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I am incredibly grateful for countless travel memories that I can look back on with fondness but one of my favourite is gulet cruising in Turkey. It was a four night, five-day sailing holiday along the Mediterranean coast from Fethiye to Olympus. Choosing to partly detox from an Internet addiction, and relax at the same time, the experience was ten times better than any spa retreat offers.

However, speaking to friends after the event, it seemed that the biggest misconception people have about gulet sailing holidays in Turkey, is that you’ll spend all day, every day on the boat being bored, but it is about much more than that. Firstly, if you are a novice to gulet cruising, it helps to understand the unique background, concept and what makes them different from others sailing vessels.

What is a Gulet in Turkey?

When you book gulet sailing holidays in Turkey, you are venturing into an age-old nautical tradition. Gulets are traditional, handcrafted wooden boats with two or three masts. Although other countries such as Italy, Montenegro, and Croatia, use gulets, Turkey has an esteemed and long-established reputation for making gulet boats, especially in Bodrum and Bozburun, two coastal hubs on the west and southwest coast.

Their original use was for sponge diving and fishing, but over the years, the concept has evolved to become overnight floating hotels. Esteemed professionals expertly handcraft each gulet boat with unique design and décor. You can find more information about gulet boats here.

Are Gulets Seaworthy?

Yes, these boats are extremely hardy, and every year during winter, the owners dock into the shipyards for maintenance and upkeep. Gulets are a specialised vessel, and different from a yacht. The latest materials and techniques are used in yacht construction. Hence the industry is always evolving because the primary purpose is sailing long distances, even around the world. Whereas short, coastal cruising is what gulet boats are designed for.

What are Blue Cruises in a Gulet Boat?

Gulet sailing holidays in Turkey focus on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, which make up the Turkish Riviera. Within this long stretch of coastline, captains follow defined Blue Cruise routes, with unique attractions and things to do. The Fethiye to Olympus way is one of the most popular, but passengers can also sail to the Greek Islands and back, as another alternative.

Budget travellers can book cabin charter on set Blue Cruise routes of which there are many, or large groups and families can book their private gulet sailing holiday and along with the captain, tailor-make a particular blue cruise route. Are you wandering if blue cruises are appropriate for you or not? Here is what a gulet expert says: https://www.guletexpert.com/what-is-blue-cruise/

What is it Like Staying on a Gulet Boat?

Most gulet boats range in size from 20 to 30 meters, and each has between 5 to 8 cabins. Within these cabins are double or single beds, an en-suite bathroom and sometimes wardrobes. Most gulets have air conditioning, although the humidity is less at sea than at land, so they are generally not needed, especially when sailing.

Eat your meals on deck, and there is a full crew to help you including the captain, deckhands, and cook. Gulet boats can cruise with wind force or turn on the engine for a faster experience. As with any travel concept, a gulet can be budget and basic or luxurious, in which case, the cabins are larger with exquisite furniture and décor. The sunbathing area is at the front of the boat and inside is a separate seating/bar area.

Places in Turkey to Book Gulet Sailing Holidays

Life on the Turkish Riviera focuses on seaside living, but some places have esteemed reputations for their excellence in the gulet sailing industry. Daily many gulet boats sail out of the harbours in these regions to take passengers on a 3 to 8-day cruise. They include….

Bodrum: The town, a favoured holiday destination for British people as well as Turks, has spearheaded Turkey’s tourism drive ever since the 1980s. As well as selling budget holidays, it also offers luxurious experiences leading it to become a favourite destination for rich and wealthy celebrities.

Marmaris: Another destination particularly favoured by the Brits, the harbour and marina area is a hive of everything nautical. Within the town itself, there is not much to do the area, however, is exceptionally scenic, explaining why it is a major sailing hub.

Fethiye: Round the world backpackers completing a tour of Turkey, book up for budget cabin charter Blue cruise routes to Olympus from Fethiye, although the town also offers luxury sailing at a higher cost.

Things to Do on Gulet Sailing Holidays in Turkey

As mentioned before, although the term “sailing holidays” imply, it is all about being at sea, gulet cruising is about a lot more than that, namely the diversity of things to do.

1: Explore the small coastal towns

The Turkish Riviera has many small, coastal towns, each with their characteristics. Gulets dock in either overnight or for the day, giving you time to wander and explore. Kas on the Mediterranean coast is a perfect example because despite embracing modern living, it has kept its authentic atmosphere, making it one of the quaintest places in Turkey.

2: Get to places only accessible by boat

Many uninhabited islands surround Turkey, and some of them such as Gemiler just outside Fethiye are worth exploring. Ruined Christian churches and a fantastic view make it a preferred place at night for boats to drop anchor. Kekova sunken ruins is another area ideally explored by boat for the best view.

3: Sleep on deck

During my blue cruise, I never slept in my cabin. Instead preferring the deck at the front of the boat, I thoroughly enjoyed going to sleep under the stars. There is something peaceful about just listening to the sounds of nature as you drop off and as much as my cabin was comfortable and quiet, I choose to sleep on deck every time.

4: See Caretta Caretta turtles

It is a guaranteed certainty you will see the endangered Caretta turtles if you cruise the Mediterranean coast but in particular, the Simena area. One morning, a small group came swimming around the boat for food and seeing their size, I realised their stamina was strong despite their docile appearance.

5: Gorgeous sunsets

Watching a Turkish sunset dip over the horizon is a favourite evening activity of mine because I am not talking about average sunsets here. The Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, boast of vibrant orange sunsets that are big attractions for tourists, who cannot resist getting their camera out to snap the view.

6: Catch your dinner

Of course, if you do not like fish or seafood, the cook will whip up many alternative dishes, but for fish lovers, part of the thrill is catching your dinner and BBQing it. From sea to plate within 20 minutes. You cannot get any fresher than that!

7: Snorkelling and diving

Most gulet boats have snorkelling equipment on board, which you are welcome to use when they stop for swimming breaks. Alternatively, Turkey is a scuba diving paradise with many underwater wrecks and various sea life. If you spend half a day in any scuba diving town, your boat captain can pre-book lessons for you, whether you are a novice or experienced.

8: Ice-cream deliveries!

