Turkey – A rich, historical land
Turkey is a richly historical land with some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, scenery from beaches to mountains and the great city of İstanbul.
Crossing Between Continents
In İstanbul, you can board a commuter ferry and flit between Europe and Asia in under an hour. Every day, a flotilla of ferries take locals up the Bosphorus and over the Sea of Marmara, sounding sonorous horns as they go. Morning services share the waterways with diminutive fishing boats and massive container ships, all accompanied by flocks of shrieking seagulls. At sunset, the tapering minarets and Byzantine domes of the Old City are thrown into relief against a dusky pink sky – it’s the city’s most magical sight.
Cappadocia’s hard-set honeycomb landscape looks sculpted by a swarm of genius bees. The truth – the effects of erosion on rock formed of ash from megalithic volcanic eruptions – is only slightly less cool. Humans have also left their mark here, in the Byzantine frescoes in rock-cut churches and in the bowels of complex underground cities. These days, Cappadocia is all about good times: fine wine, local dishes and five-star caves; horse riding, valley hikes and hot-air ballooning. There’s enough to keep you buzzing for days.
Undoubtedly the most famous of Turkey’s countless ancient sites, and considered the best-preserved ruins in the Mediterranean, Ephesus (Efes) is a powerful tribute to Greek artistry and Roman architectural prowess. A stroll down the marble-coated Curetes Way provides myriad photo opportunities – not least the Library of Celsus with its two storeys of columns, and the Terraced Houses, their vivid frescoes and sophisticated mosaics giving insight into the daily lives of the city’s elite. Much of the ancient port is yet to be unearthed.
Even in mighty İstanbul, nothing beats the Aya Sofya, or Church of the Divine Wisdom, which was for centuries the greatest church in Christendom. Emperor Justinian had it built in the 6th century as part of his mission to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire; gazing up at the floating dome, it’s hard to believe this fresco-covered marvel didn’t single-handedly revive Rome’s fortunes. Glittering mosaics depict biblical scenes and ancient figures such as Empress Zoe, one of only three Byzantine empresses to rule the empire.
At many hamams in Turkey, plenty of extras are on offer: bath treatments, facials, pedicures and so on. However, we recommend you stick with the tried and true hamam experience – a soak and a scrub followed by a good (and optional) pummelling. After this cleansing ritual and cultural experience, the world (and your body) will never feel quite the same again; do leave time to relax with a çay afterwards. For a truly memorable hamam, seek out a soak in Antalya’s atmospheric old quarter or in one of İstanbul’s magnificent imperial hamams.
Acclaimed as one of the world’s top 10 long-distance walks, the Lycian Way follows signposted paths for over 500km between Fethiye and Antalya. This is the Teke Peninsula, once the stamping ground of the ancient and mysterious Lycian civilisation. The route leads through pine and cedar forests in the shadow of mountains rising almost 3000m, passing villages, stunning coastal views and an embarrassment of ruins at ancient cities such as Pınara, Xanthos, Letoön and Olympos. Walk it in sections (unless you have plenty of time and stamina).
Say şerefe (cheers) to carousing Turks in a meyhane (tavern). A raucous night mixing meze with rakı (aniseed brandy) and live music is a time-honoured Turkish activity. Melon, white cheese and fish go particularly well with the aslan sütü (lion’s milk; the clear rakı turns white when added to water) and the soundtrack ranges from romantic ballads to fasıl, lively local gypsy music. A great place to sample Turkish nightlife is Beyoğlu, İstanbul, where the meyhane precincts around İstiklal Caddesi heave with people on Friday and Saturday nights.
Turkey’s beaches are world famous, offering a reliable summer mix of sun, sand and azure waters.Topping the list are Mediterranean and Aegean beauties such as the perfect cove of Gümüşlük, west of Bodrum, and Patara, Turkey’s longest beach. Many of the finest Mediterranean plajlar (beaches) dot the Lycian Way footpath, while stretches of Aegean sand offer activities such as windsurfing in Alaçatı, Akyaka and Gökçeada. The Black Sea coast also has its charms, and the beaches around the historic towns of Amasra and Sinop are perennially popular with Turkish tourists.