Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
This 24-day tour was designed for a group of eight travellers, all members of the same family, plus myself as tour escort.
We started in the Eternal City Rome for four nights, visiting ancient, Renaissance and modern sites, sampling the marvellous Italian cuisine, and beginning our leisurely look at Italian culture.
We then headed to Tuscany to spend six nights in farm-house accommodation near the charming village of Saturnia. This served as a base for exploring the fertile landscapes of the Maremma and its hill-towns, and for visiting the ancient cities of Siena and Pienza.
The artistic treasure house of Florence was home for the next four nights.
Our next stop was the incomparable Venice,where we spent five nights.
Heading west, we stayed for three nights in the lovely old city of Verona, which also served as abase for exploring the shores of Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian lakes.
And our final stop was Milan for three nights, seeing Italy at its most cosmopolitan and stylish. The group broke up in Milan, most heading to other destinations (England, France) and a few coming home.
This tour was designed in close consultation with the family, drawing on my experience of Italy and paying close attention to the tastes and preferences of individuals in the group. Naturally, I would be happy to do the same for any group of family or friends.
This group of 17 was made up of University of the Third Age members from Canberra and the Shoalhaven, plus a couple of their friends.
After our arrival in Casablanca, our tour started in the attractive capital of Rabat, with its old medina overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, an ancient kasbah, the splendid mausoleum of King Hassan II and the medieval Chellah Necropolis.
From Rabat we drove to Meknes, once the imperial capital associated with the great ruler Moulay Ismail, and now a charming and historic old city. Nearby Volubilis, the country’s major Roman site, well repaid our visit.
Fes is the oldest Islamic city in Morocco, and is a living treasure house of history and culture (the old city is listed in its entirety by UNESCO). It’s a major centre of art and craft, and it seems to be the Moroccans’ favourite city – we certainly enjoyed the bustle of the medina.
After a long drive south, covering plains, mountains, rivers and traditional villages, we reached Erfoud, our staging post for a visit to the Sahara Desert -we took in the orange sand dunes, a village of musicians descended from African slaves, an abandoned mining village and a large salt lake. The (optional) balloon flight gave us a wonderful perspective on the desert landscapes.
After driving through the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs (the name says it all) and the spectacular beauty of the Todra Gorge, our next stop was the charming and laid-back town of Ouarzazate. Nearby is the UNESCO-listed kasbah of Ait Benhaddou - a beautifully preserved small fortified town, where several movies were shot. Ouarzazate is known as the Hollywood of Morocco, so naturally we toured of one of the movie studios.
Marrakech is always a highlight of any trip to Morocco. The city has an ancient medina, with a huge central square famous throughout the world, palaces and bazaars, museums and quiet medieval alleys, and an elegant New Town. From Marrakech we took a day trip to the Berber villages of the High Atlas Mountains, meeting some of the locals and sharing their food – for many, this was the high point of the whole experience.
Next stop was Essaouira on the Atlantic coast, a quiet and beautiful old town favoured by Moroccans as a summer resort. It started life as a fortified port in the 18th century, prospered as a fishing and boat-building centre, and lately flourished as a charming resort and artistic town, attracting such people as Orson Welles, Jimi Henrix and David Bowie. Its well preserved medina is still home to most of the inhabitants, and its craft workshops and restaurants are a delight.
On our drive back to Casablanca, we stopped at Safi with its medina containing a 16th century Portuguese chapel; and we stayed at the fascinating Potuguese-Jewish-Arab port city of El Jadida, where we did some serious shopping of the traditional Berber crafts.
Everyone agreed that one of the great things about this trip was the accommodation in riads, little boutique hotels in old restored mansions – very comfortable, beautiful and staffed by welcoming people.
Most of our travellers took an optional two-night break of the long return flight in Abu Dhabi, staying in a 4* hotel and enjoying a half-day tour of the city.
Our group of 14 was made up of University of the Third Age members from Canberra and the Shoalhaven.
We started our tour in the splendid imperial capital of Istanbul with its mosques, bazaars and waterways – we visited the Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia and the Grand Bazaar. One of the highlights was a half-day cruise on the Bosphorus.