In many spots around the coastline where boats dock in for swimming or overnight breaks, floating ice-cream boats offer the perfect refreshment. Pulling alongside the gulet and coming on board with many choices, it is a quirky concept of waiter service.

9: Jet-skis and parasailing

Likewise, anywhere boats gather, jet skis are for hire and passengers can parasail behind a speed boat. Jet skiing attracts adrenaline junkies while paragliding is an alternative bird’s eye view of the gorgeous landscape.

10: Visit historical ruins of ancient civilizations

Many Blue Cruise routes on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, stop by coastal historical ruins of which Turkey has hundreds. The Med coast was home to the Lycians, who left behind glorious cities such as Patara and Olympus, set in an overgrown forest. Their ancient cities have also sparked an official trekking route, one of the longest in the world taking as much as three months to complete.

11: See the Greek Dodecanese Islands

Although, the most popular routes of gulet sailing holidays in Turkey focus on the Turkish Riviera, mix your holiday with Greek destinations of which, the Dodecanese islands are perfect. 150 of them sit in the south Aegean Sea, just a short distance from Turkey. The two most famous are Kos, and Rhodes, however smaller islands like Simi, are ideal for getting off the beaten track.

Further Reading: If the history of gulet cruising interests you, read about the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli. As well as unintentionally, setting in place the trend for coastal cruising, he made Bodrum, a famous destination of the Turkish Riviera.

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Mert Gurel is a Turkish film enthusiast with a particular passion for interesting documentaries about Istanbul. This is natural, given that he lives and works in the bustling city. His job as a fixer for  video productions means he sources everything that foreign and domestic companies need to make a good film or documentary in Turkey. Basically, he ties up the loose ends and helps them to make the story come together.

Preferring documentaries instead of books, he believes people who have or do live in Istanbul have both contributed and benefited from its unique, chaotic atmosphere and diverse culture. To showcase this, Mert has picked his favourite documentaries about Istanbul that tell a story worth watching.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005)

Alexander Hacke, a German musician, travels across Istanbul to explore the city through music. The film not only illustrates the diversity of music in Istanbul; it offers a comprehensive description of the metropolis at all levels, including the history, the people and their lives stuck somewhere between the east and the west. Highly recommended, especially if you are in love with Turkish or Mediterranean music.

Crossing The Bridge The Sound Of Istanbul - YouTube
Kedi (2016)

“Hundreds of thousands of stray cats roam the streets of Istanbul. They are a distinct part of everyone’s life. This is the story of seven of them.”

If you have been to Istanbul before, one of the first things you probably noticed was the number of cats roaming on the busy and noisy streets. This remarkable beautifully shot documentary witnesses their survival on this extremely urban city, and their interaction with its people. It did not take long for the film to be recognised internationally, and it is now available on Youtube Red.

Kedi - Official U.S. Trailer - Oscilloscope Laboratories - YouTube
Innocence of Memories (2015)

British director Grant Gee’s fascinating documentary, inspired by the Nobel Prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s novel ‘The Museum of Innocence’, is set in Istanbul during 1970’s and 80’s. The film has a unique European approach to Pamuk’s famous Turkish melancholy emerging from a sad, forbidden love story in Istanbul. Orhan Pamuk takes part in the making of the documentary, making it a must see if you are a fan of his novels.

INNOCENCE OF MEMORIES | Official UK Trailer - YouTube
Ekümenopolis: City without Limits (2012)

Be advised; this is not an easy-going Saturday evening watch.It is no surprise that Istanbul with a population of 14 million people, is larger than many countries in Europe, and it now has major environmental and structural issues. Ekümenopolis argues the problems of urbanisation and the rapid, unplanned growth of Istanbul based on real estate speculations, shopping mall frenzy and greedy consumption habits.

Ekümenopolis - Ucu Olmayan Şehir (Fragman) / Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits (Official Trailer) - YouTube

Author: Mert Gurel is a film enthusiast who has been working for a video production company in Istanbul for over 7 years. He hosts and helps foreign TV and documentary productions to produce short and long films in Turkey.

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In the last few years, Turkey has embarked on a building spree of 5-star all-inclusive hotels, sold at budget prices, over the internet and through travel agents. Appealing mostly to British, Bulgarian, Georgian and Russian clientele, they are scattered all over the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.

Admittedly, they do offer value for money with unlimited food and drink, mostly available around the clock, therefore explaining the popularity. In my days as a holiday rep, I worked in a few of them and in the years after, also stayed overnight in a few.

Aside from the bland food choices offered in the dining hall, the décor, and design of most of them are stunning. They are modern and comfortable, and also offer daytime and evening entertainment, so you need never leave the hotel if rest and relaxation are what you are after.

So, does the concept of staying in a 5-star all-inclusive hotel, for incredibly cheap prices, mean luxury travel in Turkey, is suddenly the mainstream norm?

Technically no.

Luxury Travel in Turkey: Star Ratings and Prices

Most travel writers and industry experts agree luxury standards differ between countries. What constitutes as 3-star in another country, might gain a 5-star rating in Turkey and vice versa. This is because there isn’t a worldwide system for grading luxury travel. Each country has their own standards and set criteria.

Most people worldwide, also no longer view luxury as synonymous with the price, especially after much-publicized scandals revealed underage kids in sweatshops in third world countries were making luxury products sold by famous, brand names.

It is About the Personalised Experience

Frederic Jutant from Splendia, a company who specialises in luxury hotels in Istanbul, says in the travel industry, the luxury factor filters down to the experience. People don’t want to pay top-notch prices and be treated like they are irrelevant.

They don’t want to be herded in and out of doors, as just one of the masses.

Most Turkish hotels renowned for luxury all offer personalised experiences. While they do have impressive décor and design, the gourmet food, sea views or spa amenities are not what has earned them their reputation.

Some hotels offer a private massage upon arrival so you can de-stress after your journey.

Some decorate each room in distinctly unique styles, so the stay feels personalised.

Others have staff on hand to tailor-make tours according to what you want to see and expect.

Others offer private dining.

All of them make you feel like your money is well spent. They find out what you want as a person rather than a customer.

