ABSOLUTE BLACKSEA

ABSOLUTE BLACK SEA

While most visitors to Turkey flock south to the Mediterranean or west to the Aegean, the Black Sea (Karadeniz) merits a close look, particularly because it is so different from the other coasts.  After Trabzon's big-city hubbub, relax in tiny fishing villages or head inland and climb to scenic alpine yayla (mountain pastures) in the Kaçkar Mountains.  This is also a deeply historic region, filled with the legacies of civilizations and empires that have ebbed and flowed like Black Sea waves.  Castles, churches, monasteries, and architecturally important mosques recall the days of the kings of Pontus, the Genoese, and the Ottomans.

ITINERARY

Day 1:  Arrival

Arrive in Istanbul

Our representative will meet you at the airport and accompany you to your hotel in a private car.  Rest, relax, and refresh yourself at your own pace.  As today is an arrival day, there is no scheduled program.

The only city in the world to span two continents, Istanbul is a fascinating metropolis that has long entranced travelers as a bridge between Europe and Asia, Islam and Christianity, Occident and Orient.  Serving as a capital for the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul boasts thousands of cultural sites dating from the sixth millennium BCE to the present day.  Istanbul endures as the cosmopolitan heart of the Republic of Turkey, its financial center, cultural hub, and most populous city.  Any visit to Turkey must begin here.

Should you arrive early and feel ready to venture out, we will take the opportunity to visit sights not indicated in the itinerary.

Day 2:  Full Day Istanbul Old City

After breakfast, your guide will meet you in the hotel reception lobby.  Our first visit will be to the Topkapı Sarayı (Palace), home to the Ottoman emperors for more than five centuries.  Stroll through the grounds at a leisurely pace, imagining the opulence of Topkapı Sarayı at the height of Ottoman power, its grounds filled with strong rulers, ministers, and awe-struck visitors.  The next stop on your tour will be one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia (literally the Church of “Holy Wisdom”), serving in succession as the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchy of Constantinople, a mosque, and (currently) a museum.  Wander slowly through the cathedral to take in the spectacular mosaic scenes of the Virgin Mother, Jesus, the saints, many biblical narratives, and Byzantine emperors and their entourage.  After lunch, we will cross the Sultan Ahmet Gardens to visit the Blue Mosque, with its wonderfully curvaceous exterior featuring a cascade of domes and six slender, fluted minarets.  Beautifully crafted blue Iznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name.  Next we will walk through the Hippodrome, the athletic and social center of ancient Constantinople.  Today the park contains the Serpent Column of three intertwined snakes, the Obelisk of Pharaoh Thutmose III, and the Fountain of Kaiser Wilheim II.  En route to the Grand Bazaar, we will stop at the sixth-century Basilica Cistern, constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature finely carved capitals.  Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days.  The Grand Bazaar itself is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world and remains an integral part of daily local life among city residents and visitors alike.  With sixty-one covered streets, more than three thousand shops, five hundred stalls, and eighteen fountains, the Grand Bazaar attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors each day and continues to be an alluring draw for shoppers from around the globe.

After our visit to the Grand Bazaar, we will return to your hotel.

Day 3:  Half Day Bosphorus Cruise and Istanbul – Amasra

We will meet in your hotel lobby and begin the day with a visit to the city’s Spice Market (Mısır Çarşı, literally “Egyptian Bazaar”) that draws its name from the Ottoman-ruled districts in Egypt that provided the revenue to build the structure in 1660.  Today the Spice Market boasts more than eighty-five shops selling spices, Turkish delight and other sweets, jewelry, souvenirs, and dried fruits and nuts.  We will then board a ferry for a scenic excursion up the Bosphorus.  From the comfort of boat’s lounge, take in the city's dramatic skyline, filled with Ottoman palaces, citadels, and centuries-old mansions on both the European and Asian shores.

After lunch, we will travel to Amasra, a picturesque town built across a peninsula that juts dramatically out into the Black Sea.  Celebrated for its fabulously scenic setting and pristine beaches, you’ll be able to relax there with an overnight stay.

Day 4:  Safranbolu

After breakfast in Amasra, we will drive to Safranbolu.  Turkey’s finest example of a preserved Ottoman town is Safranbolu’s old town, known as Çarşı.  Stroll through the meandering alleyways filled with shops, and admire the timber-framed architecture and red-tiled roofs.  First made famous as an isolated source of the precious spice saffron, today Safranbolu allows you fully to experience life in an eighteenth-century Ottoman town, complete with creaky wooden floors, carved ceilings, cupboard bathrooms, and cobblestones.  We will stay overnight stay in Safranbolu.