We then moved on to our own sacred site of Gallipoli. The Graeco-Roman culture announced itself when we reach Homer’s Troy and the ancient medical centre of Pergamum. The largest Hellenistic-Roman city in Asia Minor, Ephesus is the best-known and most rewarding antiquity in Turkey. The World Heritage listed thermal pools of Pamukkale with their adjacent Roman city of Hierapolis gave us the opportunity to enjoy both ancient culture and a therapeutic spa.
Antalya on the Mediterranean coast is a relaxed resort city, where we took a full-day yacht cruise with several swimming stops.
After visiting at the ancient theatre of Aspendos we turned inland towards the high plains of Antalya.
The old capital of Konya has the medieval Mevlana Mausoleum and a Whirling Dervish performance.
In the windswept landscape of Cappadocia we saw the eerie underground city of Sarhatli, the extraordinary ‘fairy chimney’ landscapes and the early Christian churches in the UNESCO-listed Goreme Open Air Museum.
On our journey back to Istanbul we stopped at Ankara where we visited Ataturk’s Mausoleum and the splendid Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
Back in Istanbul we had an optional four-night extension in a Special Category Historic hotel – this unhurried exploration of the great city was a relaxing way of ending a great tour.
Our group of 13 from the Shoalhaven and Canberra U3A started off in Cairo with visits to the Pyramids and Sphinx (of course!), the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis and the Stepped Pyramid of Saqqara. We took in the extraordinary Egyptian Museum, the Citadel of Saladin and the exotic bazaar of Khan al Khalili.
After three nights we flew to Luxor, which has the greatest concentration of antiquities in the world. After boarding our deluxe cruise ship for four nights, we visited the great West Bank necropolis which included the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatchepsut, the artisans’ village of Deir al Medina and the Colossi of Memnon. On the east bank we had the magnificent temple complex of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor.
We then sailed down the Nile, enjoying the timeless life of the river and a couple of magnificent temples – Edfu, which is the best preserved of all, and Kom Ombo, which is beautifully sited overlooking the river.
From the pleasant and laid-back city of Aswan we took a coach through the desert to the extraordinary pair of temples at Abu Simbel - these were cut out of the rock and moved in the 1960′s by a massive UNESCO effort to escape the rising waters of the lake created by the new Aswan High Dam. In Aswan itself, we visited the dam, the remarkable Unfinished Obelisk and the charming Temple of Philae.
On our return to Cairo, we spent time in Coptic Cairo, the quarter of the oldest Christian denomination in the world, visiting ancient churches and a synagogue.
Next stop was Alexandria, where we took in the sights, such as the medieval Fort Qaytbay and the underground catacombs of Kom as Shoqafa, and spent time wandering around this most atmospheric of cities. On our way back to Cairo, we stopped at the Allied war cemetery of Al Alamein, and the monastery of Deir Anba Bishoi in Wadi Natrun, where we received a warm welcome by the monks.
On our return to Cairo two of our travellers headed home, but the bulk of the group took up the option of seven nights in the under-appreciated country of Jordan. We started in the capital of Amman with a visit to the hilltop Citadel, the Roman theatre and the gold souk. We then headed to the nearby Christian town of Madaba withy its world-famous mosaic map of the world, and to Mount Nebo from which Moses glimpsed the Promised Land.
Our next visit was to the town of Salt, once the capital of Transjordan but now a sleepy and charming Ottoman town (Ithink we may have been the first tourist group ever to visit). Then on to the Saracen castle of Ajlun, and the extensive and magnificent Roman city of Jerash.
After Amman we moved south via the Dead Sea, where we floated aound and covered ourselves in therapeutic black mud; and went on to the Crusader castle of Karak.
The wonderful rose-red city of Petra took up a whole day – and still it wasn’t enough. This was followed by a half-day 4 x 4 drive through the magnificent desert scenery of Wadi Rum. We managed to fit in an unscheduled half-day in the pleasant coastal city of Aqaba before driving back to Amman airport for the long flight home.
This group of fifteen was organised for the students, parents and teachers at Smiths Hill High School in Wollongong NSW.
The tour was aimed at the needs of Ancient History students, and we managed to both cover the syllabus and provide lots for the adults in our group.
We began in Rome (of course), taking in the Colosseum, the Imperial Forum, St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, and a very pleasant excursion to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli.
Heading south, we drove to the vibrant city of Naples, where we visited the splendid Archaeological Museum and enjoyed pizza in its place of origin. Naples also served as a base for two extraordinary excursions – the first was to the twin towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both covered by the great Vesuvian eruption of 79AD and preserved in the ash; and the second was a day trip to the delightful island of Capri.
