With the third longest coastline of any Mediterranean country, one of the world’s best cuisines, a plethora of beautifully located archaeological sites, a historic metropolis bestriding two continents and a marvellous tourist infrastructure, Turkey needs little selling as a holiday destination. Especially when you throw in its famously hospitable people, late summer sun and the superb value for money it offers. Of course tourism has taken a big hit in the worldwide pandemic, but Turkey has been far more successful than many countries in dealing with it, and has been included on the “travel corridor” list of countries that Britons can visit without restrictions, or the need to quarantine on their return, since the start of July.
Given that tourism forms 12 per cent of the nation’s GDP, Turkey has gone out of its way to ensure visitor safety, with temperature controls and tests at airports, a safe certification scheme for hotels and eating places, and a very cheap government-backed Covid-19 tourist protection health scheme for visitors.
Apart from being even better value for money than usual and with fewer crowds than has been the case for many a year, what does this “bridge between East and West” hold for the visitor?
Antalya, on the south Med, is the gateway to the all-inclusive hotels of the Pamphylian plain, and its sandy beaches, well-preserved ancient sites such as Aspendos and a string of world-class golf courses. The south-west’s Turquoise Coast is dotted with picturesque towns such as Kas, Kalkan and Fethiye and famed for its traditional wooden gulet boat cruises and the superb Lycian Way long-distance walking route.
Breeze-blessed and dashed with olive groves, the generally cooler Aegean coast is home to uber-chic Bodrum, four Unesco world heritage sites (Ephesus, Troy, Pergamon and Aphrodisias) and the kite and wind surfer’s paradise of Alacati. Much else awaits in the vast interior, including Turkey’s lakeland around Egirdir, the wonderfully bizarre volcanic landscapes of Cappadocia and Noah’s mountain, Ararat, on the frontier with Iran. Then of course there’s Istanbul, one of the world’s truly great cities.
There are hundreds of reasons why you should visit Turkey – here are just 20 of them.
1. A walk to remember
At 335 miles long, the Lycian Way, deservedly rated one of the world’s finest walking routes, wends its way through some of the most sublime landscapes in the Mediterranean, from cedar-clad mountain passes to rocky coves, dramatic headlands to white-sand beaches and attractive seaside resorts to upland pastures. The route is also littered with the picturesque remains of ancient civilisations – Lycian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine. Macs Adventure (0141 530 9514; macsadventure.com) offers one-week self-guided walks from £485, while Explore (01252 882931; explore.co.uk) offers guided one-week trips from £499, both excluding flights.
2. Unspoilt sands
Confounding the notion that any Mediterranean beach bigger than a beach towel is backed by serried ranks of hotels, nine-mile long Patara is genuinely unspoilt, with the only buildings encroaching on the white sands of this turtle-nesting strand being the extensive remains of ancient Patara. St Nicholas, the original “Father Christmas”, was born here, though it’s unlikely he swam from the gently shelving beach or dozed on a rental sunbed. Try the delightful Patara Viewpoint Hotel (telegraph.co.uk/tt-patara-viewpoint) a mile behind the beach, or the characterful Courtyard Hotel (telegraph.co.uk/tt-courtyard-kalkan) in nearby Kalkan.
3. Ferry fun
You could spend a week in Istanbul just riding its cheap-as-chips public ferries. Head up the Golden Horn to walk the Roman walls, chug north along the Bosporus strait to pretty Anadolu Kavagi village for a fish lunch or south across the Marmara Sea to the idyllic Princes’ Islands for a traffic-free bike ride through pine forests. Most impressive, though, is the 20-minute cross-strait ride from Europe to Asia without leaving the country; a momentous continent-connecting journey of body and soul. Admire the skyline of domes and minarets of old Istanbul, watch dolphins breaking the waves and sample the Istanbul commuter’s favourite snack, a simit (sesame seed-coated bread ring). Check the City Lines website (sehirhatlari.istanbul) for fares (between 50p and £2.60) and times.
4. Tales of the riverbank
Attractively situated alongside a lazily meandering river, Dalyan is one of Turkey’s most relaxed resorts. Cooperative boats ply downstream to three-mile-long Iztuzu beach, with its nesting turtles and white sands, and upstream to the thermal mud baths at Ilica and the Sultaniye hot springs. Others ferry visitors across to ancient Kaunos and its beautiful 2,400-year-old temple tombs carved into the cliffs. Family-run pensions and small hotels front the river and many have platforms from which guests can swim. Try Lindos Pension (lindos.com.tr) from £46 per night or BC Dalyan Spa (bcspahotel.com) from £44 per night.
