Turkey's top 10 delights
Beyond the resorts of Kusadasi, Bodrum and Marmaris are dozens of places offering an array of outdoor activities, historical wonders and small glimpses of paradise, writes KATE FENNELL
VISITING Turkey should come with a warning: you visit once, you’ll visit a thousand times. That’s the common effect on many first-timers whether they have come for sun, sand and sea or for a quick jaunt to Istanbul.
The resorts of Kusadasi, Bodrum and Marmaris have all been well explored by the Irish sun-seeking tourists, but beyond those there are dozens of places offering an array of outdoor activities, historical wonders and small glimpses of paradise.
Because of the unrest in the Middle East deterring visitors there, tourist numbers to Turkey are expected to increase by three million, to 31 million this year – that’s a lot of sunbed space – so if you want to escape the crowds, discover something new and go slightly off the beaten track, this list is for you.
1 The Princes Islands, Istanbul
The Princes Islands are a group of tranquil and car-free islands located a short ferry-ride from Istanbul – the perfect antidote to a stint of sightseeing in the busy, bustling city.
Four are inhabited and the biggest islands, Buyukada and Heybeliada, are the most popular for visitors. You can explore them and view their multi-storeyed 19th-century wooden houses at a leisurely pace by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage – the only transport on the islands.
Both are pleasant for an afternoon’s visit while Buyukada is perfect for a longer stay, especially if you can treat yourself to a room in the beautiful turn-of- the-century hotel, Splendid Pallas, where it’s hard not to expect to bump into Hercule Poirot in the drawing room, such is the atmosphere and décor.
Upmarket:Splendid Pallas Hotel, splendidhotel.net. Dbl/sngl room: €100/€70.
2 Alacati, Cesme
When descending into Alacati on the Aegean coast, the stone windmills spied on the azure horizon offer a reminder of the flour-making industry that once flourished here. For 10 years or so now, that same wind has been bringing droves of windsurfers from near and far to its idyllic sheltered bay.
Its whitewashed old buildings and cobbled streets have received something of a facelift since the windsurfers started arriving, giving life to quaint restaurants, cafes and hotels providing an ambient setting to unwind in the evening and get a local taste of life and fare.
Upmarket:Tas Hotel, tasotel.com. Dbl/sngl room: €125/€95
Anyone who has had the opportunity to sail around Turkey’s Turquoise Coast may be familiar with this peaceful yachters’ haven, equipped with several marinas, excellent seafood restaurants, friendly service and fabulous shops selling indigenous jewellery, crafts and clothes. You will spend a little more than usual here as it sells itself as slightly more upmarket than neighbouring towns but you will get quality for money.
You can easily escape to the mountainous villages nearby where there are opportunities to get slim and healthy by joining in a yoga retreat in Huzur Vadisi or a juicing week in Jason Vale’s famous Montenegro Hotel retreat. If you decide to stay where you are, a session in the modern Gocek Club Marina Hamam comes recommended.
Mid-market:Villa Danlin Hotel, villadanlin.com. Dbl/Sngl room: €90/€60
A fishing town of 6,000 people at the heart of the Lycian Way on the southwestern Mediterranean coast, Kas is a jewel in terms of what Turkey has to offer. Its kayaking and canoeing trips to the sunken Lycian ruins are famous, and its pristine waters and varied coastline has made it Turkey’s top spot for diving.
For the adventurous landlubbers, the Taurus mountains which tower above the town are the perfect place for mountain -biking, rock-climbing, trekking and canyoning, all of which are organised by the travel agencies in the town.
For those who want to just kick back and indulge in more sedate activities there are boat trips to various paradisiacal maritime locations and walks along the scenic Lycian Way. Its warren of cobbled streets full of cute cafes, bars and restaurants is a joy to wander around in and the evenings are lively with music and dancing lasting till the early hours.
Value/mid-market:Hideaway Hotel, hotelhideaway.com. Dbl/sngl room: €45/€30.
5 The Kackar Mountains
Far away from the Mediterranean on the Black Sea coast is Trabzon, the gateway to the Kackar Mountains, one of Turkey’s best kept secrets – but not for long. A guidebook has just been published by Kate Clow, the person who put the Lycian Way on the touristic map, so get here before the rush starts.
