Istanbul and the Ancient Treasures of Turkey

Gillian Thornton tried an 8-day tour with Newmarket Holidays.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul With its blend of east-meets-west, its ancient history and vibrant present, Istanbul had always been high on my wish list. But when my husband and I started planning an independent city break, it seemed a shame not to explore more of this fascinating country on an escorted tour.  

Many tour operators offer variations on the same theme – Istanbul and the ancient sites of Troy, Pergamon, and Ephesus – with tours lasting 8-12 days. Some start in Istanbul, others finish there, but the circuit is very similar, so it pays to compare price and hotel accommodation before you book. Whichever one you choose, you won’t be able to do the same itinerary for the same price on your own, or as painlessly.

This is an itinerary that is steeped in history and, like many such trips, requires a fair amount of walking. Our small hotel in Istanbul was in Sultanahmet, the historic centre, just down the hill from the key sites of the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Agia Sofia, so were able to stroll back after dinner to enjoy the illuminations. But expect to spend a large part of the day on your feet and don’t expect an intimate experience.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque aka Blue Mosque We soon realised the advantage of a little local knowledge. Our excellent young guide tailored our timetable to ensure that we visited the main sites before the cruise passengers arrived en masse and of course he already has your tickets, so there’s no queuing. The optional Bosphorous cruise provided a welcome opportunity to see the sites from the comfort of a river cruiser, but the main sightseeing tours were included in the package and covered all we would have chosen and more.  

Hotels in Istanbul’s old town are usually in old buildings, which means bedrooms and bathrooms can be compact and unequal in size. But we found that the simple rooms were more than offset by the central location, and with no evening meal included, we were free to sample different restaurants and compare Turkish with Ottoman cuisine for the first three nights, all delicious. Restaurant staff invariably speak English and we found everyone to be super-friendly.  

On day four, we drove out of Istanbul – a city which seems to go on for ever – and round the Sea of Marmara to the Gallipoli peninsula for a short stop at Anzac cove. This was the least interesting day, with several hours spent on the coach before an overnight stop in a spacious tourist hotel with its toes in the Dardanelles, but the scenery changed regularly and the journey provides the vital link between Istanbul and the ancient resorts of the Aegean coast.

Pergamon First up, Troy, was – we were warned – slightly underwhelming. Whilst the layers of stone remains from the city’s different periods are amazing to think about, the only bits you can really see clearly are a small theatre and the ramp where the Greeks reputedly led the Trojan Horse to the city gates.   

But Pergamon next day was outstanding with its hilltop acropolis, ruined temples and a 10,000-seater theatre that literally tumbles down the hillside. The site of the Hellenistic city is accessed by cable car and can be uneven, so flat shoes are a must, but if you’ve forgotten water or a sunhat, you’ll find plenty of stalls outside the entrance gates.

The same happens at Ephesus, where Roman and Byzantine architecture come together in one of the most evocative historic sites you’re ever likely to visit. But there is no shade, and walking amongst these UNESCO-listed ruins can be slow going, especially at peak times, so travel prepared or buy outside before you enter.

Ephesus Ephesus was just a 20-minute drive from our third base on the edge of Kusadasi. Here our resort hotel room was everything that the Istanbul bedroom wasn’t – huge, modern, and air-conditioned with a balcony looking across the sparkling Aegean to the Greek island of Samos.  

With a 1000 beds spread across three accommodation towers, this was hospitality on an industrial scale. Not my preferred style of hotel – nor the ‘canteen’ style of buffet dinner – but ideally placed for our escorted tours and independent excursions into Kusadasi itself, with a regular shuttle bus passing the front gate until late evening.

A popular stopover with cruise ships – largely because of Ephesus – Kusadasi offers the usual beach resort amenities as well as some great fish restaurants round the old harbour and a few small scale historic sites. 

Kusadasi Newmarket Holidays offer a full-day optional excursion to Pamukkale to see its famous mineral springs and white calcium terraces, but we opted instead for leisurely local exploration and a good fish lunch. Another option is to take the early morning ferry to Samos and return late afternoon. The Pamukkale trip was apparently much enjoyed, but so too was our quiet day – the perfect chill out after a fascinating and unforgettable week. Highly recommended.

More about Gillian

Gillian Thornton has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years, writing everything from parenting features to celebrity interviews, corporate copy to heritage articles. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she has been concentrating on travel writing since 1998 and is a widely-acclaimed specialist on France, writing for all the Francophile newsstand titles as well as for ferry magazines, airline publications and tourist boards. Gillian also contributes travel features to The People’s Friend, My Weekly, Woman’s Weekly, and Go Holiday, on destinations as far apart as Finland and Oman, Florida and Poland, but she also loves travelling round Britain. “I never mind where I go”, she says. “There’s always something new to discover.”
 

186 people found this helpful
16747

Share Article:

Gillian Thornton

Travel writer

Leave a comment

*

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Geoff Moore joined events across the island to celebrate Liberation Day, one of the most important dates in Guernsey’s calendar…
The Royal Shakespeare Company offers far more than just live theatre as Gillian Thornton found out on a visit to…

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.