I was really excited to visit Turkey for the first time recently, and imagined having a pretty good trip. It blew me away. From the moment I arrived in Istanbul, I loved every moment of being in this amazing country. I had no idea how beautiful, diverse, culturally rich, friendly and historically fascinating Turkey was, and wished that I had much longer than two weeks there.
If you’ve never been to Turkey before and aren’t thinking of visiting anytime soon, let me try and convince you to book your flight to Istanbul right now (flights from Johannesburg to Istanbul on Emirates are R4800, by the way).
I fell in love with magical Istanbul, a city with an epic history that spans three massive empires and straddles two continents with one of the most alluring skylines in the world, and a mix of ancient ruins, extravagant palaces and contemplative spiritual spaces and buzzing bars, cool boutique hotels and restaurants. My favourite way to soak up the city’s atmosphere was by sitting in rooftop bars watching dusk fall, listening to the competing sounds of tweeting swallows, honking cruise ships and the wailing of the sunset call to prayer while smoking grape-flavoured nargile (water pipe) and sipping hot, sweet apple tea.
Cappadocia, in the centre of the country, is an other-worldly landscape of mushroom-shaped volcanic formations jutting out underneath rock hilltop castles that look like a mixture of Swiss cheese and something out of a Salvador Dali painting, boutique cave hotels, snow-capped peaks, 1000-year-old cave churches covered with beautiful religious frescoes, beautiful lush valleys of spring flowers and the occasional donkey and claustrophobic underground cities that are hundreds of years old. Every day (apart from when it’s really windy) around 100 hot air balloons launch at dawn. Flying for an hour over this unique landscape surrounded by scores of other balloons all calmly suspended in the sky is indescribably awesome.
Beach hopping along the Turquoise Coast from Antalya to Fethiye was one sun-drenched highlight after another: taking in the breathtaking beauty of Olympos’ white pebble beach, flanked by clear warm sea, towering green mountains and two-thousand-year-old ruins, hiking to the eternal flames of Chimaera, which have burnt naturally for thousands of years, cruising to the sunken ruins of an ancient city at Kekova, climbing to the top of a medieval castle, exploring ancient Lycian tombs scattered on hillsides covered with silvery gnarled olive trees, discovering the birthplace of Santa Claus (yes, really) next to one of Turkey’s most beautiful beaches, swimming in sea the colour of jewellery, staying in on an organic farm in the mountains, driving through tiny villages (just a few kilometres from tourist-packed coastal resorts) where life looks like it’s continued the same way for hundreds of years to stay at rustic cottages perched on the edge of high cliffs plunging down into the sea.
There wasn’t a bad meal to be found in Turkey – even for a vegetarian. I gorged myself on pistachio and rosewater Turkish delight, syrupy and buttery baklava, salty-cheese borek, hundreds of mezzes, from stuffed grape vine leaves and red peppers to olive-oil-soaked baked aubergines, salads with inventive dressings like pomegranate and walnut, sour, thick yoghurt with everything, the sweetest cherries and apricots I’ve ever tasted, and the world’s best breakfasts.
And that was just two weeks of travel! We missed out on so many other places and can’t wait to go back for a longer trip to see even more of amazing Turkey.
For more photos of my Turkey trip check out my blog.