In early February of 2023, eastern Turkey suffered an earthquake that led to many fatalities and the destruction of several cities. We at Behind the Scenes feel that persisting with travel to Turkey, to the opposite side of the country and far from the earthquake area, sends a positive and encouraging message to the Turkish people.
Thus we have created a new itinerary and changed the destinations of our Spring trip. This Off the Beaten Path trip starts and ends in Istanbul, one of my favorite cities in the world. Then we’ll proceed in a big loop around the country to see some amazing, little-visited sites and interesting textiles. After visiting Istanbul, we’ll tour the northern and the south-western Mediterranean coastal areas. This interesting route includes traditional textiles and also some fascinating Roman and Greek historical sites.
Turkish Airlines has efficient and direct flights connecting from several US cities into Istanbul. Our pretty Ottoman-era hotel is located in the heart of historic Istanbul two blocks from world-famous architectural and cultural treasures. It has an excellent restaurant serving delicious typical dishes.
We’ll also visit the nearby Aya Sophia, and learn its complex story as the superb structure was changed from church to mosque to museum, and most recently back to a mosque.
- Stamp your own cotton Tokat scarf in a typical workshop.
- Marvel at the ancient tombs carved into rocky cliffs.
- Explore stunning Greek and Roman coastal cities westward to Greece.
- Savor typical cuisine in every region
- Float above picturesque valleys in a colorful hot air balloon.
- Discover beautiful little Mediterranean bays and charming villages.
- Visit typical Istanbul sights such as the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia.
What’s Included in The Trip?
Details of Your Journey
Onward from Istanbul
Then we’ll fly east to Samsun, meet the van and driver and drive to pretty riverside Amasya with its ancient cliffside tombs. Tokat, home of wood block-printing, is our next and nearby destination. With guidance from the Master printer, we’ll each choose carved blocks and stamp our own printed scarves, right. We’ll have our choice of his large selection of hand-carved linden wood blocks to print with.
If there is time and interest, we’ll visit spectacular caves with stunning limestone ‘curtains.’ We will also visit a museum featuring the printed scarves, clothing and costumes of Tokat. A culinary specialty of Tokat is the delicious, traditional stuffed pasta dish called manti; we’ll have a chance to try it there and in other regions.
Then we go southeast to Sivas to see the UNESCO site of Dvrigi, an ancient mosque and hospital complex with amazing stone carving. Divrigi’s Great Mosque has earned itself a place in architectural history as a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. The mosque has a single prayer room and is crowned by two cupolas. The highly sophisticated technique of vault construction, and an exuberant type of decorative sculpture – particularly on the three doorways, in contrast to the unadorned walls of the interior – are the unique features of this masterpiece.
Ancient cliffside tombs
We’ll visit the interesting town of Myra with its complicated history; it was first Lycian, then Greek, Greco-Roman, then later an Ottoman town in Lycia. Eventually it became the small Turkish town of Kale, renamed Demre in 2005. Today it is famous for the rock-cut tombs that date to the 4th century BC, and which punctuate the cliffs above Myra’s spectacular open air amphitheater. The tombs are divided into two main necropolises and include both house- and temple-style tombs.
Andriake was the harbor of Myra in ancient times, but silted up later on. The main structure there surviving to the present day is a granary built during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian (117–138 AD). The granary is now a museum. Beside the granary is a large heap of Murex shells, evidence that Andriake had an operation to produce purple dye.
We can also see the frescoes in the Church of St. Nicholas, an East Roman basilica church in the ancient city of Myra. It was built above the burial place of St Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian bishop of Myra. He is an important religious figure for Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, and the historical inspiration for Santa Claus. Legend has it that he gave toys and sweets to poor children at night, dropping them down the chimney!
Along the Mediterranean route…
The great ruins of Side are among the most notable in Asia Minor. The oceanside setting on a large promontory make it particularly atmospheric. Possessing a good harbour for small craft, Side’s natural geography made it one of the most important trade centers in the region. Archaeologists have been excavating Side since 1947.
The colossal theater complex of the 2nd century is less well-preserved than that of Aspendos (which we will also see) but it is almost as large, seating 15,000–20,000 people. It was converted into an open-air sanctuary with two chapels during Byzantine times (5th or 6th century). The early Roman Temple of Dionysus is near the theater. The fountain gracing the entrance is restored. The colonnaded street had marble columns whose remains can be seen near the Roman baths, restored as a museum displaying statues and sarcophagi from the Roman period.
Other buildings include three temples and a nymphaeum (celebrating water spirits)and a fountain monument of elaborate design.
Heading west along the coast we’ll explore many other famous and spectacular sites such as Kaunos and Knidos, before flying back to Istanbul, and home.
Our guide Derya loves archeology and textiles and will give us a thorough explanation of the theories and realities of all these astounding places. This is a perfect tour for those of you who are interested in everything – from textiles to archeology, to Anatolian architecture and typical cuisine.
