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Explorer Tour

Armenia to Gaziantep

via Nemrut Dag & Upper Mesopotamia


Small group touring with Anna

 2 - 12 NOVEMBER 2024 
Art, History, Cuisine & Cruising the Euphrates River
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Has Turkey Türkiye - been on your travel radar for a while?

Ever since I lived in Greece (on the island of Hydra), Türkiye has constantly reminded me of its presence –

For an art historian it’s a treasure trove, the joy of being able to see the earliest Christian art as it’s being worked out, the norms devised, the dogma determined, and now, with the exciting archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe revealing itself as the earliest known human built settlement, the land we call Türkiye represents fourteen thousand years of human civilization. These are just a sprinkling of its riches.

It’s an extraordinary region, and that was precisely why it took me until 2023 to visit for the first time – because I knew that Türkiye would require, and repay, lots of time exploring its many, diverse regions.

In 2023 I spent 2 weeks travelling solo in the company of an expert guide, in Upper Mesopotamia, on a 1760 km journey that began in the hilltop town of Mardin and concluded in Gaziantep.

Exhilarating, constantly surprising, and with each day made memorable by personal, and sometimes poignant encounters. However, as it was already December, contemplating travelling further north was out of the question, as the roads to Mt Nemrut and Ani were by then impassable. So there was only one thing to do … return ‘next year’.

This new tour in early November 2024 is that journey.

Unlike all others that I propose in my Spice Voyages Collection, this is not one I’ve done before.

Along with you, I’ll be seeing things for the first time, as we travel in a small group with the same expert guide who brought the history of Upper Mesopotamia to life for me in December 2023.

This new adventure, designed together with Imran, my very trusted guide, is an EXPLORER TOUR, and I’d like to invite you to join me as we explore Turkish Armenia, Kars, Ani, Van, Mt Nemrut and Diyarbarkir before the truly fabulous experience of an entire day on the Euphrates River arriving in the cittaslow  (slow living) hamlet of Halfeti, then the stunning museums of Sanliurfa, and finally the UNESCO cuisine capital of Gaziantep.


Whilst the first half of this itinerary is new to me, in 2023 I visited Sanliurfa, Gobelke Tepe, Gaziantep, Halfeti and dipped my toe in the Euphrates, so I can certainly recommend these destinations as enthralling.

If you'd like to know more, or just say YES!, do be in touch. It's a small group so the prices will just reflect how many people are sharing the transport. There's a maximum of 10, and already 3 friends from Greece (with Armenian ancestry) are joining me, so hop on to the tour with us and lets' see Eastern Türkiye and the many, many UNESCO World Heritage sites together this year!


Istanbul, the most visited city in the world, meeting of East and West - the Bosphorous, the Topkapi Palace, the city of sultans and ceramics. Like all megalopolises, this city takes a lifetime to unravel, so if you're here just for one day, perhaps confine your explorations to the area around the historic centre, visiting the museum of Islamic art and the excellent archaeological museum ...  there will be time for shopping on the tour. Equally, it's also a wonderful city to simply stroll and sip coffee...

Istanbul boasts a historic centre all of which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list:  Istanbul - Wikipedia

HOTEL:  Book your own hotel or ask Anna to do so

MEALS:  Dinner and Dervish dance performance, with Anna. (all photos by Anna Kwiecinska C.2023). Own cost

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Day 1

NOV. 2024

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This is an optional pre-tour day

Day 2

2 Nov. 2024

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Today's journey includes a flight to Kars, Armenia: Eastern Turkey

Your Travel today involves a FLIGHT to KARS. This 9.45 am flight is included in your tour package. The duration is 2hours and 10 minutes apmnd you will arrive in Kars at 11.55

After arrival and transfer to your hotel, you will meet our expert guide for this journey or discovery through Eastern Turkey and Mesopotamia. Not only with every date and fact at his fingertips, but a gifted storyteller whose explanations will illuminate each and every day of this tour - and resonate with you long afterwards. We will get to know one another over a special and very typical Armenian brunch before setting off to discover these highlights:

