We start our Turkish experience with a calligraphy lesson, where we learn the secrets of creating rich patterns on handmade marble paper and experience the sensuous flow of Ottoman calligraphy in the company of our highly skilled artist-craftsperson. Participation enables the school to generate the funds to continue supporting the retention of this ancient skill.
For lunch, we have arranged a fabulous introduction to Turkish food, with a meal of Ottoman cuisine at the centrally located Matbah restaurant, which also has excellent views of Istanbul. In the late afternoon, we transfer to the airport for our 1hr 15min flight to Kayseri. Stay: Yunak Evleri cave hotel, Cappadocia (four-star) (B/L/D).
This morning is our chance to take part in the most iconic activity in Cappadocia – an early morning hot-air balloon ride. We have pre-booked slots for each group member, but to allow for possible weather-related delays or even cancellations, we will arrange final confirmation and payment through your leader for those who wish to take part. It's an early start and a short transfer, but the ride lasts for approximately 1h 15min, and ends with a cold glass of champagne.
After late breakfast, we continue our programme for the day. We start with a gentle climb up through the tunnels of Uchisar rock for a striking panoramic view, then continue to the extraordinary Goreme Open-Air Museum to see painted churches and troglodytic monastic dwellings. This afternoon, we drive to the rabbit warren-like village of old Cavusin and walk through the colourful Rose Valley, which is home to rock-cut churches, viewpoints, and stunning vistas to end at Sunset Point. Stay: Yunak Evleri cave hotel, Cappadocia (four-star) (B/L/D).
After breakfast we explore the former monastic complex of Zelve, then drive to Pasabagi – one of the most famous valleys in Cappadocia We drive to Goreme to begin our hike through the Sword and Red valleys to the rock-hewn Kizlar Kalesi monastery. The path takes us through more jaw-dropping scenery, past the giant shards of rock that give Sword Valley its name, and on to the richly coloured rock formations that make Red Valley so remarkable. After lunch, there is an option to join a Jeep safari and go a little further afield to hidden corners as the drivers take you through narrow canyons and to viewpoints.
In the late afternoon, we visit the historic Saruhan Caravanserai to see the Sema Ritual performed by Whirling Dervishes. This traditional performance has a deep cultural significance in Turkey and is a spectacular, spiritual and often-moving experience. The evening is free to make your own choice of dinner venue. Stay: Yunak Evleri cave hotel, Cappadocia (four-star) (B/L).
After breakfast, we start our day tour to Ihlara Valley and one of the prettiest trails in Cappadocia. At 8. 5mi (14km) long and up to 394ft (120m) deep, it is the largest historically inhabited canyon in the world. Ihlara has hundreds of churches and shelters made by the easy excavation of the rocks surrounding the valley plus the classic fairy chimneys. We finish with a visit to Selime Cathedral when we exit the valley.
The last stop today is Avanos, the Cappadocia town established by the Hittites on the banks of Halys River. Making use of the red clay obtained from the shores, the Hittites created outstanding examples of pottery ware and used potters' wheels as early as the second millennia BCE. We visit the studio of a local potter-artist and enjoy an interactive presentation on how to create masterpieces of pottery and ceramics. In the evening, we have a farewell-to-Cappadocia dinner at Elai restaurant, near the stone-carved Uçhisar Castle, where all the tables overlook the green valleys. Stay: Yunak Elveri cave hotel, Cappadocia (four-star) (B/L/D).
This morning, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Istanbul. We arrive in Istanbul and transfer to our central hotel. There will be an option for a Turkish bath experience at the luxurious 16th-century Hurrem Sultan Hamam. If you wish to explore the more classic sights of Istanbul, our leader will offer walking maps and suggestions, or can help you book guided experiences.
In the evening, we enjoy our last group dinner at Hamdi Restaurant, revered for its traditional southeastern kebabs: it is the place to go for this much-loved Turkish dish. The popular restaurant is situated in the historic Eminönü district (West of Sultanahmet) and offers stunning views over the Golden Horn. Stay: Hotel Vicenza, Istanbul (four-star) (B/D).