Turkish hotels are actually at an advantage because hospitality is ingrained in their culture. For centuries, Turks have been welcoming strangers and treating them like friends. The moment, they start acting like corporate companies with blanket customer service techniques, is when they can no longer class themselves as luxury.

The problem with all-inclusive budget hotels is that cost cutting must be dribbled down and accounted for somewhere. This frequently results in the lack of one-to-one service.

So, while the 5-star all-inclusive hotels are offering decent accommodation at competitive prices, many people do not class them as luxury travel in Turkey, because the personalised one to one service just isn’t there.

Frederic finished by saying…

Most hospitality professionals across the world mutually agree, the term “luxury travel” is overused. The industry, trends and people have  moved on from the spend, spend, spend nature of the last few decades to a demand for personalised experiences, or as the National Geographic puts it, “luxury is something of emotional value”.

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Note: This is a guest post by Saskia from Alaturka Turkey.

Turkey is a unique country, situated between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The influence of all three can be seen throughout country – in the history, the culture, the architecture, the fashion and the food. Muslim Mosques sit alongside Christian churches and Catholic cathedrals, while ancient ruins of Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Hittite, Lycian civilizations and more can are scattered across all regions.

Stunning beaches stretch across three seas while the interior is made up of rugged mountains and agricultural land. There are many Turkey tours available and many reasons to make Turkey your next summer holiday destination.

For a Taste of Turkish Turkish Food

It’s not all Shish Kebab! In fact, the Turkish palette combines the best of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European cuisine. You can start your day with a Turkish Breakfast, best for sharing as it is traditionally a spread of olives, cheeses, cold meats, fresh white bread, egg, borek (a savory pastry), cucumber, tomatoes, honey, tahin, pekmez (made from grape molasses), fruit and black tea.

Other traditional dishes include, Gozleme (Turkish Pancake), Kofte Durum (Spicy meatball wrap) or Cig Kofte Durum (for the Vegetarians), Dolma (stuffed vegetables), Yaprak Sarma (wrapped vine leaves stuffed with rice, pepper, dates and cinnamon), seafood is also popular in coastal regions. And don’t forget to try something sweet, baklava and halva are two of the most popular deserts.

Ideal for Adventurers

Turkey is an outdoor lover’s paradise all year round, the winter months are great from skiing and snowboarding while autumn and spring attract hikers and climbers and in the heat of the summer you can take to the sea for sailing and cruising.

Turkey is one of the few countries to have such well-established hiking routes with 4 long distance waymarked trails as well as shorter cultural routes throughout the country. The most well-known is the Lycian way which continues for 500 kilometers along the scenic Turquoise coast. You can combine multi day hikes with gulet cruises and inland excursions to explore the region.

To Shop

From stylish shopping malls to handicraft stalls, farmers markets and legendary bazaars, Turkey is a haven for shoppers whether you’re looking for a new beach dress, fresh spices or a hand woven Turkish carpet. Weekly local markets spring up in most towns and sell a bit of everything, it’s a great opportunity to purchase fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, fish, fruit, nuts and homemade cheeses, jams and wines.

While in popular seaside towns like Fethiye and Antalya there are many boutique shops or souvenir markets located in the old town and close to the harbour. While Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, is a perfect for shoppers, with 15 modern malls to choose from. You may want to get yourself an extra suitcase to take everything home with you!

For the Culture, History, and Art

Over millennia Turkey has played host to the Hittites, Romans, Ancient Greeks, Early Christians, Lycians, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans and many more civilization. It has been invaded and has been invaded and the evidence is strewn across the country.

In Cappadocia, for example, you can find rock-hewn Christian churches with original frescoes at the Goreme Open Air Museum, and underground cities excavated into volcanic rock by Hittite settlers over 2500 years ago. The UNESCO world heritage accredited Pamukkale and Ephesus are also two of Turkey’s top historical sites.

To Cruise the Turquoise Coast

The south west coast of Turkey is also known as the Turquoise coast or the Turkish Riviera. The stunning stretch of coast line has attracted sailors for years and there are now a huge variety of cruise ship routes available from one-day trips to nearby islands, to multi day cruises calling in isolated bays, beautiful beaches, archeological sites, Lycian ruins, modern town and rural villages.

One of the most popular Gulet cruises is a 4 day/3 night cruise between Fethiye and Olympos, its offers passengers the opportunity to Swim in the Blue Lagoon at Oludeniz, Paraglide from Baba Mountain, visit the Sunken City of Kekova, shop in the bustling harbour in Kas and explore Olympos, the ruined Lycian city at the foot a tree lined valley.

To Visit Istanbul

A city split across two continents, connected by the Bosphorus bridge, Istanbul squeezes the globe into its city centre and offers interesting sights and there are many Turkey tours starting from Istanbul. In the central square, you can visit the two most famous mosques of the entire country; Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque), with its 6 minarets and impressive dome of Iznik tiles, and Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia) the converted cathedral with unique architecture gives you a taste of ancient Constantinople.

You could take a walk along the old city walls or board a ferry to visit Prince’s Island or Kadikoy a cosmopolitan district on the Asian side of Istanbul with new quirky cafes and bohemian clothing stores. The extensive Grand Bazaar spans between the main city road and Galata bridge, with anything and everything being sold on the crowded streets.

Porters run from shop to shop delivering hour shaped glasses of black tea and traditionally dressed sellers offer tasters of delicious Turkish Delight. There are plenty of local eateries hidden inside this maze of colourful items. Aside from shopping Grand Bazaar is fantastic to just walk about, people watch and immerse yourself in Turkish culture.

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Preparing to go on holiday can be stressful. No doubt about it.On top of important things like work deadlines and getting your pet cat sorted, there are super-important things like choosing which factor sun cream to buy or constructing a witty “out of office” email.

One thing that often gets left to the last minute is exchanging your foreign currency.

It’s one of those jobs that we don’t think much about, but it can actually make a big difference to how much fun we have. You don’t want to be worrying about finances on holiday. And the more you have to spend, the better – obviously!

With a weaker pound – picking out the best deal on foreign currency hasn’t been this important in years.

Luckily the pound to Lira rate hasn’t been hit as hard as the pound to the dollar, or pound to Euro rates, but that’s not to say that digging out the best deal isn’t still necessary.

