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Here it is at last! After years of building to it, we bring you an expansive and immeasurably rich new land based tour doing full justice to a magnificent region in the first rank of ancient history, culture and archaeology. We take you on a tour packed with names that resound in the history of the ancient world, and the story of archaeological exploration: Troy, Ephesus, Pergamum, Priene, Sardis and Halicarnassus. We cross the famed straits of the Hellespont and trace the intricately winding coast of Turkey south, through lands threaded with rich river valleys, rugged hills topped with secluded remains and beautiful headlands where, from the midst of a ruined temple plucked from a romantic artist’s dream you can gaze out over a sea view studded with the silhouettes of islands and made for memories.

Our journey encompasses the ancient Troad, pretty Aeolis and the long seaboard of Ionia, all speckled with ancient Greek cities, and the gold-rich kingdom of Lydia and Caria, a supremely interesting region with a development bound up in early Greek history. It’s hard to overstate just how important, how central, this region is to the unfolding of Greek history, the development of her cultural character, and view of the world. So much begins here: it’s the well-spring of ancient history and culture, and the spotlight never entirely leaves it. We’ll take you to Troy, Priam’s City, whose topless towers may have fallen, but whose memory created the richest poetic tradition imaginable and gave the greatest poet his song. Troy not only stands at the start of Greek literature, but is a settlement of extraordinary antiquity for the region. If that were not enough, it stands explosively at the start of the heroic age of archaeology in the Aegean. And that’s only our opening crescendo on this tour.

We bring you Ionia, the fringe of Greek cities in Asia that flourished as the Aegean re-emerged into history in the Archaic era. Here, new ideas of literature, philosophy and the sciences developed. Encounters with non-Greek ‘barbarians’ inland saw the Greeks move to define themselves and explore the lands and ways of others, borrowing ideas as they went – many of them ideas that are still central to us today. In one of our sites, ancient Halicarnassus, a fifth-century BC Greek, Herodotus, created the notion of History in something like the way we understand it. And at its work’s beginning, he tells the tale of the rich King Croesus of Lydia, whose capital we’ll see at Sardis. There we’ll hear of his glory, and downfall to the Persians of Cyrus. It was here, too, that they came into conflict with the Greeks, the first link in a chain that leads to Xerxes and Leonidas, Pericles, Alexander. Everything.

And after, those cities multiply as Greek culture spreads throughout the region. Pergamum, from its eyrie on a steep rocky acropolis, filled with temples and palaces like a cinematic Olympus, ruled half of Asia Minor for a century. When Rome came, captive Greece famously held her captive, and it was here, in the Roman province of Asia, that the cell lay. It was this region that was the cultural epicentre of the Greek world under the Roman Empire, brim-full of stunning cities, it was this region that Roman senators regarded as the pinnacle of their careers.

All that leaves us an unsurpassed legacy of history, culture and beautiful ruins to take you to. We visit an array of ancient sites that will simply leave you in awe. Stunningly preserved cities expansively spread out beneath vast grey crags, beautiful temples in obscure groves, piously inscribed with dedications or richly decorated with sculpture by the finest artists to be had anywhere. We journey with the god Apollo, meeting him at three of his temples in very different guises; we encounter strange forms of Zeus and the most iconic representation of Great Artemis at her most famous domicile. All this, of course, comes with expert guides who’ve travelled back and forth across this region for decades and know the sites intimately, our carefully-selected hotels and our eye for the finest dining.

Troy, Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, Halicarnassus. The heart, the soul and the beginning of the classical world is here.

Day 1: Arrival in Istanbul. Transfers from the airport to our hotel in the centre of the city, about an hour away. Welcome drink and dinner.
Day 2: We take our leave of Istanbul and encounter a name forever associated with a doomed attempt to capture it: Gallipoli. This peninsula, a long, thin finger by the Hellespont, draws a trailing line where Europa and Asia stand almost as one. It’s beckoned travellers, traders, and colonists for millennia and brought peoples together as a superb route by land and sea. But that’s also drawn conflict, most famously in the Dardanelles campaign of a century ago, when Churchill’s plan to force the straits devolved into tragedy. We’ll see the rugged, impossible terrain, the flanks of hills to which the Allies clung and the bright white memorials they’ve left under the peninsula’s blue skies.