The Kackars remind one of being in the Alps and the Himalayas all at once: there are verdant green valleys, with rushing rivers flowing through them, pine forests and steep rocky mountains with ridges pock-marked by large glacial lakes. It’s a paradise for trekkers, mountain-bikers, ramblers and nature lovers of every description.
For history buffs, there is the Greek Orthodox Sumela monastery dating from the 4th century as well as a fresco-filled 13th century Byzantine church just outside Trabzon itself.
Value:Otel Doga, near Camlihemsin, 00-90-464-651-7455. Dbl/sngl room: €20/€15
In the heart of Anatolia and the ancient Hittite Empire, Cappadocia could be accused of not really being off the beaten track anymore since tourism here has exploded over the last 10 years – and commercialism along with it – but to omit it would be a crime because of its unique landscape, history and sights.
Whether it’s to marvel at the fairy chimneys made of volcanic rock, go white-water rafting in its rushing rivers, descend into the multi-storey underground cities or squeeze into a hermit’s cave in an early Christian monastery, there is plenty in Cappadocia to sate the appetite of the curious traveller.
Spring or autumn are the best times to visit and either Urgup or Goreme are good bases for exploring the area.
Finally, if getting high is your thing, hot air balloon rides have become legendary here as the views of the lunar-type landscape are like nothing one has seen before.
Mid-market/upmarket:Hotel Legend, legendcavehotel.com. Deluxe/standard rooms: €120/€80
A nature-lover’s paradise perched on a clifftop on the Lycian Way, Kabak has mushroomed in the past 15 years from one tranquil hippy den to dozens of little paradises ranging from wooden huts to five-star hotels with swimming pools.
This is a place to get away from it all, but do some research when choosing your accommodation as many backpackers complain of high prices for food and drinks once ensconced in their teepees. The Olive Garden comes well-recommended as mid-market accommodation and the food there is second to none.
Mid-market:The Olive Garden, olivegardenkabak.com. Dbl/sngl room: €70/€42
On the one hand Patara is a ramshackle village where it would be nice to lose yourself and really live the slow life for a few days. On the other, it boasts some of the most impressive and important ruins of the Lycian, Hellenistic and Roman period which take a considerable amount of time to explore properly.
Lastly, but certainly not least, it has the most luxurious white sandy beach stretching farther than the eye can see, which is a huge attraction for visitors to the area during the summer months.
Value:Sema Hotel, semahotel.com. Dbl/sngl room: €26/€20 9 Sanliurfa, Hasankeyf,
If you want to taste real adventure head east into southeastern, mainly Kurdish-speaking Turkey, where you can explore vestiges of the many ancient civilisations that crossed paths here on the banks of the River Tigris.
Go back in time in Sanliurfa in one of Turkey’s most authentic covered bazaars, admire Hasankeyf’s ancient cave dwellings and visit Mardin’s Deyrulzafaran monastery where services are still held in Aramaic.
No visit to this area would be complete, of course, without ascending Mount Nemrut and marvelling at the giant statues that King Antiochus had carved out of stone of himself and pagan gods transforming the mountain top into a gigantic tomb.
People travelling to this area in the run-up to the June 12th elections in Turkey are advised to take advice as to safety measures because of the ongoing Kurdish/Turkish conflict in the area.
Mid-market:Kilim Hotel, Sanliurfa, urfakilim.com, Dbl/sngl room: €50/€40
10 Medical tourism
An increasing number of visitors to Turkey are availing of the chance to combine a holiday with getting medical procedures done at a fraction of the cost of getting the same treatment done at home.
The Turkish government has taken note of this and is actively creating the medical standards required in order to increase the amount of business in this area in the coming years.
Procedures from simple dentistry to plastic surgery can be carried out in private or public clinics around the country or in JCI (Joint Commission International) accredited hospitals – of which four of the leading ones are in Istanbul.
So if you want to have shiny teeth and get a little nip and tuck before you head off to the beach, it seems Turkey just might be the recession-friendly place to do it.