The Big Read
15 amazing ways to experience Turkey
The country is so vast and varied, it truly has something for everyone, from rand-friendly family holidays to gourmet sailing to biking adventures
1. CURATED ISTANBUL
Founded between the 13th and 11th centuries BC, this city has been the site of human settlement for approximately 3,000 years, and has been known by many names including Lygos, Byzantium, and Constantinople.
Today, of course, it's incomparable Istanbul, and you can see it through the eyes of experts by signing up for daily tours. See how traditional jewellery is made in the Grand Bazaar, follow a foodie through bright markets on both sides of the Bosphorus, or take pics of the famous felines and street art with a local photographer. For a more traditional day, explore the Ottoman and Byzantine buildings with an Istanbul university professor.
Istanbul Tour Studio runs all the above, as well as many more daily tours.
2. CRUISING THE TURQUOISE COAST
A cruise on a gulet (traditional wooden sailing boat) along Turkey's beautiful southwestern coast is about as relaxing as a holiday can get. You seem to spend most of your time eating, drinking, reading or casually keeping an eye out for a passing turtle as the boat cruises the coastline, or swimming in the clear turquoise waters when it anchors. Occasional trips ashore - to a watering hole or atmospheric ruin - complete the experience.
A seven-day return charter between Bodrum and Gökova costs from £735 (R13,000) pp, including meals and local drinks. Departures late April to end of October. See guletescapes.com.
3. DEEPER AND DOWN
Clinging limpet-like to the dramatic cliffs of Lycia, the small resort of Kas is Turkey's adventure capital. It's also home to the best diving in Turkey, with visibility up to 30m, all manner of colourful fish, and undersea caves and canyons. It's very easy to sign up to a Padi open-water course here, or do a series of day dives if you're experienced and qualified. In fact, you can sign up to almost anything thrilling, from canyoning to paragliding and beyond, if you are so minded.
Bougainville Diving offers the five-day Padi course from £263 (R4,900), and can arrange accommodation.
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4. ARCHAEOLOGICAL ADVENTURE IN ANATOLIA
Archaeologists and historians would argue that Anatolia (Asian Turkey) is as rich in ancient sites and as steeped in history as Egypt, Italy, Greece or Mesopotamia. Head over the Pontic Alps from the Black Sea, passing biblical Mount Ararat to high-altitude Lake Van in search of the mysterious Urartians, early-Christian Armenians and cultured early Turks. Breathtaking highland landscapes and little-known sites guaranteed.
The 11-day North-East Turkey tour costs £2,999 (R56,000), including flights from the UK, guide-lecturer and tour manager, transfers, coach, accommodation, meals and site entries. Departs Sept 18. See andantetravels.com.
5. DAY WALKS IN CAPPADOCIA
The eroded volcanic landscape of Cappadocia in Central Anatolia - all mesas, buttes, gorges and bizarre rock pinnacles known as "fairy chimneys" - is best explored on foot. Cappadocia-based Middle Earth Travel offers a series of day walks (four- to six-hour duration) from a base in the captivating village of Göreme, which includes the rock-cut churches of the Ihlara Valley, traditional villages such as Gomeda and aptly named Pigeon Valley.
The eight-day Cappadocia Tour costs £580 (R10,800) and has departures in September. Included are accommodation, transfers, transport, meals and a guide.
6. ACROSS THE TAURUS ON HORSEBACK
The limestone peaks of the Taurus range separate Central Anatolia's steppes from the Mediterranean. Densely pine, cedar and chestnut-wooded in places, open grassland in others, dotted with remote villages linked by ancient trails, this is a truly unspoilt and undeveloped part of Turkey. Far and Ride offers a superb expedition for confident intermediate and advanced riders, from glittering Lake Beysehir to the Koprulu Canyon National Park.
The eight-day Taurus ride costs £1,329 (R24,800) including mount, accommodation (mostly camping), meals and expert guide. Two departures in late October and early November. .
7. SAIL AND CYCLE COMBO
It's always difficult to decide how best to explore Turkey's beautiful region of Lycia, with its rocky coves, secluded beaches, towering peaks, wooded valleys and ancient ruins. Utracks has come up with a solution that enables you to try two of the best methods - by bike and by gulet. A morning cruise and swim followed by an afternoon of two-wheeled exploration (average rides cover 32km or so) is a winning combination.
The seven-day Cycle & Sail tour starts from £1,230 (R23,000), including accommodation, transport, meals except lunches, and 21-speed bike (bring your own helmet). Departures April to October.
