When I was younger, my best friends parents were Turkish and they always used to cook (and force me to eat) the most amazing food, which I probably didn’t appreciate enough at the time. I always knew of Turkey but to be honest, it wasn’t until I started travelling more that I actually clocked how much there is to do in the country. Once I started investigating, I knew I couldn’t just go for a weekend city break – it had to be a big one. I was so excited to join my third Travel Talk tour and spend 12 incredible days exploring this massive country, by air, by land and by sea.
I visited at the start of Sept and flew over with Turkish Airlines direct from London Heathrow. I love flying with bigger airlines on longer trips because you (usually) get one piece of checked luggage included in the price – which trust when I say, if you’re a shopper like me, you’ll NEED it.
If Turkey has been on your radar, here’s my top 10 best things from the Travel Talk Best of Turkey by Gulet tour.
A real flavour of Istanbul – the Spice Market
While some might say the Spice Market is a tourist trap, personally, I much preferred it to the Grand Bazaar. It’s smaller in scale, less tourists, and has top quality jewellery which you can haggle for. I was really looking to get a ring or some sort of colourful every day earrings while in Turkey because I’d heard so much about the quality and style of the pieces. I bought a beautiful statement gold ring with a turquoise stone, set around Swarovski crystals for £130! If you’re looking to buy trinkets, this is the place to go! If you’re wanting a really authentic Turkish experience, head behind the covered market towards the winding streets for where the locals shop – careful you don’t get lost!
Harem Rooms, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
On day 2 of the tour we visited Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, what used to be the main residence of the Sultans from the Ottoman Empire. The palace is located in the middle of the city, and about a 3 minute walk from Hagia Sophia. Entrance to the palace costs about 40 TL (£5), however the Harem Rooms, which is where the Sultan’s and their families lives, is an additional cost of 35 TL (£4.40) and if you’re an architecture and design nerd like me, it’s so worth it! The Harem is made up of 300 rooms, nine bathhouses, two mosques, a hospital, dormitories, and a laundry room. The style of the apartments is over the top (my fav), and covered in gold and beautiful coloured tiles. If you’re on a budget, this is definitely something I would suggest not to skip!
When I dreamed of Turkey, Ephesus is what my mind imagined – only my mind wasn’t able to dream up the grandeur worthy enough of its reality. Ephesus is one of Turkey’s best preserved ancient towns and probably the most beautiful ruins I’ve seen in my life! It’s rightly a UNESCO site and was first built in the 10th century BC (and I thought I was getting old!). The site is famous for being built near the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World! What I loved most about this was its Great Theatre which was behind the main Temple and could hold 25,000 people! The acoustics were out of this WORLD and would give the Royal Albert Hall a run for its money! This is the sounds sitting at the top of the theatre:
Ruins and ancient pool at Pamukkale
Instagram has made a lot of places around the world appear to be dreamy oasis’ which hoards of wanderlusters flock to to snap that perfect photo. I have to be honest, Pamukkale was one of those ‘expectations vs reality’ moments for me. The formations of Pamukkale were incredible but the mass amount of people walking around barefoot in the pools put me off from the experience and made it hard to enjoy.
What people don’t show you on Instagram is the beautiful ancient ruin pool and expansive ruins that lie behind the cotton candy castles. I’m not saying skip out on visiting the main attraction, but make sure that you give yourself enough time to wander around and experience the grounds. Head off the beaten path and focus on the experience and not the photos.
Ancient Pools, Pamukkale
Turkish Baths at Cappadocia city, Goreme
After a long day of travel in the heat, there is literally nothing better than the fresh feeling of being clean before hopping into bed for the night. After travelling a total of nearly 4,000km while in Turkey, there was an optional extra to partake in a Turkish Bath, which is similar to a Moroccan hamman but focuses on water rather than steam. The cost for an evening at the baths is 85 TL (£10), and when I took a look around the city, this is a mega bargain! Most other places charge upwards of £50! It’s a relaxing experience consisting of a sauna with a mud mask, a soak in a hot pool, followed by a rigorous body scrub and lather, and a quick massage. The Turkish bath will amaze you at how much dead skin and dirt is actually on your body and leave you feeling baby soft for days.