Some of our hotels…
A cozy Ottoman-era lodging with marble staircases. Located in historic central Istanbul, it’s just a five-minute walk to the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia, and a ten-minute walk to the Grand Bazaar. The famous Yerebatan cistern runs under the hotel. Known for the kind, helpful staff, the hundreds of colored glass lamps that hang from the ceilings, and the great restaurant, the hotel has charming traditional decor and comfortable beds.
The unique Gamirasu Cave Hotel will be our dramatic home in Cappadocia. Originally a monastery for Byzantine monks fleeing Muslim invaders, the Gamirasu maintains an original chapel at the top of the structure. The hotel has 35 cozy rooms, fashioned out of volcanic tufa and outfitted with embroidered bed linens, modern bathrooms, and coffee/tea service. The restaurant nearby is superb and has a cozy fireplace for chilly evenings.
Additional Details & Experiences
Photos from Previous Adventures in Turkey
I have been on NINE of Cynthia’s trips: Turkey several times, Peru, Bolivia, Thailand, Laos, Morocco, Mali and most recently Bhutan. You might ask why I keep returning! It’s because on each trip I arrive home having had the most incredible time. Always I’ve met interesting people, stayed in small, boutique hotels and visited the usual tourist sites, but because of Cynthia’s ability to strike up hard and fast friendships with her guides and drivers, hotel keepers, shop keepers, and crafts people, we experience an in-depth appreciation for the countries’ history, culture and especially of textile arts and crafts.Anne Duffey -Davis, CA
Dates: March 22 – April 7, 2023
Fly Home: April 8, 2023
Tour Cost = $5850 for 17 Nights,
Single Supplement: $750
This Turkey tour begins and ends in Istanbul. You will fly into Istanbul’s big new airport, with the Airport Code IST, not SAW, the old airport.
You will need a travel visa (called an E-visa or Electronic Visa) to enter Turkey. This is usually quite an easy process, applied and paid for online, then printed out at home. OR, right at Passport Control, Turkish authorities offer visas-on-arrival for $40 for US citizens; the amount varies for citizens of other countries, but the process is very fast and easy–just a sticker in your passport.
The latest visa info for Turkey will be sent closer to our departure time. Regulations and prices change often and vary with the citizenship of the traveler applying, so you’ll need the latest info.
- 17 nights accommodations in charming boutique hotels or modern hotels in big cities
- English-speaking, licensed, professional Turkish guide
- All meals – except 2 dinners. Unless a meal is family-style, you may order your choice of dishes in restaurants
- All non-alcoholic beverages included with meals (tea, coffee, ayran (yoghurt drink), water, cherry juice (vişne), etc.
- Interior flight from Izmir to Istanbul AND flight from Istanbul to Samsun.
- All ground transportation by private Sprinter van with excellent, professional driver
- Bottled water available in the van for road trips.
- Transportation from airport to hotel on official arrival date of March 22
- All museum admissions to see the textiles and archeology of Turkey
- Cooking class and lunch in a private home
- Entrance to all UNESCO sites on the itinerary
What’s Not Included
- Easy Turkish visa fee (around $20-50 for U.S.)
- Departure airport transportation for flight home from Istanbul; the hotel in Istanbul will arrange vans.
- Airport transportation for early arrivals March 21 or earlier
- Alcoholic drinks
- Guide and driver tips (suggested guidelines to come).
Frequently Asked Questions
What information will I receive after registering?
Once you sign up for a trip, we will e-mail a general itinerary, lists of Suggested Reading, what to take, cultural considerations, weather charts, etc.
How can I get a detailed itinerary for a tour?
A day-to-day itinerary will be sent once you sign up for a trip. If you need specific information about the flow of the trip and the pace of the specific activities, before committing to the trip, get in touch with your questions and we will be happy to fill you in.
What sort of clothing should I bring?
When you sign up for a tour, you’ll receive detailed lists of what to bring to your destination, as well as weather info, to more easily coordinate your wardrobe with the heat or cold.
We will also include suggestions for appropriate clothing for dressing in conservative countries. Basically you’ll need modest clothes that cover your shoulders and legs. Being well-dressed will show the Turkish people that we respect them and their society.
Are laundry services available?
Most hotels have a laundry service and prefer that you don’t wash clothes in the bathroom sinks. If there is no laundry service, and you don’t want to wash your jeans and wait a day or two for them to dry, asking at the hotel desk is a good place to start.
Please note that it is considered demeaning to wash someone else’s underpants, so we ask that you wash your own underpants. Hang them to dry discreetly in the bathroom.
What is the COVID situation?
The COVID situation is changing daily, but Turkey has done well with its vaccination campaign and it continues to improve. Masks are worn in all indoor venues such as museums. Entry into Turkey now requires just a Vaccination card to go through Customs and Immigration. We recommend bringing your original and a copy, and you carry them in two different places. Don’t count on having important docs like these downloaded on your phone.