We arrive at our hotel for a fine meal. Asia’s coast awaits us.
Day 3: Sing, goddess, of the rage of Achilles…

Like Alexander or Xerxes before us, we cross the narrow waters, and like both come to fabled Troy. There are so many reasons to visit Troy, that it’s difficult to encapsulate. We can come here to encounter the beginnings of European literature and history, to romantically connect the site of the greatest epic to an archaeological reality, like its controversial first excavator, or we can come to admire the almost unrivalled depth of remains of the region. Troy goes beyond the city’s epic Fall – we have a site that saw the earliest Bronze Age and classical Greece come and go, while still having Alexander himself and a Roman metropolis in its future. We revel in this exceptional site and its acclaimed new museum before visiting the ‘Tumulus of Achilles’ and maybe spare a thought for Hector, tamer of horses.
Day 4: We continue our journey in the Troad and come to the great Hellenistic and Roman city of Alexandria Troas, founded in the wake of Alexander’s conquests. We visit remains that have somehow eluded the grip of nature and Istanbul’s temptation to use them as a convenient source for fine ancient stones. The hoops of vaults standing all round eloquently tell of the vanished prosperity of this leading city. Ghost structures of a different kind meet us after the short journey to Yedi Taşlar, a beautifully atmospheric ancient quarry where unfinished monoliths speak of buildings never completed.

After lunch, we reach back to the beginnings of Troy’s history and go to a rural sanctuary in the old territory of Alexandria Troas. Here we meet Apollo Smintheus, the Lord of Mice and visit the remains of the Smintheion, his pretty Hellenistic temple with its lovingly-sculpted columns. Before dinner there’s time for one more site, which would easily merit a visit by being the one-time home of Aristotle, even if it did not possess such an extraordinary location. This, the ancient Greek city of Assos, stands far above the Bay of Edremit. From on high, the stark, stern Doric columns of its Archaic temple of Athena make a fine frame for the amazing seascape we see stretching to the famous island of Lesbos. Behind, the flourishing of the later city fills terraces filing down to the suitably dramatic location of its theatre.
Day 5: It’s hard to find words to do justice to our next site so, since it’ll be visible from afar, just take the time to stare and take it in as we draw closer: Pergamon. Among the most renowned cities of the ancient world, it fanned like a skirt around the great acropolis rock that rises, vast, from the plain below. The perfect site for a power-base, it dominated half of Asia Minor as the capital of the Attalid kingdom, and its kings made it a centre for intellectuals, sculptors and writers, and home to one of the greatest of the ancient libraries. After lunch, we take ourselves up to the Acropolis, a bewildering array of outstanding buildings – palaces, temples, agoras – cluster and nestle, tier upon tier, in one of the most dramatic concentrations of ancient remains, which itself must have inspired so many of the gifted individuals who gathered there. Most famously, Pergamon’s theatre, etched almost perpendicularly into the hill, offers up a view that you will never forget.
Day 6: Our time at Pergamon is not done. With yesterday’s heights behind us, we visit two great complexes below the acropolis. These are no afterthoughts, but sites that would be in the first rank of most tours, and restate eloquently the cultural power of this great city. We visit the Red Basilica, a soaring rust-hued temple compound to the Egyptian god Serapis, still enclosed by vast, sky-seeking walls. Then we visit the famed and sprawling complex of buildings and temples dedicated to the healing god Asklepios. After lunch, we visit Aigai, a far less famed city, but one beautifully sited, the pinkish stones of its theatre and market attesting the spread of Greek culture just as eloquently as Pergamon’s vast riches. After a rewarding day, we move on to Foca and a dinner, where you may already be spending as much time on extraordinary memories as on the fine food.
Day 7: In the morning we visit the city walls of Phokaia, honey and purple coloured under the blue sky. A key early Greek city, it was famed for the venturesome nature of its ruggedly determined people, which took them on voyages far into the western Mediterranean, ultimately to found Marseilles. After lunch, we remind ourselves that not all the important ancient cities in these parts were Greek. In the Archaic period, the power here was the kingdom of Lydia, which brought many Ionian cities under its sway, invented coinage and dominated half of Asia Minor. We visit the capital of these gold-rich kings, Sardis, dominated by the ragged, glowering contours of its supposedly impregnable peak acropolis - which failed to save the famed last monarch, wealthy Croesus. For two hundred years after it was the seat of the formidable Persian satraps. Currently being excavated, it impresses yet more with the scope of its story with every passing year, which saw it survive through hard times in this region till finally sacked by Tamerlane in 1401. We view the fine remains of the Graeco-Roman city, with richly adorned streets, and a showpiece gymnasium complex and late Roman synagogue. We move on to Izmir.
Day 8: A free day to do with as you wish – make a leisurely exploration of Izmir, try and cool down overheated camera memory cards, or just sit back and smile at what you’ve seen, and the prospect of what’s coming.
Day 9: We begin the morning exploring our base, Izmir, the ancient Smyrna. A city whose fame is intertwined with the Greek presence in Asia Minor, its early archaeology tells us it was a precociously impressive Archaic city until the Lydians brought it down. After a long time in limbo, it was revived by Alexander the Great. We see the results in its magnificent agora, lined with column after upstanding column, flanked by serried ranks of impressive vaults. Today’s excavations are one of the most exciting developments in the region, revealing more and more of the heart of old Smyrna, an icon of the Greek presence in Asia Minor into recent times. We also visit the new museum displays of the sculptors’ skill, and treasures from the city’s long life, giving us much to talk about over lunch. Afterwards, we visit Metropolis, a site of no great import in ancient times, though you’d not know it from the pretensions of the adornments to its theatre, and the fine remains gathered round its slopes on a site commanding splendid views. Our evening sees us relax in the very pleasant surroundings of the Villa Konak.
Day 10: The morning reunites us with Apollo, in his great oracle shrine of Claros, famed throughout the Roman Empire as a saviour from plague. Here oracles were revealed through priests who drank the waters of a secret fountain and passed them in verse to the needy pilgrims. We admire its remains, viewing vaulted crypts hidden to pious ancients, before moving on to Belevi. Here we come face-to-face with something of a mystery: a great tomb of high quality, with monarchs among those suggested as finding their last rest within. Our rest now comes too, but in the form of a rather excellent lunch.

