Trace the rise and fall of some of history’s most fascinating civilizations on an epic journey to less traveled wonders, from Iran to Serbia and beyond. Follow in the footsteps of emperors and shahs, merchants and architects, invaders and exiles as we explore ancient cities and modern-day capitals. Traveling aboard our private jet, encounter the dazzling mosaics of Persian mosques, the Silk Road riches of Central Asia, and the medieval towns of the Balkans; and discover the vibrant traditions that have arisen at these crossroads of culture.
Arrive in Madrid, Spain, on an independent flight. Meet experts, fellow travelers, and staff for a festive welcome dinner.
Villa Magna Hotel (D)
Our private jet takes us east to Iran to explore Isfahan, a hub of cultures and faiths that was once the capital of the Persian Empire. Here, stroll through the UNESCO World Heritage site of Naqsh-e Jahan, a grand public square built during the city’s architectural heyday in the 17th century. Behold its monumental buildings, including the blue-domed Royal Mosque, covered in beautifully decorated ceramic tiles, and the Sheikh Mosque, known for its intricate mosaics. Look out over the city from the Ali Qapu Palace, and cross the river to the Armenian quarter to visit the Vank Cathedral, which blends Armenian and Persian artistry.
Then travel overland to Kashan, an oasis city at the edge of Iran’s salt desert. Walk under ancient cypress trees and elegant archways in the 16th-century Bagh-e Fin Garden, and admire the exquisite architecture and stained glass of Tabātabāei House. Visit a 500-year-old hammam, or stroll beneath the many domes of the extraordinary covered bazaar.
Abbasi Hotel (B, L, D daily)
Alternative: Instead of visiting Iran, travel by commercial air to Nizwa, Oman. The sweeping mountain landscape includes Oman’s highest peak as well as the beautiful Jebel Akhdar, a high plateau lush with gardens and orchards.
Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort (B, L, D daily)
Fly north to Central Asia and land in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, known as the City of White Marble. Conquered in turn by Alexander the Great, the Persians, the Arabs, the Turks, and the Russians, this part of Central Asia was defined for centuries by the bustling Silk Road that passed through it. Visit the national museum to examine the riches of the trade route; then see vestiges of Turkmenistan’s more recent history on a night tour of the city’s fountains, the golden-domed palace of Turkmenbashi, Soviet-style monoliths, and the extravagant Wedding Palace.
Journey to ancient Merv, one of the most influential and best preserved of the oasis cities along the Silk Road. Spend the day discovering the many monuments of this World Heritage site, including the walled city of Erk Kala, the mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammad Ibn-Zayd, and the seventh-century Kyz Kala fortress complex.
Oguzkent Hotel Ashgabat (B, L, D daily)
Our jet flies northwest to Minsk, Belarus, a cosmopolitan capital buzzing with cafés and galleries set amid Stalinist architecture of the 1950s. Explore the wide avenues and grand public squares that epitomize post-war Soviet urban planning, and walk through the waterfront Troitsky suburb, where rebuilt stone buildings evoke 19th-century Minsk. Then cross the bridge to the Island of Tears, a moving memorial to Belarusian soldiers who died in Afghanistan. Travel through a stretch of marshlands and birch groves en route to the medieval town of Mir on the banks of the Miranka River. Explore the 16th-century Mir Castle Complex, a World Heritage site owned for many centuries by the powerful Radziwill family, and learn the sobering history of the Holocaust in Belarus at the Jewish war memorial.
Alternatively, head to Nesvizh to visit its ornate castle, another creation of the Radziwill clan. At the historic Church of the Divine Body, examine its vivid frescoes and venture into the massive crypt.
Hotel Europe (B, L, D daily)
Fly southwest to the capital of Serbia, where modern skyscrapers abut Habsburg palaces. Visit the Church of St. Sava—one of the largest churches in the world, with impressive views over the city. Pay your respects to Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the former president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, at his winter garden. The following day, board Marshal Tito’s private train, and pass through the verdant landscapes of rural Serbia on your way to Novi Sad. Set on the banks of the Danube River, the city was once called the “Athens of Serbia” for its wealth of culture and art. Stroll neighborhoods full of cafés and boutiques as well as its beautiful neoclassical, Gothic, and baroque buildings. Return to Belgrade for cocktails and dinner at the city’s lavish royal palace.
