Turkey holidays: A guide to the country’s best beaches, bazaars and buzzing bars


Turkey has long been a favourite of British holidaymakers — and finally its doors have swung open once again. 

So, get booking…

INTO ISTANBUL

On a visit to Istanbul, do not miss the resplendent Suleymaniye Mosque or the Blue Mosque (pictured) 

Poet Alphonse de Lamartine summed up the feelings of so many visitors to Turkey’s most famous city: ‘If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.’

With its sultanate palaces including the opulent, waterfront Topkapi Palace, many mosques (do not miss the resplendent Suleymaniye Mosque or the Blue Mosque), bazaars, walks along the glittering Bosphorous and numerous museums (the most important being Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine church before becoming a mosque in 1453 and being turned into a museum by Ataturk in 1935), Istanbul is both beguiling and action-packed.

How to do it: Five-night guided Byzantine and Ottoman tours of Istanbul with hotels, three dinners, one lunch and flights from £1,839 pp B&B (kirkerholidays.com).

FAMILY FAVOURITE

Star quality: Turunc Bay in Marmaris, which is surrounded by emerald mountains and olive groves

Star quality: Turunc Bay in Marmaris, which is surrounded by emerald mountains and olive groves

Turunc, on the Bozburun Peninsula, is a ‘holiday resort’, but it is a lot more peaceful than most and comes with a Blue Flag beach. It’s surrounded by nature: emerald mountains, olive groves and fields of corn. Zip around on Dolmus buses to explore the peninsula. Or check out exquisite coves, many inaccessible by road, on well-organised five-bay cruises.

How to do it: Turunc Resort Hotel has a water park and a private sandy beach; one week from £474 pp all-inclusive with flights (easyjetholidays.com). 

KALKAN CALLING

Find yourself a villa outside the coastal town of Kalkan, pictured, for a Turkish escape

Find yourself a villa outside the coastal town of Kalkan, pictured, for a Turkish escape 

Love a bit of resort fun but equally want to get away to your own space? Then find yourself a villa outside Kalkan, so you can dip into the town for harbourside bars and restaurants, then escape for a dip in your pool whenever you want.

How to do it: Villa Sea is fab for four with a swoon worthy infinity pool and outdoor dining terrace with an ocean view from £1,327 a week, including flights (simpsontravel.com).   

DELTA DREAM

Pictured are ancient tombs on the Dalyan river - sightseeing options in the area include boating and beaching

Pictured are ancient tombs on the Dalyan river – sightseeing options in the area include boating and beaching

BETTANY HUGHES ON HER LOVE OF TURKEY

Just one apple tea — and you’re hooked. My first was at 19, leaning out of a youth hostel window, overlooking Istanbul’s ancient hippodrome, with the dome of Hagia Sophia church — circled by simit-snatching seagulls — on one side, and calls to prayer from the Blue Mosque on the other.

Right there, right then, I fell in love — with the tea, the tea-seller and with Turkey. And it’s a love-affair that’s lasted.

On my last trip I combined hardcore history (there are more historical sites here per square mile than any other nation) with hardcore foodie indulgence.

Bettany Hughes, pictured, says her love-affair with Turkey has stood the test of time

Bettany Hughes, pictured, says her love-affair with Turkey has stood the test of time 

The Ottomans, who ruled the country for close on 500 years, actively sponsored trade from Baghdad to Vienna, from Cairo to the Czech Republic, so Turkey has always had the wildest of cornucopia-cuisines. I’m a lifelong veggie and however many mountains I climb, seas I swim, caves I explore and horses or camels I ride on a trip here, I always pile on the pounds.

If you’re travelling with children, be warned, the Turkish tradition of extreme hosting means they’ll have Turkish delight, fresh apricots, sherberts, miniature doughnuts or a curious fruit-puree strap that looks like a cross between a fly-trap and a gaudy leather belt, popped in their hands, or mouths.

There’s never a dull moment. My gentle swims around the Datca peninsula are frequently gingered up by the brush of a giant turtle gliding by and, once, driving a rental car through Cappadocia, we stopped to ask directions from an old woman who then joined us, enigmatically crocheting in the back seat of the car. In the remote, prehistoric settlements of south-east-ern Turkey, beads left by ancient pilgrims can be washed out of the earth by the rain like blackberries in a hedge after a summer storm. If you get the chance, travel around Turkey by boat — it’s how they’ve been doing it for at least 6,000 years (recent digs in Istanbul have uncovered the world’s oldest canoe paddle).

Choose from a lyrical gulet around the southern Lycian Coast, a sea-taxi to the glamorous Prince’s Islands or indeed a meander along the Meander river that winds inland to high hills from the ancient city of Miletus on the Aegean Coast. Its where we get our word ‘meander’ from.

This is the home to two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, where Cleopatra and Mark Antony consummated their affair, where the fork was invented and the Duke of Edinburgh cut quite the James Bond figure practising his water-skiing in the 1950s.

Even if it’s only for the apple tea, just go. 

