorful wildflowers. We will travel chiefly by private bus, but occasionally by train, boat, or foot. We will stay two-to-a-room in small, clean, locally-run hotels or pensions known more for their charm and uniqueness than for their luxury.
More than two dozen civilizations have flourished here over the last 10 millennia, including the Hittites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and the contemporary Republic of Turkey. We will admire their artifacts, including the world’s oldest earth mother statue; visit impressive archaeological sites, primarily Greek and Roman; hike in the eroded landscape of Cappadocia; explore houses and churches carved out of the cliffs; enter an underground city where early Christians eluded persecution; swim in the Roman thermal baths of Pamukkale; and see contemporary arts and crafts as well as masterpieces of traditional Islamic art and architecture.
The trip starts with a group meeting at 4:00 p.m. on the first day, in our hotel in Istanbul. The meeting will be followed by dinner, the first meal provided. Lodging from tonight through day 15 is included (we will spend one night on the train). All meals are provided except two dinners, as specified in the itinerary. Our trip will end at our hotel in Istanbul, after breakfast on day 16.
Day 1 ISTANBUL :
Magnificent Istanbul. You will be met upon arrival and transferred to our hotel, which remains almost as it was 200 years ago and is within walking distance of many of the must-see places. The trip starts with an introductory meeting, where we’ll get acquainted and discuss the trip. After a visit to the Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque, we’ll have dinner.
Day 2 ISTANBUL :
Some of the sights we will see include the underground Basilica Cistern; the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, whose ethnographic section offers a perfect introduction to what we will see in the countryside; Ayasofya; and the Topkapi Palace. We’ll eat dinner at a seafood restaurant favored by the locals.
Day OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO ANKARA :
We’ll shop briefly at the world's oldest mall, the famous Covered Bazaar, and visit the Chora Church to see its exquisite 12th-century Byzantine mosaics, which are rivaled only by those in Ravenna. If you are interested in early Christian art, you will be overwhelmed by this museum. After lunch, we'll continue to Istanbul's finest mosque, the 16th-century Suleymaniye, built by the Ottomans' greatest architect, Mimar Sinan. After a brief visit to the spice market, we will board our own private boat on the Golden Horn for a cruise on the Bosporus. The views of the city's 600 mosques at dusk are unforgettable. After dinner on the Asian side, we will proceed to the historic Haydarpasa Railway Station to board the all-sleeper Ankara Ekspres, which arrives in Ankara the next morning. The bulk of our luggage will have been sent ahead by bus.
Day 4 CAPADOCIA:
In Ankara, we'll visit the splendid Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. This one-of-a-kind museum displays artifacts from 26 different civilizations, all excavated in Anatolia. Seeing them will give us a better understanding of the region’s cultural and historical layers. After lunch, we'll visit the impressive mausoleum of Ataturk ("Father of the Turks"), revered founder of the modern Turkish state. We'll then take our bus to Cappadocia, traveling beautiful country roads for a taste of lovely Turkish landscapes and farms. We’ll overnight in Uchisar, where we'll stay at a hotel in which some of the rooms have been carved out of the surrounding rock.
In Cappadocia, we'll
wake up to magnificent sights right outside our hotel windows. With
its endless artwork, the moonlike terrain is a photographer's
delight. We will hike to 10th- and 11th-century churches,
monasteries, and houses carved into the rocks, and visit a family
living in one of these rock dwellings. As Cappadocia is the carpet
center of Turkey, we will schedule a visit to a factory cooperative
where the art of making carpets by hand (using natural dyes) is
being kept alive. Overnight in Uchisar. Weather permitting, an
optional early-morning balloon ride will be offered at additional
Day 7 2007 CAPADOCIA :
We will begin the day with a short walk to the most scenic spot in Guzelyurt, where we'll be able to feel the 10,000 years of accumulated history. Hikers can also take a morning hike to the oldest monastery valley in Christian history. If you do not hike, you can stay in the town and visit with the locals, with whom you can easily make friends. We'll then depart for Konya, stopping en route at a 13th-century caravanserai. Konya was the first capital of the Seljuks, the oldest Turkish empire in Anatolia. It is also the homeland of the 13th-century poet-philosopher Rumi, one of the earliest humanists and the father of Sufism. The conservative ambiance of the city has not changed much for the past 800 years. We'll stay overnight at a hotel in the center of Konya.
