Active World Journeys travel blog: Discover Turkey 10-day active tour. Surprises are around every corner.
Recently our small group went on a Discover Turkey 10-day active tour. The sheer beauty and unspoiled scenery across the country is a feast for the eyes, especially the Mediterranean riviera areas which are comparable to the allure of other Mediterranean European tourist destinations such as Greece (and more affordable).
Turkey – A Tour Group’s Delight!
And while it wasn’t a religious tour we were on, we were amazed that modern-day Turkey boasts 60% of the places mentioned in the bible, making it a “Holy Land” for many pilgrim groups, similar to visiting early Christian sites in Israel.
We had a fabulous first few days of the tour starting off in Istanbul. The city formerly known as Constantinople is a place where east meets west and ancient meets modern. We visited the incredible Hagia Sophia, built in 537 AD by the Eastern Roman Empire, it is jaw dropping and stunning. We also visited the beautiful Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, an underground Ancient Roman Cistern, as well as Topkapi Palace, the imperial residence of the Ottoman Empire’s Sultans. Did you know Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents (Europe and Asia) and the only capital city of two empires, the Byzantine (Easter Roman) and the Ottomans, and the only city in the world to be the capital of two major religions, the Christian Orthodox Church and the Islamic!?
We also had tons of fun in Istanbul negotiating with the merchants at the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and 4,000 shops! We also went to the top of Galata Tower (used by Suleiman “The Magnificent” as a prison) for amazing views of the city, and had some drinks and snacks at the historic and elegant Pera Palace Hotel where Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express.” The hotel is also credited as the first to have electricity and an elevator.
After an early morning short internal flight, next up was Ephesus. It was the largest port city of the ancient world and where St. Paul preached and gained followers (not social media ones though, ha ha). We also visited sites in the area including the Temple of Artemis ruins (one of the seven ancient wonders of the world), Ayasuluk Byzantine Castle & Isabey Medieval Mosque, the Basilica of the Apostle John where he lived with the Holy Mother and may have started to write some of the Bible.
One evening, when we were walking back to our hotel from dinner, these local Turkish girls were getting ready to go to a wedding and posed (suddenly and instantly!) for a pic. It was such a random thing, and that’s what I love about travel!
On Sunday morning, we started off at the place where in Christianity the Virgin Mary is believed to have passed away peacefully in her sleep. Afterward, we visited a Turkish Rug maker that does everything by hand and not manufactured and only uses organic colors made from things like eucalyptus, daisies, saffron, cream of tartar, and indigo plants. (This kind of rug maker is a dying breed…no pun intended.)
Then it was on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pamukkale, which is travertine terraces & thermal waters affectionately called “Cotton Castle” that includes a nearby ancient roman spa city called Hierapolis.
The next day we visited Laodicea, one of the seven ancient church cities of the book of revelations, then it was on to Xanthos World Heritage site that was the capital of the enigmatic Lycian peoples that flourished from 15-14th centuries BC to 546 BC. Not too far away was Patara, where the world’s very first democratic council was held. After our day of being novice archeologists and historians, we swam in the Mediterranean Sea and pool at our quaint and charming villa hotel in Kas, Turkey where some Greek Islands were directly across from us in view. It was all simply perfect.
We started the next morning by kayaking over a sunken Roman/Byzantine City in Dolichiste, then visited the ancient Myra rock graves of the Lycian peoples and made a pilgrimage over to St. Nicholas Church where who we know of as today’s “Santa Claus” was a bishop and his tomb is there. He would always help the poor and needy children and became the inspiration for our modern Jolly St. Nick. In the evening we arrived at the Turkish Riviera and the beautiful city of Antalya for dinner and overnight. There’s a grand Hadrian’s Gate in the city that dates back to Roman times.
Up next on our Discover Turkey 10-day active tour itinerary was something that gave us goosebumps…. we walked into the best preserved ancient Roman theater in Turkey in the town of Aspendos. https://youtube.com/shorts/l1koeAKFFcM?feature=share
It holds about 25,000 people. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve been transported back in time when you’re in it. They still have events there too! Then we made a stop in Konya to the museum /school/tomb of Melvana, founder of the Whirling Dervishes and a Sunni mystic and poet. After traveling along what would have been an ancient silk road, we stopped at the largest caravanserais in Turkey, which was a hostel/rest area for the caravans of the 13th century. In the evening we arrived Cappadocia and checked into our cave hotel. I was suddenly getting an urge to make a drawing on the wall in my room before going to sleep.
Something that is worth getting up at 4am is a Cappadocia sunrise balloon ride – there’s nothing quite like it. There are roughly 4,000 people and 150 hot air balloons floating around all at once over Cappadocia each morning. Afterward, we did a day hike through White Valley and Love Valley, experiencing the fairy chimneys (hoodoos) and ancient cave cities as well as learning about all the plants, fruits, and birds. It was a beautiful day!
On our second day in Cappadocia, we started with a 3-hour hike in the Meskendir and Red Rose Valley area. We had a fun dog that befriended us and hiked with us for most of the morning. We visited an early ancient Christian Church way out in the middle of nowhere with amazing frescos. Later we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Goreme, one of the first Christian monasteries of the world and we also visited several of the cave houses and churches in the area.
If you are looking for a travel destination that is chock-full of rich historical and cultural sites, extraordinary rock formations, postcard-perfect beaches, delicious food, and impeccable hospitality – put Turkey on your travel wish list and experience a country that has it all year-round.
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
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