Selected departures April to October 2019
Turkey is the perfect place if you are looking for something a little different and it will not disappoint. It possesses a genuinely unique blend of diverse cultures, centuries of history and an atmosphere that links the mysterious east with the familiar west.
As the cradle of western civilization, of democracy, philosophy, the theatre, and so much more, Greece has drawn visitors for centuries. All have extolled the purity of its skies, the overwhelming hospitality rooted in its ancient civilization and the zest for life of the Greeks themselves.
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.
This morning we transfer to the airport for our flight to Athens. Our hotel in Athens superbly located in a quiet residential area, nestling below the rock of the Acropolis, just a few minutes’ stroll from the new Acropolis Museum and the Plaka district with its atmospheric tavernas and traditional shops. This afternoon is at leisure to explore the local area.
This morning you have a walking tour of Athens, visiting firstly the Acropolis, so fittingly one of the great ‘Wonders of the Ancient World’. Ascending the hill you soon experience the Parthenon itself – its blindingly white marble columns with their perfect symmetry and balance completely dominate the skyline.
We also visit the new Acropolis Museum with its amazing glass floor displaying ancient houses, streets and even an olive press below. Exhibits include superb sculptures and an incredible series of carved pediments from the temple of Athena. We then explore the picturesque old district of Plaka. This area dates from when Athens had shrunk to no more than a village below the Acropolis by the end of the 18th century. It is utterly charming, being crammed with neo-classical mansions, balconies overflowing with geranium pots and twisting cobbled lanes line with homely tavernas, their tables spread across the street.
After some free time for lunch we leave Athens and drive north past Mt. Pendeli, from where the marble of the Parthenon was quarried and drive through Thebes, before starting the ascent of Mt. Parnassus, site of the Delphic oracle. We stay at the centrally-located simple three-star Acropole or Fedriades, with dinner.
Delphi is simply amazing, with a unique wealth of monuments dedicated to Apollo. The setting has an extraordinary natural beauty, in a series of terraces overlooked by the lofty crags and cliffs of Mt. Parnassus, with birds of prey soaring on the thermals above. As we enter the sacred sanctuary you’ll see the treasuries which were crammed with gold, silver and all kinds of precious objects donated by grateful city-states after having had the benefit of the god’s wisdom.
Overlooking it all is the superb temple itself and below, in an underground chamber, was a geological fault which probably emitted mind-affecting vapours from deep within the earth. This was where the oracle relayed the god’s thoughts and wisdom, which were always open to several interpretations - in return for a fee!
The adjacent museum has some of the finest exhibits in the country, including the spectacular, full-size ‘Charioteer’, a masterpiece of ancient bronze sculpture and one of only a handful ever recovered intact. In the afternoon we drive westwards, passing through a timeless Greek landscape of tiny isolated villages, olive groves and rolling hills. We cross the huge spans of the amazing new Rio bridge connecting the mainland with the Peloponnese and continue southwards to the site of ancient Olympia, where we stay for one night at the excellent three-star superior Best Western Europa. Beautifully situated on a quiet hillside, the hotel features low-rise buildings set in lovely gardens, an open-air pool and an excellent restaurant where we take our included dinner.
The ancient Olympic Games were as major an occasion then as they are today – though hopefully cheaper to stage! Taking place every four years, the stadium had a staggering capacity of 45,000, an enormous number and a clear indication of the event’s importance. All military conflicts ceased for the duration and huge rewards were conferred on the winners, whilst penalties for cheating included fines, bans and public embarrassment - how little has changed!
Events included the discus and javelin, sprinting and wrestling. The Olympiad continued for about 1,000 years and we’ll experience a fascinating tour of the site, also visiting the excellent museum housing numerous extraordinary finds. This afternoon we experience the spectacular wild and mountainous landscape of the Peloponnese, driving through the province Arcadia, known as the land of the god Pan and woodland nymphs in antiquity. In the afternoon we arrive in the small town Nafplion, our base for the next three nights at the four-star Amphitryon Hotel, with breakfast.
