Discover culture, adventure and tree-top dwelling in Turkey
Time Out Bahrain staff
There can be no debate: Turkey is a great choice for a holiday that packs in anything and everything from action and adventure to culture and history, not to mention some of the best food in the world.
The literal and symbolic bridge between Europe and Asia, this country possesses the exoticism of many far-flung destinations and yet, thanks to its efficient network of long-distance buses that connect virtually every town and city, is easy to explore.
Though it’s a big country, you can still do a lot of Turkey’s highlights in two weeks if you plan your trip. The simplest option is a circular route through the western half of the country (far easier to travel in, especially if you don’t speak Turkish) that begins and ends in Istanbul, spending a couple or more nights in different towns. Take a backpack, travel on public buses, stay in small ‘pansiyons’ – the Turkish equivalent to a B&B – or hostels and you can spend your spare lira on treats like baklava. Turkish people are some of the most friendly and helpful you’ll encounter anywhere in the world and they’re always keen to point you in the right direction of the nearest sandy beach lapped by turquoise sea or an ancient ruin with a backdrop of rugged mountains.
Istanbul The Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar, as well as the traditional hotels and most budget backpacker hostels, are in touristy Sultanahmet. It’s a pretty area to walk through, exploring the twisty cobbled streets, but a more cosmopolitan base is arty Beyoglu. A district in flux, Beyoglu is where you’ll find indie fashion boutiques, non-chichi cafés and designer-maker studios in refurbished Ottoman buildings, as well as the Istanbul Modern art gallery and the excellent Pera Museum; there’s even a twee but cute little tram that shuttles up and down the 1.5km-long Istiklal shopping street.
If you’re staying in Istanbul for several days, the ferry to the Kadiköy district on the Asian shore takes 20 minutes and makes a great daytrip – walk from Kadiköy quay along the shore to Moda quay for a strong Turkish coffee in the cafe on the pier.
Where to stay: Check into Sumo Cat Hostel (Alı Hoca Aralik Sok 9; +90 0212 292 7866), which is a fun hostel in Galata, near Beyoglu; dorm rooms start at BD5, double rooms start at BD2.4. Alternatively try La Casa di Maria Pia (Yeni Carsi Cad 37, Beyo lu; +90 0541 624 5462), which offers cosy apartments with fully-equipped kitchenettes; guest rooms can be had from BD19 per night; apartments start at BD35 per night.
Fethiye Fethiye, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is a charming seaside town with an extensive marina. Even though it’s popular in summer, it never feels overcrowded – mainly because most people are out on the sea during the day; opportunities to get involved in watersports such as sailing and scuba diving are excellent here. Fethiye is handy for venturing inland to visit the deserted former Orthodox Greek town Kaya Koyu, Saklikent Gorge and Butterfly Valley.
Where to stay: Spend a couple of nights cruising the Med on a traditional gulet live-aboard, snorkelling and visiting small islands on the V-Go 12 islands cruise (www.bluecruisesturkey.com); from BD70 per day/night. Other destinations include Kas, Olympos and Antalya if you fancy skipping a bus trip. Alternatively, head to Butterfly Valley and spend a night in a beach bungalow or tent enjoying the stars without electric lights spoiling the view. Tents from BD10, bungalows from BD12.3 huts with roof terrace BD14.3.
Cappadocia In the centre of Turkey, the Cappadocian landscape is dominated by wind-sculpted rock ‘chimneys’, deep valleys and man-made, excavated underground cities. There are three towns in the region: Urgup, Uchisar and Goreme; the budget backpacker places are in Goreme. In the day, go for long walks – along the Red Valley is superb and there’s a great a panoramic vista from the top of Uchisair Castle – mountain bike or take a hot air balloon at dawn. The underground cities, such as the one at Kaymakli, were carved by the Hittites circa 2000BC and are fascinating, if perhaps a little claustrophobic, to walk through. The monastery at Zelve and the city of Goreme were carved from the rocks by former inhabitants and are now open-air museums.
Where to stay: Splash out and stay in one of the more plush hotels in Cappadocia; choose a cosy cave room or, if you suffer from a fear of small spaces, a room overlooking one of the wide valleys. Esbelli Evi (Esbelli Sok 8, Ürgüp; +90 0384 341 3395) is a boutique cave hotel with smart rooms and rambling gardens; doubles from BD56. Kale Konak (Kale Sok 9, Uçhisar; +90 0384 219 2828) is a labyrinthine boutique hotel with its own private marble hamam; doubles can be had from BD56 triples from BD61.
Selcuk and Sirince Most visitors to Turkey visit Selcuk because it’s only 3km from the excellently preserved ruins at Ephesus. This was the capital city of Proconsular Asia in Roman times and you can walk along its excavated streets, past buildings such as the impressive Library of Celsius and amphitheatre and even sit in the communal lavatory.
The traditional hillside village of Sirince is still inhabited. There are lovely views from the top of its steep, tortuous cobbled streets, which are lined with still-occupied tumble-down houses. Though it’s now a destination for coach tours, the village is a fascinating place to visit and gives a glimpse of Turkish farming life as it might have looked in the nineteenth century. Stay overnight and experience the place in peace.
Where to stay: Head to Homeros Pansiyon (Atatürk Mah Asmalı, 1048 Sok 17; +90 0232 892 3995), a friendly family-run pansiyon where rooms are decorated with colourful carpets and knick-knacks; singles from BD9, doubles/twins from BD14. Alternatively, check out Nisanyan House (+90 0232/898 3208), a boutique hotel with a private hamam and spectacular views; rooms from BD25.
Olympos Olympos is a small village on the 500km-long Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya. It’s got a superb (pebbly) beach and a calm, warm sea that’s fab for sea kayaking and has the added attractions of Byzantine ruins and outdoor activities like abseiling. Nearby are the otherworldly ‘eternal flames’ – pockets of natural gas that burn 24/7 – at Chimaera. Olympos is a magnet for gap-year students, so choose your accommodation with care if you prefer to bed down before dawn and without a booming nightclub soundtrack.
Where to stay: Kadir’s (Olympos; +90 0242 892 1250) has 338 dorm and treehouse beds, plus camp sites. Two lively bars are on-site. Bungalows with en-suite and air-con for two to three people start at BD8 or without air-con for around BD7. Prices include breakfast and buffet dinner. There’s also Bayram’s (Olympos; +90 0242 892 1243), which offers quiet bungalows and tree-house dorms; dorms start at BD6, tree-house dorms start at BD7, while bungalows (with en-suite and air-con) start at BD9.5. Prices include breakfast and dinner.
Antalya Antalya’s historic Old Town is protected and many of the ramshackle Ottoman homes are undergoing restoration and are being turned into small hotels, cafés and art galleries. Outside the confines of the old city walls, Antalya is busy and modern, but it’s a nice place to spend a few days in the sun, stroll around the ancient Roman harbour, shop in the bazaar or be scrubbed clean at the 600-year-old Sefa Turkish bath. The Antalya Museum has an excellent collection of fossils, statues, Ottoman costumes and carpets. For a daytrip inland, the impressive ruins of Termessos are a 40km drive away.
Where to stay: White Garden Pansiyon (+90 0242 241 9115) is set in Old Antalya and provides a refuge from the midday heat. It is furnished in traditional Turkish style; doubles from BD11.
BaHRAin to istanbul
Flight time: Approximately five hours direct to Istanbul. Time difference: One hour behind Bahrain BD1 = 4.8 Turkish Lira