  • The Twelve Apostles Church-Mosque located at the base of the mountain of the same name, the Cathedral of Kars, also known as the Holy Apostles Church or "Church of the Twelve Apostles" is a former Armenian Apostolic church  built in the mid-10th century by the Armenian Bagratid King Abas I (r. 928–953), before being converted into a mosque in 1579. In the C.19th and early C20th it was converted into a Russian Orthodox and later Armenian cathedral. In 1993 it was again converted into a mosque and is called Kümbet Mosque (literally "domed mosque"), and currently comprises part of a larger Islamic complex that includes the Evliya Mosque, the biggest mosque in Kars

  • Kars Castle also known as the "Citadel", has a colourful history mirroring the region's chequered history. First built during the rule of the Armenian Bagratid dynasty, it was rebuilt in 1153 by Sultan Melik Izzeddin Saltuk II. Destroyed by Timur in 1386, it was ordered to be rebuilt again in 1579 by the Ottoman Sultan Murat III, who sources say, employed 100,000 soldier and workers to bring it to completion. However, in 1606 the castle was destroyed by the Iranian Shah Abbas I, and in 1616 and in 1636 it was restored twice and new elements were added to it. Badly damaged after the Ottoman-Russian war of 1877-1878, and partially changed after 40 years of occupation, this important building documents the historical complexity of this strategic region.

  • Fethiye Bazaar

  • Historic bazaars of Kars  

  • The Cheese Museum - our second culinary highlight today, but not the last!

  • Explore Russian architectural styles

KARS is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Ani (5o km away)

DISTANCE : Today involves a FLIGHT from ISTANBUL to KARS. Distance: 1430 km , flight time: 2 hrs 10 minutes

HOTEL : KARS, Deluxe Heritage style hotel (1 night)

MEALS:  Breakfast, Special Dinner (included) with cultural performance tonight

(photos by Imran and google)

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Day 3

3 Nov. 2024

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Stunning scenery, Borders and Books

After breakfast in your hotel, you will drive 50 km to the ancient city of ANI, once one of the cultural, political and commercial  situated cities on Silk Route it was the capital city of the Bagratid Kingdom in the C.10th, growing into a great metropolis with more than 100,000 residents by the C.11th.


A real 'prize', Ani and the surrounding region was conquered by Byzantine emperors, Ottoman Turks, Georgians and Russians who laid claim to the area such that by 1700 it was completely abandoned. never the less, its geographical location has ensured that it has survived for 2500 years.

Known as "the city of a thousand and one churches", the archaeological sites of Ani are part of the Kars UNESCO World Heritage zone, with most of the churches still standing to a sufficient height, and the streets, baths, an early mosque, and the great fortification walls very impressive.

Today you will explore this region so steeped in history that its legends occupy that hazy zone between myth and Old Testament writings. Along the way, amidst remote wilderness scenery, these extraordinary highlights:

  • Tuzluca salt cave - learn of the critical importance of salt throughout history - not just in Türkiye, and its role in the development of cites and centres of civilization.

  • Drive to the Armenian border 

  • Drive to Mt Ararat (pictured above)  -  believed to be the site of Noah's Ark - a looming presence throughout this region

  • Learn the historical and biblical importance of this region, as you visit the border with Iran

DISTANCE:250 km today

HOTEL : DOGUBAYAZIT /AGRI ,Deluxe Heritage style hotel  (1 night)

MEALS: Breakfast, Dinner is optional tonight at the ARARAT RESTAURANT

(Photos by Imran)

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Day 4

4 Nov. 2024

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exotic bazaars and remote scenery today

Experience the beauty of Autumn colours as you travel through this remote eastern area, across the vast plains, with dramatic mountains, and natural wonders, before discovering more UNESCO World Heritage monuments:


Highlights today include:

  • Ishak Pasa Palace, added to the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000,  is one of the few examples of surviving historical Turkish palaces, named according to the inscription on its door, stating that the Harem section of the palace was completed by Ishak (Isaac) Pasha in 1784. This magnificent edifice is dramatically located on the Silk Route near the Iranian frontier; not at all in the Ottoman tradition but is rather a mixture of Anatolian, Iranian and North Mesopotamian architectural tradition, (the traditional model used in the construction of the Royal Palaces in the capital cities like Bursa, Edirne and Istanbul was taken as an example in the design of Ishak Pasha Palace.).The western influence in Ottoman architecture during the post-classical period can be observed, with its commencement in 1685 

  • Time set aside today for a thorough look at (and for) Kurdish and Iranian rugs and carpets

  • Then drive to VAN

  • Amidst the stunning scenery of the Tendürek Mountains

  • Visit the Muradiye Waterfall

DISTANCE: 200 km

HOTEL: VAN, Deluxe Lake view Room at Van Ramada Hotel (1/2 nights)

MEALS: Breakfast, Dinner (included) tonight is at the renowned Uratu Han Restaurant

(photos by Imran and Anna)

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Day 5

5th Nov 2024

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a leisurely day of sight-seeing in this fascinating city

Today is a relaxed day to explore the ancient lakeside city of VAN with these many highlights:

  • Tushpa, the C.9th BC capital of the Urartians later became the 'modern' city of Van. The Urartians were coeval with the Phrygians and created perhaps the most important civilization of Eastern Türkiye in this period.

  • The dramatic C.7th-C.9th fortress located on the southern shore of Lake Van and Castle of Van (the location is shown in the first picture), known as Van Citadel, and the largest example of its kind.

  • Continuing in the same direction, we find The Mound of Van Fortress and the Old City of Van - all UNESCO World Heritage sites

  • The Van Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum

  • Further opportunities to test your eye and bargaining skills in the rug bazaar and sample Van's famous cheese bazaar

DISTANCE : 30 km

HOTEL :VAN, Deluxe Lake View Room at Van Ramada Hotel (2/2 nights)

MEALS: Breakfast, tonight you can explore the dining possibilities  of Van

(photos : Imran and Google)

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Day 6

6 Nov. 2024

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today's journey includes a private boat tour

Our day begins with a private boat cruise of Lake Van to visit architectural jewels of East Türkiye, including the poignant cemetery of the Seljuk dynasty, whose grave markers are artforms in their own right. We continue on towards Tatvan where we stay tonight, in the shadow of Mount Nemrut, fames for its Commagenian standing sculptures

Highlights today:

  • Drive to the boat to cruise to Akdamar Island, the second largest of the four main islands in Lake Van, in eastern Turkey is situated approximately 3 km from the shoreline. During his reign, King Gagik I Artsruni (r. 908-943/944) of the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan chose the island as one of his residences. He founded a settlement and erected a large square palace richly decorated with frescoes, built a dock noted for its complex hydrotechnical engineering, laid out streets, gardens, and orchards, and planted trees and designed areas of recreation for himself and his court. The only surviving structure from that period is the Palatine Cathedral of the Holy Cross ....

  • Cruise on lake Van and explore the  Akdemar Kilisesi (pictured with detail) the C.10th Armenian Holy Cross Cathedral, which was the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Catholicosate of Aghtamar from 1116 to 1895, built as a Palatine church for the rulers of 

  • Drive to the crater lake of Mt Nemrut 

  • Amidst spectacular scenery, visit the Cemetery of the Great Seljuk Empire, located at Ahlat, 5okm from Bitlis, a city whose history dates back to BC900, located on the edge of Türkiye's biggest lake - Lake Van. This cemetery, another UNESCO World Heritage site of great beauty from the high-medieval period (C.12-C.15th) was created by the Seljuk Turks, who, arriving into Anatolia, found a land with no central authority to protect the trade routes. Amongst the first things they did was to repair the old Roman road network, bridges and build caravanserai every 20-25 km (the distance a caravan could cover on flat ground in a day). The gravestones are remarkable foe their artistry, number and excellent condition.

