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Tour group in front of the fortifications at Essaouira, Morocco
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Travel Tour Program

Visit remarkable monuments in ancient and Islamic worlds
Our tour program is designed to suit members of the general public with a fascination in both archaeology and history. Some of our destinations have included Jordan, Syria, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Mexico, Turkmenistan and China.

For over 30 years, we have run tours for everyday people generally interested in the Near Eastern culture and history. Fully-escorted by leading experts who go out of their way to share their personal love of travel and archaeology with their tour participants, our program is run in conjunction with the Sydney based travel companies, Academy Travel and Alumni Travel.

Upcoming tours

15th April - 7th May 2019

The Persian Empire, based within modern Iran’s borders, was a significant force in the ancient world, when it competed and interacted with both Greece and Rome and was the last step on the Silk Road before it reached Europe and one of the first steps of Islam outside Arabia. In its heyday, Iran boasted lavish architecture that inspired Tamerlane’s Samarqand and the Taj Mahal, and its poets inspired generations of Iranians and foreigners, while its famed gardens were a kind of earthly paradise. In recent times Iran has slowly re-established itself as a leading nation of the Middle East.

Over 23 days we travel through mountain and desert landscapes of Iran and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. We explore Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sassanian fire temples, enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and fabled Persian cities with their enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars, and stunning cobalt-blue mosques. Perhaps more importantly, however, we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people which leave most travellers longing to return.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

14-31 May 2019

With their long history, impressive sites and exotic ambiance, the central Asian caravan cities of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara have long attracted intrepid travellers from the west. Over the last decade or so travel to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has opened up and tourist infrastructure has developed, making not only these legendary cites more accessible to travellers, but also the archaeology, history and culture of more remote laces in these countries. We are delighted to offer an 18-day tour, led by well-known Australian archaeologist and tour leader, Ben Churcher. The itinerary combines multinight stays in Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Ashgabat with trips into the desert, encounters with nomadic groups, and the opportunity to learn about traditional crafts such as carpet making and textiles, for which the region is justly famous, and pottery. The sites visited cover a wide historical span, from the ancient Parthians to 19th-century rulers.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are challenging destinations. While we have selected reputable hotels, standards are variable and many of the comforts of travel which we have come to expect are simply not available.

A good level of physical fitness, patience in dealing with border crossings and a preparedness to accept last-minute changes to the travel program are required to participate in this tour.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

6-28th October 2019

The Persian Empire, based within modern Iran’s borders, was a significant force in the ancient world, when it competed and interacted with both Greece and Rome and was the last step on the Silk Road before it reached Europe and one of the first steps of Islam outside Arabia. In its heyday, Iran boasted lavish architecture that inspired Tamerlane’s Samarqand and the Taj Mahal, and its poets inspired generations of Iranians and foreigners, while its famed gardens were a kind of earthly paradise. In recent times Iran has slowly re-established itself as a leading nation of the Middle East.

Over 23 days we travel through mountain and desert landscapes of Iran and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. We explore Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sassanian fire temples, enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and fabled Persian cities with their enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars, and stunning cobalt-blue mosques. Perhaps more importantly, however, we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people which leave most travellers longing to return.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

10 -30 October 2019

The exotic Silk Road within China is rich in historical and cultural highlights. From the might of Imperial China in the east, to brilliantly decorated Buddhist monasteries and caves in the west and the desert steppes and Islamic influences of Turpan, Urumqi and Kashgar, we discover the treasures and influences of the Silk Road. This tour will be both a journey through the changing face of China today, as well as an examination of its deep and awe-inspiring history and culture.

Our 21-day tour commences in Beijing with visits to the Forbidden City, Great Wall and the Ming tombs. We fly to Xi’an, terminus of the Silk Road and home to an army of terracotta warriors. Heading further west to Tianshui and Lanzhou, we visit Buddhist Grottoes carved into the side of mountains and the great yellow hat Labrang Lamastery at Xiahe. Travelling into the Taklaman Desert we explore the archaeological sites of Jiaohe and Gaochang and the Flaming Mountain. See well-preserved mummies in Urumqi and immerse yourself in the bustling Sunday Bazaar at Kashgar before concluding our journey in Chengdu.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

3-19 November 2019

Discover the extraordinary world of ancient and Aegean Bronze-Age Greece, from the sprawling palaces of Minoan Crete and the citadels and monumental tombs of the Mycenaeans, to the incomparable museums of Athens and the emergence of the Byzantines at the end of Antiquity. Get to know the deep history of the cultures that made Greece the cradle of western civilisation on this 17-day tour by land and sea, travelling from Crete to the Peloponnese, Olympia, Delphi and Athens, visiting archaeological sites and museums, and enjoy the dramatic landscapes – mountains, spectacular coastlines and rocky islands – of the Greek world.