From Naples we took the overnight ferry to Sicily - still Italian, but with a flavour all its own. We started with the capital of Palermo, an ancient place that was important to the Romans, Arabs and Normans, and is now a bustling and attractive city. Its main attractions, apart from the atmosphere of the place, was the Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace, and the magnificently sited Cathedral of Monreale just outside Palermo – each glittering with Byzantine mosaics.
The medieval hill-town of Erice on Sicily’s north-west coast is a little gem of architectural preservation – we could imagine that the coast of Tunisia was in sight.
From Erice we descended on the finest Greek sites outside Greece – the massive unfinished temple at Segesta, the ancient seaside city of Selinunte and the vast and evocative Valley of the Temples at Agrigento. These places made a deep impression on everyone, child and adult alike.
Our tour ended on our return to Rome, but several travellers went on to Florence and Venice, in an unescorted extension that we organised for them.
This tour was organised for members of my extended family, including aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of the family.
We began our tour in Alexandria, with visits to the medieval Qaytbay Fort, the eerie catacombs of Kom As Shoqafa, the splendid modern library and the Roman Amphitheatre, leaving lots of leisure time to explore the city.
Our next stop was Cairo, with the obligatory (and highly satisfying) Pyramids and Sphinx, as well as the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis and the Stepped Pyramid of Saqqara.
A most interesting and beautiful side trip from Cairo was a visit to Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments) and its wonderful Monastery of St Catherine. Some of our more energetic travellers climbed the mountain to greet the rising sun.
Our sleeper train then took us to Aswan, where the attractions were the Aswan High Dam, the remarkable Unfinished Obelisk and the charming Temple of Philae. From Aswan we took a coach through the desert to the extraordinary pair of temples at Abu Simbel - these were cut out of the rock and moved in the 1960′s by a massive UNESCO effort to escape the rising waters of the lake created by the new dam. As always, one of the pleasures of Aswan was a peaceful half-day felucca cruise on the majestic Nile.
From Aswan we boarded our 4* Nile cruise ship, for four days of luxury cruising, stopping at the temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu, and enjoying the calm of traditional village life on the banks of the river.
At Luxor, which has the greatest concentration of antiquities in the world, we visited the great West Bank necropolis which includes the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatchepsut, the artisans’ village of Deir al Medina and the Colossi of Memnon. On the east bank we had the magnificent temple complex of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor.
On our return to Cairo, we enjoyed the splendours of the Egyptian Museum, as well as a good look at the medieval Sultan Hasan Mosque.
This large group of 58 was organised for the students, parents and teachers at Smiths Hill High School in Wollongong NSW. It was escorted by myself and assistant, and we also had the services of two very professional and charming Egyptian guides.
We began in Cairo by plunging straight into the great sights of the city – the magnificent Pyramids and Sphinx, the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis, and the Stepped Pyramid of Saqqara. The wonderful Egyptian Museum lived up to expectations, and the bustling Khan al Khalili bazaar provided some excellent haggling practice.
The overnight sleeper train brought us to the laid-back city of Aswan where we took in the High Dam, the Unfinished Obelisk, the Nubian Museum and that most picturesque of temples at Philae.
One of the undoubted highlights of our time in Egypt was a visit to the temples of Abu Simbel. These majestic mortuary temples of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari were due to be inundated by the rising waters of the new Aswan High Dam, until a UNESCO rescue mission saw them cut out of the rock and re-erected on higher ground.
A magic morning was spent gliding down-river on traditional sailing felucca to the riverside temple of Kom Ombo. We then met up with our coaches for the drive to the temple of Edfu, the best preserved temple of all; and on to Luxor.
The New Kingdom capital of Luxor has the biggest concentration of antiquities in the world. On the West bank, we had the wonders of the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Hatchepsut, the lesser-visited temple of Medinet Habu, the Colossi of Memnon, and the artisans’ village of Deir al Medina. And on the East Bank, we had the vast complex of Karnak temple and its sister Luxor temple. These sights made a deep impression on children and adults alike.
After these archaeological and historic exertions, our coaches drove us across the Eastern Desert to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada for a couple of days of seaside relaxation, before our return to school and work.