Discovering ancient wonders

Gobekli Tepe archaeology site, Turkey © Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Gobekli Tepe: one of the most startling monuments in the world

Travel back in time to the ancient wonders of Cyprus, Turkey, Spain and Montserrat.

Eastern Turkey is full of ancient wonders. From Lake Van to Gaziantep – a journey of 700 kilometres lasting six days – you will encounter mosques, churches and monuments galore, says Anthony Sattin in the Financial Times. At Gobekli Tepe, “we were out of time”. Not because the trip had reached its final destination, but because “we had left recorded history” behind. This small, recently discovered site is “among the most startling monuments… on Earth”.

It was here, 7,000 years before Egypt’s pyramids, that hunter-gatherers built what has been called the first temple. It consists of 20 circles of limestone pillars, some with carvings of human and animal figures. “I was here six years ago, before the publicity,” says Sattin, when Klaus Schmidt, the archaeologist who excavated the site, was still alive. Then, there was an open hillside. Now, there are fences, car parks, a new visitors’ centre, walkways and a huge canopy. “None of this detracts from the wonder of the place.”

(A similar 13-day trip in June 2020 costs £2,895, steppestravel.com)


Ruins amid luxury

Amara is a new “ultra-deluxe” hotel on the south coast of Cyprus, says Mark Macaskill in The Sunday Times. It opened in July. “Aesthetically,” Amara “hits all the right notes.” There are the marbled foyers, soft tones and warm interiors. All of the 207 bedrooms are sea-facing, while the entry-level suites are “spacious and tasteful, with double basins, a walk-in shower [and a] spa bath”. Outside, there are two infinity pools. But these are not the only things the landscaped gardens are hiding.

That’s because, “on the outskirts of the thriving town of Limassol, with the Mediterranean Sea lapping at its back gate, the Amara occupies the site of the ancient city of Amathus”. You can still see the ruins, including an ancient wall that was unearthed during the hotel’s construction. It is now on show in the hotel’s “impressive” spa.

(From £338, amarahotel.com)


Exploring the past near Seville

At first glance, southwestern Spain appears largely empty, says Sorrel Downer in The Guardian. “But over ploughed fields and olive groves there are towers and ramparts… the hazy outlines of towns founded in antiquity.” The ancient cities of Carmona, Écija and Osuna sit within a triangle that starts just east of Seville. While “the past is woven into the fabric of the present, just to be here is to time travel”.

Carmona’s defensive gate, the Puerta de Sevilla, was built around 220BC. It was incorporated centuries later into an Arab alcázar (fortress). Beyond it lies a necropolis, with excavated urns and statues. The high white walls of the churches, convents and palaces lend the Carmona its beauty. “Few towns are better suited to aimless wandering.”

Stay at the Casa-Palacio de Carmona. It is a “spectacular, eccentric” 17th-century palace constructed by a conquistador after his return from Peru. (From €98, casadecarmona.com)


Montserrat: the Pompeii of the Caribbean

 

The Soufrière Hills volcano buried Plymouth in 1995

In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in Montserrat and buried the capital, Plymouth, under a thick layer of ash. The island is therefore known as “the Pompeii of the Caribbean”. It is now “one of the less-trodden spots for dark tourism” – the trend of visiting areas marked by disaster, says Emma Featherstone in The Daily Telegraph. But given that tours of Plymouth are run by local guides, some of whom lived through the eruptions, “our visit didn’t feel too voyeuristic”. Montserrat Springs Hotel on Richmond Hill is one stop on the tour. It was once “the most luxurious” on the island, says Featherstone. Wearing foam masks, “we picked our way through the remains of a formerly plush reception area and headed out to the swimming pool, now overgrown with weeds”. Guests were no longer to be seen “revelling in the views of Soufrière Hills and Plymouth below”.

($159 as part of a cruise offered by Windstar, windstarcruises.com)