Turkey is a modern, secular democracy occupying an ancient, complicated land. At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the region has been traversed, conquered and fought over by many diverse groups. Today, it is still an incredibly popular place – not for conquest, but for travel. People come to this country of 69 million (approximately 10-20 percent of whom are ethnic Kurds) to marvel at some of the richest archeological sites in the world, including impressive Greek amphitheaters, Roman temples, Byzantine churches, and castles built by Seljuks and Crusaders. They also come for the natural wonders – the golden beaches, turquoise (the word comes from "Turk") waters and spectacular coastline of the Aegean and Mediterranean; the honeycombed stone towers of Cappadocia; the white mineral pools of Pamukkale; the mountains of Eastern Anatolia and the green hills of the Black Sea coast. Istanbul is a major destination in its own right, a unique combination of East and West, ancient and modern. It has been the capital of three empires (Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman). In addition to all of these compelling places, Turkey has amazing food, friendly people, beautiful handicrafts and sprawling bazaars – it's easy to understand why the country never fails to leave visitors wanting more.
Travel in Turkey
Visitors to Turkey journey through time and fall under the spell of a kaleidoscope of sights and traditions. Our travelers retrace the glories of ancient civilizations (Hittite, Greek, Roman, Selcuk), learn about the old Turkic tribes wandering the steppes of Central Asia, and marvel at the achievements of the Ottoman Empire. Visitors also experience the often surprising modernity of Turkish cities where a complex mosaic of layered cultures and civilizations are merged, symbolically represented by the tile-covered mosques next to ancient churches, synagogues and the remains of Roman temples. Landscapes also differ incredibly: Huge rivers flow through the immense plains of Anatolia; the Black Sea is the largest oxygen-free marine system; and massive mountains meet olive, fig and pistachio groves on the rugged Mediterranean coast. This hugely diverse country offers vast history and artistic treasures, grandiose vistas, and traditional ways of life quietly coexisting with modern ones. There is much more to Turkey than history and architecture, however, and Artisans of Leisure's travelers experience it all: cosmopolitan Istanbul, shopping for wonderful local goods such as kilim rugs and beautiful glassware, relaxing at upscale seaside resorts, sailing on the sea, and enjoying Turkey's incredible cuisine.
Turkish cuisine, one of the world's greatest, is definitely one of the highlights of any trip. The country's varied geography provides an abundance of produce – tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, olives, figs, grapes – as well as meats and fish. The main staples are skewered and roasted meats, and the cuisine emphasizes freshness of ingredients and simple cooking techniques. Classic recipes deeply influenced by Ottoman imperial cuisine incorporate seasonings like dill, mint, sweet spices and yogurt, which is also a common side condiment. Breakfast typically consists of fresh tomatoes, white cheese, black olives, preserves and freshly baked bread. Meals commonly start with mezeler, or appetizers, such as roasted eggplant, salads, manti (tiny stuffed pasta), pickles, stuffed fish, pilaf rice in grape leaves, and kofte (lamb meatballs). Also, fragrant breads and freshly baked pide (Turkish pizza) are well worth trying. Desserts are often stuffed with dried nuts and flavored with rose water and saffron. Sweets are served with Turkish coffee – the country is credited with the spread of the beverage in Europe. Turkish tea, often apple-flavored, is served in small tulip-shaped glasses, and drunk throughout the day. Light beers, wines and the anisette flavored raki ("lion's milk") are common alcoholic drinks.
Turkey is also a wonderful shopping destination. Contemporary and ancient designs are combined with traditional techniques to create beautiful products. Stroll through the bustling bazaars, arastas (shop-lined streets) and bedestens (covered markets) of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, Ankara, Cappadocia, Konya and the towns along the Mediterranean. Shop for handmade jewelry, textiles, copper and brass-ware, leather goods, intricate silk carpets and colorful kilims (flat-woven rugs). Turkish ceramics and Iznik tiles (as seen decorating mosques and traditional Turkish baths). Ceramics and glassware are often modeled on 17th and 18th century original designs. Avanos, a town in Cappadocia, is well known for a strong tradition in pottery, produced since antiquity using the clay from the nearby Red River (Kizilirmac). Collectors can shop for quality antiques, including Oriental rugs and more rustic Turkish kilim, while gourmets will find wonderful spices (saffron is still hand-harvested) and beautiful housewares.
RECOMMENDED LUXURY TOURS TO TURKEY
Our recommended luxury tours of Turkey include cosmopolitan destinations such Istanbul and Izmir, the underground cities and rock formations of Cappadocia, the mineral pools of Pamukkale, the ruins of Aspendos, Ephesus, and Pergamon along the Mediterranean, and luxury beach resorts in Bodrum and Antalya. Our itineraries include the highlights of the country, but we are happy to customize more off the beaten track tours elsewhere in Turkey to suit individual travel interests.