Don’t Exchange Your Money at the Airport

Airport bureaus consistently provide the very worst rates on foreign currency. Be prepared to take up to an 11% commission/whack! If you take £1000 cash to one of the bureaux, you’ll only actually be exchanging £890 once they’ve taken their fee. That’s £110 you could have been spending on meals out, cocktails, or day trips.

Don’t Use Your Debit Card

This is possibly the most convenient option. Your debit card already lives in your wallet after all. But using your UK debit card can actually end up being super-expensive.

Let’s take a Halifax debit card, for example. They would charge you £1.50 for each point-of-sale transaction and/or £1.50 for every ATM withdrawal. On top of that, a 2.75% conversion commission is charged each time. Costly.

Don’t Take a Packet of Currency, it’s not 1997.

Many people still go to the Post Office or M&S, swap all their money, and take it in their suitcases.

Not only are these traditional providers often expensive, but how often do you walk around with hundreds and hundreds of pounds in your wallet in the UK? It’s not a very good idea.

Even if you hide a few hundred Euro under a mattress, in a ball of socks or inside the curtain, it’s not exactly bulletproof. If it doesn’t get stolen, it is easy to lose.

Keep an Eye on Politics

It’s no secret that the pound has struggled over the past 9 months. The Brexit vote in June was compounded by Donald Trump’s US election victory. That’s left British holiday-makers worse off when it comes to holidays. If you see a big political vote on the horizon, then think about exchanging early.

Okay, okay – we get your point. So what is the best solution?

Prepaid Currency Cards

Of course, you could just do the exchange once you reach your destination. However, spending the first day of your holiday scanning for the best deal does not sound like much fun anyway. A glass of wine by the pool is much more fun.

Instead, prepaid currency cards are cards that you load up with money and use abroad as if you would with a debit card here. I.e. by withdrawing money from an ATM or spending with the card over the counter.

It’s a bit like a pay-and-go mobile phone in that you fill it with credit, can easily track your spending and “top up” anytime using an app on your smartphone.

Take the WeSwap prepaid travel money card. They charge just 1% commission for exchanging your currency. Your money is swapped at the midmarket exchange rate that is the perfect exchange rate – not even the banks get a better rate!

The cool thing about WeSwap and the reason they can afford to do everything so cheaply is that they actually swap your money directly with a traveller heading in the opposite direction. Its peer-to-peer currency exchange meaning your GBP is exchanged with LIR with a Turkish traveller coming the other way.

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Foreign travellers tend to bypass Yalova in Turkey, but for many years, locals of Istanbul who want to escape city life for a few days, have favoured it as the ideal destination. Summer weekends when the children are off school are a traditional time for them to go.

For city dwellers, Yalova offers everything including thermal springs, gorgeous landscapes, hiking, trekking and biking routes, and numerous campsites. So in this article by Bayram Tekce, a Turkish national, he talks about his reasons on why he loves it so much.

Yalova locals are extremely proud of their connection to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. He loved the region and spent many summer months relaxing with close colleagues and friends joining him. Such was his passion for the area, he commissioned the construction of a house, and when he died, it came under the ownership of the National Assembly. These days, it is open to the public as a museum.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is also the reason behind another famous landmark of Yalova. In 1930, he was upset that a timeworn tree was to be removed because it began growing against the neighbouring mansion, therefore threatening the foundations. Instead, he ordered the tree would stay where it was, and the mansion should be moved 5 metres away. Hence, the current name of the building as Yuruyen Pavilion, otherwise the walking mansion.

Yalova Termal District

The termal district is twelve kilometres from Yalova city centre, and what the region is most famous for. Four hotels in the area offer access to healing thermal waters that scientists say ease symptoms of various ailments including skin, orthopaedic, mental diseases, and functional disorders. It is not a new trend because, throughout Turkey, soldiers from different empires over time used spa waters to heal after battle. The spa springs of Pamukkale are one such example as is the Balcova springs of Izmir.

Trekking, Hiking, Biking and Camping in Yalova

A famous slogan that springs to mind when talking about is Yalova is to be at one with nature. Sudesen waterfall is among one of the top attractions, but hiking, trekking, and biking routes through the scenic landscapes are ideal pursuits.

In the Delmece plateaus, many tree species including pine, oak, and chestnut surround the 400-acre landscape, whereas Erikli Plateau, near Tesvikiye Village, is a favourite destination for campers but photography enthusiasts also love it. Picnic lovers head to the Hasan Baba area, a protected habitat for deer.

Beach Destinations in Yalova: Çinarcik and Armutlu

As well as the termal district, Çinarcik and Armutlu enjoy success and fame as popular tourist destinations. Armutlu, a seaside location 50 kilometres from Yalova centre, has the distinct advantage of hot thermal springs as well as beach, swimming, sunbathing and water sports leisure activities.

Cinarcik is also a seaside location, but it has something that Armutlu doesn’t and that is a lively night-time scene. Other places in Yalova are relatively quiet, especially if you are a youngster looking to party the summer nights away. Shopping facilities are not as extensive as other locations, but the main cities of Bursa and Istanbul are close by.

Cinarcik has a distinct relaxed atmosphere that has the marvellous ability to accommodate everyone’s needs so it is a popular destination for Turks to buy holiday homes. In recent years, business people from Istanbul have cashed in on apartments for sale in Yalova because of the cheap prices and recent construction boom that is upgrading the property market to new, modern homes.

Also Visit….

Horticulture is big business in Yalova with approximately 20% of the country’s trade happening there. Cut flowers and landscaping shrubbery are taken seriously with many producers also exporting their goods abroad. Hence, the flower is a symbol of Yalova, and annual fairs promote local expertise. The Karaca Arboretum also greatly reflects Yalova’s interest and expertise. Open to the public, it covers 13.5 hectares of land holding roughly 7000 different species of trees, plants, and flowers.

Whereas most museums in Turkey enclose their artefacts behind glass cases and stonewalls, Yalova has kept their previous gems out in full view. The open-air museum celebrates 600 years of history including the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottoman eras. Opened in 2003, artefacts are scatted throughout a green area in the heart of the city centre.

