Turkey is a HUGE and epic country, so choose your areas wisely when planning your trip. If you’ve got itchy feet (like me) I would recommend a transient vacation and spend a couple of nights in several areas, which not only keeps you perky- it is the best way to cram everything in this mammoth country in!
Turkey is steeped in history, and when I say steeped, I mean drenched! With countless monuments, shrines and ruins, there is a lot more to see than the turquoise coastline. With its geography straddling eastern Europe and western Asia, the country proudly protects its cultural connections to the ancient Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires and every town provides a history lesson.
With stunning sunshine and friendly locals, it would be very easy to sit with a coffee and listen to the sound of minarets, but for the more adventurous, there are mosques, caves and waterfalls to explore, without needing to don a bikini. Although ideally your vacation would incorporate both.
With the classical architecture still preserved in the old towns- there are plenty of museums, mosques and monuments which are easily accessible from most of the major resorts, and are the ideal day trip when you need a break from the sun lounger.
If your stay incorporates the historical region of Çukurova in South Central Turkey, a visit to the stunning Sabancı Central Mosque is non-negotiable. Rivalling the Taj Mahal in impressiveness, it is open to visitors and is an Instagrammers dream. If you are lucky enough to stay in the Hilton Hotel, you will not only get five-star treatment, all mod cons and a spa and pool to chill out in, but you will also get an amazing view of the of the mosque at night. However, there are many hotels to choose in the city, for a variety of budgets.
The Varda Bridge, standing at an impressive 90 metres high, is a great day trip adventure, and, fact fans, this is where some of the scenes from the James Bond movie Skyfall was shot! Easily accessible in the same day is the impressive Kapıkaya canyon and Yağcami oil mosque. An after an action packed day out, a detour to the charming and extremely well preserved Central Park is very welcome, as is a gondola trip which soaks up the scenery across the Seyhan River.
Spending a couple of days in Adana is easy- especially if you like to shop! It is a great place is to spend some serious lira…start on Ziyapaşa Boulevard for Turkey’s top end boutiques, and see how the other half live! Expect the unexpected with lots of high end boutiques selling glamorous frocks.. then head south for the traditional handcraft and local shops.
It’s worth checking out the street bazaars around Saydam Street and Kilis which are very popular with locals and holiday makers, and the covered markets in Büyük Saat and Yağ Camii are worth a look, and if you have any energy left, you could always head to the air conditioned Malls, for some chain stores and American food inspiration. It is a great starting point for your trip, as it’s 35km from the sea, so you can get your city fix before heading south the the Mediterranean Sea.
But don’t stay in the same place- Turkey offers a diverse range of activities, and ideally you would visit in the spring or autumn as the summer months (July and August) get hot hot hot! But that doesn’t deter the Turkish holidaymakers who flock to the beautiful crystal clear seawater. Head for one of the more undiscovered beach resorts to the west, and enjoy miles of sandy beaches where you can enjoy diving or snorkeling and experience the bounteous wildlife, first hand.
You can’t escape the scenery, en route to the beautiful beaches, and one of the most popular destinations is Antalya (also known as the Turquoise Coast). The fastest growing city in Turkey has lots to offer couples and families who love the sun. Being one of the largest Turkish cities, it is classically beautiful and stylishly modern. At its core, is the wonderfully preserved old city district of Kaleiçi – literally meaning ‘within the castle’ and the well-preserved old town has a delightful harbor for night time drinks, breakfast or just a peaceful break and people watch.
For the best sunsets in the area, Hotel Kilikya is a great stopping point; Whether you soak up the stunning 4th century BC ‘Castle of Kizkalesi’ from the comfort of a sun lounger or head over on a boat to see the ruins for yourself, the hotel is a very welcoming place.
You could easily spend a couple of days here as it is the perfect base for sightseeing; The Stone Henge-esque ruins of Uzuncaburc are a short drive away, along with St Paul’s Well in Tarsus, where the young Cleopatra is said to have met her Anthony. For even more ancient history, check out the Alahan Monestary, a UNESCO World Heritage monument which has been re-opened following two years of restoration works. Believed to have been built between 440 A.D. and 442 A.D it offers superb views at 4,000 feet up in the mountains.
Mixing a few days at the beach with a few days exploring is the key to the perfect trip, and the impressive Düden Waterfalls, located a few km north-east from Antalya are a pretty detour. The Dilek Magarasi (Cave of Wishes) is popular with tourists as you can explore the inside the catacombs themselves (and make a wish!) If you are feeling particularly pious, the Heaven and Hell pits (Cennet ve Cehennen), should definitely be on your hit list. With the Temple of Zeus proudly standing at the entrance of Heaven, the whole experience is like walking into a film set..but be warned- wear sensible shoes and prepare to sweat! You have to be pretty fit to get to Heaven which is found at the bottom of a deep and slippery terrain. The Turks don’t do hand rails, so small slow steps are key; And make sure you take some water and a camera, as the view at the bottom is worth it! Hell, on the other hand is nothing to write home about! A small viewing platform overhangs a deep cavern, which is supposedly where Zeus slayed a 100 headed monster, but anything after the walk up approximately 450 makeshift steps seems like hell!
But if caves are your thing- Gilindire Cave (Aynalıgöl Cave) also in the area, is pure joy. Discovered by a shepherd in 1999, it has been preserved by UNESCO and turned into a tourist attraction- and rightly so! Its entrance is on a cliff 46 metres above sea level, and you can witness at close range, stalagmites, stalactites and cave needles, which even to an uneducated eye, form the most stunning configurations. Although it is a deep descent to the bottom, the constructed walkways and metal stairs make the transition easy; Apparently bats have been spotted in the main cave, but don’t let that put you off!
After all that excursion and the 500+ stairs back up again, it is definitely time to reward yourself with a break, and the 11 miles of unbroken sand dunes on nearby Patara Beach, at the resort of Kalkan is the ideal place to wind down and treat yourself to some luxury.
Whether you are planning a one or two week break, there are infinite options of things to do and see; Fill up on the delicious local food, which is widely available at road side restaurants or in towns, and give yourself plenty of time for the buffet breakfasts which will consist of homemade jams, plenty of cheese options, deliciously fresh bread and menemen (Turkish eggs). Bread is a major accompaniment to every meal, but along with the fresh salads, Aegean vegetables, spicy Anatolian kebaps and tomato dips, the local fish- grouper is a delight.
If you still have room, baklava or roast pumpkin is delicious as desert!
Many thanks to Lucy Mallows for the photos.