Tours in Istanbul
When in Istanbul, we like visiting the highlights and the more off the beaten path attractions. Built on seven hills and divided into the Old City, the New (European) City and Asian Side, Istanbul’s districts are separated by the waters of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn and connected by bridges and ferries. In Sultanahmet, Istanbul's oldest district, visit mosques and palaces, museums and minarets. Explore the Blue Mosque and nearby Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, the imposing Aya Sofya, the Underground Cistern (Yerebatan Saray) and the Hippodrome (anciently the political heart of the city), the jewels and beautiful tile-covered harem at Topkapi Palace (sultans' palace), the bustling Grand Baazar and the Egyptian (Spice) Market. Also visit lively Taksim, the heart of the modern city, and Beyoglu, where "old Istanbul" meets the modern and secular city. Formerly a posh district of European embassies and boutiques along the famed Grand Rue de Pera (today's Istiklal Caddesi), it is again a center of cultural activities amid restored covered passageways, coffeehouses and stores. The Western districts offer traditional Islamic, Christian and Jewish heritage. Visit the Church of St. Saviour in Chora (also known as Kariye Mosque or Museum) whose splendor matches Aya Sofya. Stroll around quaint Phanar (Fener), a traditional Greek district and site of the Christian Orthodox Church, and Cukurcuma, known for small antique shops and second-hand bookstores. Cukurcuma is also a centre of avant-garde culture. Leave the city center and relax at Emirgan, famous for seaside cafes, the large park and Ottoman pavilions, and Tarabya, an old settlement around a beautiful bay. Explore the quaint Princes Islands and perhaps bike around beautiful houses and landscaped gardens while enjoying wonderful views. Upon request, a private yacht charter on the Bosphorus can be arranged.
Interesting day trips from Istanbul include Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, across the Marmara Sea from Istanbul. Explore its tiled architecture and wooden houses, covered bazaars and antique shops, pleasant gardens, silk (silk-cocoon markets are in June and September) and textile markets, and excellent restaurants. Also visit nearby Iznik (anciently Nicaea) to shop renowned ceramics. A full-day excursion to Troy is also possible.
Our preferred luxury hotels in Istanbul are the Four Seasons
Hotel at Sultanahmet
(located in the historic district), the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus, the Park Hyatt Istanbul, and the Ciragan Palace Hotel, a legendary property overlooking the Bosphorus.
Tours in Cappadocia
Cappadocia, with traditional villages and communities scattered around a unique landscape of "fairy chimneys," is one of the highlights of any trip to Turkey. Eroded rock formations, ancient underground cities and fresco-covered churches in caves make up this region’s otherworldly topography. Visit Urgup and Goreme, where homes, churches, stores, hotels and restaurants create a fascinating and slightly surreal moonscape. Many of these structures are literally carved from conical mounds or caves. Explore Derinkuyu's Underground City for the largest remains of troglodyte living in the area (the lowest accessible level at a depth of 180 ft) and Kaymakli Underground City for its impressively well developed public spaces (tunnels, galleries, chapels, wells). Cappadocia also offers interesting shopping. In Urgup, Ortahisar and Goreme there are impressive rugs (often natural dyes – black, brown and ivory) covered with simple patterns, while the region surrounding Avanos is well known for pottery and ceramics. One of the most exciting ways to see Cappadocia is from a hot air balloon and, in the summertime, private excursions can be arranged. For those particularly enchanted by the fairy chimneys, Artisans of Leisure can arrange for a private meal by candlelight in one of the area’s many caves.
In Cappadocia we recommend traditional-style "cave hotels" such as Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa.
Tours in Ankara
Ankara, deep in the heart of Anatolia's plain, is Turkey's capital as well as its political, administrative and cultural center. Beside opera, music and performing arts venues-catering mostly to foreign diplomats and Turkish politicians-it also has several prestigious universities. Although often overlooked by travelers, we recommend spending at least a few hours, on the way to or from Cappadocia, to visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations with its amazing archaeological collections inside a 15th century caravanserai; the important Ataturk Mausoleum, the colorful Old Town, and the Roman ruins of Angora. Ankara also has some interesting shopping opportunities, including unique rugs, ceramics, jewelry, and Angora wool accessories.
Tours in Konya
Ancient Konya, between Cappadocia and Antalya, is the center of the fascinating Sufi cult of the whirling dervishes. Visit the very interesting Mevlana Museum and Tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin and explore rug and antique stores.
Tours on the Mediterranean Coast
Around the resort towns of Side and Antalya are some of Turkey's best preserved Roman ruins. Side, Aspendos and Perge are especially famous for their amphitheaters, and the hilltop ruins of Termessos offer outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and Mediterranean Sea beyond. Along the rugged coast of pine forests are small towns and villages with charming marinas, outdoor cafes, and quaint shops with antiques, copper goods, rugs and ceramics. Walk cobblestone streets in Kas and Kalkan, amid whitewashed houses and colorful geraniums. Learn about Santa Claus and sail to sunken cities around Kale. Admire Lycian tombs carved on the side of the mountain around Fethiye. Marmaris, stretching along the oceanfront, has an attractive marina and a big covered bazaar. Shopping options include jewelry, rug, ceramic, and leather artifacts.
Our recommended hotels in Antalya are the Mardan Palace Hotel, the Kempinski Dome Hotel or the Sheraton Voyager Antalya.
Tours in the Aegean Coast
The region stretching from Bodrum to Canakkale offers upscale resort towns. Bodrum has a beautiful yacht harbor and marina, ancient ruins, whitewashed residential villages, fine restaurants, and seaside markets. Cesme is a charming resort town offering good shopping for jewelry, rugs, and leather clothes. Izmir, the old fabled Smyrna, is a modern city of leafy boulevards and good shopping (jewelry and leather goods) in its large bazaar and upscale promenade. Kusadasi, a lively port town, makes a wonderful homebase from which to visit the splendid ruins of Ephesus and Pergamon.
Our recommended hotels on the Aegean Coast include the Swisshotel Izmir and the Aman Resort in Bodrum.
Artisans of Leisure uses the best local guides throughout Turkey. Our itineraries create a true luxury experience, combining Turkish cuisine, beautiful art and design, and great shopping and cultural sightseeing. Whether you are interested in Turkey's history and ruins, Jewish tours of Turkey, Biblical Turkey, or visits to Turkey's more remote cultures and landscapes, our private Turkey tours are entirely tailored to your interests.