Arrive at the airport to take your flight to Izmir via Istanbul. On arrival, you transfer by coach to the four-star KoruMar Hotel in the nearby resort of Kusadasi, for two nights half board. The hotel is fully air-conditioned with two restaurants, a large open-air swimming pool and sun terraces overlooking the Mediterranean.
Today we have a guided tour of the nearby ancient city of Ephesus and its breathtaking range of buildings. So great was Ephesus, with its amazing two-storey Library of Celsus and the enormous amphitheatre, that the Romans made it their capital of Asia. We’ll see the Temple of Artemis, which was in its day, greater than the Parthenon in Athens and a pilgrimage destination for a thousand years. Intriguingly, only a fraction of the city has been excavated to date, but the discoveries indicate a highly sophisticated society living in luxurious houses with marble-lined halls, mosaics and beautiful frescoes. As you stroll along the remarkably preserved marble road through the centre of Ephesus, you are walking the same streets as St Paul and St John, who both lived here for several years. We also visit the remains of St John’s Basilica, built by the Emperor Justinian over St John’s tomb. In complete contrast, we next visit the small hillside site of the House of the Virgin Mary. St John was entrusted to care for her and it’s believed she travelled with him to Ephesus. We return to our hotel in Kusadasi with the rest of the day free to enjoy at leisure.
Departing Kusadasi, we follow the coast towards the ancient Hellenistic city of Pergamon. Perched on a high rocky outcrop, with stunning views for miles around, the city was famed for its library, which rivalled Alexandria’s. Knowledge then, as now, is power and so concerned were the Egyptians about this competition that they cut off supplies of papyrus to Pergamon, thus prompting the invention of parchment. We’ll see the remains of the Temple of Trajan, the altar of Zeus and the world’s steepest ancient amphitheatre. We continue our journey along the scenic coastline to Canakkale and the four-star Kolin Hotel overlooking the Dardanelles. This evening’s dinner is included at your hotel.
A fascinating day of contrasts awaits today. Firstly, there’s Troy and the famous ‘wooden horse’ story, when Queen Helen of Sparta eloped with Prince Paris to Troy and her enraged husband followed seeking her return. Today, Troy is a complex archaeological site that spans nine separate cities. It nevertheless remains a romantic and alluring place to anyone who has read about the heroic struggles recounted in Homer’s ‘Iliad’. We then take the short cruise from Asia to Europe over the extremely scenic, steep-sided Dardanelles, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. We are now on the Gallipoli peninsula, made famous during the First World War as the scene of one of the greatest and most tragic campaigns of the conflict. More than 35,000 Australian, British and New Zealanders perished during the nine months it lasted, their deaths commemorated in the many cemeteries dotted along this now peaceful peninsula. We visit the Lone Pine memorial and Anzac Cove, where the Australians mistakenly landed and were forced to scale steep cliffs and ravines under constant bombardment. We continue our journey through this refreshingly picturesque landscape and arrive in Istanbul, where we stay at the superbly located four-star Armada Old City Hotel for three nights with breakfast. The hotel offers views across the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque.
Istanbul is a revelation: there are few places where you’ll find such a diverse array of monuments and fascinating places to visit. We see the immense and beautifully preserved city walls, still dominant after a thousand years, and the Hippodrome where the emperors entertained a staggering 50,000 people. We enjoy a comprehensive guided tour of the breathtaking Haghia Sophia, one of the city’s best landmarks and quite simply one of the world’s greatest architectural achievements. Built in the 6th century, it was the largest enclosed space in the world for 1,400 years! The artistic highlights are the amazing Byzantine mosaics that seem to cover every wall with their vibrant golds, reds and yellows, and the stunning blue ceramics so typical of the East after it was converted to a mosque some thousand years later. The marble that lines the walls has to be seen to be believed, with each piece specially quarried so the grain blends in a most harmonious manner. For thousands of years, Istanbul sat at the centre of the overland trade routes, and its Grand Bazaar became home to merchants from all over the known world. Today, more than 4,000 shops sell all types of goods, mainly gold, silver, leatherwear, ceramics and carpets, including fine collectors’ items. This afternoon we have a guided walk here and experience the sights and sounds of this thought-provoking relic of the past.
We start the day with a guided tour of the Topkapi Palace, the glittering and labyrinthine imperial residence of the sultans for over 400 years. Today, it is a spectacular museum, but in its heyday it functioned as a city within a city, a home to over 4,000 guards, eunuchs, courtiers and the ladies of the harem. There is a superb display of weapons from throughout history: crossbows, firearms inlaid with ivory and beautifully crafted armour from as far afield as Japan. The treasury is breathtaking too, with an amazing display of jewellery including the world’s fifth-largest diamond, emeralds, jewel-encrusted thrones and the famous Topkapi dagger – all displaying outstanding craftsmanship. Next we have a short walk around the Spice Bazaar, where your senses are bombarded by the vibrant colours and fragrant smells of herbs and spices from around the world: high-quality saffron from Iran; vanilla from Madagascar; turmeric from India; fresh peppercorns from Indonesia and much more. This entire area encapsulates the spirit of old Istanbul: a maze of tiny busy streets, where the locals chat over apple tea from numerous street vendors, as the commanding horns of the passenger ferries resound under the famous Galata Bridge. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.