North-East Turkey

Ishak Pasha Palace
Ishak Pasha Palace
Monumental portal, Ishak Pasha Palace
Monumental portal, Ishak Pasha Palace
The old town of Amasya
The old town of Amasya
Amasya Ottoman Houses
Amasya Ottoman Houses
Traditional houses in Ankara
Traditional houses in Ankara
Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery
Tombs of the Kings of Pontus
Tombs of the Kings of Pontus
Tombs of the Kings of Pontus
Tombs of the Kings of Pontus
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Ceiling frescoes of Hagia Sofia, Trabzon
Ceiling frescoes of Hagia Sofia, Trabzon
Mount Ararat
Mount Ararat

The dramatic landscapes between the Black Sea and Lake Van include the snow-capped volcanic peak of Mount Ararat. The name Ararat is a derivation of “Urartu”, an enigmatic Iron Age kingdom that wielded great power over a huge highland territory. We visit a number of their spectacularly situated citadels, built during the political upheavals of the 1st millennium BC.

The kingdom was taken by the Armenians, whose conversion to Christianity in AD 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator brought a new religious landscape to the region. Our tour ends at the mountain-ringed Lake Van - a fitting end to an exceptional journey, having explored a region far beyond the reach of most tourists.

  • Explore the remote Kingdom of Urartu with its fortified palace complexes and the ruined medieval Armenian city of Ani
  • Discover the Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery, which has been built into the side of a sheer cliff in a remote mountain valley
  • Learn more about the captivating history of these little-visited parts of Turkey
  • Admire spectacular scenery that ranges from dense forest to volcanic craters – a tour to this part of the world is is picturesque and surprising in equal parts

Themes

  • Romans
  • Prehistory
  • Medieval
  • Historic Churches

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

Arrive in Istanbul and transfer to Trabzon, located on the historic Silk Road. Upon arrival, we check in to our hotel.

Hotel: Zorlu Grand Hotel
Meals: Dinner included

Day 2

Today, we tour Trabzon, the last outpost of Byzantium and once a major stop on the Silk Road. The Greek General Xenophon reached here in 401BC with 10,000 troops following his retreat from Mesopotamia, as recorded in his Anabasis. We also visit the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia, with its impressive Byzantine frescoes, and the citadel that overlooks the sea and modern city.

Hotel: Zorlu Grand Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

Today we travel to the Sumela Monastery, which is spectacularly built into a sheer cliff that peeps out from densely forested slopes. It dates from the 6th century and boasts some fine frescoes. The monastery was hastily abandoned in 1923 following the population exchange between Greece and the newly founded Republic of Turkey. We then drive over the Zigana Pass and follow the old Silk Road to Erzurum, the highest city in the country.

Hotel: Polat Erzurum Resort Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

We walk around the austere yet fascinating historic city of Erzurum, visiting a number of atmospheric buildings left by the Saltukid and other Islamic dynasties. These include the 13th century Çifte Minare Medrese (Double-minaret religious school), the glazed-tile adorned Yakutiye Medrese, a number of elegant tombs with conical roofs, and the Ulu Cami (Friday Mosque), notable for its wooden dome.

Hotel: Cheltikov Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

Our exploration of early Armenian history continues today at Ani. It was a natural fortress, defended on two sides by deep ravines. Later, we admire the frescoes within the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and then we return to Kars to visit the citadel and Church of the Holy Apostles.

Hotel: Cheltikov Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, picnic lunch & dinner included

Day 6

We drive to Dogubayazit this morning, a garrison town close to the frontier with Iran. The main focus here is the romantic 17th century Işak Paşa Saray, dramatically situated on a limestone ridge with superb views over the Ararat Plain below. There is a Urartian rock-cut chamber in the cliff-face behind the palace, flanked by relief-carved figures. The views to Mount Ararat from Doğubeyazıt are superb.

Hotel: Butik Ertur Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 7

We drive over the Tendurek Pass, past frozen lava flows, and get our first tantalising glimpses of startlingly blue Lake Van. We navigate the northern shore of the lake, passing beneath towering Mount Suphan to the Medieval city of Ahlat with monumental tombs and elaborately carved gravestones.

Hotel: Hotel Kardelen
Meals: All meals included

Day 8

We descend into the deep valley carved by the river Bitlis and make a stop here to visit a charming 7th century Armenian church, which is now used by local Kurdish villagers as a barn. From here, we then head to Akhtamar Island and visit the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral.

Hotel: Elite World Van Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 9

Today we explore Old Van, including the mighty Rock of Van and the burial chambers of the Uratian King Argishti. Later, we visit the remains of the city that stood at the foot of the ‘rock’ complete with Ottoman mosques and Armenian churches.

Hotel: Elite World Van Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 10

We drive south deep into the heart of the mountains to visit the fairytale fortress of Hoşap, which was built by a Kurdish chieftan in the 17th century. Our final visit today will be to the Uratian citadel-palace of Çavuştepe.

Hotel: Elite World Van Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, picnic lunch & dinner included

Day 11

After breakfast, we travel from Van to Istanbul. From here, we transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals: Breakfast included

Itinerary 2020

Day 1

Arrive in Istanbul and transfer to Trabzon, ancient Trebizond, located on the historic Silk Road. Upon arrival, we check in to our hotel.

Hotel: Zorlu Grand Hotel
Meals: Dinner included

Day 2

Today, we tour Trabzon, once an important Greek colony on the Black Sea. The Greek General Xenophon reached here in 401 BC with 10,000 troops following his  retreat from Mesopotamia, as recorded in his Anabasis. Much later it became an important Byzantine Christian outpost and was not captured by the Moslem Ottoman Turks until 1461, some eight years after the fall of Constantinople. We visit the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia, with its impressive late-Byzantine frescoes and relief carvings, and the impressive citadel built on a spur of land sloping down towards the Black Sea and protected to east and west by deep ravines. We will also visit a couple of Byzantine churches turned into mosques following the Ottoman conquest.