Square Nine Hotel or Metropol Palace Hotel (B, L, D daily)
A short flight takes us to Ljubljana, where we’ll discover the diverse landscapes of Slovenia, a crossroads of culture nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean. Take a walking tour of the Old City, and ride the funicular railway to the 15th-century Ljubljana Castle, which offers stunning views of the city. The next day, head northwest to the Julian Alps and the tranquil beauty of Lake Bled. Upon arrival, board a hand-propelled boat for your journey to the tiny island in the middle of the lake, home to the historic St. Mary’s Church and its soaring bell tower and wishing bell, reputed to grant a wish to all who ring it. Then visit the 11th-century Bled Castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the lake.
The InterContinental Ljubljana (B, L, D daily)
Fly south to Sarajevo, the fast-growing capital of the young nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Venture into the historic quarter on foot, and explore the country’s diverse faiths on visits to the Old Orthodox Church, the Gazi Husrev-Bey’s mosque, and the Jewish synagogue and museum. Marvel at Sarajevo’s many stone bridges, including the Latin Bridge, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914. Continue to nearby Mostar, named for its elegant 15th-century bridge. Destroyed during 1990s fighting, the span was reconstructed by UNESCO in 2004 and now stands as a symbol of national reconciliation and international cooperation. In the Ottoman Quarter, home to artists and craftsmen, meander past striking mosques, historic Turkish houses, a magnificent 19th-century gymnasium, and city baths that date to the 16th century. Instead of traveling to Mostar, you may choose to spend another day in Sarajevo to visit the 15th-century Bascarsija bazaar.
Hotel President, Sarajevo (B, L, D daily)
Board our private jet and fly west to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where secluded bays and sun-kissed beaches meet lush forests and sharp peaks. Sample local delicacies before exploring the hilltop medieval town of Sartène, which provides a glimpse into typical Corsican culture. Admire the ruins of the 13th-century castle, amble along the labyrinthine streets of the Old Town, and sip an espresso at an outdoor café. Spend the following day in the ninth-century city of Bonifacio, perched on a cliff at the island’s southern tip. If you wish, embark on a cruise along the coast to view dramatic rock formations and caves as well as the white limestone buildings of this ancient city.
Hotel Casadelmar or La Plage Casadelmar Hotel (B, L, D daily)
Return by private jet to Madrid, and enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate our adventure. The next day, transfer to the airport for your commercial flight home.
Villa Magna Hotel (D)
A world-class team of experts will accompany this expedition to share their knowledge and insights with you and bring each destination to life. The expert featured below will be part of the expedition team on this trip.
National Geographic Explorer and acclaimed documentary photographer Chris Rainier specializes in highlighting endangered cultures and traditional languages around the globe. In 2002, he received the Lowell Thomas Award from The Explorers Club for his efforts in cultural preservation, and was elected in 2014 as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, where he specializes in cultural preservation. During his continued tenure with the National Geographic Society as a National Geographic Fellow and Explorer, he has been the co-founder and co-director of the Enduring Voices Project and director of the All Roads Photography Program, both designed to support indigenous groups desiring to document their traditional cultures and create sustainable solutions to preserve the planet in the 21st century. Chris also served as a cultural editor and photographer for National Geographic Traveler magazine for over 18 years. Today he directs The Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation, whose mission is to create legally protected cultural zones around the globe that protect both traditional knowledge as well as the biodiversity the communities are guardians of. In the early 1980s, Chris served as the last assistant for famed photographer Ansel Adams. The two worked together to amplify the use of art photography as a social tool, ultimately helping to preserve threatened wilderness areas and national parks. Rainier has deep passion for teaching photography, and for the past 20 years has been leading photographic expeditions for National Geographic around the world.
Chris will join the following departure:
May 29 - Jun 16, 2018
*We expect to operate this trip as planned, but we will continue to closely monitor events and will alter the Iran portion of the itinerary if necessary. In the event that we are unable to travel to Iran, we will visit Oman by private jet instead.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $7,500. Transportation by private Boeing 757 jet and other conveyance, as noted in the itinerary, is included in the expedition cost. Airfare to/from Madrid, Spain is not included in the expedition cost.
Our specially outfitted Boeing 757 is ideally suited for this extraordinary expedition. Its long-range capabilities and ability to land in smaller airports afford us unmatched flexibility. We set our own schedules, flying direct and avoiding layovers, which allows us the freedom to make the most of our adventures on land. Instead of the standard 233 seats, the jet’s interior has been customized and refitted to accommodate just 75 passengers in two-by-two, VIP-style leather seating.
For your protection, all payments are secured in a bank escrow account. See special terms and conditions for this expedition.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.