Day 8 KONYA :
Rumi and his philosophy will be the topic of our morning lecture. We'll then visit the Mevlana Museum, which is dedicated to him. Next comes the most scenic drive of our trip -- five hours to Antalya. You will be able to see how the flora changes as we drive over the grand Taurus Mountains. Poised between these jagged mountains and the shimmering sea, Antalya is the principal city on Turkey's central Mediterranean coast. In this beautiful city we will stay at a 200-year-old stone house that has been renovated as a pension. You'll be "on your own" for dinner.
Day 9 ANTALYA:
Weather permitting, we will take a five-hour cruise on the Mediterranean to the ancient site of Phaselis, located on a peninsula with ancient harbors on both sides. This will be our first Roman site. The ancient stones are scattered among the reed pine trees, which grow right out from the sea in an incomparably romantic setting. Tonight you'll have the option of going to a Turkish bath (included in the trip cost). We'll overnight in Antalya, with dinner on your own.
Day 10 PAMUKKALE :
We'll visit Pamukkale (ancient Hierapolis), Turkey's most unusual natural phenomenon. The Turkish name – literally, "cotton castle" -- refers to the extraordinary surface of the snow-white cliffs, shaped over millennia by the accumulation of travertine (calcite) deposited by mineral springs. We'll visit the hot springs and swim in a spa amid Roman columns. Though under protection, these white cliffs of calcite deposits are being slowly destroyed. We will have dinner and overnight in a local motel in the village center, where you can continue to swim in the curative waters of this 5,000-year-old health center.
Day 11 KUSADASI :
We'll drive through the valley of the Meander River, visiting Didyma, site of the Temple of Apollo, with its oracle center; and the great amphitheater at Miletus. Overnight in Selcuk, near the port city of Kusadasi.
Day 12 SELCUK :
This will be our big day in Ephesus, the best-preserved classical city on the eastern Mediterranean and among the best places in the world to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times. After visiting the excellent museum and the house of Jesus’ mother, Mary, we continue to the city of Ephesus. Here, we’ll be able to imagine the theater, filled with 35,000 Ephesians, as the silversmith Demetrius shouted "great is Artemis of Ephesians" in reaction to St. Paul's preaching that "there should be no man-made gods." Overnight in Selcuk.
Day 13 AYVALIK:
We drive north along the Aegean Sea to Pergamum, which reached its zenith in the second century B.C.E. and equals Ephesus in importance. Here we visit the Acropolis; the library that rivaled Alexandria; and the Asclepion, a great medical center that peaked under the celebrated physician Galen, who was born here. We continue our drive through a pine nut forest and mountain villages to Ayvalik,Overnight at Ayvalik.
We drive all the way around the Bay of Edremit, enjoying the coastal scenery, then visit the Temple of Athena, in Assos. We continue to the nearby picturesque village of Yesilyurt. Here we stay overnight in the most luxurious accommodations of the trip -- a hotel overlooking the mountains where mythology tells us that Hera and Zeus married.
Day 15 TROY ISTANBUL :
The last full day of our adventure takes us first to Troy. Several ancient cities have been excavated here, but the site’s real romance comes from the decade-long Trojan War, in the thirteenth century B.C.E. The face that launched a thousand ships, the Achilles heel, the wooden horse -- all of it happened here, in Homer’s telling of the war in the Iliad. Returning to our bus, we cross the Dardanelles on a ferry to the Gallipoli Peninsula, and follow the north shore of the Sea of Marmara back to Istanbul. Then we enjoy a farewell dinner and return to our comfortable hotel for overnight.
Day 16 ISTANBUL :
The trip ends after breakfast; transfers are provided to the Istanbul airport.
We can suggest itineraries for those who want to explore on their
own or with a guide before or after the tour. Simply send us an
e-mail with your request.
INFO ON THE HIKES
Guzelyurt 5 km 1.5 hours leisurely walking pace
Antalaya 3 km walk on level ground
Pamukkale 2 km down the designated path on the travertines with
the calicium deposits
Prienne 2 km round trip up and down hill walk