There’s no debate: Turkey is the choice for a short-haul holiday that packs in anything and 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 (of whose currency it is suddenly less enamoured) 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 do 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 in, 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’ (the Turkish equivalent to a B&B) or hostels and you can spend your spare lira on treats like baklava and raki. Turkish people are some of the most friendly and helpful you’ll encounter anywhere in the world and they’re always keen to send you in the right direction for the next sandy beach lapped by turquoise sea or an ancient ruin with a backdrop of rugged mountains.
Note: the national currency is Turkish lira but in Istanbul and in some of the southern coastal resorts you’ll find prices in euros as well. At the time of going to press, £1 = €1.20 = 2.78TL.
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 cafes 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 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 – walk from Kadiköy quay along the shore to Moda quay for a strong Turkish coffee in the cafe on the pier.
Sumo Cat Hostel (Alı Hoca Aralik Sok 9; +90 0212 292 7866). Fun hostel in Galata, near Beyoglu. Dorms 23TL-37TL, doubles 115TL-138TL.
La Casa di Maria Pia (Yeni Carsi Cad 37, Beyoğlu; +90 0541 624 5462). Cosy apartments with fully equipped kitchenettes. Guest room, 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 get involved in watersports such as sailing and scuba diving are excellent here. Fethiye is handy for venturing inland to visit the deserted former Orthodox Greek town Kaya Koyu, Saklikent Gorge and Butterfly Valley.
Spend a couple of nights cruising the Med on a traditional gulet live-aboard, snorkelling and visiting small islands on the V-Go 12 islands cruise. From 342TL per day/night. Other destinations include Kas, Olympos and Antalya if you fancy skipping a bus trip.
Butterfly Valley: Spend a night in a beach bungalow or tent enjoying the stars without electric lights spoiling the view. Tents 50TL, bungalows 60TL, huts with roof terrace 70TL.
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 a panoramic vista from the top of Uchisair Castle – try mountain biking or take a hot air balloon ride at dawn.
The underground cities, such as the one at Kaymakli, were carved by the Hittites circa 2000BC 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.
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 with smart rooms and rambling gardens. Doubles 275TL.
Kale Konak (Kale Sok 9, Uçhisar; +90 0384 219 2828). 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 passed buildings such as the impressive Library of Celsius and amphitheatre and even sit in the communal lavatory.
The traditional hillside village of Sirince is still inhabited. There are lovely views from the top of its steep, tortuous cobbled streets, which are lined with still-occupied tumble-down 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 nineteenth century. Stay overnight and experience the place in peace.
Homeros Pansiyon (Atatürk Mah Asmalı, 1048 Sok 17; +90 0232 892 3995). Friendly family-run pansiyon where rooms are decorated with colourful carpets and knick-knacks. Singles 45–55TL, double/twin 70–80TL per person, 120TL.
Nisanyan House (Şirince village; +90 0232/898 3208). Boutique hotel with a private hamam and spectacular views. Doubles from 120TL.
Olympos is a small village on the 500km-long Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya. It’s got a superb (pebbly) beach, calm, warm sea that’s fab for sea kayaking and has the added attractions of Byzantine ruins and outdoor activities like abseiling and sea-kayaking. 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.
Kadir’s (Olympos; +90 0242 892 1250). Has 338 dorm and treehouse beds plus camp sites. Two lively bars are on-site. Bungalows with en-suite and air-con for 2/3 people 40–60TL or without air-con 35–45TL, dorms from 20TL, campers with own tent 10–15TL. Prices include breakfast and buffet dinner.
Bayram's (Olympos; +90 0242 892 1243). Quiet bungalows and tree-house dorms. Dorms 30TL-34TL, tree-house dorms 34TL-38TL, bungalows (with en-suite and air-con) 46TL-62TL per person. Prices include breakfast and dinner.
Antalya’s 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.