By Bettany Hughes 

Bettany Hughes’s Treasures Of Istanbul airs at 7pm on Saturday, Channel 4, then on All 4. Her latest book, Istanbul: A Tale Of Three Cities is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Dalyan has an unusual and scenic location, on a delta between a huge lake and the coast.

Sightseeing options abound including boating and beaching, and swimming with turtles (if you’re lucky) off Iztuzu Beach. Soak up history in the ancient city of Kaunos, famed for its Lycian rock tombs.

How to do it: Beyaz Villas, an easy walk from Dalyan, offer self-catering beside a shared pool; from £380 per room per week (beyazvillas.com); fly to Dalaman. 

SLOWLY DOES IT

Akyaka prides itself on its relaxed, slow-going way of life. The architecture is mostly in attractive Ottoman style and the Azmak River here has riverside restaurants, boat trips and great walks.

One of the best excursions out on the water stops at a string of offshore islands including Sedir, where Cleopatra and Antony are said to have gone for a swim.

How to do it: Simpson Secret epitomizes rustic chic and has a pool with a heavenly view; from £915 pp, sleeping two, for a week including flights/car hire (simpsontravel.com).

HISTORY AND HIKING

Turkey’s longest sand beach, Patara, is also one of its most unspoilt, protected because of the loggerhead turtles that visit to lay eggs. Patara village, in the foothills of the Taurus mountains, is equally sleepy, with a handful of restaurants. Explore Roman city ruins dotted along the coastline or go for a hike along the Lycian Way, one of the world’s greatest trails.

How to do it: Patara Viewpoint offers hotel or self-catering accommodation with use of the pool and restaurant; B&B doubles from £280 a week (pataraviewpoint.com); fly to Dalaman, from £233 return from Gatwick (easyjet.com).

SECRET BEACHES

The Datca Peninsula is wonderful, a 50-mile long finger of land with the Aegean Sea on one side and the Med on the other. Expect pine-scented hills, olive groves, undiscovered beaches and tiny villages.

The ruins at Knidos, dating to 4 BC, are magnificent. Also, stop by at the ghost town of Kayakoy, a result of the 1923 population swap between Greece and Turkey.

How to do it: The D Maris Bay offers slick style and killer views from its cliff-edge setting, with five private beaches; one week with flights from £1,788 pp B&B (lastminute.com).

ROMAN RUINS

The town of Foca oozes charm and makes a great base for history buffs, with its own castle to explore, plus the Roman cities of Ephesus and Pergamon within a two-hour drive. There are scores of great beaches nearby — or hop on a traditional gulet to explore outlying islands.

How to do it: Phokaia Beach Resort offers activities galore, including watersports; one week from £929pp including flights and most meals (markwarner.com).

MOUNTAIN HIGH

Unassuming Cirali is fronted by a long stretch of shingle and sand, where turtles hatch in the summer. A short walk away are the ruins of the Lycian city of Olympos, as is the Chimaera, where natural gas flames shoot dramatically out of vents in a mountain. Further forays can be made around surrounding mountains and along the Lycian Way.

How to do it: Hire a beachside chalet, with free bike rental, from £320pp per week B&B (responsibletravel.com). 

SAIL AWAY

One way to escape the crowds is by taking a holiday aboard a traditional Turkish gulet. Opt for your own boat or share with a handful of other holidaymakers.

Enjoy onboard breakfasts moored up in scenic bays and dinner beneath twinkling stars.

In between, swim from the boat and around uninhabited islands and hop off for forays into towns and villages.

How to do it: TUI’s Sailing the Turkish Coast one-week gulet cruise costs from £716pp including flights and meals (tui.co.uk). 

LAKE LAZINESS

Why not visit Lake Iznik (pictured above), where lazy days are spent swimming, cycling and fishing

Why not visit Lake Iznik (pictured above), where lazy days are spent swimming, cycling and fishing

Temperatures in Turkey can sizzle — but the sea is not the only place to cool off. Try refreshing Lake Iznik, a two-hour drive from Istanbul.

Lazy days spent swimming, cycling and fishing can be punctuated with visits to the fabulous walled town of Iznik.

Dating back more than 2,000 years, it’s crammed with Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman sites, including the Hagia Sophia mosque, built by Emperor Justinian, as was its famous sister in Istanbul.

How to do it: Fisek’s Lakeside House has self-catering for up to nine people with a colourful, boho vibe; from £1,866 per week (airbnb.co.uk). 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO 

You must complete a health form within 72 hours prior to arriving in Turkey (register.health.gov.tr) and either be double-jabbed or have taken a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to arrival.

Proof of recent recovery from Covid — a doctor’s certificate — is also accepted. Before returning to Britain, those who are fully jabbed will need to complete the UK’s ­Passenger Locator Form (within 48 hours of travel) and to book a Covid test to be taken before ‘day two’ of coming back.

Those who are not fully vaccinated will need to complete the form and self-isolate for ten days with tests on days two and eight.

Note that, as of Monday (October 4), those who are fully vaccinated will not have to take an antigen/lateral flow test before flying back. More information can be found at gov.uk. 



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