DISTANCE: 180 km

HOTEL : TATVAN, Deluxe Hotel (1 night)

MEALS: Breakfast; Tonight you can enjoy private dining in your free time 

(photos Imran and Google)

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Day 7

7 Nov 2024

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A day of sight-seeing in this ancient city

Breakfast at your hotel before starting our drive to Diyabakir.

Today you'll:

  • Cross the Malabardi Bridge, located on the Silvan-Diyabakir road is a C12th construction on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List. Built during the Artiquid period, the arch bridge extends across the Batman River, a major tributary of the Tigris River, and is the longest-spanned stone arch bridge in the world. Its pointed arch is 4086 m tall.

  • Visit Diyarbakir - the principal town of Eastern Türkiye and one of the country's largest cities. The fortifed city and its surrounding landscape have been an important multicultural centre starting in the Hellenistc period, through to the roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman times, continuing to the present day. The city is a treasure of history and culture; ancient ruins, breathtaking architecture, distinctive cuisine, gifted artisans of silver and gold filigree work, and the extremely well-preserved Fortifications - a UNESCO World Heritage site - and Hevsel Gardens on the Tigris.

  • Explore The Great Mosque of Diyarbakir, the oldest mosque in Anatolia and possibly the oldest in Türkiye.  Its origins are complicated; a mosque was founded in this area in the C.7th century after the Muslim conquest of the city in 639. probably built over a part of what was previously the Roman forum of the city. [17] According to traditional narratives, it also stands on the site of an earlier church built by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius in the 620s and dedicated to Saint Thomas. The present mosquewas built in the late C.11th by the Seljuk sultan Malik-Shah I over an older mosque. According to some, it is the fifth holiest site in Islam after the Great Mosque of Damascus, which influenced its design. It can accommodate up to 5,000 worshippers and hosts four different Islamic traditions in addition, the attached Mesudiye medrase, founded in the 1190s, could be the oldest surviving madrasa to teach all four legal schools of Sunni Islam. Its stunning bi-colour portals influenced Western church building.

  • Visit the Hasan Pasha, a C16th Ottoman caravanserai, said to be able to house 500 horses and their owners. Located in the old walled city just across the road from the Great Mosque, it is one of the best preserved Ottoman caravanserais in eastern Türkiye, today hosting cafés and shops.

  • Visit the  Sülüklü Han Inn, famed for its healing qualities

DISTANCE : 230 km 

HOTEL : DIYARBAKIR Deluxe Hotel  (1 night) 

MEALS: Breakfast; Dinner recommended at Firninci Restaurant  this evening (optional)

(photos Imran and Wikipedia)

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Day 8

8 Nov. 2024

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Climb Mt Nemrut!

Today after breakfast, you will drive to ADIYAMAN, a city you may recognize as having been the most severely affected in the devastating February 2023 earthquake. Although many buildings were destroyed, the rebuilding by, and resilience of, the mainly Kurdish peoples of this town are remarkable.

After checking into your pension you'll have leisure time to explore, before we prepare for the evening trek to the summit of Mt Nemrut.

  • (Nemrut Dağ, Adiyamen) one of the highest peaks in the east of the Taurus Mountains, to explore the summit featuring the monumental tomb-sanctuary of King Antiochus Theos  I (69–34 B.C.), a late Hellenistc ruler who reigned over Commagene, a kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the breakup of Alexander's empire. Built for himself, with colossal statues built all over the entrance to the tomb chamber, it is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period, the scale and complexity unequalled in the ancient world. The sculptural pantheon, with various composite Greek and Iranian gods and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom's culture - Parthian and Armenian - .employed to reinvigorate the religion of Antiochus' complex ancestral dynasty. This site is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.

  •          The photographic opportunities at the Golden Hour are very special, so come prepared!

