For those who think Turkey is little more than a handful of fabulous beaches, guaranteed good weather and exceptional cuisine with rustic, fresh ingredients at its heart, take note. Of course, this crossroads of cultures between Europe and the Middle East does offer all of that (a sterling reputation is rarely built on fallacy, after all), but those highlights are merely the tip of a very large iceberg if you dig a little deeper.
At nearly 785,000 square kilometres, the country’s sheer scale means that these lesser- known gems are actually as prevalent as any discerning holidaymaker would hope; scattered generously from coast to coast. As impressive as Istanbul is with its bustling, noisy streets filled with food hawkers, centred around the imposing (and unforgettable) Hagia Sophia, it’s the more off-the-beaten-track haute spots that are going to mark you out as truly in the know. And who wouldn’t want that? Just think of the photos.
Image courtesy of unsplash/ fatih-yurur
An exquisite pink sunset over Hagia Sophia, aka Istanbul’s Blue Mosque
One such selfie-ready backdrop is Instagrammer’s paradise, Cappadocia; the hot air balloon-filled volcanic landscape of hidden canyons and underground cities that defies belief with its fairytale vistas. You can thank social media for bringing this magical playground to the fore quite so dramatically, but there’s a reason it’s so popular among the Insta crowd. It’s breathtaking.
From one fantastical locale to another, the storybook destinations continue apace with the Byzantine, Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery – an architectural wonder built into the side of a cliff at a dizzying altitude of 1,200 metres. Surrounded by the striking contrast of the evergreen Altindere Valley forests, it’s a halfway house between Sleeping Beauty and the glorious imagination of a Wes Anderson flick.
A Hans Christian Andersen mood continues in Ayder Yaylasi; a lush Alpine bolthole that could easily be confused with a picturesque valley in the Swiss Alps. Explore waterfalls and hike the rugged mountainous trails before retiring to a quaint, tucked-away lodge with a hot cup of sahlep sprinkled with cinnamon and pistachios.
Image courtesy of Umut Kebabci
If the coastline beckons, we can hardly blame you. Turkey’s famously eye-popping turquoise shores – from the Aegean to the Med – are in equal parts mesmeric to calming; exactly what post-pandemic jet-setting calls for. Alacati, a bougainvillea-bedecked, stone house-filled village that is Disney-esque in its perfection, gives Positano a run for its money, while the Princes’ Islands, southeast of Istanbul, are the ideal weekend escape. Famed for pine forests and impeccable beaches, it’s a truth roundly acknowledged that the most spectacular views on the largest island, Buyukada, can be found by hiking to the highest point; the monastery Aya Yorgi.
Image courtesy of Gülcan Acar
Centuries of history play out in Mardin
Turkey cannot be mentioned without its deep ancient roots, manifest in places such as Ephesus; dating back to 10BC, this grandiose city once rivalled Ancient Rome, and it’s easy to see why. Destinations like this are extraordinary – precisely the kind of travel to look forward to right now.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash/ @osmank