In Crete we explore the sprawling palace of King Minos at Knossos, home to the legendary Minotaur, along with the lesser known but equally fascinating Minoan palaces of Archanes and Phaestos and the charming town of Chania with its historic links from Minoan, Byzantine and Venetian cultures through to its occupation by the Germans in World War II. In Athens we board the 25 cabin Motor Sailer Galileo for an eight-day cruise circumnavigating the Peloponnese region. Docking in port each day we are able to delve into the most important archaeological and classical sites on mainland Greece at Epidauraus, Mycenae, Venetian Pylos, Ancient Olympia and mystical Delphi.

After traversing the spectacular Corinth Canal, we disembark in Athens for our final four days. We explore the Acropolis and the superb Acropolis Museum, walk through the ancient Agora, investigate the finest Greek art and sculpture at the National Archaeological Museum and the collections at the privately owned Benaki Museum and Museum of Cycladic Art.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

23 November-14 December

This tour from Cairo to Abu Simbel provides a wonderful blend of traditional Upper & Lower Egyptian sites as well as exploring the several sites of Middle Egypt.

It encompasses great monuments of the ancient Egyptian world such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, the glories of Upper Egypt including the Temple of Karnak and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens with their many tombs and lesser known funerary temples.

As well it includes visits to Middle & New Kingdom sites in the Faiyum, Beni Hasan, Tel el Amarna (the ancient capital of Akhenaten), Tuna el-Gebel and Abydos.

A special feature of the tour is a 5-day cruise down the Nile with visits to a number of Ptolemaic temples, Aswan and Abu Simbel. Travellers will also have a chance to explore the colour and bustle of Islamic Cairo with its medieval mosques, quaint museums and maze-like Khan el-Khalili Bazaar.

Download tour brochure here

Enquiries
Please contact Academy Travel via email or (02) 9235 0023

Previous tours

2018

9-31 October 2018

Over 23 days we travel through mountain and desert landscapes of Iran and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. We explore Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sassanian fire temples, enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and fabled Persian cities with their enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars, and stunning cobalt-blue mosques. Perhaps more importantly, however, we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people which leave most travellers longing to return. 

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In March/April 2018 20 NEAF members travelled to Morocco to find the country bursting with the vibrant colours of one of the best spring seasons the country has seen in many years.

The three week started in Casablanca and visited the stupendous Mosque of Hassan II, walking along the corniche with the Atlantic rollers thundering in. Travelling north we visited Rabat, a lovely town on the Bou Regreg and once home to the famous Sallee Rovers - a dreaded band of Barbary corsairs in the 17th century. From Rabat we turned inland to visit Meknes - famously constructed by the ruthless Moulay Ismail - Roman Volubilis bedecked in its finest spring bloom, and finally the hustle and bustle of Fes: one of the great oriental cities.

From Fes the tour crossed the Middle and High Atlas Mountains and entered a different world of deserts, verdant palm plantations and kasbahs. The great river systems that bring life to Saharan Morocco - the Ziz, Todra and Draa - form visually stunning panoramas with crumbling mudbrick villages and lush green gardens framed by barren, red hills. From Erfoud to Ouarzazate we saw the desert, camels, fossils (and more fossils), most of the thousand kasbahs that are meant to be in this area, and heard the Muslim call to prayer sung for us in an old mosque overlooking the gardens at Tinghir.

Crossing the High Atlas again but this time heading north, we returned to the more agricultural Morocco and one of its great cities: Marrakesh. After stocking up in the endless markets at Marrakesh, we headed to Essaouira for some well earned R&R at the old Phoenician port of Mogador. Then, in what seemed like a twinkle of an eye, we were back in Casablanca and getting ready to return home. But while the tour seems to go fast, the memories of this diverse and beautiful country will stay with us for much longer.