DISTANCE : 180 km by vehicle

HOTEL : KARADUR VILLAGE - a simple pension offering excellent location 

MEALS: Breakfast & dinner (included) 

(photos Google)

Image by Hulki Okan Tabak
Giant Busts on the Hill
Sunset on Mount Nemrut
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9 Nov 2024

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NEMRUT National Park to HALFETI

With a 75-km cruise on the Euphrates River by private launch

Today may be the highlights amongst highlights of this tour with a stunning journey of 75 km aboard our private cruise boat, with a delicious BBQ lunch and dinner on board and even our own musicians to entertain you! Sunbeds, and comfortable cruising as you sail down the majestic Euphrates River, passing names that will call out to you from history ... including the ancient fortress of Rum

Begin with breakfast at your hotel, before:

  • Driving to the Cendere or Severan Bridge, a late Roman construction near the ancient city of Arsameia (today Eskikale), 55 km (34km) north-east of Adıyaman, and situated within one of the most important national parks in Türkiye, which contains Nemrut Dağı with the famous remains of the Commagene civilization.  Spanning the Cendere Çayı (Chabinas Creek), a tributary of Kâhta Creek, the bridge is a monument to many imperial personages who erected commemorative columns along its length.

  • Visit the Karakuş Tumulus, a funerary monument - or Hierothesion - for Queen Isias and Princeses Antiochis and Aka of Commagene, built between BC 31-20, and taking its name "blackbird" from the eagle atop a column.

  • Board the launch for an all-day cruise on the Euphrates River, sailing through mighty gorges, with the entire vessel at your disposal to relax and enjoy the majestic scenery. Along the way, we pass the hilltop fortress of the palace of Rum.

  • Arriving at the delightful and historic town of Halfeti to spend a quite night on the banks of the Eurphrates River. 

  • Halfeti is a recognised 'Slow Town' or Cittaslow with the distinctive snail logo signaling the leisurely pace of life here.  Famously, the singular home of the famed Black Rose, it's easy to forget time in Halfeti!

DISTANCE : 80 km by vehicle, 75 km by boat

HOTEL : HALFETI Riverside hotel

MEALS: Breakfast, lunch (included) & dinner (included) and entertainment on board the cruise boat

(photos by Anna KwiecinskaC.2023)

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Image by Enes Aktas

Day 10

10 Nov 2024



Witness the oldest known settlement on the planet

Following breakfast at your hotel in HALFETI, today you'll drive first to the oldest settlement known on this planet, Göbekli Tepe, to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, a remote and awesome spectacle, 

From here, drive to SANLIURFA, a city of biblical significance, for it is here, within a rock cave (which you can visit), the prophet Abraham is believed to have been born - the father of all three Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  The city's cosmopolitan nature and fine cuisine reflects its storied past, and today you'll probably have fun delving into the bazaars again where rugs, spices and the delicacies of this region are waiting to be found. 

Highlights today:

  • Göbekli Tepe Archaeologcal Site and Museum. Göbekli Tepe is amazing! located in Upper Mesopotamia, a region which saw the emergence of the most ancient farming communities in the world, its monumental structures, interpreted as communal buildings  erected by groups of hunter-gatherers in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (10th-9th millennia BC). The large circular structures contain massive stone pillars—the world's oldest known megaliths. Many of these pillars are decorated with anthropomorphic details, clothing, and sculptural reliefs of wild animals, providing archaeologists rare insights into prehistoric religion and the particular iconography of the period. Excavations began only in 1995, and the findings have changed the entire understanding of human history. UNESCO World Heritage describes its outstanding universal value as "one of the first manifestations of human-made monumental architecture". As of 2021, less than 5% of the site had been excavated. The modern museum is fascinating and well-paced, a joy!

  • Sanliurfa Archaeological Museum - the largest neolithic age museum in the world is reserved for Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age artifacts, and includes the Urfa Man statue, dated c. 9000 BC (11,000 years ago), being considered as the oldest life-sized sculpture of a human already discovered.

