VRTE Eastern Turkey Tour

With Victor Romagnoli


Armenian, Christian, Kurdish and Arabic cultural legacies; Giant heads of Mt Nemrut; Mount Ararat, resting place of Noah's Ark; Spectacular Sumela Monastery; Trabzon: Walled city on Black Sea; Timeless Istanbul, guided tours


Dates & Prices

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Prices below are per person, twin-sharing costs in US Dollars (USD). Pricing does not include airfare to/from the tour and any applicable taxes. For single supplement rates and taxes (if any), please refer to the entries under the blue box below.

Start DateEnd DatePriceMore Info
Mon 09 Sep 2019Fri 20 Sep 2019 $3230 USD

Optional Single Supplement: $550 USD (number of singles limited).

Tour Overview

This Eastern Turkey Tour will be led by senior Tour Leader, Victor Romagnoli.

This tour can also be combined with Victor's one-time-only tour of Greece, codes VRGC/VRTG

Regions visited: Central And Eastern Europe
Countries visited: Turkey

Full Itinerary

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Day 1 Arrival in Istanbul
Arrival into Istanbul; the rest of the day is free to explore the city.* This evening you will meet your Tour Leader for an information session about the tour program followed by dinner.

* As our sightseeing planned for tomorrow is based on a hunch that many people have already seen the 'classic' sites of Istanbul and therefore concentrates on some lesser-known/visited places, the first-time visitor may consider spending independent time in the city pre-trip. Our hotel is located in Sultanahmet and is within easy walking distance of Agia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar should you choose to arrive early.

Overnight in Istanbul.

Included Meal(s): Dinner

Day 2 Istanbul Touring
Our morning starts with a visit to the aromatic Spice Bazaar, where the smells of cinnamon, clove, and thyme rise from hundreds of colourful muslin bags at every store front. Nearby we'll visit the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, built by the great architect Sinan in the 16th century. The design of the mosque achieves a perfection of harmony and monumentality at once, set in the centre of a huge complex which included a library, soup kitchen for the poor, a hammam (bath), fountains, gardens, caravansary, and schools.

We then board a ferry for a relaxing cruise along the shores of the legendary Bosphorus, the natural gateway that divides Asia and Europe. As you sit back and enjoy some tea from traditional small cups, numerous summer palaces and palatial homes will pass by on either side.

Disembarking at the northern end of the strait, we have a break for lunch (a local fish restaurant is a popular choice) before we proceed to the Kariye (Chora) Museum to see the marvelous mosaics of the late Byzantine. Our last stop will be Grand Bazaar, which is amongst attractive shopping centers and the biggest "souk" in the world with nearly 4,000 shops of antiques, gold, jewellery, carpets and leatherwear.

Overnight in Istanbul.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 3 Istanbul - Flight to Trabzon: City Tour
This morning we fly to Trabzon and commence with a morning tour of this interesting Black Sea port city.

Our first visit is the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), built by Manuel I on the site of an earlier pagan temple. Having suffered extensive damage over the years, many of the frescoes -- some of the finest examples of Byzantine painting in the world -- were painstakingly restored to their former glory during the 1960's. Inside we will see scenes from the Old Testament and the life of Christ.

We then embark on a walking tour of old Trabzon. The city of Trabzon, the capital of "Byzantium in Exile" has inspired travellers and writers from Marco Polo to Rose Macaulay. Milesian colonists from Sinope settled here in the 7th century BCE who are thought to have been engaged in the metal trade, exporting such things as Urartian bronze to the Western Mediterranean. The name of Trapezos is thought to derive from the table-like headland on which the citadel was established, upon which are the remnants of the Byzantine city.

From here we continue into the old quarters to see the Tabakhane Bridge, the citadel and city walls, the Middle City, and the Ortahisar Mosque, formerly the main Cathedral of Byzantine Trabzon where weddings, funerals and coronations took place. We see the Upper Citadel where the Imperial Palace once stood overlooking the ravine. We leave the citadel via the Zagnos bridge to our final visit, the Ottoman Mosque of Gulbahar Hatun.

Overnight in Trabzon.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 4 Sumela Monastery - Erzurum
This morning we head to the Monastery of Sumela, built in the place where the venerated icon of the Virgin -- believed to have been painted by St. Luke -- was discovered by the Athenian monk Barnabas in 385 CE. The monastery developed in the 6th century, though what remains dates to the 13th and 14th centuries when the Byzantine Emperors of the Komnenos dynasty celebrated their coronations here. The miraculous powers of the icon were so famous that even Turkish sultans came here to make offerings.

