A single image of ancient homes carved into the rocky landscape of Cappadocia was enough to bump it to the top of my must-see list. With visions of hot air balloons rising over the “Valley of the Horses,” Turkey promised stunning vistas, unparalleled history and my personal achilles heel: shopping. Here are some of the activities and sites I took in on my first visit to Turkey, along with a few that ensure a return trip at a yet-to-be determined date!
Istanbul is a shopper’s paradise. With a large central market and a number of smaller stalls and shops spread throughout the city, it’s hard not to leave without at least one major purchase in tow. I splurged on a beautiful rug from the northern region and an antique suzani bedspread. My quest to find the perfect suzani meant drinking copious amounts of apple tea, a complimentary treat served in showrooms large and small as these beautifully hand-embroidered pieces are spread out before you. Istanbul also offers wonderful jewellery – from costume to gold, which is sold by weight based on the ever-fluctuating cost. Iranian turquoise is a special stone to look out for and a small amount of haggling can help “justify” even extravagant purchases. Other shopping delights include spices, shawls/pashminas, brightly colored glass lanterns and of course, Turkish delight!
For those who prefer to skip the markets and take in more cultural sites instead, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are must-sees. The Blue Mosque is built on the site of the Great Palace of Byzantium while nearby Hagia Sophia’s walls show the historic battle for power between Christianity and Islam. Frescos of saints peak out from behind newer tilings of sacred Islamic symbols. Regardless of faith, it is easy to see why the structure has inspired competition amongst the devout.
A visit to Istanbul is best rounded out with a Bosphorus cruise where you will skirt the boundary of Europe and Asia. After that, toast your trip at any number of lovely restaurants in the center of town (Café Adonin and Metropolis in Sultanahmet are my favorite).
Just a 45 minute plane ride from Istanbul, Cappadocia feels worlds away from Turkey’s capitol. Famous for its “cave hotels,” Cappadocia offers the opportunity to sleep in a historic dwelling (with modern amenities, of course!). I spent my first day hiking through valleys dotted with tiny farms filled with fresh apples and grapes. Some farms have signs inviting travelers to take a taste – others should be respected as they help support local families. At any point you might meet a fellow traveler wandering along the same path, or stumble upon a man with a tiny cart squeezing fresh pomegranate juice. I found myself mesmerized by Cappadocia and blissful moments of solitude surrounded by majestic (and sometimes phallic!) rock formations. There is a stillness in those valleys I have rarely found.
Of all the places in the world I’ve been, Cappadocia is where I finally splurged on a hot air balloon ride – greeting the dawn over the valley as fellow visitors joined me in the sky. Stunning and magical – something I’ll never forget.
Finally – Cappadocia (like many other destinations I didn’t make it to) offers traditional Turkish baths. This is a divine treat after days of hiking – don’t miss it. You can also explore the area by ATV (try and catch a sunset at one of the peaks overlooking the city) or wander through one of the valleys by horseback. And don’t miss the underground city tours – I’m wildly claustrophobic but survived just fine!
Ephesus and beyond
My trip to Turkey was short (1 week) and visiting two places was just enough. With an additional week or more, I’d suggest visiting the ancient site of Ephesus – home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Temple of Artemis. You might also consider doing between a 3-7 day gulet cruise along the coast, or, to get there, one of many flight deals to Turkey. Turkey really does have it all – city, country, coast and culture. Do let us know if you decide to take yourself to Turkey anytime soon!