Further Reading About Yalova in Turkey

To drive from Istanbul to Yalova is a long, drawn out journey so many people instead use the sea ferry buses departing from the Yenikapi Port in the Fatih district of Istanbul. Their website shows updated schedules and timetables, should you wish to visit for the day or weekend.

Also displaying in English, the official tourism website for Yalova in Turkey contains much more information on places to go, attraction, the regional cuisine, trekking routes as well as the various neighbourhoods and districts. (Credit for these images belong to them.)

Alternatively, this is a guest post by Bayram Tekce who owns and manages an estate agency helping people to buy a property in Yalova. With extensive knowledge of the termal and Cinarcik districts, he recommends that everyone should visit the region, if only for the day.

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Trabzon is not one of my favourite cities in Turkey, yet it serves as a good base for sightseeing in the area. Although few western tourists go in that direction, people from the Middle East are a frequent sight. During the 1990’s, it also enjoyed great financial success as a central hub of the suitcase tourism trade.

Socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had fallen. Travel restrictions were lifted, prompting Russians and other Eastern European citizens to travel regularly to Turkey for cheaper goods to sell back home. Estimations are that it generated a staggering 10 billion USD a year.

These days, many Turkish travel agents sell 4-day tours. My original plan was to go solo, but I also wanted to head further east and inland to the Kackar mountain range. Going solo was turning out expensive, so I signed up for a 7-day tour around the region.

It was a good move to make because I saved a lot of money. My local guide had also lived his whole life in the city, so I tapped into a lot of cultural and historical information that wasn’t on the internet.

Q&A for the Trabzon Travel Guide

Where is Trabzon?

Trabzon is on the northeast coastline of Turkey, near the Georgian border. It is close to Rize city that is the tea producing capital of the country. The local population is roughly 770,000, including the urban areas. Some people from Trabzon describe themselves as Laz, which is a prominent ethnic group in this area. Throughout history, its strategic position on the Black Sea coast made it a famous trading port, especially on the old Silk Road.

What is Trabzon Famous For?

Trabzon is often called the city of sultans because it was the birthplace of the famous Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. Within Turkey, its football team is widely recognised, but it also has a claim to fame because of its hazelnuts. The climate and soil conditions ensure the quality is high, so every year; Turks export thousands of tonnes around the world.

Naturally, being close to the coastline, Trabzon has a thriving fishing industry, and this shines through to regional dishes of which many include hamsi (anchovies.) One cultural aspect that I adore about Trabzon is the Horon dance. Although unique to the Black Sea region and not just Trabzon, it is a marvellous display of quick and agile uniformed dancing.

What’s the Weather Like?

Trabzon has a humid, subtropical climate that is entirely different from the winter and summer climates of the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. I visited in June, and while the daytime temperatures were pleasantly warm, I was extremely cold at nighttime, especially when I travelled further inland. Average summer temperatures are between 20 to 25 Celsus, while in winter, snow often falls.

How to get there

The airport is the easiest and quickest way. The runway of Trabzon airport is next to the sea, and I distinctly remember as we were coming into land, thinking that we were making a sea landing. Other than that, its domestic terminal is busier than its international and many foreign nationalities catch a connecting flight from Istanbul.

For airport transfers, it is just a 15-minute drive from the airport to the city, so I grabbed a taxi. Although Havas do run a bus transfer service and the timetable is here. Otherwise, the countrywide bus network system has many services running to Trabzon but from places like Istanbul, it is often a 13 hour overnight journey.

Where to Shop?

Trabzon is the 30th largest city in Turkey, so naturally, shops sell everything and anything. Trabzon Forum though is the most popular shopping mall. Including a cinema, as well as a children’s entertainment centre, hundreds of brand name shops open their doors every day.

Real Estate and Property

Over the last two years, real estate in Trabzon has gained traction with foreign property buyers and investors. These are mostly new build apartments attracting interested parties with low prices. One of the most popular neighbourhoods is Yomra that is on the outskirts of the city centre. This district is mainly middle of the range property with easy access to the city centre.

Places to Visit in Trabzon City Centre

Put aside one day to explore the attractions of Trabzon city centre. I personally loved my time strolling by the seaside with its quaint cafes and photo opportunities. My guide also took me to the 13th century Hagia Sophia of Trabzon.

Much smaller than the building with the same name in Istanbul, the interior frescoes and ancient architecture impressed me immensely. In the same year that I visited the museum, an application was made to turn it into a mosque. It was approved but a legal lawsuit kicked into action and for now, the museum status remains as is.

Ataturk Pavilion, an important three-storey, 19th mansion, and a popular place for locals to have wedding photographs taken,  holds personal items bequeathed to the Turkish Republic by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The third most famous landmark of Trabzon is the 16th-century Gulbahar mosque and tomb. Trabzon also has an ancient castle although little remains of it.

From Trabzon to Uzungol

Most Trabzon travel guide books recommend a trip to Uzungol, a large beautiful lake surrounded by thick, dense forests. It is 100 kilometres from Trabzon and a 90-minute drive. Many tour agencies in Trabzon sell day trips there, but I stayed overnight instead, in one of Uzungol’s traditional hand built wooden hotels. This gave us more time to explore, further inland, especially the Demirkapi plateau.

Day Trip: Sumela Monastery in the Macka District

Without a doubt, one of the must see places while in Trabzon is the 4th-century Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery. Perched on the side of a cliff, in the Macka district, it is just a short drive from Trabzon city centre. The walk up was extremely tiring but worth it to see the frescos of the church, the fantastic view and the simple rooms used by monks.

Recommended Reading

For the history as well as extensive armchair guides to Hagia Sophia and Sumela Monastery, the Trabzon travel guide book by local resident Ismail Kose is extremely informative. I have not seen it for sale on Amazon or other websites, but it is widely sold in the city itself.

Co-author: Bayram Tekce is a Turkish estate agent currently working on his project of a luxury villa in Trabzon. Residing in the Antalya district, he loves to travel around Turkey to learn about the history and diverse culture of his country.

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When making holiday arrangements, our top priority after getting to our chosen destination is often the hotel. Some people just want cleanliness while others look for perks and facilities. We can choose all inclusive, B&B or room only. Another aspect affecting our choice is the theme and décor.

