From history-packed city breaks to sailing adventures on a fully crewed traditional boat, Turkey has all the bases covered. Hone your bartering skills in Istanbul’s teeming Grand Bazaar, explore ancient cities below the ground in Cappadocia’s lunar landscapes and investigate one of the world’s newest wine routes.
4x4 safari through Cappadocia
Set sail along the Bosphorus
Visit the underground city of Kaymakli
Charter a luxury gulet
Haggle at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar
Wine tasting in Urla
Enjoy a private visit to Topkapi Palace
TAKE A 4x4 SAFARI THROUGH CAPPADOCIA
Travel through Cappadocia’s awe-inspiring landscapes in an open-top off-road vehicle driven by an experienced local guide who knows every nook and cranny of this fascinating region. On this private adventure, you’ll be able to tailor the itinerary to suit your own interests, with plenty of pauses to take photographs of iconic sights such as a hot-air balloon drifting low over fairy chimneys, perhaps – and no roof to get in the way of that perfect shot. You may opt to stop at popular sites such as the open-air museums of Göreme, with its frescoed rock-cut churches, and Zelve, with its cave homes. Or you may prefer to let your guide steer you away from the crowds to more off-the-beaten-track spots, from the dovecotes of Üzengi Valley to quaint villages frozen in time.
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SET SAIL ALONG THE BOSPHORUS
Discover the sights, sounds and story of Istanbul’s internationally important watery artery on a private yacht complete with crew. This 19-mile strait between Europe and Asia divides the city in two, helping to create its unique history and character. Along the banks of the Bosphorus, you’ll spot elaborate palaces and mosques interspersed by small fishing villages and waterside mansions known as yalıs built during the Ottoman period. Moor up to explore some of these stunning wooden buildings – there are something like 620 still in existence. Then stop off at the elaborate Küçüksu Pavilion, used by the sultans as a base for hunting trips on the Asian side, and Beylerbeyi Palace, an imperial summer residence. There’s plenty to see on the water, too, from ferries carrying people from shore to shore to fishing boats looking for swordfish and European anchovies.
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VISIT THE UNDERGROUND CITY OF KAYMAKLI
While Cappadocia is best known for its strikingly curious landscapes, some of its greatest treasures lie hidden below the earth. At the UNESCO-protected Kaymaklı Underground City, you can explore a secret world that was carved out of the region’s soft volcanic rock by the Phrygians around 2,800 years ago. Over the centuries, the subterranean settlement was expanded by successive occupants to create eight levels – though only parts of the top four are open to visitors – which provided shelter for as many as 3,500 people at Kaymaklı’s peak. As you venture through its labyrinth of tunnels, you’ll come across stables and storage rooms, a communal kitchen, a church and living spaces. Keep an eye out for the large boulders ready to be rolled into place to block the entrances from invaders – a regular danger during the 400-year Arab-Byzantine wars in the first millennium AD and at various points in more recent times.
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CHARTER A LUXURY GULET
There are few more bliss-inducing experiences than a voyage on a luxury wooden gulet along Turkey’s breathtaking Aegean coastline. Fully crewed and catered and sleeping anywhere from 6 to 20 people depending on the vessel, it’s a flawless option for families and groups of friends. With no cooking, washing-up or anything else to worry about, you’re free to spend your days how you wish. That could be relaxing in a shaded corner of the deck with your favourite book, swimming and snorkelling in a succession of pristine coves (each boat comes with a selection of watersports equipment) or hopping ashore to enjoy sunset drinks in pretty waterfront cafés or visits to ancient ruins, old towns and bustling bazaars. A sample itinerary departing from Bodrum takes in archaeological sites including Knidos on the idyllic Datça Peninsula, the stunning white sand of İztuzu Beach in which loggerhead turtles bury their eggs and dinner in a seaside taverna on the photogenic Greek island of Symi.
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HAGGLE AT ISTANBUL'S GRAND BAZAAR
For retail therapy, there’s nowhere quite like the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Founded in the mid-15th century, this maze of 61 streets lined with shops, kiosks and stalls – upwards of 4,000 – has survived two earthquakes and 11 fires to become one of Istanbul’s most-visited spots. Wander along beautifully decorated galleries teeming with life and colour, admiring the displays of everything from earth-hued ground spices to handmade fabrics. When you’ve spotted something you’d like to buy, it’s time to practise the art of haggling, known as pazarlık in Turkish. Ask the seller for their best price, then counter with something between a third and a half lower; with the aid of rueful smiles, charm and patience, you should eventually settle on a figure that works for both parties. If you’re shopping for smaller items such as hammam soaps and towels, sweetmeats or a painted tile, it might be quite a quick business. For something more valuable, such as kilim rugs and jewellery, be prepared for the negotiations to take time and several glasses of sweet black tea.
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GO WINE TASTING IN URLA
Overlooking the Aegean halfway between İzmir and Çeşme, Urla is a typically charming coastal town with a surprising extra string to its bow. Since 2016, its hinterland has been home to the Urla Wine Route, put together by some of the area’s new wave of forward-looking vintners. Winemaking in this part of Turkey has a venerable history that stretches back 4,000 years; excavations at a Bronze Age site in the suburbs of Çeşme uncovered grape seeds, amphorae and crushing stones. Now the owners of a string of boutique wineries are reviving the industry for a modern audience. Follow the trail to savour the sight of vineyards planted with a mix of international varietals along with rarer local grapes such as Foça Karası and Gaydura, talk to the passionate and very much hands-on owners, and enjoy tastings of under-the-radar reds, whites and the occasional rosé.
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ENJOY A PRIVATE VISIT TO TOPKAPI PALACE
Built by the order of Sultan Mehmed II in the mid-15th century, Topkapı Palace sprawls across 35 hilly hectares at Seraglio Point overlooking the Golden Horn in Istanbul’s historic Fatih district. For almost 400 years until 1856, this vast complex was the official residence of the Ottoman sultans and the empire’s administrative centre. Accompanied by an expert guide, you can escape the crowds on a private visit, gaining an insight into the lavish way of life of the Ottoman rulers, courtiers and courtesans and the less-lavish lifestyles of their officials and servants. There are fascinating structures complete with their own stories around every corner, from the Imperial Mint in the First Courtyard to the hospital, bakery and kitchens of the Second Courtyard. The latter is also home to the ornate Imperial Council Chamber and the equally beautifully decorated Harem. Be sure to leave time to appreciate the Third Courtyard’s lush garden and the spectacular city views from the terrace in the Fourth Courtyard.