We will ascend the monastery via a footpath through a lush forest; the entire walk is about 250 m and takes about 30 minutes. The first glimpse of the monastery clinging to the face of a sheer cliff is unforgettable. Although in a state of decay, many brilliant frescoes are still visible inside the main chapel. Sumela gives us a fascinating insight into monastic life, from the medieval to modern era.

We'll break for lunch en route to Erzurum; while in the eastern Black Sea area, you may choose to sample some typical dishes of the region: lahana corbasi (cabbage soup), lahana sarmasi (stuffed cabbage rolls), hamsi (anchovies), and muhlama and kaymak -- two types of melted hot cheese served with bread.

We continue onwards to Erzurum. Erzurum has some of Turkey's earliest Islamic buildings. If time permits this afternoon, we will see Ezurum's most famous building, the Cifte Minare Madrasa. It was founded in 1253 by the Seljuk Sultan Aleddin Keykubad II in honour of his daughter whose mausoleum is part of the madrasa. We will also see the Lala Pasha Mosque and the Ulu Cami.

Overnight in Erzurum.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 5 Erzurum - Kars & Ani
This morning we make our way to the frontier town of Kars and the haunting ruins of the old Armenian capital, Ani. Once a city of a hundred gates and a thousand churches, the ruins of Ani still capture the imagination. By the middle of the 10th century CE, no city in Europe could compare in size and magnificence to Ani and in the east only Constantinople, Cairo and Baghdad were its rivals. The Mongol raids, a severe earthquake in 1319, and the coup de
grace of Tamerlane's conquering armies combined to destroy the city. Today the abandoned walls and dozens of churches in red and black sandstone stand at the edge of a deep gorge right on Turkey's eastern border. Several of the churches have beautiful frescoes in the Armenian style.

Overnight in Kars.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 6 Kars - Ishak Pasa Sarayi - Dogubeyazit
Today we drive to Dogubeyazit, via the region of Mt. Ararat, the highest mountain in Turkey (5165m/17,045 ft), steeped in religious tradition throughout the Near East since antiquity. According to Genesis 8:4, Mt. Ararat was the final resting place of Noah's Ark once the waters of the Great Flood had receded. The Armenians believed that their race descended from its slopes, the Arabs considered it the "roof of the world" from which the life-giving Tigris and Euphrates rivers originated.

En route we'll visit Ishak Pasa Sarayi, an incredible palace built in the 17th century by a Cildiroglu chieftain and finished by Ishak Pasa in the1784. The palace is located some distance from the remote frontier town of Dogubeyazit on the border between Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. The palace built circa 1800 is a mixture of architectural styles with Seljuk, Persian, Georgian, Armenian, and Ottoman elements. At one time the palace had a door plated in gold and studded with precious stones.

We descend from the palace to Dogubeyazit, a frontier town only 35km from the Iranian border, where we will spend the night. Your best chance to see Mt. Ararat in all its glory is first thing in the morning before the clouds move in.

Overnight in Dogubeyazit.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 7 Dogubeyazit - Lake Van
Today we have a beautiful drive through the Bitlis Canyon to the shores of Lake Van, the heart of the ancient Armenian, Turcoman, and Kurdish cultures. Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey and the largest soda lake in the world -- a phenomena created by the high alkalinity of its waters. Located 1750m above sea level, with a maximum depth of 450m (1,485 ft), the lake was created millions of years ago when lava flows from nearby Mt. Nemrut blocked
the basin's outlet.

Upon arrival, we will pay a visit to the Van Museum with its outstanding collection of Urartian gold jewellery. We will also drive out of the town centre for a view of the Van Castle overlooking Lake Van.

Overnight in Van.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 8 Lake Van & Akdamar Island
This morning we'll take a 20-minute boat ride out to Akhtamar Island, where stands the 10th century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross. Its beautiful location, 2 km off shore, has infused it with a tranquil and sacred aura. A monastic settlement since the 6th century, it was also at one time the seat of the Armenian Patriarch and the sacred burial ground of saints. Akhtamar church is also considered one of the masterpieces of Armenian art and architecture. We will see the remnants of its medieval frescoes inside and on the exterior, the wonderful frieze carved in relief of human and animal figures and biblical scenes.

Returning to Tatvan by boat, we continue our journey to Van, enjoying magnificent views of the lake, and, if it's a clear day, the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Nemrut (3050m) and Mt. Suphan (4058m).

