It’s almost that time of the year and December, my favourite month is fast approaching. My feet are getting itchy again and there couldn’t be a better way for me to bring in my birthday and end the year on a happy note than to be travelling somewhere new.
Blessed with natural beauty and rich cultural influences, Turkey seems like a good choice to celebrate 2014, the year of major life changes and a career transition that has been extremely demanding. There are plenty of reasons to visit the country; a strong desire to get lost in the labyrinths of its bazaars, relax with a book on one of its beautiful secluded beaches, take a walk through history in the ruins of Ephesus and delve into the treasure trove of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.
Hopefully, December will see me exploring this destination that has been on my list for quite some time now, one that I haven’t made it to yet, despite it being so close to Dubai. Here are the top five things I’d love to experience in Turkey.
1. Explore Istanbul
A trip to Turkey would be incomplete without a visit to its most famous city, Istanbul, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire with one foot firmly planted in each of the two continents of Asia and Europe. The city has many sites of interest to visitors, stellar displays of Ottoman grandeur such as the classical Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the Suleymaniye Mosque and fine examples of Byzantine architecture such as the Aya Sofya, which was originally built as a Church, later converted to a mosque and today is a museum and the sunken palace of Basilica Cistern.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s most well-known markets in the world. Given my love for wandering about in maze like alleys, drawn in by the colorful artefacts and people that are the essence of markets, the Bazaar is understandably one of the places I’m most excited to visit in the city. For a city that’s constantly reminded of its historic past by its awe inducing architecture, Istanbul also has a surprisingly modern side, one with a vibrant café culture, art galleries and thriving night life.
photo credit:Marco Bellucci
2. Take a Balloon Flight over Cappadocia
If you’ve ever looked at pictures of hot air balloons soaring over this fairytale like landscape of rose and rust waves and chimney like rock formations sculpted by volcanic erosion, then you’ll understand why this is something one’s got to experience when in the country.
photo credit: Moyan_Brenn
Not only is the region a stunning visual display of nature’s handiwork from up above but it’s also an interesting region to explore on the ground, with underground cities and rock cut monasteries, frescoed churches and homes built inside caves that served as peaceful havens for Byzantine Christians in the medieval era. Today, the region boasts of a number of unique cave accommodations for visitors, something I’m definitely interested in.
photo credit: Moyan_Brenn
3. Relax in the Hot Springs of Pamukkale
photo credit: Son of Groucho
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pamukkale, Turkish for ‘cotton castle’ has a landscape of snow white lime cascades, stalactites, hot pools and basins. The terraces known as travertines formed as a result of the solidification of minerals from the flowing thermal spring waters which were believed to have therapeutic powers. The mineral pools are said to be especially enjoyable in winter.
There’s much to explore in the ancient Roman spa city of Hierapolis, built on layers of limestone solidified over centuries. The city was considered sacred and is home to many temples, one of which is the Apollo Temple. Other historic sites in the area are the Roman amphitheater, the ruins of the 2nd century Hellenistic theatre, the cemetery of Necropolis, the St. Philip Martyrium and the Roman baths.
4. Discover the Joys of Turkish Cuisine
Turkish cuisine combines the best of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Central Asian and European flavours to create a mouth-watering array of dishes that are seasonal and vary between the different regions within the country. The Ottoman influence is strongest in the food of the Aegean region, cities such as Istanbul and Izmir where the preparation of a large number of rice dishes and the use of vegetables such as eggplant is common. The use of fish and maize is characteristic of the Balkan influenced food of the Black Sea region. In the south east, Middle Eastern delicacies such as meze, kofte and kebabs are commonly prepared. The use of olive oil in cooking and nuts in the preparation of desserts such as baklava, helva and kunefe is very common.
photo credit: Charles Haynes
As a street food lover, I’m very excited about sampling Balik Ekmek (grilled fish sandwiches), Dolma (vegetables or meat wrapped in vine leaves) and the world famous Doner Kebabs from the carts on the streets of Istanbul. I’m also happy to know that hummus is commonly available and curious to see if it’s different from the one in Dubai. Trust me to go on a best hummus quest while on holiday.
5. Sail along the Turkish Rivera
photo credit: rootskontrolla
The deserted beaches and gorgeous islands of the Lycian Way are no secret and I must admit I’m lusting after a little bit of island paradise myself. The idea of cruising along the country’s turquoise coastline and beaches like Fethiye, Göcek, Bozburun and Datca conjures up images of soaking in sweet sunshine while watching the waves sipping wine on a sun-kissed deck. There’s plenty to do to truly appreciate the outdoors; swimming and snorkeling in the azure waters, watching the sea turtles and exploring rock carved tombs in Dalyan, hiking in lush pine forests in Göcek and visiting seaside fishing villages such as Datca.
With this and so much more, Turkey has all the ingredients of a perfect trip; whether it’s a holiday to unwind and rejuvenate or travels across the country to immerse oneself in the culture, appreciate the art, architecture and the diversity of its culinary offerings. Planning a trip to Turkey is not difficult and operators such as First Choice can help with travel planning across a range of budgets and travel styles.
Have you been to Turkey, or is it on your list? What did you love most about the country? Was it the food, beaches, architecture or something else?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Any tips or recommendations for my trip would be much appreciated!
This post was contributed by First Choice.
To plan your trip to Turkey and for basic information and recommendations from my experiences visit my Turkey Travel Blog.