The fascinating lands ringing the legendary Black Sea—Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria—are the ancient crossroads of history, filled with the remnants of vanished civilizations, vibrant contemporary cultures, and a wealth of beautiful landscapes. Accompanied by an expert team of archaeologists and historians, you embark aboard the Island Sky, a 100-guest luxury expedition vessel, to explore these fabled lands of minarets and monasteries. You discover four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Romania’s winding Danube Delta and several archaeological masterpieces. Enjoy a local Georgian dining tradition, visit busy bazaars, and sample regional wines. In the land where Jason and his Argonauts searched for the Golden Fleece, you’ll find much treasure of your own.
All the lecturers were well prepared and interesting, and the topics were relevant and informative.
— Jan A., Bethesda, MD
Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.
USA / Istanbul, Turkey
Depart on your overnight flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Upon arrival, transfer to the Pera Palace Hotel. Enjoy an afternoon at leisure before our welcome dinner and briefing.
Istanbul / Embark the Island Sky
After breakfast, set out to explore the heart of Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the 17th-century Blue Mosque and continue to the beautiful Hagia Sophia. Alternatively, visit the Byzantine Church of the Holy Savior of Chora, the beautiful Rustem Pasha Mosque, and the colorful Spice Bazaar. After lunch, explore opulent Topkapi Palace, which served as the chief residence of Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years.
In the late afternoon, board the Island Sky and cruise toward the Black Sea up the scenic Bosporus, a strait that runs through the center of Istanbul and forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia.
Bartin / Safranbolu
From the port at Bartin, travel inland to Safranbolu, a World Heritage Site. Once an important center of saffron production and a stopover for Silk Road caravans, Safranbolu boasts a wealth of well-preserved Ottoman architecture. A walking tour visits the marketplace as well as a mosque, traditional house, and Turkish hammam that date back to the 16th century. Enjoy lunch in a converted Ottoman caravanserai, with free time to explore on your own before returning to the ship in Bartin.
The charming port of Sinop has been continuously occupied since the 7th century BC. Tour the ancient fortress walls; the small archaeological museum, with fascinating artifacts spanning the centuries; and the 11th-century Alaaddin Mosque. After lunch there is free time to explore on your own.
Trabzon / Sumela Monastery
Ancient Greeks settled Trabzon along a branch of the Silk Road from Asia. A highlight of your visit is a morning drive in the countryside to see the 13th and 14th century Byzantine Sumela Monastery, perched precariously on a cliff face in the monastic tradition of Greek Orthodox architecture. Detailed frescoes, etched in brilliant blues, reds, and golds, cover the interior. This stunning alpine setting is also a national park. This afternoon, explore the 13th century Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church with exquisite frescoes, and spend some free time wandering through the modern city of Trabzon.
Today the ship docks at the charming port of Batumi, where you visit the colorful farmers' market and take a relaxing walk through the lovely Botanical Gardens. After lunch on board, take a short drive to the ruins of ancient Gonio Fortress, which dates back to the first century AD. Return to Batumi for a dinner of regional delicacies and Georgian wines at a local restaurant, accompanied by a fantastic folk performance of traditional music and energetic dances.
This Russian mineral-spring resort community with a subtropical climate is sometimes called the Russian Riviera. Today explore the town with a special visit to Stalin’s dacha. Well hidden among trees on the outskirts of town, this house was a favorite summer retreat of the infamous leader.
Attend lectures today and enjoy the passing scenery during a relaxing day at sea.
Odessa’s European-Russian heritage is evident as you ascend the Potemkin Steps to explore cobblestone streets lined with shady plane trees. Explore the compact central district’s spectacular architecture, including monuments, statuary, parks, and ornate 19th century gems such as the Opera House and Gagarin’s Palace. You also visit one of the country’s oldest archaeological museums, which houses an extensive collection of Ukrainian artifacts ranging from the Paleolithic age to the medieval period. Enjoy free time this afternoon to stroll the graceful boulevards, with the option to dine ashore on your own.
