Les Maisons de Cappadoce, set in a Cappadocian cave
By Pat Yale
Four hours away and full of incredible scenery, culture and cuisine, Turkey is this year's hot choice for couples. Time Out Istanbul's Pat Yale guides you away from the summer crowds and coach parties to reveal the country's best-kept holiday secrets and secluded love nests.
Spread over seven hills and surrounded on three sides by water, Istanbul is breathtakingly beautiful. The audacious architecture measures up to the city's natural charms: Ottoman minarets crown a skyline constructed on Byzantine foundations, while water ferries scoot between Bosphorus suburbs of wooden villas. Sultanahmet – with the holy trinity of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque – provides the eye candy, but for the food of love you need to escape this overpriced enclave. Hit the heights of the rooftop restaurants of Beyoglu as an alternative.
With its swimming clubs carved into the cliff and yachts bobbing on the sea, Kalkan has a certain old-school glamour. The restaurants are smart and the patrons even smarter, but if you're pouted out, head to the hills – the picturesque mountain village of Islamlar is a short drive away. Here you'll find elegant villas, fruit trees and olive groves, and a teeming trout stream hopscotching down the hill. For about a tenner you can eat the fish along with breads and mezze at one of the many restaurants.
There are not many places left along the coast that retain their original architecture, but Bozcaada is an island, and the cute little stone houses of the town have managed to weather both the years and Turkey's tourism boom. The castle here is fatally photogenic, and the fish restaurants lively and fun. Toss in a couple of decent cafés and Greek-style tavernas, sprinkle with soft sandy beaches, and the recipe is complete. The ferry-crossing from the mainland is short and sweet.
Love nests: Rengigul Konukevi (+90 286 697 8171), Kaikias Hotel (+90 286 697 0250), Katina Hotel (+90 286 697 0242).
Snuggling up to Kas and overlooking the Bay of Kekova, Kalekoy's beauty comes from its isolation – this small village is connected to the mainland only by a rough track and is visited mainly by excursion boats that return to base long before the sun sets. When night falls you and a handful of locals will have the place to yourself. With waterside fish restaurants, Lycian tombs, a Byzantine castle, beautiful blue sea and no cars, Kaleköy is the perfect cliché but still a joy to visit. The pensions are quite ordinary, but they're pleasant enough and boast striking views of the bay.
Love nests: Mehtap Pansiyon (+90 242 874 2146), Olive Grove (+90 242 874 2234), Kale Pansiyon (+90 242 874 2111), Simena Pansiyon (+90 532 779 0476).
Assos proper, down in the harbour, is half a dozen old stone houses-turned-hotels right on the waterfront. Behramkale, a hillside village, is a straggle of stone cottages struggling to make it to the top of the hill, where the temple of Athena gazes across at the Greek island of Lesbos. Both are gorgeous. During the day the stallholders who line the path up to the temple are a pain, but they go home at dusk, whereupon the village reverts to the classic rural idyll. For boutique comforts, choose Behramkale; for proximity to the water, Assos.
Love nests: Biber Evi (+90 286 721 7410), Yildiz Saray (+90 286 721 7025), Hotel Assos Kervansaray (+90 286 721 7093).
Alaçati is one of Turkey's most fashionable resorts, complete with a clutch of boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants in converted stone houses that were, until eight or so years ago, virtually abandoned. It's a surfing haven, although the rollers come ashore 4km away from the centre. Don your glad rags to dine out here and expect to blitz your credit card for rooms and food. Pricey (by Turkish standards) but worth it.
Love nests: Alacati Tas Otel (+90 232 716 7772), O Ev Hotel (+90 232 716 6150), Lale Lodge (+90 232 716 6108).
To step back into Turkey's Ottoman past, explore Safranbolu. Spend your days strolling around the cobbled streets of a townscape that's hardly changed since the nineteenth century, and then go for a soak and a scrub in the lovely Cinci Hamami (Turkish bath), which is two centuries older than that. Weekends see prices rise and the streets fill up with out-of-towners, but weekdays are blissful.
Love nests: Havuzlu Asmazlar Konagi (+90 370 725 2883), Gul Evi (+90 370 725 4645), Cesmeli Konak (+90 370 725 4455), Selvili Kösk (+90 370 712 8646).
8. Kaleiçi (Antalya)
If your idea of romance relies on an injection of history and culture, then a stay in Kaleiçi, the old part of Antalya above the harbour, might fit the bill. Pick where you stay carefully – the quieter, classier hotels are those located farther from the harbour, close to Memerli Parki. Not only is there a lot to see and do inside Kaleici itself, but you're also within a tram ride of the Antalya Museum, one of the best in the country. What's more, it's easy to organise excursions to all sorts of Roman ruins in the surrounding area. The most stirring? Termessos to the north and Phaselis to the west.
Love nests: Minyon Hotel (+90 242 247 1147), Tütav Turk Evi Otelleri (+90 242 248 6591), Villa Perla (+90 242) 248 9793), Tuvana Hotel (+90 242 244 4054).
The only thing crazier than Cappadocia's rock formations are the many uses to which the locals have put the caves – frescoed churches, private homes, wineries, even complete underground cities. Once famed for its backpacker pensions, Cappadocia, in the heartland of Anatolia, now has more boutique hotels than anywhere in the country outside of Istanbul and Bodrum. Most are inside cave complexes, allowing you to play at being a troglodyte for a day. For those of a more romantic bent, bathing in a cave-cut hamam rates pretty highly, too.
Love nests: Sacred House, Urgüp (+90 384 341 7102), 4 Oda Cave House, Urgüp (+90 384 341 6080), Les Maisons de Cappadoce, Uçhisar (+90 384 219 2813), Museum Hotel, Uçhisar (+90 384 219 2220), Anatolian Houses, Goreme (+90 384 271 2463), Kelebek Hotel Göreme, (+90 384 271 2531), Gamirasu, Ayvali (+90 384 341 7485).
Of all the once-troubled towns in the east to have emerged into the glare of tourism recently, Mardin – with its honey-coloured houses tumbling down the hillside – has to be the finest. The market has an authentic buzz, there are old churches and medreses tucked down the back streets, and there's even gourmet food to be had at the lovely Cercis Murat Konagi. Be sure to book ahead, as accommodation can be scarce. One for adventurous amour-seekers.