The travel industry of Turkey knows this, and in the last ten-year building spree of new hotels across the country, individuality is a top priority. Gone are the days of ordinary and boring rooms, dingy receptions, small swimming pools, and bland food. Hotel owners are now keen to stand out from the rest, while still offering comfort, practicality, and convenience.

Quirky and Unusual Hotels in Turkey Luxury Ottoman Palaces and Mansion Hotels in Istanbul

The king of luxury travel in Turkey is the cosmopolitan metropolis of Istanbul. Rich and famous celebrities and executives adore the former capital-ruling centre, of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Five-star restaurants serve sumptuous meals for the price of a month’s wages, while international brand names dominate the upscale streets of the Nisanti neighbourhood, where wealth is the buzzword.

The best luxurious hotels in Istanbul have also garnered an esteemed reputation for excellence. Catering for your every whim, professional staff of the hospitality industry helps you to live like a king for the right price.

Many International celebrities book into Les Ottomans, a boutique and stylish hotel on the shores of the Bosphorus. Having hosted famous people such as Donald Trump, Kylie Minogue, Ricky Martin, and Kevin Costner, word has spread about the intricate, detailed service Les Ottomans offers.

Using the tagline “excellence is our heritage,” the hotel was a former mansion for Mehmet Pasha who was a grand vizier during the 18th century for the Ottoman Empire. By the 20th century, though, this Yali mansion had become a coal warehouse before falling into disrepair.

In the 1980s, an extensive tourism renovation project brought it back to life by restoring as much of the original architecture and décor as possible. Each unique suite room screams of decadence and spa/wellness/Pilates and massages services are available at a click of the fingers. Prices vary depending on the exact level of luxury you want but you need to pay roughly 6,000 Turkish lira a night, to rest your head on their pillows.

The former Ottoman Ciragan Palace, belonging to the esteemed Kempinski chain of hotels, also has an interesting story to tell. Ottoman sultan, Abdulaziz, commissioned it in the 19th century, but most of it burned down in 1910.

The famous football team, Besiktas then used it as a stadium before it underwent a massive restoration project in 2007. Restored to its former baroque style architecture, its fame to claim is the elegant Sultan suite. Costing more than $30,000 a night, it is one of the most expensive hotel rooms in the world.

Live Like Fred Flintstone: The Cave Hotels in Cappadocia

Gaining worldwide recognition, the cave hotels of Cappadocia are not a gimmick, but a time honoured and historic method of living. Their story goes back thousands of years to when man first dominated the area.

Looking for shelter and warmth, they carved homes from the unique tufa rock, left behind by volcanic eruptions thousands of years before. When Christianity reached the area in the late 4th century, locals also carved churches into the stone.

Even after Ottoman domination in the 15th century, Christian Greeks stayed and used the caves and churches for many more years. Unfortunately, the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, ordered all Greeks to leave the area and the churches with their ancient frescoes fell into disrepair.

Around this time, cave homes also started crumbling, so the government ordered many people into fabricated housing. This is evident in small villages such as the old and new parts of Cavusin. In later years though, architects invented methods to make cave homes safe but also install modern features. By the time, tourism arrived in Turkey; Cappadocia became famous worldwide for its cave hotels.

One good example is the Castle Inn in the Ortahisar district. The owner while theming the rest of the hotel on a castle has kept an original cave room with fire and water well. He also installed Jacuzzi and heating, and honeymooners can book a luxurious suite with terrace looking over the Cappadocia landscape.

Back to Nature: Treehouse Hotels in Olympos

Olympos on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, near Antalya, embraced tourism back in the 1970s. Many young travellers following the hippie trail arrived in Olympos to stay at budget treehouse hotels promoting the mantra of being at one with nature.

Dormitory rooms of 5+ beds in a house in a tree are popular because of low prices, but washing and toilet facilities in the communal areas put many people off. In later years, hotel owners started to build private bungalows to get around this, but it misses the point of the themed accommodation.

If you are after luxury and your home perks, the atmosphere filled with young backpackers, wouldn’t be your first choice. In which case, the neighbouring one street village of Cirali offers a more personal experience.

(Photo Credit)

Wooden Hotels of Uzungol and Ayder Plateau

Thick, dense forests surround Uzungol and the Ayder Plateau, in the Black Sea region. Therefore, locals who have a cultural heritage of living off the land, build wooden hotels and homes by hand. The result resembles an authentic home stay although, in recent years, travel publications are reporting that quicker and cheaper modern methods are slowly replacing this tradition.

My hotel in Ayder Plateau resembled a family home, making me feel uneasy as if I was intruding. It was only for one night, though, so I carefully navigated the rickety, steep, narrow wooden staircase to the top loft room that was so cold despite it being the middle of June. I remember thinking that if a fire broke out on the ground floor, my only hope of survival would be to jump out of the window, and if I were lucky, I would only break a few bones.

Yet, staying in the wooden Inan Kardesler Hotel of Uzungol was fantastic because the owners who were all brothers had carved everything from wood but also thought of practicality and modern luxuries.

Heating, satellite television and warm water was plentiful, and their passion for woodcraft was evident from the handmade ashtrays, mirror frames, bed frames, and doors. Outside in the courtyard, sat a complete handcrafted wooden car, proving their testament to a natural way of living.

Themed Hotels of Antalya

The Mediterranean Antalya region of Turkey has always been a prominent player on the country’s tourism scene. Excellence, commitment, and dedication to hosting foreign visitors have earned it a solid reputation as the second most visited destination in the country.

Hundreds of hotels accommodate thousands of yearly visitors, but one that grabs headlines is the Mardan Palace, often marketed as the most luxurious hotel in the world.

Quoting their themes and décor as a “return to the days of experiential luxury,” their aquamarine restaurant in the centre of the swimming pool has 3000 varieties of fish in the aquariums surrounding it. If you are not content with just looking at them, you can also book a session in the 1.6 millionaire litre Adventure Lagoon, to feed and swim with the marine life. That is also within the vast landscaped swimming pool that needs a gondola to get from one side to the other.