Rejuvenated, we head to Selçuk near ancient Ephesus and explore its Archaeological Museum as an appetiser for our visit to the great city nearby. This is a richly-filled repository of Ephesus’ story, replete with ornate detailing from the city’s great buildings, baroque Roman sculpture, tense classical lions, images of Roman notables and fine ivory carvings, and the iconic statue of Ephesian Artemis.

We’ll be more than ready to see the home of these marvels, and we’ll enter the great city, the Metropolis of Roman Asia just as the main crowds are leaving, ready to explore the vast site at leisure. We’ll walk in awe through street after street of the cityscape of one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, through its monumental squares and along marble-paved roads stretching into the distance, whether towards the expanse of the 28,000-seat theatre, or the lovingly-decorated storeys of the Library of Celsus dominating the viewer as they strain for height. From these outstanding public buildings, we’ll turn to the remarkable Terrace Houses, a huddle of fine residences filled with room upon room, space upon space, from open courtyards where the owners displayed their public face to an impressed world, to the intricate warren of more private rooms, lavishly bedecked in mosaics, wall paintings and marble inlay. It stands in the first rank of sites where we can get a real feel for the lived life of the Roman era.
Day 11: Our day brings us to two more ancient Greek cities with notable parts to play in ancient history. In the morning we visit Magnesia, where thickets of columns and banks of marble seats announce another wealthy and once-flourishing ancient polis: theatre, stadium, Roman baths and an agora colliding with a far-famed temple of Athena make for a rousing opener to the day. After lunch, we come to Priene, an almost perfectly preserved Greek city fanning out beneath a towering perpendicular brow of gnarled rock which gives this special site an aesthetic appeal to match its archaeological importance. Here we have an important city of middling rank, filled with Classical and Hellenistic remains, crucially without much of the overwhelming overlay of titanic Roman structures. Here we get an impression of the Greek world of the city-state and the kings after Alexander, before that Roman imprint. We’ll walk its extensive streets and houses, admire the beauty of the Greek theatre and the deft sculpting of its most prestigious seats. Awed, we’ll come to the bouleuterion, the ancient council building with its tiers waiting for the city’s leaders, and be rapt by the perfect vista of the standing columns of the temple of Athena framing the sheer rugged bluff of Priene’s great rock rising behind them.
Day 12: In the morning, we head for Priene’s larger neighbour Miletus, with which it had a quarrelsome and troubled relationship even when they were safely separated by an arm of the sea. One of the most significant ancient Greek sites, Miletus was a powerhouse of early Ionia, a centre of colonisation and precocious producer of philosophers. Now that the sea has long withdrawn its favour, the city sprawls over an extensive inland site with a brooding atmosphere, a vast theatre, spacious agoras and impressive Roman baths remaining to witness the city’s ancient greatness and its turbulent history.

After lunch, we make the short journey south to one of the most impressive classical sites in the entire Aegean: Didyma. In ancient times this was another of Apollo’s oracle-temples, and one with a roller-coaster history of highs and lows. The celebrated Branchidae guarded it until its destruction; resurrection came through the bountiful patronage of kings and emperors for a temple famed for periods of secure guidance alternating with inexplicable oracular silence. What this has left us is one of the greatest, and most unusual, temples of the Greco-Roman world, huge in size and intricately carved from the iconic Medusa with its deeply-knotted brow right down to the ornate detailing even of the column bases, making them beautiful for the god. Inside the temple, past a spill of cogwheel-like column drums, its walls marked with curious signs whose meaning is debated, you’ll come to the breath-taking central space, a vast quadrangle laid out below and hear what we can tell of this leading oracle.
Day 13: In the morning, we’ll find ourselves in an olive grove where we are suddenly met by the sixteen standing columns of a well-preserved temple, once the chief holy place of the city of Euromus, dedicated to its local version of Zeus. Unusually, the columns bear inscribed panels recording the lavish gifts of notable benefactors, gifts which don’t seem – however – to have been enough to complete the temple, as the unfinished fluting of those triumphantly standing columns testifies.

