Turkey: Escorted tours that take you deeper

Turkey: Escorted tours that take you deeper


Ishik Pasha Palace, Agri province

While the beaches of Bodrum and Belek are lined with families and fly-and-floppers, other types of tourists are flocking to Turkey too. Beyond the beaches there are historic wonders, cultural experiences and thrilling activities, which escorted operators are successfully combining into appealing itineraries.

Turkey’s position in the escorted tour market is on the rise. Page & Moy’s sales to the destination are up 20% year on year, Titan HiTours’ Turkish options have proved a great success since they were introduced last year, and Insight Vacations’ Treasures of Turkey itinerary – a 14-night tour starting from £1,299 – is the bestselling tour across all brands of One Stop Touring Shop.

“Turkey is one of the top five-selling destinations for all our three brands,” says sales director Paul Melinis. “We expect overall sales to exceed last year.”

Turkey’s great year-round weather, political stability and non-euro currency play a part in its success, but the attraction is really in the variety of sights and experiences. These are spread across the country’s vast area, and so many tourists would rather take an escorted tour than battle with long driving distances.

Alongside the classic escorted tour options, there’s a great deal of Turkish product on offer from the adventure tour market. Explore Turkey product executive Jude Berry says: “It’s an excellent adventure tour destination because of its variety.

“There aren’t many places that offer such a cultural, historical and geographical mix, and many of our tours incorporate all these elements. We find that our walking and multi-active tours are doing particularly well.”

Sights

Istanbul: Europe and Asia meet in one of the world’s great cities. The blend of eastern and western influences and the combination of rich history with vibrant modernity make it an exciting place to visit. Top sights include the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Haghia Sofia. Clients may also like to shop in the Grand Bazaar, take a Bosphorus cruise and go to a hamam.

Gallipoli: Site of the Allied landings in 1915, the Gallipoli peninsula in northwest Turkey is home to many First World War battlefields and cemeteries.

Troy and Pergamon: These are two ruined cities on the northern Aegean coast. Excavations at Troy, of wooden horse fame, have uncovered nine layers of remains, but Pergamon has the more easily identifiable sights on offer, including an acropolis and library.

Ephesus and Aphrodisias: These sit further south down the coast, with the former the best-preserved ancient city in the Mediterranean, bar Pompeii. This, and its proximity to Izmir’s beach resorts, means that crowds flock to visit the temples and baths of Ephesus. Aphrodisias is far further from the coast, so its theatre and double agora are much quieter.

Pamukkale: The word means ‘cotton castles’ in Turkish, but the blindingly white terraces at Pamukkale in the country’s southwest are really made from travertine, a rock deposited from the water of the area’s hot springs.

Cappadocia: In the very centre of Turkey, Cappadocia is an otherworldly rock landscape of deep gorges and rocky outcrops known as fairy chimneys. There are churches and abandoned houses excavated into the rocks, plus entire cities underground.

Eastern Turkey: Less visited than the west, the east still has much to see for adventurous tourists. Near the Black Sea coast is the Greek Orthodox monastery at Sumela. It perches a thousand feet above the valley and is painted with frescoes.

In the southeast, Nemrut Dagi is the mountain-top tomb of an ancient king – visitors go for the vast statues whose decapitated stone heads stand several metres high. Continuously inhabited for 6,000 years, the tiny village of Harran is home to distinctive, beehive-shaped houses.

Istanbul skyline at dusk
Istanbul

Tours

Most escorted tour operators offer comprehensive trips taking in the main highlights of the country. Many price points are covered. Cosmos Tours & Cruises offers a 13-day Grand Tour of Turkey, from £909 including flights, accommodation in three and four-star hotels, many meals and most sightseeing, while Cox & Kings’ new Grand Tour of Turkey, a 22-day extravaganza, costs from £3,485 and ventures into the east of the country and uses the best accommodation possible.

Many shorter tours make a circuit from Istanbul, taking in Aegean highlights and Gallipoli. Page & Moy’s nine-day Istanbul, Troy and Ephesus itinerary follows this route, starting from £925.

Trafalgar Tours offers the chance to add an Aegean cruise on to these itineraries, so clients can Greek island-hop in the same trip. A Highlights of Turkey itinerary with a bolt-on Highlights of Greece and Turkey Cruise starts from £1,854 for 16 days and visits Mykonos, Patmos, Santorini, Crete and Athens in addition to its stops in Turkey.

Single-centre tours tend to be available in Cappadocia – see Travelsphere’s five-day Cappadocia Cave Hotel trip, from £1,079 – Gallipoli and Istanbul. Leger offers an eight-day Gallipoli Battlefields tour suited to those with a special interest, starting from £939. Singles specialist Just You has a five-day Istanbul city break from £699, a great option for those who don’t enjoy sightseeing or dining alone.

Slow-paced tours or twin centre options are available for those who prefer not to move around too much. Cosmos Tours & Cruises introduced an eight-day Leisurely Turkey tour this year. Starting from £709, it’s essentially a twin centre in Dalaman and Pamukkale.

Adventure travel specialists offer itineraries akin to classic escorted tour firms, plus more active options. These tend to centre around the Lycian coast near Dalaman – where clients can hike the Lycian Way, and have a go at activities such as canoeing, sailing, mountain biking and sea-kayaking – and Cappadocia, again an area well-suited to walking and cycling. Many offer family-specific itineraries. Explore’s eight-day Lycian Explorer, which starts from £797 (£747 per child) including flights, is suitable for children.

Exodus has launched four trips to Turkey: the adrenaline-fuelled Turkey Adventure Week; the challenging Mount Ararat Ascent; Cappadocia and the St Paul Trail, which suits walkers of all abilities; and Treasures of Turkey, an eight-day trip around the country’s ancient cities and archaeological remains.

At the luxury end of the market, Cox & Kings has a vast range of group and private tours, with a number of new options this year. These include Ancient Wonders of Southern Turkey, a group tour visiting Cappadocia and eastern Turkey, and The Black Sea Explorer, a private tour visiting this little-known region.

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