↘ The natural, historic and cultural wonders of Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium. Testimony to an exceptional history of over 2000 years. (3 nights in Istanbul).
↘ The natural, historic and cultural wonders of Safranbolu and the Black Sea shore. Two very scenic hikes at an altitude of 900m. (3 nights in Safranbolu).
↘ The marvels of Cappadocia seen on hikes through the rocky landscape with traces of Byzantine and Ottoman history. (3 nights in Cappadocia).
This program is unique in combining a stay in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople and Byzantium, bordered by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Then a visit to one of the oldest and most traditional Turkish towns, Safranbolu, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. This part of the program includes two hikes through magnificent landscapes and a journey along the Black Sea coast.
And finally, a stay in Cappadocia, also on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, with walks in the countryside visiting hidden treasures of the Byzantine era (frescoes, mosaics, etc.)
Three Wonders and many other memorable sights
Introduction to Safranbolu :
At an altitude of almost 800m (756 to be precise) the old town of Safranbolu occupies a strategic position less than 100km from the Black Sea; the earliest evidence of settlement in Safranbolu dates back to the Hittite era in the 8th century BC.
During the Byzantine Empire (4th-15th century) and the Ottoman which followed (1453-1923) the caravanserai (literally ‘caravan palaces’) of Safranbolu were occupied by those following various commercial routes: caravans of mules, horses, camels, carrying the riches of the Orient to the west (silks, spices, perfumes, objects in gold and silver, etc.). This staging town grew rich on the trade and many caravanserai were built in Safranbolu and its surroundings, along with numerous imposing houses for the wealthy inhabitants and luxurious mansions (konaks). These impressive buildings of stone and mud-brick, with wooden overhanging bays, surrounded by parks and flower gardens featuring fountains, are indicators of the high level of local wealth. Many of them have survived, been saved and restored and the konaks have been converted to comfortable hotels still surrounded by their green parks and rose gardens. Safranbolu’s altitude of 800m means it is comfortable all year round, neither too hot nor too cold.
To lessen the carbon footprint of this visit and thus contribute to the fight against climate change.
All human activity produces CO2 and too much CO2 is responsible for the heating inherent in climate change which has resulted in a rise in sea levels, increased wild fires, floods, etc.
To actively reduce the carbon footprint of your journey, SAMISTAL will plant two trees in Turkey for each person and for each week of your stay. This planting is done by the Turkish NGO TEMA.
All travelers will receive from SAMİSTAL TRAVEL a certificate setting out the details of the visit and the fact that the trees have been planted. You can also track your tree planting via the official website of the organization responsible for the planting.
It is possible to travel responsibly without contributing to climate change despite false claims to the contrary.
↘All transport and transfers by bus.↘A specialist guide who speaks English.↘All meals except in Istanbul↘Transport of luggage by minibus↘Accommodation: a good hotel in İstanbul *** charming hotels in Cappadocia and Safranbolu.↘Picnics during the walks.
.International and domestic flights.
.Tips and personal spending
.Drinks and personal expenses
Day 1: İstanbul
You will be met at Istanbul Airport and transferred to your hotel where you will stay for the next 3 nights.
Day 2 : BYZANTIUM, CONSTANTINOPLE, ISTANBUL: A CONCENTRATION OF 2000 YEARS OF HISTORY.
We leave on foot from your hotel, located in the centre of the historic city, to begin your visit with a walk through history. This walk will include elements of historic Byzantium, Constantinople and modern Istanbul. During the time of the Roman Empire (from 27BCE - 395CE) the most important Byzantine political events took place in the Hippodrome (laid out by Septimus Severus in 203) which was decorated with trophies from various victories. Festivals, games and plays were performed here in the heart of the city throughout the Roman era, until 324, continuing during the Byzantine period till 1453 and on throughout the time of the Ottomans. Next we enter the Blue Mosque (officially Sultan Ahmet Mosque) with its six minarets, built in 1615 to celebrate the victory of the armies of Islam over the Byzantines. This mosque was designed by a pupil of the great Sinan who decided its size, its many domes and included 20,000 blue ceramic tiles from which it gets its name. It is surrounded by a garden planted with cypresses, carnations and tulips. After visiting the mosque we continue to ST. SOPHIA.