Danube River Delta, Romania
The Danube is Europe’s second longest river as well as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. During two full days, discover the a wealth of natural and cultural wonders. Take a walking tour of the small port of Tulcea and visit the Danube Canal Museum and Danube Ecologic Museum. The next day, board a local boat to explore this wetland habitat looking for over 200 species of birds, including pygmy cormorants, purple herons, white-tailed eagles, and Dalmatian pelicans. On board, sample local vodka and Romanian snacks.
Histria / Constanta
Histria was Romania’s earliest-founded city and flourished as an extraordinary trading center, later to be abandoned and swallowed by alluvial deposits and sand. The site has been under excavation since its rediscovery in 1914. You'll We walk through fascinating seaside ruins, tour the new museum, and spot birds in this wetland environment. In Constanta, visit the archaeological and folkloric museum and one of the largest Roman mosaic floors in Europe. In the late afternoon, enjoy wine tasting and a cultural performance on board.
The modern port city of Varna was once the Greek colony known as Odessos. Disembark in the morning and visit Varna’s archaeological museum that chronologically traces the progress of human society in the region over the course of millennia and includes the oldest worked gold in the world. We also explore the extensive remains of the 2nd century Roman thermae, or public baths, which make up the largest Roman ruins in Bulgaria. Reboard the ship for lunch as we sail toward Turkey.
Istanbul, Turkey / Disembark / USA
Disembark after breakfast and transfer to the airport for homeward-bound flights.
Pre-Voyage Extension: Cappadocia & Istanbul
September 27 – October 5, 2016
Turkey’s Cappadocia region is a land of striking volcanic terrain marked by thousands of pyramid-shaped rock spires. Throughout the centuries, Cappadocia’s inhabitants have carved their homes and churches in these columns and in caves, creating tunnels and chambers in the rock. This pre-voyage extension highlights the region’s cultural treasures, beautiful vistas, and fascinating history, and also explores Istanbul, Turkey’s magnificent cultural, political, and commercial center.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016, USA / Istanbul, Turkey
Depart on your independent overnight flight to Istanbul.
Wednesday, September 28, Istanbul
Arrive in Istanbul this evening and transfer to the Renaissance Polat Hotel for dinner and overnight.
Thursday, September 29, Istanbul / Ankara
This morning, fly from Istanbul to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, for a tour of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which houses a rich collection of Turkish artifacts from prehistoric peoples and Hittite, Phyrgian, Lydian, and Urartian cultures; as well as the Mausoleum of Atatürk, a national shrine dedicated to the founder of modern Turkey. Dinner and overnight at the Swiss Hotel Ankara.
Friday - Sunday, September 30 – October 2, Cappadocia
During your time in magical Cappadocia, explore the extraordinary underground city of Kaymakli, where early Christians carved stables, kitchens, tunnels, and churches from the volcanic rock. Other examples of Cappadocian rock architecture include Pigeon Valley, where hundreds of small caves were used to house birds, and Uchisar Castle, a solid rock used as a watchtower. The peaceful, attractive valley of Pashabagi is famous for its three-headed fairy chimneys. At Zelve, view the traditional rock village and cave homes that were inhabited until the 1960s. You will also visit Mustafapasa with its impressive Greek and Ottoman architecture. Tour the open-air museum of Goreme and attend a whirling dervish performance during dinner at a local restaurant. Overnights at Cappadocia Cave Resort in Nevşehir.
Monday, October 3, Cappadocia / Istanbul
This morning transfer to the airport for our flight to Istanbul. After lunch at a local restaurant, take a walking tour of the historic Galata and Beyoglu districts. This evening, check in to the elegant Pera Palace Hotel for dinner and overnight.
Tuesday - Wednesday, October 4-5, Istanbul
Spend two days touring the many cultural treasures of Istanbul. Take a cruise to Buyukada Island, and board horse-drawn carriages for a tour through narrow, traffic-free streets lined with charming summer homes and magnificent Ottoman-era villas. The next day visit the Byzantine Chora Church, noted for its beautiful interior covered with magnificent frescoes and mosaics. Continue to the Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul’s largest, constructed in the 1550s. After lunch there is leisure time to explore on your own. Return to the Pera Palace Hotel this evening where you will join the main group for dinner.
Price: $5,960 single occupancy, $4,980 double occupancy