Turkey: 4 Holiday Ideas
2020 is a special year. We all agree on that. To define what kind of special, depends on each individual. Despite everything, it gave me an opportunity to (re)discover hidden gems of Turkey.
When deciding about a holiday or a travel destination the most important things for me are:
- to avoid the crowds if possible, especially since I moved to Istanbul (this year even more important than before)
- a balance between nature and city
- a balance between cultural and sport activities
- small/ boutique hotels; never huge hotel complexes.
Here are my top 5 picks, which tick most of the boxes. Some are quite close to Istanbul and are a good choice for a daily trip, meanwhile, others are a few hours ride away from the city. I have visited all of them with a car, though some are quite easily accessible with public transportation.
Gökçeada is one of my favourite and budget friendly summer travel destinations in Turkey (so far). It was my third summer there and this year I ended there totally unexpectedly.
What to do? Island has plenty to offer. Swimming in crystal clear sea, visit the Salt Lake (Tuz Gölü), hike to a waterfall (Marmaros Büyük Şelale), discover hidden beaches (some require some walk and are not accessible with the car) like Mavi Köy; visit Greek villages, like Zeytinliköy or Dereköy. In Dereköy you can visit the old Greek laundrette. Enjoy the view in Kaleköy.
What and where to eat? When it comes to food, you won’t be disappointed! There are plenty of options. Some are pretty famous, like Poseidon restaurant in upper Kaleköy. They offer delicious meze and a great view. It is a great place for dinner, too hot during the day. Besides that, I really recommend you a hidden gem in Gökçeada city: Gastronomy Atölyesi Restaurant. Definitely one fo the best discoveries this year. Besides that, they have their own wine. (You can thank me later).
Island is also famous for Greek Salad. It was delicious everywhere I ate it. I have even bought some goat cheese before leaving the island and some thyme to be able to make it at home. Mastic is another famous “ingredient”. You can drink coffee with mastic. Many places serve Turkish coffee with a glass of water, in which is a spoon of mastic paste.Gökçeada is also famous for Sakızlı muhallebi, a kind of mastic flavoured pudding. I had a delicious muhallebi accompanied with Greek Frappe Coffe at Phaedra in Zeytinliköy. Gökçeada is also famous for almond cookies. When you pass through the city centre, you will see the famous pastry Efi Badem where most of the tourist buy cookies.
Where to stay? There are plenty of options, but my favourite one is camping. I can recommend Surf Inn in Aydincik. It is next to the famous Kefalos beach. My favourite thing there is to be able to wake up, take a swim and enjoy the breakfast afterwards.
Situated between two very touristy places: Kuşadası and Marmaris and just next to the national park Dilek Yarımadası Büyük Menderes Deltası Milli Parkı, is a great place to relax and enjoy the nature and nice beaches in the national park.
What to do? Discover Dilek Yarımadası Büyük Menderes Deltası Milli Parkı. Many people go there by car. Which is a good idea, as the park is very big and it’s impossible to visit everything on foot. Since it was too much traffic (kilometres long waiting line to enter the park), we decided to walk and discover beaches in the park. Even though we had to walk by the road most of the time, the sea views are amazing and the shadow of pine trees makes your work more pleasurable. I definitely plan to return there. There were no restaurants in the park (at least in 2020), so you need to bring enough water and food if you plan to spend there all day. There are, however, toilets and showers.
Güzelcamlı is also a great starting point if you want to visit Ephesus and some other historical places in the region. We had a chance to also visit Pergamon/ Bergama. You can go there on a daily trip from Güzelcamlı, however it is much closer to my next recommendation: Cunda.
Where to stay? Firstly let me tell you, how I actually found Güzelcamlı. I was actually searching for a nice (small) hotels in Kuşadası and Marmaris. But I didn’t find anything that would suit my budget and be nice. Besides that, I wanted to find something, which would be far away from the crowds and possibly close to the national park. With the help of # and Instagram, and the web page kucukoteller.com I found an amazing small hotel, with a great and huge garden just next to the national park. If you plan to visit Güzelcamlı, I would recommend you to stay in Emel Pension. I fell in love with their garden, nice cosy rooms and location. Besides that, a delicious breakfast is served in their garden. (You will have to share the garden with some occasional guests, like turtles and hedgehogs 😉
Cunda (Alibey Adası)
An island in Aegean sea, known as Cunda to everyone, but as Alibey Adası on Google Maps. The island has long been on my bucket list and I was finally lucky to visit it. Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, so you won’t need a ferry to visit it. As in Gökçeada, you can find traces of the Greek past. In fact, many small hotels are in old Greek houses.
What to do? Enjoy beaches, nightlife and hiking trail in Ayvalık Adaları Tabiat Parkı (Ayvalık Islands Nature Park). The hiking trail (easy hike/walk) starts very close to Cunda city centre. You can easily reach it from Marina, following Üçkuyular Caddesi. You can expect quite an easy walk among the olive trees. The path towards the monastery Koruyan Meryem Manastiri is closed, but you can follow the Üçkuyular Caddesi towards Ada Camping and Ortunç Köyü. Right next to these private properties you can find nice (and free) spots to swim. Sea is very clean here, but it might be quite cold in some bays. During the summer months it is quite hot to hike, so dress accordingly and take enough water with you.
Cunda is also a good starting point to visit ancient city Pergamon, today Bergama.
Where to stay, eat and shop? The old city is full of small boutique hotels. Most of them have their own gardens and serve breakfast. We stayed just next to a church converted into a museum, in Cunda Zehra Teyze’nin Evi. Most of the hotels in the city are not very close to a beach, so if you want an accommodation next to the sea and beach, I would recommend you to find a place out of the city centre. There are plenty of options. However, staying in the city centre has its advantages. There a plenty of restaurants, cocktail bars, pastries and shops around. Here are some of my recommendations: Frenk Cunda for evening drinks. Like sangria. Pina Cunda to shop local, hand made products, like bags, soaps etc. For a late lunch or early dinner, I can recommend Felicita Cunda. However, there are many options and you can one something for every taste.
A small city full of history. Also known as Nicaea. Very close and easily accessible from Istanbul. You can reach it in less than 3 hours with public transport: ferry from Yenikapı to Yalova and a dolmuş ride to Iznik. It is a great option for a one day trip or a weekend getaway. Most of the city is easily accessible on foot, however much faster with bikes.
What to do? Explore the streets of Iznik. It is difficult to get lost since the historical grid settlement plan is still preserved in most of the city. This is actually one of the reasons that the city is on the UNESCO’s list. Exploring the city, you can see the traces of the city’s Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history. You can see the remains of the Roman theatre, remains of the city walls still surrounding the city and numerous city gates. Iznik also has Hagia Sophia church, now a mosque, archaeological museum and several historical mosques and baths. If you decide you spend your time more actively, you can walk, run or cycle around the lake. And, of course, swim in the lake.
Where and what to eat? Many would say köfte. I am not a meat lover, however I can say that köfte here is delicious. I would recommend you to enjoy a breakfast by the lake… and to get tahinli çörek from a pastry shop. They are sold out fast, so be early.
Where to stay? There are many hotels and even an Airbnb option in the city.
Any thoughts? Recommendations? Please share them in comments below.
I will be sharing my holiday photos on my Instagram account in the following weeks, so be sure to follow me @spelayla.