8. FAMILY FROLICS
The pretty resort of Kas, on the Lycian coast, is perfect for active family holidays. Explore's Family Legends of Lycia tour is based in a relaxed hotel in central Kas, with activities including a boat ride with swimming and snorkelling, sea kayaking over sunken ruins in Kekova, canoeing down the Xanthous river and a walk in the Lycian hills.
The tour starts from £399 (R7,450), excluding flights, or £885 (R16,000) including flights from the UK, transfers, some meals and all activities. Departures May to October. See explore.co.uk.
9. FAMILY CHILL-OUT SESH
For a relaxed family holiday, it's hard to beat Cirali, an hour west of the gateway airport of Antalya. Building regulations ensure none of the many pensions here pokes its roof above the citrus groves, and there's a 3km-long turtle-nesting beach book-ended by rocky spurs in one direction and towering peaks in the other. A string of mellow beachfront eateries, a shop or two and the odd place to hire a car or bike complete the picture.
Hotel Odile has four-bed family rooms for £158 (R3,000) per day. Set around a large leisure pool and a kids' pool. .
10. ECO-FRIENDLY, FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOUSE STAY
The three luxury houses of Gökçe Gemile are in a supremely private and beautiful setting overlooking the Med, offering hotel services such as gourmet meals and spa treatments - what's not to like? Booked individually or as a trio (with accommodation for 22 people in total) these newly built, stylish eco houses even have their own cove complete with kayaks and paddleboards.
A week-long May stay in one house is £1,417 (R26,500) per person based on six sharing, including a free transfer from Dalaman Airport, a skippered day at sea, a week's car hire and evening chauffeur service. Open year-round. See fairlightjones.com.
11. THERMAL SPAS
Turkey is a volcanic land rich in thermal waters. Plenty of resorts of various sizes and quality have sprung up around these valuable resources; the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism lists 17.
Arguably the most beautiful and interesting is Termal, set in pleasant pine-forested hills an hour's ferry ride south of Istanbul. Used in Roman times, it was revived in the '80s but a few of its hotels reflect the pomp of its heyday.
Limak Thermal has 48 double rooms from £119 (R2,220), each with a thermal spring-fed jacuzzi. It has been restored to its 1929 origins, and Turkey's founder, Ataturk, was a regular visitor.
12. A FOODIE CRUISE
There's no better way to get to grips with the delights and subtleties of Turkish cooking, perhaps, than aboard a gulet sailing the coastline of Lycia in search of ancient ruins. The personable Serdar Akerdem is an archaeologist and foodie guide for Peter Sommer's eight-day Gastronomic Gulet Cruise. He gets guests helping the ship's cook to rustle up meals, takes them into the kitchens of rustic restaurants ashore, and involves them in preparing traditional village dishes on an archaeological site.
The tour costs £2,395 (R44,700) and runs June 1-8. Guide, all meals, and site entries included.
13. YOGA IN PEACE VALLEY
Huzur Vadisi, Turkey's longest-established yoga retreat, is set in a pretty mountain valley surrounded by pine forest, olive and fig orchards. Located near Göcek in Lycia, it has been rated by Condé Nast as one of the best yoga retreats in the world. Accommodation is in well-presented yurts, and there's a 28-berth yoga shala for teaching and practice sessions, and a stone-built pool.
Seven days' accommodation at Huzur Vadisi is £795 (R14,800) per person. Three meals a day included, though course fees are extra. The nearest airport is Dalaman. To join a course, contact the yoga teachers via the retreat's website.
14. TREKKING IN LYCIA
The Lycian Way long-distance trail is spectacular, nowhere more so than at its start-point above Oludeniz. Ahead lies a truly spectacular mix of vertiginous paths, descents to hidden coves, dramatic headlands (the Seven Capes) and, at Patara, Roman ruins and Turkey's longest beach. Explore all this and more in a suitably sympathetic manner on Responsible Travel's eight-day Along the Lycian Way tour.
From £695 (R13,000), including guide, accommodation, most meals and transfers. See responsibletravel.com.
15. ON YOUR BIKE IN CAPPADOCIA
For some head-down, hang-on-to-your-handlebars exhilaration in some of the most magnificent scenery on Earth, head to Cappadocia's unique, Unesco-listed volcanic landscape for a mountain-biking adventure. Hurtle down steep, narrow descents into "fairy chimney" valleys, slalom through fruit groves and timeless villages - and enjoy a post-ride beer in a laid-back hostelry of your choice.
The Cappadocia Singletrack tour costs £925 (R17,200) plus £130 (R2,400) cycle hire (or bring your own). Included are two expert guides, seven nights' accommodation, some meals, support vehicle and airport transfers. Departures in May, September and October. See cycleactive.com.
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