Back in Van, we'll explore Van, the capital of the ancient Urartian Empire, whose realm once stretched into modern Iran, Iraq and Syria. We will climb up to Van Castle, the Urartian citadel, perched like an eagle's nest on a high rocky outcrop, where we will see the remains of stone battlements, a temple, royal tombs and inscriptions. From this vantage point, there are splendid views of Old Van.

Overnight in Van.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 9 Lake Van - Kahta
This morning we leave Van for a drive west to Kahta, the base for our visit to Mt Nemrut.

This is a full day's travel (the longest of the trip) through the rugged, spectacular scenery of this corner of the country. Kahta, our destination, is a small town in attractive countryside at the foot of Mount Nemrut. The population of Kahta is mostly of Kurdish origin from Reshwan tribe.

Overnight in Kahta.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 10 Mt. Nemrut Touring
This morning we visit the world famous Mt. Nemrut.

Mt. Nemrut rises to a height of 2150m (7,095 ft) above sea level, the highest mountain in this area of the anti-Taurus range. The summit of the mountain was adorned with colossal statues circling a massive 50m high tumulus in the 1st century BCE by the vain and megalomaniac king, Antiochus I. The ruler of a relatively unimportant but wealthy kingdom, the Commagene Kingdom served as a buffer state between the Roman and Parthian Empires. Antiochus I "Theos," a self-styled god, had two desires: to leave visible proof of his (self-proclaimed) royal descent from Alexander the Great and King Darius of Persia, and to be "buried close to the celestial throne." The result is the massive self-aggrandizing funerary monument impossibly built on the mountain summit.

On our way to the summit we will stop at Arsameia, the capital of the Commagene Kingdom. A 5m stele has a well- preserved relief depicting Mithridates I (father of Antiochus) shaking hands with Hercules. A nearby inscription mentions the founding of Arsameia and the sacred tomb of Mithridates. We continue to the summit of the mountain. From the car park, we will walk about 600m (20+ minutes) up the slope to visit the Western and Eastern Terrace. Although the latter is better preserved, both terraces have a similar layout. Lining the base of the tumulus, are colossal statues (of which the heads alone are 2m tall!) of the Graeco-Parthian gods of Helios-Mithra, Fortuna, Zeus- Ahurmazda, Antiochus and Hercules. On the western terrace are a series of reliefs, showing Antiochus shaking hands with Apollo, Zeus and Hercules, as well as one with a lion and the planets -- perhaps the astrological symbols of Antiochus's birth date. According the inscriptions found here, Antiochus left elaborate instructions on how he wished his birth and coronation date to be celebrated, including details of offerings and sacrifices to be made. The artificial mound of crushed rock in the center covers the royal tomb of Antiochus himself, which is yet unexcavated. We descend the mountain in the same manner; the route back to Kahta provides panoramic views of the reservoir of the Ataturk Dam below and hillside villages.

Overnight in Kahta.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 11 Kahta - Adiyaman - Flight to Istanbul & Cooking Class
Today we drive the short distance to Adiyaman from where we fly back to Istanbul.

Later today we enjoy a fun and informal cooking class. By now you understand why Turkish cuisine is world famous -- diverse and savory, spicy without being (too) hot, vegetable rich and healthy -- and today we will gain some hand-on skills to replicate some of the delicious dishes we have experienced on our trip. For our farewell dinner we'll be able to dine upon the fruits of our labours!

Overnight in Istanbul.

Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 12 Departure
Departure from Istanbul.


Included Meal(s): Breakfast

Tour Map

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

*The red tour trail on the map does not represent the actual travel path.

Hotel List

The following is a list of sample hotels at some locations included on this tour. The hotels shown here are meant to provide a general sense of the standard of hotel we usually aim for; they are not necessarily confirmed for your chosen departure.

Sura Design Istanbul

Rating: 5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation
Location: Istanbul
Country: Turkey

This upscale hotel is a 6-minute walk from the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia mosque and 3 km from the Galata Tower.
... bright, modern rooms provide free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and minibars.
Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Zorlu Grand Hotel

Rating: 4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation
Location: Trabzon
Country: Turkey

Zorlu Grand Hotel is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zorlu Holding, a major Turkish corporate group ity whose roots reach back
... 1953 and production and trade activities supported by a few looms in the town of Babadağ in Denizli province in southwest Turkey and is today active in sectors ranging from electronics and white goods (Vestel) and textiles (Korteks, TAÇ, Linens) to energy (Zorlu Energy) and real estate (Zorlu Property Group).