Day 5:  Safranbolu - Sinop

Leaving Safranbolu after breakfast, we will drive to the scenic Black Sea port of Sinop, the northern-most point in Turkey and the only south-facing port along the entire coast.  First settled in the eighth century BCE, Sinop’s name, according to legend, derives from the nymph Sinope, who refused Zeus’ advances and settled in solitude on this lovely peninsula.  Today Sinop is a cosmopolitan resort town, where will visit the town’s numerous historic sites.  Balatlar Church and Saint Phocas Church are the oldest Christian centers in the area, and the fine Sinop Archaeology Museum displays some of the region’s oldest Christian icons, including a priceless collection depicting Christ, Mary, angels, and saints in Byzantine style.  The craftsmen of Sinop are noted for their hunting knives made with handles of bone.  We will stay overnight in Sinop.

Day 6:  Sinop - Amasya

After breakfast, we will drive to Amasya, once a provincial Ottoman capital used as a princely training-ground.  Amasya’s rich architectural legacy includes a number of beautiful nineteenth-century timber-framed houses, and Pontic tombs guarded by a high citadel look down from the bluff above the town.  We will stay overnight in Amasya.

Day 7:  Amasya - Trabzon

Continuing along the coast road after breakfast, we will soon arrive at the Black Sea’s busiest port, Trabzon, a city mixing cosmopolitan flair with a laid-back vibe.  Here we will visit the Aya Sofya (originally called Hagia Sophia or the “Church of Divine Wisdom”) that sits majestically on a terrace close to the sea.  Built between 1238 and 1263 and influenced by Georgian and Seljuk designs, the Church (now converted into a mosque) houses stunningly beautiful frescoes of the Annunciation, the Visitation, and Doubting Thomas.  The Italian-designed Kostaki Mansion, built for a Russian merchant in 1913 and mixing elements of rococo, art nouveau, and neoclassical architecture, briefly hosted Atatürk in 1924 and again in 1937, and now houses the Trabzon Museum.  Atatürk Alanı, nestled in the leafy, hilltop neighborhood of Soǧuksu, was built in 1903 for a wealthy Trabzon banking family in the Black Sea style then popular in the Crimea.  With fine views and lovely gardens, it was bequeathed to Atatürk when he visited in 1924.  We will stay for two nights in Trabzon.

Day 8:  Trabzon

Today we venture out to the region’s most celebrated site, the Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery, one of the historical highlights of the Black Sea coast.  Perched on the high cliffs of the Zigana Mountains in Altındere Valley 46 kilometers south of Trabzon, the entire site is blanketed with beautiful forest, offering spectacular views of lushly verdant landscapes.  Founded in the fourth century CE and abandoned in 1923, the monastery is one of the oldest and most important monasteries of Orthodox Christianity in Turkey.  On the way to the main church lie the remains of a nineteenth-century aqueduct, a guards’ room, a library with a fireplace, a kitchen, a bakery, and a vaulted refectory.  The church, formed in part from a natural cave and also built in the shape of an extended apse, is covered both inside and out with colorful frescoes depicting everything from the Virgin Mary to the Last Judgment.

Day 9: Trabzon - Uzungöl

In the morning we will drive to Uzungöl (Long Lake), a beautiful body of fresh water, 99 kilometers long, near Trabzon.  Located in a valley between high mountains, the area is most famous for its spectacular natural scenery.  Uzungöl is a perfect place to experience the peace, tranquility, and freshness of the natural world.  We will stay overnight in Uzungöl.

Day 10:  Uzungöl - Ayder

After breakfast, we will drive on to Ayder, a high-pasture village nestled in a scenic valley in the Kaçkar Mountains.  Here snowy slopes slide towards Ayder's rooftops, and waterfalls cascade to the river below.  Charming alpine chalet structures dot the steep hillsides.  Ayder is home to thermal springs, and a visit to the gender-segregated bathhouses to test the waters (at 55 degrees C) will prove an utterly relaxing treat.  We will stay overnight in Ayder.

Day 11:  Return

After breakfast, we will drive to the Trabzon airport for your homeward journey.

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 Private Tours Turkey