The legendary Silk Road was an international pilgrimage for ancient merchants connecting and trading products from east to west. Thought to have started from Xi’an in China, when the Han Dynasty officially opened trade with the west in 130 BC, the route runs through the dusty deserts of the Middle East and into the classic cities of Europe. Pioneering technologies and all manner of food and fabrics were transported along this epic route for centuries, which helped to shape the modern world.
These days, the transportation of goods is somewhat less perilous but the once well-trodden route is still a treasure trove of breathtaking scenery and fabulous landscapes across continents. Deserts, mountains, city and sea – there are some world-class destinations along this timeworn trail.
Intrigued? Well, we can’t quite take you along the whole 7,000-odd mile route but we have rounded up a selection of tours that give a little glimpse into this bygone world…
Treasures of China
The Great Wall and palaces of the Forbidden City. The army of Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an. The dramatic mountain scenery of the Yangtze Gorges. As one of the world’s largest countries, China offers countless exciting opportunities for exploration and adventure – and ‘Treasures of China‘ hits all the top spots of this ancient and mysterious land.
After sipping tea in Chengdu and gliding along the Yangtze River, you’ll arrive in Xi’an – the starting point of the famed Silk Road. Centuries ago, traders’ camps would be clustered outside the city walls, filled with exotic spices, ceramics and silk. Fabrics would be piled high in all colours and textures to take on the westward journey across the land mass of China to the Middle East and, eventually, Europe. You’ll have the chance to discover the city’s incredible Terracotta Warrior Museum – one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century – before continuing your journey to Beijing.
Uzbekistan – Jewel of the Silk Road
Uzbekistan conjures up images of Eastern exoticism and glistening desert oases. Merchants and traders have been braving the unforgiving sunshine and sandy winds of the Kyzyl Kum – or Red Sand Desert – to find the fabled cities of the Uzbek since 138 BC as they traversed south from China and through the Middle East.
‘Uzbekistan – Jewel of the Silk Road‘ follows snippets of the Silk Road’s best bits – and then some. Explore three of the most important stops on this ancient route rife with mosques, palaces, museums and madrasahs. From Tashkent you’ll fly to Nukus, ringed by three deserts and home to the famed Savitsky Art Museum. From here, we weave through desert dunes and dramatic landscapes via road and railway – along the same route once taken by Silk Road caravan traders – stopping in Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara, before ending back in Tashkent.
Samarkand is known as one of the oldest inhabited – and once most powerful – cities in Central Asia, thought to be more than 2,750 years old. It prospered from its location along the Silk Road and is home to the Registan – one of the most recognisable monuments in Central Asia. In UNESCO-listed Burkara, we’ll soak up the beautiful, turquoise-domed Mir-i-Arab Madrasah. It now plays host to the annual Spices and Silk Festival, celebrating traditional, intricate skills such as gold embroidery, hand weaving and carpet weaving.
Armenia and Georgia
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Georgia have been forging their own identities making this a fascinating time to explore these countries in transition. As you traverse between Yerevan, Dilijan and Kazbegi, you’ll take in the beautiful wilderness of the Caucasus Mountains, spend time with local families and indulge in fine home-grown wines. But it was Tbilisi – on the edge of Europe – that was a key stop for traders along the Silk Road. We’ll spend four nights here to soak up the eternal charms of this age-old city.
Treasures of Western Turkey
Istanbul, the ‘East meets West’ city, lived up to its nickname as a key Silk Road trading hub for traders sending goods onwards to Europe. As a result, there’s a noticeable mix of European and Asian influences in the way of architecture, history and cuisine – and we’ll discover them on ‘Treasures of Western Turkey‘. Feast your eyes and your taste buds on this heady trip from capital to coast. You’ll tread the quaint cobbled streets of Kaleici, step inside the library at Pergamum – which supposedly once housed Cleopatra’s wedding gift, and take in the terraced thermal pools of Pamukkale.
The City of Canals
The marshland-turned-masterpiece city of Venice conjures images of romantic waterways and classical charm. But it also historically marked the last land stop on the Silk Road before traders set sail south towards Africa on what became known as the Maritime Silk Road.
On our four-night ‘The City of Canals‘ tour, you’ll have time to discover the great legacy and treasures of St Mark’s Square, walk across the grand Rialto Bridge and float along the Grand Canal. Venice’s best bits are usually stumbled upon by accident, so there’s also plenty of time to get lost in its maze of walkways and explore the city for yourself. On the way home, you’ll board the elegant Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – one of the greatest railways of the world – and whizz through scenic landscapes in the lap of luxury on your return journey to the UK.
Balkans off the Beaten Track
Albania and Macedonia are still relatively undiscovered by UK visitors, so you’ll be veering well off the tourist trail for this journey through dramatic landscape and culture-rich communities. But your efforts will be rewarded as you drink up the spectacular national park views and absorb the peaceful sunset over the pretty lake in Ohrid. You’ll even stop by the birthplace of Mother Teresa as you pass though Skopje – a real highlight of ‘Balkans off the Beaten Track‘.
Cairo, Alexandria and a Nile Cruise
The Maritime Silk Road took its first foray into Africa as traders carried goods across from Athens to Egypt, sailed the Dead Sea, and continued on to Kenya and beyond. You can capture a taste of Ancient Egypt for yourself on ‘Cairo, Alexandra and a Nile Cruise‘. From the majestic Pyramids of Giza to the mind-blowing Valley of the Kings in Luxor and a picturesque cruise along the River Nile – Egypt will bring out the adventurer in you in two shakes of a camel’s tail. This tour ensures you cover all the unforgettable essentials – and more.
Jordan with Ancient Petra
Epic landscapes, astounding monuments and the wonderfully restorative Dead Sea make every stop on ‘Jordan with Ancient Petra‘ a treasure to remember. Spend time wandering the ancient wonder of Petra – only rediscovered beneath the sand in 1812 – and trace the path through the ancient Roman city of Jerash. You’ll take a four-wheeled adventure deep into the dunes of the Wadi Rum before descending 400 metres below sea level to float in the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea – the very same waters that sailors of the Maritime Silk Road would have crossed on their voyage towards Africa.