Hotel: Zorlu Grand Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

Today we travel up into the lower reaches of the Pontic Alps to the Sumela Monastery, which is spectacularly built into a sheer cliff that peeps out from densely forested slopes plunging down to a tumbling brook. It dates from the 6th century and the monastery church boasts some fine frescoes. The monastery was hastily abandoned in 1923 following the population exchange between Greece and the newly founded Republic of Turkey. We then drive over the dramatic Zigana Pass, not far off 7,000 feet high, and follow the old Silk Road to Erzurum, the highest city in the country, and notorious for severe winters when temperatures drop as low as –20°C.

Hotel: Polat Erzurum Resort Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

We walk around the austere yet fascinating historic city of Erzurum, visiting a number of atmospheric buildings left by the Saltukid and other Islamic dynasties. These include the 13th century Çifte Minare Medrese (Double-minaret religious school), the glazed-tile adorned Yakutiye Medrese, a number of elegant tombs with conical roofs, and the Ulu Cami (Friday Mosque), notable for its wooden dome. The journey onto Kars is beautiful, taking us through remote country where rivers have cut deep gorges through the mountainous landscape. At Pasinler the multi-arched Cobandede Bridge, originally built by the Ilkhanid Mongols, spans the river. 

Hotel: Cheltikov Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

Today we head out east from Kars to the frontier with the modern Republic of Armenia, separated from Turkey by a deep gorge and river. Here lies the medieval ‘ghost’ town of Ani, a once powerful, churchfilled settlement astride a branch of the Silk Route. It has long been empty, its churches succumbing to earthquakes and the elements, but enough have survived to give us a taste of its glorious past. It was a natural fortress, defended on two sides by deep ravines. We admire the frescoes within the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and then across austerely beautiful steppe-land to Kars where we visit the impressive crag-top citadel, the 10th century Church of the Holy Apostles and some fine late 19th century Russian houses and administrative buildings.

Hotel: Cheltikov Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, picnic lunch & dinner included

Day 6

The morning drive to the lively garrison town of Doğubayazit takes us along the Armenian frontier and through a stunning landscape of barren mountains, fertile valleys and remote settlements, culminating in the drive over the western flank of Mount Ararat. Our main focus here is the romantic 17th century Işak Paşa Saray, a wonderfully ornate and architecturally intricate palace dramatically situated on a limestone ridge with superb views over the Ararat Plain below. There is a Urartian rock-cut chamber high in the cliff-face behind the palace, flanked by relief-carved figures, and a lovely domed Ottoman mosque beneath it. The views to glacier-capped Mount Ararat from Doğubeyazıt are superb, especially early in the morning and towards sunset.

Hotel: Butik Ertur Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 7

We drive over the near 10,000 feet high Tendurek Pass, past frozen lava flows, and get our first tantalising glimpses of Lake Van, a startlingly blue high-altitude soda lake seven times larger than Lake Geneva. Navigating the northern shore of the lake, we pass beneath towering Mount Suphan to the Medieval city of Ahlat, famed for its monumental tombs and elaborately carved gravestones.

Hotel: Hotel Kardelen
Meals: All meals included

Day 8

We descend into the deep valley carved by the river Bitlis, once a major trade route from the Armenian highlands to the flat lands of Mesopotomia and the Mediterranean seaboard beyond it. A short detour up a green and beautiful side valley brings us to a workaday Kurdish village where the locals have turned a charming 7th century Armenian church into a barn. From here, we retrace our steps to Lake Van and skirt its lovely southern shores to Akhtamar Island, home to the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, notable for its superb relief carved exterior and fresco-adorned interior.

Hotel: Elite World Van Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 9

Today we explore Old Van, including the mighty Rock of Van and the burial chambers of the Urartian King Argishti. Later, we visit the remains of the city that stood at the foot of the ‘rock’ complete with a couple of well-restored Ottoman mosques, as well as several badly-ruined buildings including an Armenian church and a couple of pre-Ottoman mosques. We look up to see a massive cuneiform inscription carved into the sheer cliff-face of the Rock of Van, carved at the behest of the Persian king Xerxes, and the rockcut tombs of the Urartian rulers of the settlement.

Hotel: Elite World Van Hotel
Meals: All meals included

Day 10

We drive south deep into the heart of the mountains to visit the fairy tale fortress of Hoşap, which was built by a Kurdish chieftan in the 17th century. The castle, perched high on a bluff, is surrounded by weirdly-eroded mud-brick walls, and a pretty bridge of contrasting bands of stone spans the fast-flowing river at its feet. Our final visit today will be to the fortified-palace of Çavuştepe, built on a mountain spur snaking out into a wide valley. Constructed relatively late in the Urartian period the site is notable for its beautifully-carved basalt masonry, blind windows, cisterns and twin temples.

Hotel: Elite World Van Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, picnic lunch & dinner included

Day 11

After breakfast, we fly from Van to Istanbul and onward flights home.

Meals: Breakfast included

What's Included

  1. Expert Guide Lecturer
  2. Tour Manager
  3. Local Travel - Private a/c coach
  4. Meals - Most meals included
  5. Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
  6. Field Notes
  7. Hotels

Travel Information

Joining the Tour

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Passport & Visa Information

For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.

 

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2020 Tour Details

Wed 27th May - Sat 6th Jun

Available

$3,955

Full Price $4080 Save $125

without flights

sgl supp: $850

NET20A

Led By: Terry Richardson

Guide Lecturer

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