2017

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In September 2017 20 NEAF members retraced the ancient Silk Road across China from Xi'an in the Chinese heartland to Kashgar in far western China. 

This trip is an examination of the ancient and modern faces of a mighty nation whose time has come again. Just as we marvelled at beautiful Buddhist frescoes pained over 1500 years ago, we also marvelled at modern engineering feats as China relentlessly builds awe-inspiring freeways through mountainous terrain or sparklingly new cities where only 10 years ago was farmland. This juxtaposition of the old and new is what makes this tour so interesting: while we enjoy the remains of China's previous four great periods - the Han, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties - we are also acutely aware that we are eye-witnesses to China's fifth great age which will undoubtedly be remembered for centuries, if not millennia, to come. So too was the modern relevance of the Silk Road along which we travelled.

As we moved to the west, we constantly saw reference to the Chinese President Xi Jinping's pet project: the one belt, one road initiative. Again, harking back to the age old link between the east and west, the modern world is remaking and rethinking this link albeit with bullet trains and four lane highways. In short this tour is an eye-opener and while we enjoyed the best of what ancient China has to offer - from Great Walls to terracotta armies - we also came to understand and appreciate modern China: a nation that means so much for us here in Australia.

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In April/May 2017 21 NEAF members travelled to Iran to explore this extraordinary country so often misrepresented in the western press.

This tour began in Tehran, Iran's capital: a busy, often smoggy city but with some fantastic museums to help us prepare for the trip ahead. Leaving Tehran we headed to the Caspian Sea and the very different world of Iranian Azerbaijan. Here rice paddies dominate the landscape framed by wooded mountains to the west and the Caspian to the east. Next, making Tabriz our base, we explored this unvisited but important city and journeyed out to Maragheh: home to a Mongol Period observatory and some fine Seljuk Period tower tombs.

From Tabriz we then travelled to Zanjan visiting the incomparable Mausoleum of Oljeitu along the way. This towering edifice dates to the Mongol Period and demonstrates the 'Persianization' of the conquering Mongols superbly. From Zanjan we travelled up into the Zagros Mountains on a beautiful Spring day to visit one of my favourite sites, Takht-e Soleiman, once the home of one of the four imperial fires of the Zoroastrian religion.

Returning to Tehran we flew to Shiraz to complete the triangle of Shiraz-Yazd-Isfahan. We were now back on the tourist route - but with good reason as some of Iran's most famous sites and cities are in this area: Sassanian Bishapur and Firuzabad, Achaemenid Persepolis and Pasargadae, Timurid Yazd, Safavid Isfahan and some very early mosque complexes at Fahraj and Na'in. In between we wandered the bazaars in Shiraz and Isfahan, explored Yazd's old city and even got to see some of the sand dunes that typify Iran's desert regions.

By the time we returned to Tehran we felt we had seen a lot of what this amazing country and its friendly, cosmopolitan people have to offer.

2016

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In October 2016 21 NEAF members travelled to Morocco to explore the land of a thousand kasbahs, the Atlas Mountains and the legendary cities of Fes and Marrakesh.

Morocco can easily be divided into two zones: the area north of the Atlas where the majority of the population have traditionally dwelled, and the areas to the south of the Atlas on the fringes of the Sahara Desert and the home of the Touareg peoples. In the north are the royal cities of Rabat, Meknes, Fes and Marrakesh where, at various times, Morocco's ruling families have established their capitals. This has left a rich architectural legacy spanning from the ninth century CE to the present day in the cities, as well as the hustle and bustle of markets in places like Fes along with quiet residential gardens and agricultural vistas. Across the Atlas, date palms dominate, as do the wonderfully exotic mudbrick kasbahs that dot the fertile river valleys in an otherwise forbidding environment.

The group, over 20 days, were able to gain an appreciation of both these faces of Morocco, along with time in the modern entrepot of Casablanca and delightful Essaouira whose ramparts hold back the mighty Atlantic. Along the way we enjoyed a variety of foods (some good, some not so, with the ubiquitous tagine never far away), saw some splendid historical monuments including the Roman period Volubilis and a wide range of people, both Berber and Arab. The variety present in Morocco has to be seen and we hope the group came away with a great impression of what this marvellous country in north-western Africa has to offer.