Nafplion is one of Greece’s loveliest seaside towns, crowned by two massive castles built by the Franks and Venetians and attacked in turn by the Ottomans and the Greeks themselves during their War of Independence. In fact, Nafplion was chosen as Greece’s first modern capital in 1825 before it was moved to Athens five years later. The town has kept an air of quiet sophistication, with a beautiful pedestrianized waterfront promenade, lined with comfortable cafés and tavernas, a marble-paved main square and lots of fascinating boutiques and galleries set between the neo classical red-roofed houses.
This morning we visit Epidaurus, birthplace of Asclepios - the god of healing, and whose sanctuary here became the greatest centre of medicine in the Classical world. The ancient Greeks believed that one should be healthy in both mind and body, so the plays and music performed here in the acoustically perfect theatre played an integral part in the therapeutic process. We then visit Mycenae, entering the imposing citadel through its magnificent 3,300 year old Lion Gate, where you can still discern the pivot holes carved for the door hinges. We return to Nafplion in the afternoon, with the rest of the day at leisure to explore this delightful town.
Of course Greece, whilst being renowned for its ancient sites, is equally famous for its stunning islands, so today we offer an optional trip visiting two of the most beautiful: Spetses and Hydra. Spetses is the most southerly of the Saronic Islands, just a few hundred metres from the Peloponnese coast. Its pine-covered low hills lead down to a really attractive main town, full of narrow alleyways, charming houses, shady squares and waterfront restaurants around the old harbour. There are very few cars allowed on the island so horse-drawn carriages remain a popular way to get around.
As our boat rounds the headland you get your first glimpse of one of the most attractive anchorages in the entire Aegean: Hydra’s lovely harbour, full of traditional ‘caiques’, whilst ascending the hill behind them is row upon row of opulent mansions, once owned by rich shipping families. Most streets are too narrow or steep for cars, so take some time and wander where your feet take you, enjoy a coffee, and absorb the unique atmosphere that is the Greek islands.
Today we say goodbye to Nafplion and head back to Athens, via the Corinth Canal, for our last night at the Divani Palace Acropolis. The afternoon is at leisure: how about some shopping in the nearby flea-market? The centre of the city is within walking distance, with Constitution Square and the opulent Hotel Grande Bretagne where Churchill stayed. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by the elite National Guard, ‘skirted’ in the instantly recognisable national costume and opposite is Athens’ best kept secret, the extensive National Gardens, full of winding sandy paths, hidden grottoes, pergolas and shady ponds.
Today at the appropriate time, the coach will transfer you to the airport for your return flight, after a most fascinating and unforgettable tour.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin/double room and includes: scheduled return flights; 13 nights in three and four-star hotels; daily breakfast plus three buffet dinners in Turkey and two in Greece; hotel porterage of one item of luggage per person; the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager
Included excursions in Turkey are guided tours of Ephesus, Virgin Mary’s House, Temple of Artemis, Pergamon, Troy, Gallipoli battlefields, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. In Greece excursions included are a walking tour of Athens and guided visits to the Acropolis, Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia and Delph
Not included: US$20 Turkish visa payable on arrival and optional entrance to Topkapi Harem quarters is 25 Turkish lira. Entrances to archaeological sites and museums, approximately €76 per person, or €41 per person for EU citizens over 65 years, optional full-day two-island cruise €34 per person.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Istanbul Airport||Kusadasi||1 hr||Athens||Athens airport||1 hr|
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
I just wanted to let you know that my cousin and I had a wonderful river cruise onboard the MS Swiss Tiara which departed 3 June. All the places we visited were terrific and the included guided walks were very interesting and at ...
Just returned from a very enjoyable short trip to Bologna, Parma and Ravenna. Our tour manager Aideen was wonderful very informative and a great character. The hotel was very good although better lighting in the bedroom would be a...