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Fusion in Turkey is no contrivance, it is the kind of blend that only happens naturally through time. Anatolia has been the heart of empires since ancient times; it has been an artery for trade and the crossroads of cultures for 12,000 years. More than that, the heart of this journey is the very place where agriculture was born back in prehistory. Yes, they really have been doing it for that long!
All accommodations for this tour will be in 4 or 5-star and boutique hotels. The hotel standard across eastern Turkey is excellent. The list of hotels may vary and will be made available on request within six weeks prior to your departure date.
In the great cities of the world, fashionable chefs vie to produce innovative dishes for jaded pallets. The result has not only been the proliferation of ethnic restaurants in most major cities around the world but the attempt to take it all a step further by combining elements from different culinary traditions. The product of this blending of traditions has been called fusion cooking. But here in Turkey, we have been doing it for centuries.
In the course of our journey you will traverse three distinct cultural, geographic and climate regions and experience the foundations and the complexities of the culinary environment of Anatolia. While you will see and taste things you won’t be able to reproduce at home, we can guarantee that you will be able to take away with you practical and applicable ideas that will make your dinner table the talk of your social circle.
Some food tours will take in Gaziantep in south east Turkey as it is, after Istanbul, a major centre for exceptional cuisine. However, for us it’s not simply an added thought to give a little color to an old idea, it’s the gateway to a whole new world of the tastes and the smells that are to come, and it’s where we start. We will not restrict ourselves to any particular restaurants or food districts but our choices will change based on who’s hot and who’s not.
Known by the locals simply as Antep, this bustling metropolis in Southern Anatolia is an eclectic mixture of Kurdish, Arab, and Turkish influences and it has the kitchen to match; it is the gateway to an Anatolian kitchen that few outsiders see. You will be collected from the airport and will be brought to your hotel for dinner and a chance to meet the team and your fellow travelers.
City center sightseeing before lunch at a selected city center restaurant for your first experience into the culinary world of this ancient city. The blend they're offering you for your introduction will be savory soups and spicy meat dishes. Your sweet course will come later, after a visit to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum which houses an outstanding collection of Roman period mosaics recovered from the now flooded city of Zeugma.
From the Mosaic Museum, visit one of Antep’s premier makers of Baklava to see how it is made and to taste Antep’s signature sweet dish. After, pause for a brief period of rest and reflection, you will go to the Mutfak Sanatlari Merkezi, Antep’s College of Culinary Arts, for a master class in one of Antep’s famous dishes.
After a hearty breakfast, leave Gaziantep and head across the great River Euphrates and on to the even more ancient city of Şanlıurfa to visit the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe. This site, dated to around 10,000 years BC, is the earliest example of monumental architecture yet discovered. In a country full of superlatives, this site is truly extraordinary.
From Göbekli Tepe, go to Urfa in time for a light lunch before visiting the Archaeological Museum and the covered bazaar with its central Gümrük Hanı, built by the great Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent in 1563 as a Customs Post and distribution point for goods on this section of the Silk Road. It’s the ideal place to sit and enjoy the shade and the goings-on of market traders and passers-by. In the evening, enjoy the gardens and fountains of the Pools of Abraham followed by dinner.
After breakfast, head north to Mt. Nemrut, stopping for a light picnic lunch at the Ataturk Dam. At the summit of Adiyaman’s Mt. Nemrut, with the giant statues erected as part of King Antiochus’ funerary monument, watch the sun setting. Coming off the mountain, stay in a mountain village pension and learn how to make Turkish pide, a traditional savory Turkish flatbread dish somewhat like pizza. This is something you’ll definitely be taking home with you.
From Nemrut, head to Diyarbakir across the Euphrates again, just past the Karaca Dag shield volcano and on into Diyarbakir, surrounded by its giant 2,000-year-old, five-and-a-half-kilometer black basalt defensive walls made of stone from Karaca Dağ. Diyarbakir is known for rich dishes of spicy lamb and for its liver kebabs.