5. Lion’s milk
The anise-flavoured spirit raki is the Turkish national aperitif. The drink has been nicknamed “Aslan sutu” (lion’s milk – C S Lewis aficionados will already know that “Aslan” is Turkish for lion) for its strength, which can be up to 48 per cent proof, and the fact it morphs from clear to milky white when mixed with ice or water. It’s the ideal accompaniment to the array of meze dishes that invariably precede a grilled fish main. Sip, don’t gulp, or you may not make it to the fish!
6. Comeback king
Bohemian in the 1950s, and trendy in the 1970s and 1980s, Bodrum lost its mojo for a while, becoming notorious for cheap packages and greasy spoon breakfasts. But the pretty, whitewashed Aegean town where King Mausolus built his “wonder of the world” mausoleum more than two millennia ago and the Knights of St John conjured up the fairy-tale castle overlooking the town, is back – big-style. A discerning international clientele and well-heeled Turks have ensured Bodrum’s star shines more brightly than ever, with luxury hotels and fine-dining restaurants in abundance. The chic Macakizi (telegraph.co.uk/tt-macakizi-hotel) has rooms from £490, while Sait (www.sait.com.tr) is among Turkey’s best seafood restaurants.
7. Kaleidoscope of colour
Locals claim the waters of mountain-girdled Lake Egirdir change hue seven times a day, and such is the pace of life on the lake’s lovely shores that they’ve had plenty of time to formulate their theory. More than 3,000ft above sea level and a tad over 300 square miles in area, Egirdir is slow travel incarnate, with most visitors staying in one of the simple pensions in the town of the same name, either on the peninsula or small island linked to it by a causeway. Nearby Sagalassos (arts.kuleuven.be) is among Turkey’s most dramatic and best preserved ancient cities, and the superb waymarked St Paul’s Trail (cultureroutesinturkey.com) passes through town.
8. King kebab
Persuading a Turk that a kebab is simply grilled meat would be even more foolish than suggesting to an Italian that pasta is just boiled wheat dough. Ubiquitous in Turkey, kebab restaurants are cornucopias of delight. Charcoal-grilled Urfa or adana kebabs are both ground-beef “sausages” on skewers, while cop and tavuk sis are skewered cubes of meat – the former lamb, the latter chicken. All come with a mountain of salad, a bulgar wheat pilaf and more freshly wood-oven-baked flatbreads than you can shake a stick at. Then there’s the more esoteric yogurt and tomato sauce-smothered iskender kebab and the humble donor (“turn” in Turkish).
9. Soak it in
Long before spas became popular in Europe, the inhabitants of Hierapolis, some 110 miles from Turkey’s Aegean shore, were bathing in the warm mineral waters bubbling out of the ground on the mountainside above the Meander river. The ruins of the city they built around the spring still amaze visitors today, as do the incredible white travertine terraces formed by the calcium carbonate-rich waters. Visitors can take dawn balloon rides (pamukkale.flights; prices from €90) over the ruins and terraces of this Unesco world heritage site, laze in a thermal bath among Roman columns or relax in one of the many thermal spa hotels nearby.
10. Anatalya awaits
To most visitors Antalya is merely an out-of-town airport; the gateway to the all-inclusive strip of hotels and golf courses lining the beaches of the Pamphylian plain to the east. But Antalya city’s walled old town, Kaleici, is a delight. Half-timbered Ottoman houses, cobbled pedestrian streets, Roman arches and Greek churches mix with lively bars and restaurants. There’s a plethora of boutique hotels to unwind in (try Tuvana with doubles from £57; telegraph.co.uk/tt-tuvana-hotel), places to swim and sunbathe and a pretty harbour – plus numerous day-trips to stunning ancient ruins and beaches. Turkey’s premier film festival, the venerable Altin Portakal, or Golden Orange (antalyaff.com), runs Oct 3-10.
11. Cruising the briny
Viewed from a traditional wooden sailing boat (gulet) the topography of Lycia appears even more exquisite than when seen from land, with turquoise waters lapping against the region’s soaring limestone cliffs and on to the beaches of remote coves, ancient rock sarcophagi jumbled together in the shallows and tiny islets home to sweet-scented herbs. Unlike the hard-working crew, mellowing-out is obligatory, bar keeping watch for dolphins or turtles. October is prime sailing time as summers are scorching, the sea chilly in spring. Blue Cruise (020 8968 7770; bluecruise.co.uk) offers one-week cabin charters from £499 per person or private charters from £6,000 per week; Red Savannah (01242 787800; redsavannah.com) from £8,137 per week. Excludes flights.
12. Picture-perfect peninsulas
Like the jaws of a crocodile with a massive overbite – the long, narrow top jaw the Datca Peninsula, the shorter, lower jaw protruding beneath it Bozburun – this pair of rocky outcrops form one of the most beautiful features of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. It features classic Aegean olive groves, goat-nibbled limestone hills, hidden coves, picturesque villages and deep blue sea – plus the romantic ruins of ancient Knidos at the tip of the Datca Peninsula and the waymarked Carian Trail (cariantrail.com). Boutique Olive Farm (telegraph.co.uk/tt-olive-farm) has rooms in October from £111.
