From underground cities and Ottoman ruins to eternal flames and beautiful
beaches, Kathryn Miller checks out Turkey’s hidden gems
Time Out Dubai staff
There’s no debate: Turkey is one of the essential short-haul holiday destinations while in the Gulf. It packs in everything from action and adventure to culture and history to some of the best food in the world. The literal and symbolic bridge between Europe and Asia, this country possesses the exoticism of many far-flung destinations 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 (very) big country, you can still cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. The simplest option is a circular route through the western half of the country 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’ (the Turkish equivalent to a B&B) or hostels and you can spend your spare lira on treats like baklava and raki.
Istanbul 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 Museum and the excellent Pera Museum; there’s even a twee little tram that shuttles up and down 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 daytrip.
La Casa di Maria Pia (Yeni Carsi Cad 37, Beyoglu; +90 0541 624 5462) offers cosy apartments with fully equipped kitchenettes from 92TL (Dhs187) per night per room.
Fethiye On Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, Fethiye 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 at sea during the day. Fethiye is handy for venturing inland to visit the deserted former Orthodox Greek town Kaya Koyu, Saklikent Gorge and Butterfly Valley.
A must-do is spending a couple of nights cruising the Med on a traditional gullet: go snorkelling and visit small islands on the V-Go 12 islands cruise. Cappadocia 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 – the Red Valley is superb and there’s a great panoramic vista from the top of Uchisair Castle.
Splash out to stay in one of the more plush hotels in Cappadocia; choose a cosy cave room or, if you suffer from claustrophobia, a room overlooking one of the wide valleys. Esbelli Evi (Esbelli Sok 8, Ürgüp; +90 0384 341 3395) boutique cave hotel has rates from 275TL (Dhs560).
Olympos A small village on the 500km-long Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya, Olympos has a superb (pebbly) beach and a calm, warm sea that’s fab for sea kayaking and 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. Kadir’s (Olympos; +90 0242 892 1250) has 338 dorm and treehouse beds plus camp sites.
Antalya The historic Old Town is protected and many of the ramshackle Ottoman homes are undergoing restoration and are being turned into small 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 600-year-old Sefa Turkish bath. The Antalya Museum has an excellent collection of fossils, statues, Ottoman costumes and carpets. For a daytrip inland, the impressive ruins of Termessos are a 40km drive away. White Garden Pansiyon (0242 241 9115) on a peaceful side street in Old Antalya provides a refuge from the midday heat and is furnished in traditional Turkish style. Doubles 55TL (Dhs112).