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

In April/May 2016 21 NEAF members explored the highways and byways of Iran: from the little-visited north to the sensational sights of Persepolis and Isfahan in the south. 

Iran is a delightful country to visit, notwithstanding the common comment from friends before departure: "is it safe?', or "Why would you want to go there?". In fact Iran is very safe (well, apart from crossing the street as the traffic in Iran has to be seen to be believed) and for those who visit the country there are stunning landscapes, fantastic archaeological sites, and a fascinating modern culture and cuisine (even if you do get a bit overloaded with rice and kebabs).

This tour took us from the rice paddies along the Azerbaijan border (yes, who would have thought Iran would have rice paddies!), past the Mongol capital at Tabriz and deep into the Zagros Mountains to visit the Zoroastrian complex at Takht-i Suleiman. These places we had virtually to ourselves as they are seldom on the regular tourist trail. However, we also needed to see the highlights of Iran: Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd and Isfahan. While fellow travellers were more conspicuous at these places, tourist numbers are still low and at no time do you feel you are on the 'tourist treadmill' as you may experience elsewhere. 

In the north we were cold but in the south the desert lived up to its reputation and the weather markedly warmed - but it is all relative. In Yazd the group talked to the locals who said “what lovely weather we’re having”. When our people replied, “But it’s so hot!”, the locals replied, “You call this hot?”!

To repeat, Iran is a safe travel destination and the one common comment from the group was, "it's so different to what I expected". NEAF has been taking tours to Iran for over 30 years now - all without incident. Like the 2016 tour, a trip to Iran settles misconceptions and introduces you to a cosmopolitan nation with a deep and fascinating history.

2015

Tour Leader: John Tidmarsh

During late September and early October 2014 twenty NEAF members traced part of the route traversed by Alexander the Great through Turkey and Iran during his great eastern conquests between 334 – 323 BCE.

In Turkey we explored many of the cities conquered by Alexander (often only after a prolonged siege) including Sardis, Miletos, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassos, home to the renowned Mausoleum) as well as mighty Ephesos and exquisite Priene, where Alexander dedicated a temple to Athena at his own expense. We visited the Pamphylian cities of Side and Aspendos which rose to prominence under the rule of Alexander’s successors, and climbed high into the mountains of Pisidia to the wonderfully picturesque remains of Termessos, whose impregnable citadel defied even the Macedonian king. 

We then flew to Iran and entered the world of the formidable Persian empire destroyed by Alexander. We visited the great palaces of Persepolis and Pasargadae, the awe-inspiring Achaemenid royal burial ground of Naqsh-i Rustam, the wonderfully preserved Median fortress of Nush-i Jan( whose columned hall finds close parallels in the audience halls of Persepolis) and the ancient Achaemenid summer capital of Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana) where Alexander arranged for the execution of his old general Parmenio and mourned his closest companion, Hephaisteion. We also explored the vast city of Bishapur, capital of the great Sasanian king Shapur I who attempted to emulate the conquests of his Persian ancestors, as well as Isfahan (‘Pearl of Islam’) among whose earliest inhabitants were those Jews from Babylon freed by the Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid empire.

Although much of his route through these two countries was not travelled by us, this tour served to emphasise once again what a remarkable general and leader of men Alexander must have been.

Tour Leader: Ben Churcher

NEAF and Academy Travel's May 2014 tour of Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan concluded with 16 NEAF members enjoying warm but fine spring weather throughout Central Asia. 

The tour focussed on the major sites in these countries including the living Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, as well as the ruined metropolis of Merv. In between times we walked in the footsteps of both Alexander the Great and Tamerlane (Emir Timur), visited ancient Bronze Age settlements in the Kyzylkum (Red Sand) Desert, Parthian capitals (Nisa) and desert fortresses built to protect the agricultural centres based around the Amu Darya River (ancient Oxus). Both countries were central to the ancient Silk Road and, for a brief time in the early fifteenth century, were the centre of an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the western borders of China. 

Travel in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is not easy as the tourist trade is in its infancy but our group handled the rigours with aplomb, not even complaining (too much) about having to wheel their suitcases the 1.5km across no-mans land between the Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan borders!