In 535 Justinian, who succeeded Constantine as Roman Emperor, decided to build a church which would be bigger and more sumptuous than the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and thus dignify the ‘New Rome’. He took materials from the temples at Delphi, Athens and Ephesus (the Artemesion, or Temple of Diana, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) re-using columns, slabs of marble and other precious materials to create an amazing building for its time (the huge dome was unequalled for many years) his basilica remains a monument emblematic of Istanbul and will be one of the most memorable moments of your stay…
Next we will appreciate the freshness of the ‘Byzantine underground castle’ which is located two minutes from St. Sophia. The same emperor, Justinian, used up his supply of columns and fluted pillars scavenged from ancient Greece, to construct this gigantic subterranean cistern. There we will see amazing huge heads of Medusa mirrored in the limpid waters…
Istanbul is built on 7 hills and we now descend one of them due south to the edge of the Marmara Sea. On the way, while passing through a colorful, popular area of the city, we can visit Little St. Sophia, also built by Justinian.
This great builder who created so many churches was also the somewhat sinister organizer of the massacre of 30,000 of his subjects in the Hippodrome following the revolt of Nicaea in 532. Return to hotel for the night.
Day 3 : TOPKAPI PALACE, Spice Market and Grand Bazaar
Again we leave the hotel on foot and pass in front of St. Sophia to reach TOPKAPİ PALACE the residence of the Ottoman sultans. This large domain comprises gardens, impressive buildings constructed over the centuries, kiosks, pavilions, richly decorated rooms, collections of all kinds of treasures (jewels, robes, relics, porcelain, furniture…) fountains, statues, mature trees and flower-edged lawns: an immense and dominating complex lying above the mouth of the Bosphorus.
The harem may well seize your imagination, a maze of rooms, all piled together seemingly without order in which the sometimes sad women were once well guarded. You should appreciate the sight of hairs from the beard of the prophet Mohamed along with his robe, which is also displayed, as is the staff with which Moses parted the Red Sea, not to mention various bones of St. John the Baptist. Embroidered robes, silks and porcelain from China, the chamber of the Divan from which the Ottoman Empire was administered…..a visit heavy with curiosities and strong visual memories…
From TOPKAPİ, we descend towards the point where the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn to arrive at the Egyptian or Spice Market which faces the Golden Horn. A profusion of color and aroma.
We then go up again towards St. Sophia bearing right to reach the Grand Bazaar, a veritable Ali Baba’s cave where each of you will find souvenirs and gifts to take home.
THE EVENING: GOLDEN HORN. THE ASIAN SHORE OF ISTANBUL. DOLMABAHÇE PALACE — PIERRE LOTI’S HOUSE - CRUISE ON THE BOSPHORUS
From your hotel we descend towards the western shore of the Bosphorus passing the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar again towards the bridge which crosses the Golden Horn. The Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara to the south (at its southern end the Marmara passes through the Dardanelles Straits to emerge into the Aegean Sea which later becomes the Mediterranean) to the north it empties into the Black Sea which also washes the shores of Georgia and Russia. The Bosphorus is a major strategic corridor.
We now take the bridge across the GOLDEN HORN. In 1453 Sultan Mehmet Il, conqueror of Constantinople, had a fortress erected on the western shore of the Bosphorus (Rumeli Hisar) and we proceed in the direction of that fortress.
From the bridge you will see the famous GALATA TOWER.
Then we turn right alongside the Bosphorus before crossing to the Asian shore, the Asian side of Istanbul, to visit BEYLERBEY PALACE. This was the summer residence of the last Ottoman sultans right up to the proclamation of the Republic in 1923.
Both shores of the Bosphorus are the site of many extravagant summer homes called ‘YALI’ in Turkish built by princes and other Ottoman notables (the Ottoman Empire comprised people of many nationalities and ethnic origins with pure Turks being a minority).
Our next visit is to the outstanding DOLMABACHE PALACE in which you will see items related to the life and achievements of the great ATATURK.
A short boat ride on the Bosphorus touches the Asian side again before we disembark at the terminus on the Golden Horn and continue our journey on foot to the right of the Spice Bazaar. The hill of EYUP is home to our next two points of interest. In an elegant mausoleum lie the remains of one of the companions of the prophet Mahomet at the centre of an imposing Muslim cemetery. Within this can also be seen the house in which Pierre LOTI lived in the 19th century whilst discovering the nature of Oriental life and writing about it in French.
We next embark (to the right of the Golden Horn Bridge) for a cruise on the Bosphorus. The shores are lined with palaces, ‘yali’ and other large residences built by Ottoman notables, typically featuring very big bay windows, and surrounded by parks and flower gardens.
Numerous villages and hamlets also line the shores all the way to the Black Sea just before the entrance to which our boat will anchor (in a small harbor) for dinner. The return journey down the Bosphorus will be as charming as the outward leg. Dinner on the boat and night in the hotel.