The most famous specialty dish from Diyarbakir is Kaburga Dolması which is a dish of slow-baked lamb's ribs stuffed with rice, almonds, and many spices. Diyarbakir is also known for its watermelons, celebrated by a monument and an annual Watermelon Festival.
On arrival and after a light lunch, start the city tour including the walls, the 16th century Hasan Paşa Hanı, and the Great Mosque and central square which exactly replicate the ancient Roman Forum and Basilica, both in form and layout. Visit the Sülüklühan Assyrian Winery and you’ll follow that by going to a famous local restaurant to see the preparation of Diyarbakir’s famous "kaburga" before tucking in.
Before departing Diyarbakir, head back to Hasan Paşa Hanı (in front of Ulu Camii) for a traditional Diyarbakir breakfast of roasted egg and ciğer, or even soup if you prefer. After breakfast, head south to Mardin. Mardin is known for the Turkomen/Artuklid architecture of its old city, and for its strategic location on a rocky hill near the Tigris and overlooking the plains south towards Syria.
Mardin is a visual feast as well as a culinary and cultural one. Explore the backstreets and markets, visit the Great Mosque, the Kasimiye Medresesi, before going on to visit the Syriac Saffron Monastery and the 1,000-year BC Temple of the Sun hidden beneath it. On your return to Mardin, visit one of Mardin’s top restaurants for a feast of traditional local meze and Syriac wine tasting.
From Mardin, head east across the Tigris at Hasankeyf where you will enjoy a boat ride on this iconic river and then up to Batman for lunch, then up the Bitlis Gorge into the Eastern Anatolian high lands to Tatvan on the western shore of Lake Van. On the way, stop to visit the El Aman Hanı, one of the many Caravanserais along Anatolia’s Silk Road. This restored 16th-century Caravanserai now serves the local community as an arts and recreation center.
From Tatvan, head east along the southern shore of Lake Van stopping at the village of Reşadiye for a hearty village breakfast and a cooking demonstration in the essential skills for making the iconic Anatolian flatbread. From there, continue on to the regional capital of Van where you will visit the Citadel of Van to watch the sunset over Lake Van.
Built on a large lozenge-shaped outcrop the fortifications, started in around 850 BC by the Urartians, the citadel has been adapted and added to almost continually ever since by Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Armenians, Turkomen, Seljuks, Ottomans, and for a brief period during WWI, the Russians. This fortress is possibly the oldest continuously used military fortification in the world.
After breakfast, head to Gevaş for a traditional local feast in a local country garden where everybody will participate in food preparations. You will, however, take a break, and while the ladies of the house stir the pots and turn the meats, head to the lake for a boat ride to visit the beautiful island of Akdamar with its exquisite 10th century Armenian Church. Once souls and spirits have been refreshed, return to Gevaş to replenish your bodies.
After breakfast, visit Annemin Vefa Sofrasi to prepare lunch under the expert and fun-filled guidance of the ladies at this local family eatery, where mother definitely knows best. While lunch is cooking, visit Urartu Carpets where beautiful carpets and kilims are woven by members of a local Women’s Collective. After lunch, there will be free time for relaxation or shopping but there will be an optional tour to Van’s new Archaeological Museum.
After another hearty Van breakfast, depart Van and head north along the eastern shore of Lake Van and then past Mt. Suphan, across the Tendurek Shield Volcano and into Doğubayazıt where you will have a light lunch before visiting the pleasure Palace of Ishak Paşa overlooking the Plains of Ararat. From Doğubayazıt, continue north around the eastern flank of Ararat and on to the city of Kars.
After breakfast, head east to visit the ruins of the medieval Armenian city of Ani, protected on its western side with huge city walls and on its eastern flank by a bend in the Arpaçay River gorge which is the border with Armenia. In the afternoon, return to Kars for a city tour and a break. In the evening, prepare supper which will be Piti Kebab, a version of this international dish specific to Kars, and as a final reminder that kebab is not just meat on a stick.
Gaziantep is the starting point of this tour and finishes in Kars. Both cities link to Istanbul with several flights each day.
