Load up on some culture & history.
I am yet to meet a person who has visited Turkey and doesn't rave about the place. So it was with high expectations that we spent the greater part of two weeks exploring this beautiful country. Once the cultural centre of the ancient world and home of the Ottoman Empire, the country is teeming with beautiful ruins, gorgeous scenery and a wealth of history.
Join a tour.
We found the best way to explore Turkey was to join a tour. Distances between cities are large and otherwise you will need to commit to long days of driving. Better to leave it to a local bus driver to navigate the difficult streets and traffic while you relax and enjoy your latest playlist. We went with Top Deck travel and spent ten days exploring with a group of like minded travellers.
Here are 9 Reasons to Get Yourself to Turkey:
1.) Turkish delight
My obsession with Turkish delight started in Swiss airspace, on board our Turkish Airways flight to Istanbul. (Well it actually pre-dates back to watching The Lion the Witch and the wardrobe on VCR, but it had fallen short of my fantasies until that moment.) So began a country-wide search for the perfect delight to enjoy on the long bus rides and take home with me. My cherished flavour will always be the pistachio (look for the amber colouring) but I am game to try anything.
2.) Vegetarian friendly
A huge lover of food, travelling throughout Europe can often pose a challenge when it comes to ordering vegetarian meals. My options are regularly limited to cheese and bread. While you won't find falafel in Turkey, order the kofte. This walnut, pomegranate mixture can be found served with lettuce in a durum and is a delicious street snack. Most restaurants offer a generous list of vegetarian salads, sides and plates. While I generally steer clear of the sugar soaked baklava, I am a huge fan of the rice pudding. Tasting of creme brulee this calorie laden dessert is absolutely delish. Finish off your meal with a small glass of raki if you are game- tasting of sambucca and comparable to the Greek's ouzo, they say it makes the hair on your chest grow.
Spanning two continents, this sprawling city is where the east meets the west. Divided by the Bosphorous strait, make sure to get out and enjoy what each side has to offer. Enjoy the peaceful Blue Mosque in the morning, before haggling over pashminas and genie lamps in the Grand Bazaar.
There is nothing quite as magical as ballooning over a land of fairy chimneys while the sun rises. With balloons stretching as far as the eye can see, it really is a wonderland. This gorgeous area has out of this world terrain, so don't leave it off your list. Make the most out of your stay by booking into a traditional cave dwelling in Gemiler.
This seaside town on the beautiful Aegean coast is the perfect base for a day of sailing. Spend your time sun baking on deck, drinking Efes and leaping off the boat/cliffs into the clear waters. Paragliding is an absolute must. Try to book yourself on an early morning jump so you land at the Blue lagoon before the beach revellers arrive. There were some definite hairy moments on the terrifying drive up the mountain but running off the edge into the great blue was absolutely spectacular.
Make time to visit these dramatic travertine terraces. If you are game, take your swimmers so you can bathe in the mineral laden pools. Extremely popular with tourists, it is worth walking down the the bottom to escape the crowds. Afterwards, explore the ancient ruins of Hieropolis and take a seat in the ampitheatre.
It's easy to see why this is regarded as one of the most intact and significant ruins in the world. It is worth lingering at the impressive Celsus library. Eventually the tour groups will move on and you can explore the structure by yourself, away from the sea of selfie sticks.
Staying in the relaxed town of Canakkale you can see the impressive Trojan wooden horse used in the 2004 film. (I found it a much more realistic version than that stationed in Troy) Catching the ferry across to the peninsula, Anzac cove is soberingly beautiful. A place for quiet reflection and honouring of our WW1 Anzacs.
9.) The people
The Turkish people are known for their generosity and hospitality. Don't be shy about asking for directions or for suggestions from the locals. Restaurants are more than happy to try to accommodate your dietary requirements. Immerse yourself in the traditions and culture, being respectful around mosques- dress modestly and women are required to cover their head and shoulders.
If you are game, book yourself into a Turkish Hamam. Post mud mask and sauna, I lay naked on a cold marble slab with four other ladies getting lathered by a gruff Turkish woman. Not quite as relaxing as I had envisioned but it makes for a funny story and a great authentic experience.
In 2016 we returned to Turkey for a sailing trip. You can read about it here.
- Words by Kelly. Pictures by Daniel.