Imported sand from Egypt lines the private beach and throughout the décor; pure gold adorns staircases and bathroom taps. Such is the vast size of the hotel; Bollywood has filmed several movies there, and celebrities like Mariah Carey and Richard Gere attended the opening party. Unfortunately, news reports of poor money management leading to unpaid debts have overshadowed the hype and glitz.

Other themed hotels in the Antalya district include Queen Elizabeth, a resemblance of the famous cruise liner. The Titanic Resort Hotel is an iconic reminder of the famous ship that sank in 1912 while the Concorde de Luxe Hotel, reflects the plane of the same name. Clients of the Orange County Resort Hotel in Kemer also feel transported to Amsterdam because of themed windmills and impressive architecture.

Floating Hotels of the Turkish Riviera

When we think about unusual hotels in Turkey, the gulet boats of the Turkish Riviera are rarely mentioned. However, my experience of a 3-night stay on a gulet boat is one of my favourite travel memories.

I sailed the Mediterranean coast from Fethiye to Olympos. At night, I slept on deck, and in the morning, woke up to Caretta turtles swimming around the boat. For food, the crew caught fresh fish to cook on the BBQ, so it was from sea to plate in roughly 30 minutes and the onboard chef also prepared delicious meals made from fresh ingredients.

Every morning, we raised anchor to move along the coastline so every night, I slept in a different, beautiful destination. The list of pleasant memories goes on and one, and if you are looking for unusual hotels in Turkey, this is my top recommendation.

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As a nation of 80 million people, including many expat foreigners, 2016 has been a terrible year for the country of Turkey. Quoting Queen Elizabeth’s famous phrase, it has been our “Annus Horribilis.”

This is Latin and means “horrible year” but this description is mild.

We have endured a series of devastating attacks in the central cities and in our busiest airport. Babies washed up on our beaches, refugees died in our seas, a war reignited in the south-east, thousands of people were imprisoned,  refugee camps are full up, and the list goes on and on.

Then there was the night of July the 15th and a failed coup.

In many ways, I still can’t believe it happened. I thought coups were a thing of the past in Turkey. When news first broke on Facebook and Twitter, I assumed it was a sick hoax.

An hour later, I was convinced that the country was headed for civil war.

When I woke up the next morning, it was all over but in the days, that followed, I read everything and anything about the situation.

I tried to understand what had happened but more importantly, why. I tried to figure out what direction,  my beautiful country of Turkey was headed in.

I ended up more confused than ever before.

So, I stopped reading and decided what will be, will be.

This age old saying brings with it, a weird sense of inner peace. As if you are flowing with the tide instead of fighting against it.

It is the only thing you can do, when events and circumstances are out of your control.

My Year in Turkey : Was it Blissful Ignorance?

Despite all the turmoil of 2016 and the repercussions for my adopted homeland, it has for me, been one of my best years. Aside from visiting Cappadocia, Amasya, and Hattusa, I haven’t travelled as much as I previously did.

Instead, I felt an overwhelming desire to be more homely. I learned how to relax by simply doing nothing and don’t feel guilty about it either. I spent a lot of time practising mindfulness and getting to know more about myself as a person. I even fostered a dog, which surprised many people including me.

At some point, I also realised that if I did not read newspapers or follow social media, I wouldn’t know about any of the devastating events that had happened in Turkey including the coup. This mentally helped me to separate my life from what was happening in the rest of the country.

While people in Ankara and Istanbul witnessed military tanks in their streets, and listened to thunderous turbo sounds from low flying jets, many of my friends either slept through the coup or were in a bar blissfully unaware of what was happening.

I know from local media that the coastguard brought in a few refugee boats to our town this year, but I’ve never seen any bodies washing up on the beach. Cities in the south-east have been under curfew, many people are in prison, and countless  others have lost their jobs.

Yet I come and go as I please and still have an income.

I gave money to a few Syrian refugees begging in the town, but we don’t have large camps of desperate people who need food, water, clothes, money, and somewhere to sleep. They are thousands of miles away on the other side of the country.

You may accuse me of living in blissful ignorance or denying reality. Some people have also been disturbed by the fact that I still promote travelling in Turkey. One person on Twitter asked if I was playing a cruel joke.

But my days really have been routine and pleasant. I’ve spent them on beaches, sailing on boats, exploring ancient ruins, or socializing in restaurants with good friends.

I am not alone either. Thousands have enjoyed good holidays in the country and Turks have likewise flocked to the beaches and restaurants at the weekends.

If anything, this year in Turkey has been damn good and incredibly kind to me. This is because, at some point, I also became a firm believer in the traditional saying of “There but for the grace of God go I.”

When you practise gratitude, it becomes plainly visible just how lucky you are in life.

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One thing Turkey does well is entertaining foreign visitors. Its tourism board emphasises their hospitality throughout their campaigns and promises warm welcomes to any foreign nationalities spending time in the country. It isn’t hyped up false promises either because many previous tourists often comment on the friendly, kind attitude of Turkish people.

Turkey also promises loads of themed travel ideas for everyone from families to a group of friends. This is mainly because of a 20-year tourism plan set in place in 2003 that re-designed, marketed, and promoted many niches of travel within the country.  With that in mind, if you are looking for ideas for next year’s holiday, here are 11 ways that Turkey can provide you with the best travel experience.

Themed Holidays & Travel Ideas for Turkey Spa and Wellness Pampering

Find your inner self and get your outer person looking right at the same time, by choosing a spa and wellness hotel or luxury resort. Kate Moss is renowned for booking into detox, five-star retreats in Bodrum and for many years, Turks have preferred Izmir where natural spring water alleviates symptoms of many diseases including arthritis and eczema.

Canyon Ranch Kaplankaya was the most talked about the centre in 2016. Recently opened on the Aegean coast, the well-known American brand is a world leader in the spa and wellness industry. At an average cost of 1500 Turkish lira a night, it is a lot of money to invigorate your mind, body, and spirit but other cheaper wellness resorts around Turkey offer the same services, without the luxury finishing touches.

Photography

Photography holidays and tours are popular all around the world and generally attract novices, so there is no need to feel intimidated if you are a hobbyist starter. Although some courses are expensive, you get advice from a trained professional. I spent time in Cappadocia with Turkey Tour Organiser who sells photography holidays there, but you can also book day tours in places like Istanbul. Evening hours on photography trips are generally spent reviewing your photos, and some tour providers help you focus on a particular niche such as people, landscapes, or black and white.