The cities of this region have been home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world. This ancient heritage and the astonishing fertility of the land have both attracted civilizations and been the basis for their growth, prosperity, and sophistication.
The diversity and variety of products available due to its geographical position mean the region has developed a unique cuisine with its own distinctive flavors which are much imitated but rarely matched. The region is famous for its pistachios, growing here as wild trees since prehistoric times, and for the delicious, sweet baklava for which the area is renowned.
This eastern part of Anatolia is dominated by mountains and the beautiful Lake Van. The first city you'll come to is Tatvan, lying at the base of Nemrut Caldera and the western shore of Lake Van, it still retains the bustling exotic excitement of a frontier town. As a highland area, the landscape is elemental, winters harsh and summers short, but the food is outstanding, from succulent meat, mostly lamb, to fabulous dairy products and, above all, the honey, produced by itinerant beekeepers who set their hives up in mountain pastures and valleys in early spring.
One of the many highlights of the Van region is the simply awesome Van breakfast. In a country where breakfasts set a very high benchmark, the Van breakfast is in a league of its own. Downtown Van even has a “Breakfast Street” so the competition to serve the best is fierce. The northern part of the region is dominated by Tendurek Shield Volcano and Mt. Ararat.
Kars, to the north of Ararat has a steppe-like appearance and in the winter, blasted by winds from the Caucasus, is bone-chillingly cold, an environment that has produced a culinary tradition of hearty soups and stews along with a very different style of kebab. The cultural mix has infused Kars cookery with a unique flavor with influences from a period of Russian occupation in the latter part of the 19th century along with Caucasian refugees produced by Russian Imperial expansion in the 1860s.
The economy is heavily based on livestock and dairy production and Kars is rightly famous for its cheeses and honey. Goose features on the menu along with Piti, Kars’ own take on the kebab, this is beef and chickpea slow-cooked and served in a rich broth with a thin pastry and served with the heavenly local yogurt.
If this wasn’t enough, all along the route of Anatolia’s Silk Road, Alkans Eastern Turkey Tour will try to take your minds off the food, for a while at least, with visits to some of Turkey’s most iconic cultural and historical sites and sights. You will visit the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep and you’ll cross the Euphrates.
In Şanliurfa, the ancient city of Edessa, visit the stunning archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe, the 12,000-year-old Neolithic sanctuary, where all this bounty began, and the outstanding Archaeological Museum in the city center. See the sunset from the summit of Nemrut, Mountain of the Gods, and then enjoy a day exploring Diyarbakir with its ancient city walls, mosques, and churches.
From there, it’s just a short journey to Mardin, a town so full of architectural gems that the whole city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. From Mardin, cross the Tigris and head up the Bitlis valley to Lake Van, the island of Akdamar with its 10th century Armenian Church, and the city of Van, once the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Urartu, known in the Bible simply as “the Lands of Ararat.”
Visit Van Citadel which was originally constructed in about 850 BC and saw almost continuous use, in one form or another, as different civilizations came and went, right up to the end of World War I. As you travel north, skirt the foothills of the Biblical Mountain of Noah, Ararat, and on to Kars where you will spend a morning exploring the ruins of the great medieval Armenian city of Ani.
Along the way, enjoy whatever cultural and social opportunities that may present themselves. The program is designed to ensure that you have the time not to miss anything. The highlights are:
Food across Anatolia heavily features meat and dairy ingredients. Vegetarian is possible but not vegan. Exceptions to this would be if the entire group is vegetarian. Beverages are not included unless otherwise stated and alcohol is only included at identified stops.
Gaziantep is Turkey's pistachio capital and is the home of the iconic pistachio dessert, Baklava. Pistachio trees have grown here since Neolithic times.
Karaca Dağ which lies between Şanlıurfa and Diyarbakir is the place where the first domesticated variety of wheat (einkorn) is known to have originated.
The eastern city of Van is renowned across Turkey for its sumptuous breakfast. On June 1, 2014, the city achieved the world record for the largest full breakfast attendance with over 51,000 people present.
Gaziantep Oğuzeli International Airport
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