Day 1: Good living in Istanbul
The gateway to Turkey, the immortal Istanbul welcomes you to its lively and trendy district of Karakoy. Right next to the Galata bridge stands the elegant House Hotel Karaköy. Inside this former 19th century Ottoman bank converted into a luxurious and classically contemporary establishment you find yourself surrounded by a fabulous Belle Époque interior.
Stroll through the nearby back streets where art galleries, cafés and restaurants stand next to more traditional stalls. Life goes by peacefully on the charming terraces where the young people of Istanbul gather. In the evening, an elegant dinner at the Karaköy Lokantasi awaits you, opposite the Golden Horn. You can sample an amazing “sultan's delight”, an aubergine puree accompanied by a lamb stew.
House Hotel Karaköy
Bankalar Caddesi n°5
+90 212 244 64 34
Kemankeş Cad. No: 37/A
+90 212 292 44 55
Day 2: Ankara, the cradle of the Anatolian people
Admire the sunrise over the Bosphorus before heading for Ankara, a few hours away. The Turkish capital is set right in the centre of the Anatolian plateau, at an altitude of 850 metres. Before your eyes, a succession of castles and ancient ruins appear, left by cultures which have shaped the long history of the city. Stop for a moment before the Monument of Ancyra, the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Emperor Augustus.
Opposite the main entrance to the citadel, the Divan Çukurhan, a former caravanserai in brick and stone transformed into a charming hotel is magnificently decorated in Ottoman style. Check into one of its themed rooms, each one with its own unique decor based on ancient architectural features combined with modern design. Later, make your way to the must-see Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, at the end of the street.
Visiting it at the beginning of your journey will help you to better understand the complex history of the country, at the crossroads of different civilisations. From the first Neolithic peoples to the Ottomans, the Hittites and the Romans, you can explore several millennia of human occupation as you stroll through the rooms of this one-of-a-kind museum.
Kale Mh., 3 Depo Sokak
+90 312 306 64 00
Museum of Anatolian Civilisations
Kale Mh., Gözcü Sk. No:2
+90 312 324 31 60
Day 3: The Anatolian landscapes revealed
Destination Cappadocia. The first milky pink mountains, shaped by erosion, of this isolated Anatolian region start to appear. Stop off at Ağzıkarahan on the way. Every 40 kilometres, caravanserais (han in Turkish) acted as way stations for merchants' caravans travelling through the area. The Ağzıkarahan one is a reminder of the perfection of Cistercian buildings with its geometric shapes and rounded arches.
Further away, in Selima, triangular tuff cones cling to the cliff. At the summit of this surrealist scenery, a monastery appears entirely carved into the rock, created by monks in the 11th century. A colossal construction which you can explore through a labyrinth of staircases, tunnels and chapels. There, everything is reminiscent of the troglodyte way of life characteristic of the region.
After three hours on the road, you arrive in the small town of Güzelyurt. Off the tourist trail, this tranquil place is located at the foot of Mount Melendiz. Check-in to the Osmanoglu hotel for two nights, a welcoming family guesthouse created in an old, tastefully renovated Greek house. In the evening, you share a meal with your hosts consisting of gozleme, traditional crêpes generally filled with minced meat or spinach. A feast worthy of Mediterranean hospitality.
Monastère de Selime
Prof Nejdet Saglam Cad. No:33 Güzelyurt Gelveri
+90 382 451 27 67
Day 4: Magnificent valleys and cave churches
At the crack of dawn, you decide to cycle to the monasteries of Güzelyurt, not far from your hotel. During this easy ride you will see Greek houses with sculpted stone facades, troglodyte churches and a beautiful church transformed into a mosque: Aziz Gregorius Kilise which is thought to have been used as a model for the basilica of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
It is time to leave this part of Cappadocia. Make your way to the Ihlara valley which weaves its way over a distance of 14 kilometres. You can access the valley floor via staircases which offer a striking view of this fabulous natural site. You enter a canyon with vertical walls which can reach a depth of 150 metres. This wonderful place was used as a refuge by several civilisations for millennia. A bridge straddles the river and leads to some beautiful Byzantine cave churches. One of the most magical is Kokar Kilise, built in the 11th century. You will be fascinated by the celestial beauty of its frescoes and the large Greek cross adorning its vaulted ceiling.
This delightful excursion will take you through willows and poplar trees to the village of Belisirma. Halfway up the gorge which winds through the valley, the Tandirci Restauran places its tables on platforms above the river. Lulled by the murmuring waters, you can tuck into a traditional grilled trout or some mercimek koftes, lentil balls which you dip into a tomato sauce. Your return journey to the head of the valley and your cosy room at the Osmanoglu Hotel will take you past cave dwellings and other richly decorated churches.