Basically everyone is going about business as usual.
What are the COVID requirements for returning to the US?
There are no longer any COVID 19 health restrictions related to returning to the USA as a US citizen.
Do I need any vaccinations or immunizations?
This varies with each country. Make an appointment with your travel doctor and take your tours itinerary with you. Some areas of certain countries require malaria pills and others do not; same with Yellow Fever and others such as Cholera and Typhoid. He or she will have all the latest requirements at hand. A rural visit to a farm may require extra precautions, for example. We will send you the links to the CDC.gov information pages for your specific destination so that you can ask questions.
You should be current on all your typical childhood and international travel shots such as Polio and Tetanus. Some countries now demand proof of vaccination against COVID. Behind the Scenes Adventures requires you to have two COVID vaccinations. We recommend you have a booster as well.
How much physical activity is involved during the trip?
Each trip has different activity levels that will be fully explained in the specific tour material. But no activities or events are mandatory, and you are always welcome to sit at the bottom of the stairs to a temple or wait in the van while others ascend or visit a particular place. Walking sticks are fine to bring if they help you. We cannot accept wheelchairs or walkers.
For most tours, you’ll need to be able to walk the distance of 4-5 city blocks on your own, with sturdy shoes. Please note that sidewalks in many countries are full of big holes and broken cement chunks, with bits of re-bar sticking out, and you must constantly be alert to these dangers. In urban areas where distances are greater, the group will take taxis and/or get help from local assistants. If you need a personal taxi or additional special aid, that will be at your expense.
What will the weather be like?
Our Turkey trips are planned for temperate weather with little or no rain, in April-May and September-October. Average daytime temperatures are usually in the 70s and nights can be cooler, in the 50s. With global warming, it is much harder to predict but we will send weather charts with your pre-departure info.
Meals & Accommodations
What sort of hotels will we be staying in?
The hotels we will be staying in are charming and traditional whenever possible. For instance, two Ottoman-era homes with marble staircases were joined to form our charming Istanbul hotel. Occasionally we stay in a modern hotel if no boutique hotels are available.
Before we depart, we will send you a list of all hotels with contact information in case someone at home needs to contact you.
What sort of food will we be eating?
Turkish food is fresh and delicious, usually featuring locally grown, organic ingredients. Breakfast often consists of many different foods: yogurt, dried fruits such as apricots and raisins, walnuts and almonds, dates, olives, and tomatoes. Fresh breads of different varieties and menemen, a scrambled egg dish with tomatoes and peppers, are both common breakfast specialties too.
Each region has its own specialties, often varieties of char-grilled meats served with grilled vegetables with a big scoop of yogurt. On the coast lots of fresh fish and seafood is served, although it is often prohibitively expensive — and further inland beef or lamb are served with rice. Chicken (tavuk) kebabs are popular everywhere, served with grilled vegetables.
Desserts are everywhere, with crispy baklava being a national specialty. It’s made from very thin layers of pastry called yufka, and pistachios or walnuts, soaked in a honey syrup.
Will I be able to accommodate my dietary needs?
If you have any special dietary, health, or nutrition issues, restrictions, etc, there is no guarantee that Behind the Scenes Adventures will be able to accommodate your special diets in foreign countries. Please contact us before departure, and bring sufficient alternative foods. Travelers with severe peanut allergies cannot be accepted. Vegan diets are possible but with much less variety than at home. Vegetarian diets are often fairly easy to accommodate, but also with less variety than what is available at home.
Turkish food is rarely spicy but you can always ask for no hot peppers.
Flights & Travel
Will I need a visa for connecting countries?
It is very rare to need a visa for a connection if you stay in the Transit area. This will be regulated by the connecting country and the airline will send information as to this requirement.
What are the requirements for my passport to be valid?
Your passport needs to have one blank page for your visa, although, with an E-Visa, you will have just a piece of paper to show, and don’t need room for anything except Immigration stamps in your passport.
Will I be met at the airport?
Yes! Cynthia, an assistant or a driver will meet you with a sign with your name and/or Behind the Scenes Adventures. They will have your flight schedule and know you will need time to pick up your luggage. Wait for them in the terminal, right outside the Arrivals area, and don’t go with any other drivers that don’t have your name on a placard.
What is the best airline to fly to the country?
Turkish Airlines is very good and has many flights daily into Istanbul from the USA and Europe. Several reputable European and American airlines such as United, Delta, Lufthansa and others fly into Istanbul from JFK and other cities. Direct flights on Turkish from JFK, SFO or LAX are much easier, especially nowadays with Covid testing.
What will we use for transportation?
We use a Mercedes high-top Sprinter for interior transportation. We will also fly on one or two interior/domestic flights, still on Turkish Airlines.