Medical Tourism

Every year, people visit Turkey for dentistry work or cosmetic surgery because it is much cheaper than in their home country. There is also the added bonus of recuperating in the sun. Services available include tummy tucks, facelifts, hair transplants, boob jobs, and face peeling to name but a few. Turkish dentists do everything, your own dentist does but at half the price. For some reason, dentists in Turkey cannot advertise their business but ask around for recommendations in expat groups on Facebook.

Sail the Turkish Riviera

A favourite memory from travelling throughout Turkey is my 4-day gulet cruise of the Mediterranean coast, and I strongly recommend everyone does it at least once. The Turkish Riviera runs from the north Aegean coast to the diverse Antalya region. Central sailing hubs are Bodrum, Fethiye, Marmaris and Antalya and all have companies sailing cruises lasting from two to 8 days. You might assume this is an expensive holiday, but prices are actually ridiculously low if you choose cabin charter.

Christian Religious Tours

You do not have to be Christian or religious to explore this themed genre. Even if you just have an interest in the Bible and prominent people in it, touring ancient Christian sites of Turkey is an eye-opening experience. In just 3 days, see remains of the Seven Churches of Revelation on the Aegean coast. Also nearby to Ephesus, where the famous Artemis riots took place, the Catholic Church runs the Virgin Mary’s house that is the supposed place of her assumption.

In Selcuk town, Saint John’s Basilica holds his tomb. Heading to the central Anatolian region, and home of the Cappadocian fathers, amazing ancient cave churches display restored and intricate biblical frescoes. Turkey is also home to the first church of the world (Antakya) and the architecture of the cliff-hanging 14th century Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, blows your mind.

Art and Creativity

Naturally, as Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul is a cultural hub focusing on music, dance, cinema, and art. Spend 4 days exploring its art galleries and museums to get an insight into some of Turkey’s greatest artists, and see historical pieces such as the tortoise trainer currently displayed by the Pera Museum. Istanbul Modern Art Museum is a good place to start your tour, but other galleries include the Arter Gallery, and Misir apartment, both famed for their contemporary art exhibitions. Of course, if you want to get creative yourself, check out my experience of a painting holiday in Bodrum.

Foodie!

Every region of Turkey is renowned for a particular food product. Artvin in the northeast produces delicious honey, Kars is the king of cheese makers, Gaziantep grows awesome pistachio nuts, Antalya is renowned for juicy citrus fruits, Beypazari boasts about their Kuru bread, the best Turkish delight comes from Safranbolu and shops in Kayseri sell excellent pastirma flavoured with garlic.

The list goes on and on, but if your budget is limited, you can still have a great foodie experience in Istanbul. Many shops still use traditional recipes to make sure their food products reflect their esteemed reputation. Such as Gulluoglu, known for selling the best baklava in Istanbul, whose methods stem from their hometown of Gaziantep. Also, sign up for day tours focusing on street food of Turkey or join weekly cooking classes to learn how to make your very own Turkish cuisine. Foodie travel ideas for Turkey are endless!

Ottoman Palaces in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Ottoman palaces are an eye-opening insight into the defunct empire. Start at Topkapi, the first home of the sultans when they moved their ruling centre to Istanbul and a large sprawling complex, with many rooms including kitchens, circumcision, harem and sacred relics.

Fast forward nearly 400 years and change in architecture, design, and décor trends are clearly visible at Dolmabahce Palace, their second imperial home.  Ridiculously lavished with gold, crystals, and luxurious carpets, it is one of the most expensive palaces ever built. Other summer palaces include Beylerbeyi and Yildiz. There is, of course, the Ciragan but it is quite expensive so to book a room, flash the cash.

Outdoor Adventure

More than 700,000 square kilometres of land, means a huge choice of outdoor activities awaits nature lovers. Hot air balloon trips in Cappadocia are Turkey’s most popular outdoor activity where no experience is needed, as is a tandem paraglide ride from Babadag Mountain to Oludeniz beach. The Kackar Mountains are a favourite destination for hiking and trekking, while most coastal beach resorts have scuba diving centres and schools.

White water rafting is popular in Antalya, while canyoning is popular in Kas, a small but quaint fishing village. Otherwise, if you are planning a trip in winter, ski resorts of which one of the most popular is Uludag in the Bursa district, make a roaring trade from local Turks. Lastly, golf fanatics love Belek, its state of the art courses and tournaments.

Road Tripping

If you want to make a road trip in Turkey, the Mediterranean coastal D400 highway is an excellent route. Stretching for more than 2,000 kilometres, it starts near the Iranian border, but you can collect your hire car from Antalya airport instead. Spend time exploring coastal resorts of the Antalya region, then head west on a leisurely road trip and stop off at various places before arriving in Datca and the end of the road.

It is an easy, scenic drive taking in historical sites like Xanthos, Letoon, Patara, and Phaselis. Overnight accommodation is widely available, but favoured places include coastal resorts such as Cirali, Kas, Kalkan, and Oludeniz in the Fethiye region, Marmaris, or any smaller resorts like Turunc.

Romance

No list of travel ideas for Turkey would be complete without mentioning romantic getaways. Whether you are thinking of a honeymoon, anniversary, or just a couple’s getaway, my two favourite romantic places are Cappadocia and a sailing tour of the Mediterranean.

Cappadocia is uniquely romantic if you book into a luxury, authentic cave hotel complete with Jacuzzi bath and a balcony or veranda to enjoy breakfast and evening nightcaps with a view. Visit major attractions, but the highlight is a sunrise hot air balloon trip, together.

After booking out, travel south to Fethiye and for one night, stay in a gorgeous five-star hotel with even more stunning views. The next morning, embark on a private gulet cruise of the Mediterranean coastline. Spend your days relaxing and swimming while stopping off at coastal resorts and major sites. Of course, if it is wintertime, the gulet cruises don’t run but instead, head to Antalya city centre. It is less formal and not as crowded as Istanbul but still has great shopping, nightlife and tourist opportunities.

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