It was hard to say goodbye to new friends and old that we had met in Sapanca for our Food and Photography workshop but the road beckoned and we were eager to start our Turkey adventure. We roughly knew where we were heading but after a few days we realised we’d have to revise our plans. Be flexible… one of the most important tips for driving in Turkey.
Our first stop was Safranbolu, a UNESCO listed town on the verge of becoming a tourist mecca. Only four hours from Istanbul it is an obvious first stop for anyone heading this way. Even though the locals bemoan the fact that tourism is taking over, the old centre of town offers a lot. Beautiful Ottoman houses, a wonderful old medina, the enticing aroma of fresh bread from the old bakeries, turkish delight shops offering free samples and friendly locals inviting you for tea, it was hard to leave. A one night stay turned into three!
Tip: Stay at Gül Evi, a stunning hotel that combines three beautifully restored Ottoman houses
After stops in Asmara and Inebolu, we finally arrived in Sinop. We were too early to see the boat frenzy that takes over the harbour during hamsi (anchovy) season here but thankfully they had arrived a bit further to the east and we were able to enjoy these tasty little fish to our hearts desire in between visits to the markets, the harbour and the surrounding area.
Tip: The best seafood in town is at Okyanus Balik Evi & Mevsim Balikçilik. Tell Mert I sent you!
Yes, Cappadocia is full of tourists but there’s a reason for this….UNESCO thought so too placing the entire region on their heritage list. Start the experience by staying in a cave hotel and then soak up the atmosphere of the many valleys and towns built around these fascinating chimney like structures. Visit the Goreme Open Air Museum to see early Byzantine frescoed churches, head to the underground villages and walk through valleys with enticing names such as Rose Valley and Pigeon Valley. What ever you do, don’t miss taking in the whole atmosphere from above with an early morning balloon flight. If you’ve ever wanted to take one, this is the place to do it!
Tip: We loved our stay at the Aydinli Cave House in Goreme
This is a town that I will return too…I was as fascinated with Kahramanmaraş as much as the locals were fascinated with us. We only spent a few hours here but managed to find the heart of the old market area, learn how to make pide, drink meyan kökü and taste the best icecream in Turkey.
Tip: Try the local icecream at Yasar on Trabzon Caddesi
I left my heart in Gaziantep! Not just because of the kebaps and pistachio baklava that it is so well known for but because of the beautiful friendly people, the fabulous bazaar and the amazing mosaics at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. There’s a lot of restoration taking place in the city. Old stone houses in the Bey area are being bought back to life, cafes are popping up and the town is on the move though the culinary delights are still the highlight.
Tip: Enjoy the local breakfast of beyran (lamb, rice and soup in a bowl) at Metanet Loktansi
Mt Nemrut (Nemrut Daği)
If you’re heading to Urfa, make a small detour and spend a day seeing one of the most amazing sites in Turkey. The headless gods of Mt Nemrut date back to 62BC when the ruler of the time King Antiochus 1 built a tumulus or funeral mound for himself and surrounded it with Greek and Persian gods. At some time, these statues were beheaded and this is how we now see them.
Tip: Learn more about Nemrüt Dagi here: The Headless Gods of Mt Nemrut
A little further east we arrived in the town of Sanliurfa or Urfa as it is known. We have the prophet Abraham to thank for the beautiful rose gardens, carp filled pools and the stunning Rizvaniye Vakfi Camii in the Gölbasi area of the town. Nearby a maze of alleyways in the old market area takes you back in time where men with singer sewing machines wait to do running repairs to clothes, ironsmiths will beat your pots back into shape and others sit on bags of tobacco waiting for a smoker! A cafe culture flourishes in the central open area where men sit around playing board games watched by their friends.
Tip: Head to Gümrük Hani, the central courtyard of the Bazaar to watch the men play backgammon and other board games.
By contrast, our next stop, Antakya, is a modern city. Its a town of mixed faiths. Near our hotel stood a Catholic church, a Christian church and a Synagogue, all not far from one of the many Mosques in the town. I loved spending time in the sprawling bazaar and wandering the back streets of the town with their old crumbling wooden houses. Antakya is also know to have the best künefe in Turkey. This delicious sweet is made from layers of kadayif strands and local cheese.
Tip: Check that the Church of St Peter is open before you walk there….guess who didn’t!
From Antakya we headed to Konya, a drive of approximately 6 hours. I had read that Konya was one of the most conservative towns in Turkey and suggested to my husband that this was probably the time that he should wear jeans instead of his usual long shorts. You can imagine his indignation when we stepped outside the hotel only to find everyone was in casual European dress. It’s now a large town where modern Konya thrives around the old mosques and market area. Central to Konya’s history is the Mevlâna Museum, once the lodge of the whirling dervishes and their founder Rumi and the main reason everyone visits Konya. I’m so pleased we stayed an extra night to see a special performance of the whirling dervish…it was fascinating!
Tip: Plan to be in Konya on a Saturday night so you can see the Whirling Dervish perform at the Cultural Centre.
Unhappy to leave the small villages of Central Anatolia, we had to start to head back to Istanbul and chose to take the southern route along the coast. Kas was a welcome stop on the way where we were eased back into being surrounded by tourists. The local market saved the day where we could mix with the villagers who had bought their locally grown produce to sell and catch up with their friends.
Tip: Take a day trip to Greece…Kastellorizo is only an hour away by ferry. (don’t forget your passport! )
Over the years, I had seen many photos of the travertine ponds that Pamukkale is famous for, but had never considered it high on my list of places to visit. After leaving Kas, we spent a night in Kalkan and Fethiye and, as we were driving close to Pamukkale, we decided to stop for a night and see what the fuss was all about. I now wish we had gone years earlier. Old photos are still being used in publicity shots but in reality water has disappeared from many of the pools. They are quite amazing to see if a bit tricky to walk on but what I did enjoy were the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis that lie behind the hill.
Tip: You only need to spend a day here!
These were the highlights of our Turkey road trip. In between these towns were many fabulous little villages, stunning scenery and delicious tastes that I will write about separately over time. If you’re thinking of taking a Turkey road trip, don’t forget to read the post on Tips for Driving in Turkey and most importantly, keep your itinerary flexible.
Articles you may enjoy:
Your Guide to Istanbul: What to do
An Introduction to Istanbul for the First Time Visitor
Breakfast in Istanbul