Going Hot Turkey
Recession-free, beyond the eurozone and supremely secular, Turkey is a land of hope. Kathryn Miller chooses the budget-conscious highlights. Photos by Brett Elmer
When it comes to packing action and adventure, culture and history and some of the best food in the world all together, few destinations can match Turkey. The literal and symbolic bridge between Europe (of whose chief currency it is suddenly less enamoured) and Asia, this expansive country possesses exoticism in spades 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 visit 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, 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’ (Turkish B&Bs) or hostels and you can spend your spare lira on treats like baklava and raki. Turkish people are some of the most helpful you’ll encounter in the world and they’re very keen to send you in the right direction for the next sandy beach, ancient ruin or rugged mountain range. Note: the national currency is Turkish lira but in Istanbul, and in some of the coastal resorts, you’ll find prices in euros as well. At the time of going to press, it was 1.78TL = HK$4.4
The Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace and 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 to explore the twisty cobbled streets but a more cosmopolitan base is arty Beyoglu, a district in flux 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 cute little tram that shuttles up 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 day trip – walk from Kadiköy quay along the shore to Moda quay for a strong Turkish coffee in the cafe on the pier.
Stay Sumocat Hostel, Ali Hoca Aralik Sok 9 (+90 0212 292 7866 / www.sumocathostel.com). Fun hostel in Galata, near Beyoglu. Dorms 23TL- 37TL, doubles 115TL-138TL. La Casa di Maria Pia, Yeni Carsi Cad 37, Beyo lu. (+90 0541 624 5462/www.lacasadimariapia.com). Cosy apartments with kitchenettes. Guestroom 92TL per night, apartments 172TL-195TL per night.
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 do watersports such as sailing and scuba diving are excellent. Fethiye is handy for venturing inland to visit the deserted former Orthodox Greek town Kaya Koyu, Saklikent Gorge and Butterfly Valley.
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-island cruise (www.boatcruiseturkey.com). From 342TL per day/night. Other destinations include Kas, Olympos and Antalya if you fancy skipping a bus trip.
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 panoramic vista from the top of Uchisair Castle – try mountain biking or take a hot air balloon ride at dawn (www.royalballoon.com). The underground cities, such as the one at Kaymakli, were carved by the Hittites circa 2,000BC and are fascinating, if a little claustrophobic, to walk through.
The monastery at Zelve and the city of Goreme are cities that were carved from the rocks by former inhabitants and are now open-air museums.
Stay Kale Konak Kale Sok 9, Uçhisar. (+90 0384 219 2828 / www.kalekonak.com). Labyrinthine boutique hotel with its own private marble hamam. Doubles 275TL, triples 300TL.
Selcuk and Sirince
Most visitors to Turkey visit Selcuk because it’s only 3km from the excellently preserved ruins at Ephesus. Ephesus was the capital city of Proconsular Asia in Roman times and you can walk along its excavated streets passing buildings such as the impressive Library of Celcius and amphitheatre – and even sit in the communal lavatory.
The traditional hillside village of Sirince, though, is inhabited. There are lovely views from the top of its steep, tortuous cobbled streets, which are lined with still-occupied, tumbledown 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 19th century. Stay overnight and experience the place
Stay Homeros Pansiyon, Atatürk Mah Asmalı, 1048 Sok 17, (+90 0232 892 3995 / www.homeros pension.com). Friendly family-run pansiyon where rooms are decorated with colourful carpets and knickknacks. Singles 45-55TL, double/twin 70-80TL per person.
Olympos is a small village on the 500km-long Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya. It’s got a superb (pebbly) beach and calm, warm sea that’s perfect for sea kayaking. It also 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.
Stay Kadir’s, Olympos (+90 0242 892 1250 / www.kadirstreehouses.com). Has 338 dorm and treehouse beds plus camp sites. Two lively bars are on-site. Bungalows with en-suite and air-con for two or three people 40- 60TL or without air-con 35-45TL, dorms from 20TL, campers with their own tent 10-15TL. Prices include breakfast and a very reasonable buffet dinner.
Antalya’s Old Town is protected and many of the ramshackle Ottoman homes are undergoing restoration and being turned into 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 (www.sefahamam.com).
The Antalya Museum (www.antalyaws.com) has an excellent collection of fossils, statues, Ottoman costumes and carpets. For a day trip inland, the impressive ruins of Termessos are a 40km drive away.
Stay White Garden Pansiyon (+ 90 0242 241 9115 / www.whitegardenpansion.com) in Old Antalya provides a refuge from the midday heat and is furnished in traditional Turkish style. Doubles 55TL.