Day 4: İstanbul – Dingil -Safranbulu
Today we have a 5 hour journey by road followed by a walk of one and a half hours during which, for those who want it, there will be the opportunity to swim in a river near Safranbolu. To this end make sure you take with you (in the minibus in which you are traveling NOT in the baggage minibus) your socks, boots for walking, your swimsuit and a towel.
After breakfast at the hotel in Istanbul, and after putting your luggage into the baggage minibus (except for your socks, walking boots, swimsuit and towel which you will keep with you) we have a 6 hour drive to the east. We will eat lunch on the way.
Within sight of Safranbolu, the minibus drops us off in the village of DINGIL, starting point for a 6km walk (an hour and a half of walking plus time for a swim and a visit to the Turkish baths in the village of Bulak). Don’t forget your water bottle, we will pass two springs on the walk where you can fill it up if necessary.
We start walking on a dirt track which descends to the Dingil river: the views are magnificent, unspoiled nature, forests and huge cliffs forming a deep canyon.
We will quickly get to the only place where it is possible to swim. It includes rapids and natural rock slides. Enjoy your swim!
After your swim we return to the track and walk uphill to reach a curved level halfway up the hill which we follow for around 2km to the village of Bulak.
We visit the Turkish baths built in Ottoman times (they are around 400 years old) which this village has preserved intact equipping them to meet modern standards of hygiene. The baths are built of wood and marble and a visit to such a bath, complete with massage, makes for a good souvenir of your visit to Turkey. There are similar establishments in Safranbolu and Cappadocia: if you enjoy this bath experience we can arrange for you to have another after one of our other walks. After the visit to the Turkish baths in the village of Bulak we will walk a further 3km (less than an hour) to a point where the minibus awaits, and then drive for fifteen minutes to our charming hotel in Safranbolu (an old mansion, ‘konak’ in Turkish), where you will have time to settle into your rooms before dinner in a restaurant in Safranbolu.
UNESCO added the very charming town of SAFRANBOLU to its World Heritage list in 1994. Each evening we will stroll through the picturesque lanes of this living museum with its rich, traditional heritage.
The name ‘’Safranbolu’’ or ‘’plain of saffron’’ came from the town’s importance as a trading centre for this rare spice arriving from the Middle East by caravan during the Byzantine era and, after 1453, continuing in the Ottoman Empire. The saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, does not originate here but comes from Iran. The crocus bulbs (you can buy them here for 5 euros each) are planted at the end of August; the plants appear from the end of October with the flowers opening in November. After picking and drying, the orange filaments in the centre of the flower give saffron used to flavor and color fine cooking. It takes 70,000 crocus flowers to produce 100g of saffron.
The Black Sea lies 80km from Safranbolu. We will spend the last day of our stay in Safranbolu (Day 6) visiting the small fishing port of AMASRA and its surroundings and you can swim in a wild creek that can only be reached by boat, we have arranged a private boat to take you there.
Day 5 : Melagöz Bridge - Düzce village - Windmill Canyon
After breakfast we leave for a hike to the east of Safranbolu. The hike is approximately 18km, some 6 hours of walking and around 250m of climbing between 800 and 900m altitude. There will be the chance to swim less than an hour after the start of the hike, and again in the afternoon (don’t forget your swimsuit and towel). We will eat a picnic lunch near to the village of Düzce, at a place with an amazing panoramic view. There will be a 15 minute transfer by minibus from the hotel to the starting point of our hike. We will walk along a very ancient route taken by caravans from the east heading to Safranbolu : a route cut through the rock, paved with stone during the Byzantine era and still in use during Ottoman times. The route follows a vast, wooded canyon at the bottom of which runs a river with a bridge known locally as ‘Roman’ which was in fact built by the Byzantines. The first swimming opportunity is here in a natural pool near the Malagöz bridge.
After the swim we leave the track and walk on the rock and through natural vegetation to reach the other side of the canyon. Then we head south to pass through the farming village of Düzce, where as well as grains they specialize in growing nuts, you will see many nut orchards as you walk. The dwellings are typical Ottoman village houses, built of mud-brick with balconies and bay windows in wood. After Düzce we descend to our picnic spot which faces an open 180° panorama. Picnic.
We continue to descend for around one and a half hours, following a valley with huge cliffs, until we again reach the river. At this point it runs through cliffs in a deep canyon where it has created curious rock formations. We follow a spectacular path down this canyon to the place for your second swim.