From one Zeus, we visit another, Zeus Labraundus or Stratios in his great oracular shrine at Labraunda. This is a steep and vertiginous site in the mountains, site of a Carian last-stand against the Persians. The sublime location in which the temple sits, and the unusual structures built on the shoulders of its lofty terraces by the Carian kings makes this a truly unique site.

We have lunch in Milas, ancient Mylasa. This was a place of the non-Greek Carians, particularly interesting neighbours of the Greeks, and their ruling Hecatomnid dynasty under the Persians. A hugely-significant ancient centre, it’s a site being increasingly recognised as archaeologically important and culturally influential, not least for the great podium which may be a first-draft inspiration for the Mausoleum itself, now crowned by a column where storks nest, oblivious to their momentous residence.

To crown the day, we visit the ancient Greek coastal city of Iasos where yet more archaeological excavations are revealing a vital and beautiful classical polis. Long-lived, though often beset by dangers, peaking with the classical, Hellenistic and Roman cities with their theatre, council building and temples right through to the Middle Ages, with the city crowned by a medieval fort, and a lonely Byzantine tower standing sentinel over the port in the midst of the sea.
Day 14: We spend the day exploring our final base, Bodrum. As ancient Halicarnassus, it has fascinating historical connections which put it in the first leading rank of classical sites. These come not merely in terms of the history itself, though its part in that is rich and impressive enough. A Greek city with a strong Carian element in its population, its name is intimately linked to the great Carian rulers Artemisia and Mausolus (whose ‘Mausoleum’ was one of the Seven Wonders), and to that of the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander, who subjected it to a fierce siege in 334 BC. The historical connection also comes with the development of the idea of history itself, Halicarnassus being the birthplace of Herodotus, the ‘Father of History’, and one of the most engaging writers of the ancient world.

In the morning we visit the Myndos Gate, which gives us an inkling of the power of the city, and the grim threat a city of its standing was under. For all its impressive appearance, this was no vanity project. Next we turn to the rulers whose power was being projected and protected, as we visit the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus itself, having lunch near where the Wonder once towered.

Nearby in this striking spot, the magnificent Crusader castle stands impressively sited on a peninsula stretching out into the blue waters of Bodrum’s expansive harbour. Fascinating in its own right, bearing warnings to spies and the arms of Henry VII of England, the castle’s story is further enriched by housing one of the finest museums of underwater archaeology in the world. We’ll discover finds from two Bronze Age wrecks of unsurpassed significance, viewing across a gap of nearly three thousand years remains of the Mycenaean era in a site of the Crusader and Turkish periods which rests on a Classical city. A superb way to bring our encounters with the long story of this pivotal, multifarious and beautiful land to a close, leaving us plenty to talk about at our farewell meal.
Day 15: Transfer to Bodrum airport, about 40 minutes away.

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Arrival and Departure Information

Arrival Airport – Istanbul

Departure Airport – Bodrum Milas Airport (BJV)

Check in time at our hotel in Istanbul is after 14:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives mid to late afternoon. Check out time in Bodrum is 10:00. We will arrange local transfers from Istanbul airport and to Bodrum airport on the first and last day of the tour.

Accommodation
Where possible we try to use smaller, family run, boutique hotels with character rather than large chain establishments. Almost all of the hotels on this trip are of a very high standard. When we are staying in less well visited areas or in a small village or town we use the best hotel available.

On this tour we use 9 different hotels, with four one night stays and five two night stays. Each hotel has its own distinctive style, character and atmosphere, from an historic han in Istanbul to a grand merchant’s house dating to the 1800’s in Izmir and from a beautiful winery on the Gallipoli peninsula to a simple and rustic guesthouse set in a village in the heart of the ancient city of Herakleia.

Booking Flights
The cheapest way to book flights is directly with the airline online.

If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.

Please note Flights are subject to change. Please contact the airline for exact details.

Travel Insurance
We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered.

Visas
Visas are easily obtained online at eVisa and must be purchased before you travel.

British nationals travelling to Turkey for tourist or business purposes do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

Custom tours or additional travel in Turkey
If you are thinking of extending your trip to Turkey before or after the tour, please contact our office for further information. We will be happy to offer suggestions and also put you in touch with our excellent local family-run agency with which we have been working for over a decade. They will be delighted to assist with any additional travel arrangements.

Accreditations

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