Aziz Gregorius Kilise
Ihlara Vadisi Belisirma Koyu
+90 382 457 31 10
Day 5: A trip to the amazing town of Göreme
A one-hour journey takes you to Göreme, hidden between tuff cones referred to as “fairy chimneys” because of their magical appearance. This picture postcard village in Cappadocia is worth lingering in. Set up your base camp in the Mithra Cave Hotel, where the cave bedrooms, in Ottoman or Greek style, feature handcrafted furniture and traditional rugs. From the hotel's terrace, the panoramic view over Göreme National Park, with its surrealist geological shapes, will make you pinch yourself.
After a quick lunch in the hotel, opposite the hot air balloons which are regularly launched in the valley for tourists, you are going to explore this hypnotic setting more closely. Make your way to Pasabag, between Göreme and Zelve, where the most spectacular rocky formations are found. Head for the large white round rock to enjoy an overall view of the site. Gradually, the warm evening light lights up these mysterious multi-headed sculptures shaped by erosion. On your return to the village, enter the fantastical atmosphere of the Pumpkin Göreme restaurant, illuminated by lanterns made from pumpkins which you can take away as a souvenir. Enjoy a plate of mezze which is considered to be the best in the region, unless you fancy a dolma, a pepper stuffed with meat and rice.
Mithra Cave Hotel
Aydınlı Mahallesi Akgül Sokak No:10
50180 Göreme Belediyesi/Nevşehir
+90 384 271 22 95
İçeri Dere Sokak No:7
50180 Göreme Belediyesi/Nevşehir
+90 542 808 50 50
Day 6: An improbable fortress and secret frescoes
After a copious breakfast on the terrace of your pied-à-terre, set off to visit the fortress of Üçhisar, three kilometres to the east. Hollowed out of the rock itself, this cave fortress stands on a rocky outcrop with twenty or so different levels. You can reach the top of this anthill by following a tunnel constructed in ancient times. This eagle's nest offers you a stunning view over all of Cappadocia. Below the village unfolds the impressive landscape of Pigeon Valley. The pleated shapes of its mountain bear a strange resemblance to a meringue gateau.
At lunchtime, return to Göreme and take a seat in the Omurca Art Cave Café. Harun, an affable local artist, will welcome you to his restaurant which is well-known for its delicious home-made cuisine. There you can sample a beyti kebab, meat rolled in pastry, baked in the oven and dipped in a yoghurt sauce.
At the end of the afternoon, when the town is emptying, it's time to visit the famous Göreme open air museum. Many religious cave buildings remain of this monastic complex which was very prosperous in the 11th century. Hidden at first glance, the Buckle Church, one of the most remarkable, will impress you with the rare quality of its naive art frescoes and their almost childish designs. You will love its perfectly preserved Byzantine artworks!
Omurca Art Cave Café
50100, Kazım Eren Sk.
50180 Göreme Belediyesi/Nevşehir
+90 542 605 00 62
Göreme open air Museum
Day 7: The history of Muslim Anatolia in Konya
Still pondering these unique landscapes which, in the early days of Christianity, attracted monks seeking meditation, you leave Göreme for the historic city of Konya. After a journey of two hours, you enter the former capital of the Selijuk Sultanate of Rûm, the Turkish dynasty which dominated the Muslim East from the 11th to the 13th century.
Check into the Araf, a charming boutique hotel with a stripe-inspired designer decor. Hidden in a pedestrian street, this hotel has much to please. From there, make your way on foot to the Mevlâna Museum, a former monastery which was a lodge of the founders of the whirling dervishes order, the religious movement characterised by its frenetic dances. You will be amazed by the colourful turrets of this iconic landmark of the Muslim religion. Inside, the atmosphere is contemplative.
In the afternoon, explore Catal Höyük on the Konya plain. As you enter the largest Neolithic site in the Middle East, with UNESCO World Heritage classification, you should call on the services of a guide. This specialist will teach you that the settler farming communities who occupied the site worshipped female gods, through the goddess of fertility, and the dead which they honoured in tombs. Head back to your hotel for a night filled with dreams of the east. On the following day, your fantastic tour of Anatolia will come to an end with the return journey to Istanbul. On the way, you can admire for the last time the arid valleys and the geological sculptures, the traditional villages and verdant hills which are so typical of Anatolia.
Aziziye Mah. Nacifikret Sok. No:3 Karatay
+90 332 350 44 44