It was in Trabzon that Ahmet Nazif Zorlu and Zeki Zorlu got their real start in business and it was because of their fondness for the town that they decided to invest here. Spotting the need for a genuinely world-class 5-star hotel in the city in the 1990s, they decided to build one. The project soon got underway and the result was Zorlu Grand Hotel, which opened its doors in 1997.

Zorlu Grand Hotel is the first and only 5-star hotel located along the Turkish Black Sea riviera. Aware of the responsibilities which this entails, we remain steadfastly bound by our commitment never to allow any lapse in quality or service. Hospitality is both the watchword and an ingrained way of life at our hotel. Ever since its inception, Zorlu Grand Hotel has been playing host to the most prestigious congresses, seminars, company meetings, and similar gatherings taking place not just in Trabzon but throughout the Turkish Black Sea region. The hotel will continue to do so in the future as well.

Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Palan Hotel

Rating: 5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation
Location: Erzurum
Country: Turkey

Set in Erzurum, this family-friendly hotel is within 6 mi (10 km) of Ataturk House Museum, Erzurum Archaeology Museum, and
... town.
Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Tehran Boutique Hotel

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Kars
Country: Turkey

Set on a street lined with shops, this unpretentious hotel is 6 km from the 17th-century Ishak Pasha Palace. The
... rooms feature flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi access, plus minibars, and tea and coffeemaking facilities.
Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Hotel Ertur Butik

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Dogubeyazit
Country: Turkey

The hotel has a barbecue and views of the mountains, and guests can enjoy a drink at the bar. The
... is popular for skiing and hiking.
Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Hotel Double Tree by Hilton

Rating: 5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation
Location: Van
Country: Turkey

Across the street from Lake Van, this relaxed hotel with views of the surrounding countryside is 5 km from Van
... Melen Airport and 10 km from Abbasağa Camii, a 17th-century mosque.

Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Zeus Hotel

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Kahta
Country: Turkey

Our hotel is located in the entrance of Kahta having a distance of 35 km to Adiyaman, 14 km to
... Adiyaman airport and 45 km to the National Park of Nemrut Mount. Following standards are provided in our hotel adopting international standards as a principle while serving its guests.
Read More.

Click here to visit hotel website

Trip Information

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►


Hotel breakfast and dinner daily (local restaurants and hotels). All transport (including internal flights), accommodation, sightseeing and entrance fees for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary. Gratuities for local guides, drivers, restaurant staff, porters. Domestic flights as listed. Airport transfers for land & air customers and for early arriving/late departing land & air customers who book their extra hotel nights through us.


International airfare to/from the tour. Tour Leader gratuities, lunches, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), international (if applicable) air taxes, visa fees, and excursions referenced as 'optional'. Airport transfers for Land Only customers. Optional trip cancellation insurance. Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on optional meal costs, shopping, and visas.

Seasonality and Weather

Our late summer timing coincides with one of the more pleasant times to visit the region, after the extreme heat of mid-summer and during the harvest period -- melons, grapes, pomegranates, citrus etc feature on local seasonal menus. The region has a continental climate with mild springs, long hot and dry summers, and autumns that are bright and warm into mid-October. Showers are possible in spring, rare in summer, and possible in fall.

Transport and Travel Conditions

Our land transport is via private air-conditioned motor coach, 36-40 seats depending on ultimate group size (see 'Group Size'). Turkish roads are generally good and travelling is not arduous, though we do have several full-yet-scenic days with stops of interest.

The tour is not strenuous but it is busy with lots of moving around and full days of travel and activities. Our tours of towns and cities, as well as archaeological sites, are conducted on foot and feature uneven surfaces and plenty of stairs. Our "level 2" rating reflects the ambitious nature of our program, the considerable amount of walking we'll do, the remoteness of some locations, and the likelihood of heat in several locales.

Am I suitable for this tour? Please refer to our self-assessment form.


Well-located, air-conditioned, upper range hotels (4-5 star) throughout. All hotels have en suite bath, though some have shower only (ie no tub). Hotel porter service is generally available (see 'Inclusions'). Single rooms are limited in number and likely smaller than twins.

Please click on the 'Map & Hotels' tab elsewhere on this page for more information.

Staff and Support

Local guides at various locations, driver (s). This tour will be led by senior Tour Leader, Victor Romagnoli.

Group Size

Maximum 18 plus Tour Leader




TOUR ENDIstanbul

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