After crossing a bridge dated to Byzantine times (of course it is also called ‘Roman bridge’) we arrive at a large, old windmill now converted to a very pleasant restaurant and cafe at the water’s edge, and called the Windmill. We stop here to rest and quench our thirst. And there’s a nice surprise, our minibus will come here to collect us and take us back to the hotel in Safranbolu.
We will meet for dinner at a restaurant in town followed by a stroll around the streets of this museum town.
Day 6 : the ancient fishing port of Amasra
After breakfast at the hotel, and taking swimsuits and towels, we get on the minibus for the 90km drive to the ancient fishing port of AMASRA on the Black Sea. It is a very pleasant drive through coniferous forest, crossing a pass at almost 1100m above sea level before descending to the sea shore.
AMASRA is an old city that has retained its walls, the remnants of a castle, monumental gates and some Byzantine churches. The Ottoman era saw the vestiges of the Greek population abandoned and Amasra became a small, pretty fishing port which continued until recently. Now the fishermen work in tourism as can be seen from the buildings around the small old port but the charm remains. However, after a quick visit to the historic remains, we shall go on board our private boat and cruise to a wild creek where we will picnic and swim in pure, clean, transparent water. Why is it called ‘the Black Sea’?
Is the Black Sea black as its name implies? No, not at all. It is actually a sea of intense blue, sometimes a transparent green, very pleasant for swimming. So why ‘black’?
Because the armies of the Muslim Turks, Seljuks and Ottomans, conquered this area and took it from the Byzantines at the end of the 12th century, it was customary for the Turks to name territories they conquered according to their geographical knowledge. Instead of ‘south’ they used the word ‘white’ (the dominant color in the south where the sun shines brightest) hence the north became black (because it doesn’t get sunshine like its opposite the south). The sea that we call the ‘Mediterranean’ is known in Turkish as the ‘Ak deniz’ which means ‘White Sea’ or the ‘Sea of the South’ because it lies to the south of Turkey, it clearly isn’t white in color. Thus the sea to the north of Turkey was logically given the name ‘Sea of the North’, in Turkish ‘Kara deniz’ which translates to the ‘Black Sea’. In reality it is a most beautiful blue in color, sometimes an equally glorious green. Enjoy your swimming and sunbathing.
We return by boat to Amasra and then by minibus to Safranbolu for our final evening in this charming town. We will meet for dinner in one of the restaurants in town.
Day 7: Safranbolu – Cappadocia - Çavuşin village – Paşabağ
After breakfast we load the luggage into the minibus for our journey to Cappadocia via Ankara the capital of Turkey. There are 230km between Safranbolu and Ankara (about a two and a half hour drive) and 290km from Ankara to Cappadocia (around 3 hours). We will stop for lunch on the way. On arrival in Cappadocia we walk in the direction of Cavusin, which was an important centre for Christianity from the 3rd century onwards. The church of St. John the Baptist, which lies in the midst of a maze of cave dwellings, is worth a detour for its architecture. We continue our walk through the fairy chimneys of Paşabağ. On arrival at the hotel you can settle in for the next 3 nights.
Day 8 : White Valley - Uçhisar - Pigeon Valley
A walk via White Valley to the village of Uçhisar. This is a wide valley enclosing enormous fairy chimneys of white rock sometimes stained with sulphur. Agriculture is confined to small plots at the foot of the rock walls. There used to be many people living here in cave dwellings but the latter are now used as storage or stables; these hamlets once featured women in head-dresses peering out of the carved doors and windows, nowadays they are deserted, strange but no less serene. We will visit the fortress (a huge mass of volcanic tufa standing on a rock promontory) it can be seen from almost all the valleys in Cappadocia. After a picnic in the shade of fruit trees, we will continue our exploration of the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia. Then later in the afternoon we will continue our walk through Güvercinlik valley, (Pigeon Valley) which will lead us to the celebrated village of Avcilar. 5 hours walking. 15 minutes transfer by bus.
Day 9 : Gömede valley and its fairy chimneys - Kepez and Sarica (churches) - Kizilçukur valley (Red valley)
Transfer by minibus to Gömede valley (10 minutes). A walk through the valley of Pancarlik wih its rock formations, small valleys, hanging rocks and numerous fairy chimneys. Visit the churches of Kepez and Sarica from the 10th and 12th centuries which lie in natural settings as if they are defying time. Picnic lunch in the valley. Our walk continues in the valley of Kizilçukur (Red valley) which gets its name from the colors of its rocks all red and rose. We will see the fairy tale results of millions of years of erosion by wind and rain on the soft volcanic rock. And the ingenuity of man adding his own touches to create cave dwellings in this lunar landscape.