Note: in the girls side, it’s common to take your bathing suit top off and keep your bottoms on, but if you feel uncomfortable doing that you can speak to the front desk and they can help you make alternative arrangements. The boys keep their bottoms on but you can go buck nakie if you feel like it.
When I travel, I always try to investigate the UNESCO sites located nearby as I find they’re usually the coolest and most telling bits of a country. Turkey is scattered with literally thousands of ruins everywhere you look, and while on this tour, we saw no less than six UNESCO sites including Pergamum. Built in the 3rd century BC, these ancient ruins were at one point one of the Seven Churches of Asia cited in the biblical book of Revelations. It’s a masssive site which sits opposite a military training ground. The site itself once held the library of Pergamum and I can’t help but let my mind wonder to its contents. If you’re traveling to Turkey solo and not as part of a tour, I would make sure to add this to your itinerary.
3 days relaxing on the Gulet
Group tours are never relaxing, it’s the trade off of being able to squeeze in so many things. One of my favourite parts of this tour was that we had some top quality down time to chill out and relax in the sun aboard a traditional Turkish boat called a gulet. The boat we stayed on felt like 5* accommodation aboard the Aegean Sea! Everything inside the boat was wood paneled, and in top notch condition. Our boat was led by our incredible Captain and his lovely smiley family who cooked healthy and delicious Turkish meals for us as we cruised along the water. Their 10-year-old daughter, Zahra also made us girlies custom beaded anklets! Little entrepreneur in the making!
For anyone who gets seasick, I would normally say don’t worry as 90% of the time the boat docks in quiet and still harbours so you never really feel the motion of the ocean while on board. However, on the 3rd and final morning, there’s an early start where the captain sets sail at sunrise to sail for 5 hours towards the final docking location of the seaside resort town of Marmaris. The morning we set off was CHOPPPPY. I’ve never in my life been car or sea sick but that morning I, along with several others aboard, were feeling rough because of the giant waves which felt like were crashing into the boat, on the open waters. Don’t let that discourage you from going, the three days aboard the boat were some of my favourite of the trip and was where we all really came together and bonded as friends.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Have you ever read the Stephanie Meyer book called, The Host where ‘souls’ live underground until they’re selected to join a host on earth? That’s what Derinkuyu Underground City reminded me of. It’s a massive multi-layer underground series of tunnels, rooms and passageways 60m (200ft) underground! It was absolutely bonkers to think that back in the day, 20,000 people used to live permanently in these tunnels fully equipped with all their livestock and food stores! The temperature stays regulated so it’s always around 15 degrees in summer and in winter. The tunnels were first created as a way to protect the locals from wars and battles and then eventually became a full-time housing for the villages near Cappadocia. The tunnels even have a way to seal themselves from intruders! The Turks were geniuses!
Love is in the air in Cappadocia. Literally erect between the Goreme Open Air Museum and the city centre lies the very real place called Love Valley. One thing you very quickly start to realise is how phallic everything begins to look – hence the name. This valley is essentially a crater of giant dick shaped rocks. It’s hilarious, and magical all in one, so naturally, I loved it.
It was a schlong day.
Hot air ballooning
Cappadocia means land of the beautiful horses, but what it really should translate to is the land of dreams because it’s a flipping fairytale. There is magic sprouting out of those fairy chimney’s and sending the purest form of alchemy up into the air. Never have I experienced being awestruck like this before. It was so beautiful watching 150 balloons taking off over the valley that I was nearly moved to tears! This is something you just cannnnot pass up. If you’re on a tight budget while traveling, you need to make sure to save cash for this – or at the very least, wake up with the sun to watch them soar over Cappadocia.
I am not a morning person so the idea of having a 4:30am departure makes me feel ill, but this is something I’d gladly wake up for every day for the rest of my life. I’d been hot air ballooning before but watching these balloons set sail with the backdrop of Cappadocia is an experience unlike anything. Instagram just cannot prepare you for this.
The magic of take off.
Check out my Instagram for more photos of my trip to Turkey.
*This post was written by me, brought to you by Travel Talk.