  • Historical Sanliurfa - a leisurely lace to explore, as it's an important pilgrimage site

  • St Abraham's cave - yes, you can go inside to witness this fascinating place, considered holy by all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  • Bazaar discovery guided walk and time for shopping and tasting! I love the spice market here and the rug bazaar was irresistable

DISTANCE : 190 km

HOTEL : Sanliurfa's most charming heritage hotel  (1 night)

MEALS: Breakfast, dinner optional tonight

 (photos by Anna Kwiecinska C.2023)

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Day 11

11 Nov 2024

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A UNESCO World Heritage Cuisine Capital

Breakfast at your hotel, and drive to GAZIANTEP, where highlights today include:

  • The Zeugma Mosaic Museum offers an astonishing sweep of stone mosaics from the apogee of Roman villa design, to the very visible decline of craftsmanship and knowledge that defines the so-called 'Dark Ages'. This is an enthralling, world-class museum.

You'll the check into your beautiful, spacious and elegant hotel to freshen up, and

  • Together we'll have a walking tour of the many bazaars in Gaziantep's historic centre. There's a 'zing' about this city, it's colourful, with a real sense of being 'at the other end of Türkiye', with peoples of Syriac culture adding to the rich cuisine heritage of Gaziantep, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Cuisine Capital.

  • With leisure time to explore the bazaars, there are also small, specialist museums of great interest (I found the subterranean museum of Hammams particularly interesting ... and it's only a short walk from your centrally-located hotel).

Gaziantep deserves its reputation as a cuisine capital; tonight offers you a free dining opportunity to discover what delights your taste buds (bearing in mind that your hotel has an excellent restaurant too).

DISTANCE : 150 km

HOTEL : Luxury Hisvahan Hotel with fine dining and hammam facilities (1 night)

MEALS: Breakfast, Fine Dining dinner option tonight

 (photos by Anna Kwiecinska C.2023)

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Day 12

11 Nov 2024

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Tour ends 

Breakfast at your hotel, you have a flight to Istanbul at either 15.10pm OR 17.55 pm

So, checking out of your hotel at 12pm, you may have some further time to spend in Gaziantep centre, perhaps enjoying an early lunch.

Your trip from the hotel to the airport is INCLUDED in Gaziantep.

The tour ends with your arrival at Gaziantep airport.

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What's Included?
  • 10 Nights' accommodation

  • OWN ROOM in the BEST AVAILABLE boutique hotels and Bed n Breakfast (Mt Nemrut). 

  • twin occupancy option available

  • 10 breakfasts

  • 4 dinners in 4/5-star restaurants, boutique hotels & pension

  • 1 lunch on the Euphrates River boat trip

  • The services of a full-time national guide

  • All entrances to monuments and museums on the itinerary

  • A/C Coach with reclining seats throughout the tour

  • taxi transfers where necessary

  • Domestic flight tickets (Istanbul-Kars; Gaziantep-Istanbul)

  • Travel insurance for this journey

Ready for this trip?

A good average level of fitness is required for this tour, as we spend a lot of time exploring quite remote areas. The average daily temperature in Diyarbarkir is 18 C; Plus 4 people, we travel in a Mercedes 'Sprinter', with driver and guide.


Along with myself, we have a full-time guide, Imran who accompanied me in 2023. My experience so far in Turkey has been that museums feature descriptions in English.

Each day is a guided tour; Roads are good. We share breakfast together, some dinners and a lunch but in towns where there is a safe choice, you are free to discover your own dining options, although we'll certainly offer trusted recommendations.

Our itinerary is carefully planned and paced to include some busy days of sightseeing, leisurely time for exploring, and relaxing interludes. However, should we need to alter the program for logistical or other reasons, we reserve the right to do so, but will at all times keep you informed.


all photos by Anna Kwiecinska and Imran copyright 2024

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As an 'Explorer' trip, we have a maximum of ten participants, and the cost will depend on the number of people on this trip, as this will determine the type of vehicle we use.

  • If we are 5 people, cost per person with OWN ROOM: US$4990

  • If we are 10 people, cost per person OWN ROOM: US$3990

  • and if we are anywhere in between, the cost will alter accordingly between those two.

GAZIANTEP HOTEL offers options to upgrade your room:

- Suite room add extra USD$50

- King Suite add extra USD$80

TWIN ROOM DISCOUNT is USD$400 per person

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