Days 1-2 Istanbul
Welcome to the spine-tingling city of Istanbul. Its heavenly architecture, ancient streets, formidable history and distinctive cuisine make it like no other place on earth. Jump straight in at a meyhane, a traditional Turkish restaurant serving meze (small dishes/tasters) and raki (aniseed liquor), and dine among the locals at these popular establishments. Take a walk along a lantern-lit Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s most famous avenue, before ending up at an animated local bar. The next morning, there's the chance to enjoy a breakfast of kaymak (clotted cream) and honey in a 19th-century café before discovering the acclaimed Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where a merchant will reveal distinctive blends and the best way to choose the most fragrant spices. Then, take a walk around Sultanahmet and Eminonu, seeing some of Istanbul’s most iconic sites, including the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Choose between a delicious array of Turkish street food for lunch – cig kofte (raw meatball), kokorec (offal ‘kebab’) and gozleme (stuffed pastry) are some of the local favourites. Spend the afternoon wandering through one of the oldest covered markets in the world, the impressive Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar), and be mesmerised by the colour and abundance of goods like carpets, tiles, jewellery and leather goods. Spend the evening on a ‘kebab crawl’ with the award-winning local food experts, Istanbul Eats. Relish five courses of Turkish specialties while moving between a traditional kebab joint, aromatic bakery, tantalising food stand and sumptuous dessert cafe.
ACCOM: Hotel - 2
Day 3 Bursa
Grabbing a simit (braided bread) from an aromatic street stall, catch the fast ferry and then the bus to Bursa, a historical city that exudes beauty and tradition. Spend the afternoon wandering the labyrinthine streets filled with old Ottoman hans (warehouses) and quaint shops before learning the art of Turkish tea preparation at a traditional teahouse. Perhaps top off the afternoon by soaking in a thermal spring once used by Byzantine royal families. Dine on Bursa’s most famous dish – the mouth-watering Iskender Kebab – before being mesmerised by an impressive Whirling Dervish performance.
ACCOM: Hotel - 1
Days 4-5 Ayvalik
Leave Bursa behind and stop by a picturesque farming village for a brunch made from freshly picked ingredients from the restaurant's garden. Arrive in Ayvalik in the early evening. This peaceful village overlooking the Aegean Sea is alive with olive trees and has a cuisine influenced by the sunny Mediterranean – fresh seafood, wild greens and plenty of olive oil dominate the dishes here. The next morning, be amazed by the quality and abundance of seasonal local produce at the Ayvalik Market, then see the long-standing tradition of olive oil pressing at the nearby village of Mutlukoy. Picnic among sun-dappled olive groves then visit a mandira (cheese workshop) to see the skill behind making local cheese and yoghurt, staples of Turkish cuisine. Perhaps enjoy a dinner in one of Ayvalik’s corbasis (soup kitchens) – soup is a treasured part of Turkey's cuisine – or any one of the outstanding local restaurants.
ACCOM: Pension - 2
Days 6-7 Selcuk
Awash with historical sites and ancient ruins, Selcuk is a wonderful place to see traditional Turkey. Take an orientation walk around the city and then choose to either rest, wander the city’s sights or head out to the village of Sirince to taste some refreshing local fruit wines. Spend the next morning at the awe-inspiring ruins of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World with its roots in the Neolithic age. The Temple of Artemis, The Odean and Library of Celsus are particularly impressive. Watch delicious gozleme (savoury, hand-rolled pastry) being created in front of you before tucking in for lunch. Perhaps have a revitalising soak and a scrub in a local hamam (a traditional Turkish bathhouse). Grab some snacks and board an overnight bus to Goreme.
ACCOM: Hotel - 1, Overnight bus - 1
Days 8-9 Goreme
Relax in the morning, perhaps with a little snooze, before visiting one of the most fascinating sites in Turkey – a Cappadocian underground city. Carved into the rocks during ancient times, these cities have been used for many thousands of years to live and hide in. Discover churches, kitchens, wineries, stables, schools, hidden doorways and living quarters – all delving many stories under the ground. Also, witness the breathtaking fairy chimneys that rise up from the landscape in a show of ethereal beauty. Tonight, savour a delicious dinner with a welcoming local family in their home. Enjoy typical dishes of the region and discover what life is like for the people who live here. Visit a bustling local market to buy fresh ingredients for today’s cooking class. Chop, stir and sizzle through the morning and enjoy the incredible local dishes created using a traditional Turkish tandir oven. Choose to walk off the feast by exploring vineyards and orchards that are dotted throughout the nearby valley or be awe-struck by Goreme’s Open-Air Museum. Tonight, perhaps try one of the restaurants set up in a cave for a unique dining experience.
ACCOM: Hotel - 2
Days 10-11 Gaziantep
Weave through the arresting Turkish countryside on the drive to Gaziantep, which is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Awash with history, Gaziantep’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by surrounding nations and is considered to be one of the Turkey’s finest regional cuisines, being especially famous for its delectable pistachios. Put this to the test tonight at dinner, where we dine at a restaurant that has been cooking since the late 1800s and is famed for its kebabs and pistachio baklava. Yum! For those keen for an early breakfast, seek out the city’s best cigerli kagit kebab (liver kebab) at the lively local market - it’s truly delicious but they sell out quickly! Then take a wander through the market’s passageways, taking in the intoxicating aroma of spices, nuts and fresh fruit. Visit coffee shops, spice merchants, pistachio sellers and baklava makers to test out their scrumptious wares; check out the fascinating mosaic and kitchen museums; or be dazzled by the copperware markets – Gaziantep is famous for its copper craftsmanship and it is easy to see why. There are lots of tasty local dishes to try before leaving – eighteen types of soup, et parcasi (meat with garlic, tomato and pepper), pilafs and the mouth-watering lahmacun (Turkey’s take on a pizza) – so choose a cosy local restaurant and dig in.
ACCOM: Hotel - 2
Days 12-13 Istanbul
Fly back to Istanbul in the morning and make a stop at Galata Bridge for the city’s famous balik ekmek (fish sandwich) – the fish is fresh off the boat and out of this world. Take an optional trip along the Bosphorus River to see this mystical city from the water, or choose to spend the afternoon sightseeing, people-watching over coffee and revanis (semolina cake) or shopping for souvenirs. Head over to Istanbul’s Asian side for a final Turkish feast at the celebrated restaurant, Ciya. Their ever-changing menu, using seasonally available ingredients, is inspired by culinary traditions from all over the country. Drink a few glasses of raki over dinner and say ‘serefe’ to an incredible culinary tour through the inspiring country of Turkey.
ACCOM: Hotel - 1
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