13. Back in time
Turkey has been home to a staggering number of peoples and states, including the Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Christians and Muslim Ottoman Turks. Fortunately, this breathtakingly beautiful country is still carpeted in their memory. For every world-famous site such as Ephesus or Troy there are literally hundreds of lesser-visited ones, such as Tlos, often in spectacular locations. In fact, Turkey has 18 Unesco world heritage sites, including the staggering 12,000-year-old temple sanctuary at Gobekli Tepe and the eerie medieval ghost town of Ani. One-week tours with specialist archaeology company Andante Travels (specialistjourneys.com) start from £965.
14. Fantasy land
Few visitors would hit the heartlands of the Anatolian plateau, 500 miles from the Aegean and 600 miles west of Iran, were it not for the allure of one of the world’s most bizarre landscapes, Cappadocia. This compact region of dormant volcanoes, mesas, buttes and spectacularly eroded valleys is like something straight out of a fantasy novel, even without the uber-weird tapering pinnacles dubbed “fairy chimneys” by locals. Mysterious underground cities, churches carved into the rock and a multitude of boutique “cave” hotels enhance the experience. Responsible Travel has eight-day walking trips in October (from £1,199 including flights; responsibletravel.com).
15. Dive in
Turkey’s tourism gurus have been promoting the gorgeous azure lagoon at Oludeniz (“Dead Sea”) since Adam was a lad. Its warm, shallow waters are perfect for kids and a fully fledged but pleasant resort tumbles down the mountainside above it. The brave tandem paraglide from a 2,000m-high peak (from £90; skysports-turkey.com), the less bold watch as they land on the beach. The Lycian Way (cultureroutesinturkey.com) starts above the resort and boat trips head out to picturesque Butterfly Valley. Oyster Residences offers one-week stays from £2,900 for two in October (oysterresidences.com).
16. Ark alert
Mount Ararat is the national symbol of Armenia. US moonwalker James Irwin combed it for ark remnants, while spy Kim Philby famously had a photo of it on his wall, but how many people know that the near 17,000ft peak can be found in eastern Turkey? An ascent of this glacier-clad volcanic cone, every bit as striking as Mount Fuji, takes four to five days. Permits are required but any fit walker can climb it, though an ice axe and crampons are obligatory for the summit. Mount Ararat trek expeditions arrange ascents with local guides from £330 (mtararattrek.com).
17. Back to basics
Enveloped by citrus groves, the 100 or so low-rise pensions that make up mellow Cirali are backed by steep, pine-forested mountains and fronted by a great arc of sand and shingle beach. It attracts couples and families intent on a back to basics holiday – mooching along the beach, swimming in the turquoise waters, exploring the ruins of ancient Olympos and eating in the simple restaurants at the western end of the beach. In October, Myland Nature (mylandnature.com) has two-person chalets for six nights from £350, while the upmarket Olympos Lodge (olymposlodge.com.tr) offers bungalows from £1,390 for seven nights.
18. Harness the wind
Aeolus, keeper of the winds in Greek mythology, has clearly blessed the charming resort of Alacati, attractively situated on the Cesme Peninsula west of Izmir. Like Aeolus, Alacati is of Greek heritage, its old stone houses built back in the days before the 1923 exchange of populations. It’s a fun, boutiques place to stay, with arty shops and hip cafés. Aeolus’s chosen ones are the wind and kitesurfers who flock here to experience some of the best conditions in the Mediterranean. Alacati Surf Paradise Club (aspcsurf.com) offers five two-hour lessons for £397.
19. Keeping with tradition
A lack of town beaches has kept Fethiye free of the development that mars many of its rivals, which is excellent news for those who want to enjoy a traditional Turkish seaside town with plenty of places to eat, drink and stroll without the excesses associated with most beach resorts. There’s a lovely marina, cliffs pocked with Lycian rock tombs and a Tuesday market promises a bountiful supply of the region’s fruit and veg. Boat trips and hired car excursions to an array of ancient sites complete the picture. Luxurious out-of-town Hillside Beach Club (telegraph.co.uk/tt-hillside-beach-club) offers one-week packages with British Airways (britishairways.com) from £1,658.
20. Tee off
Two thousand years ago the fertile, sun-blessed Pamphylian plain east of Antalya was much favoured by the Romans who adorned Perge, Aspendos and Side with theatres, stadiums and bath houses. Today’s visitors come for a different form of entertainment – golf. Built and designed in tandem with the luxurious hotels fronting the sandy beaches are some 11 immaculately maintained courses, attracting golfers from all over Europe. Weekend green fees start from £91, rising to £120 at the Colin Montgomerie-designed Montgomerie Maxx Royal (en.leadingcourses.com).