Rain was smacking against the window. It absolutely was icy cold. Sitting at nighttime depths of your British University’s library in 1994, I used to be gazing out having dreams about somewhere warm and exotic. Turkey was the location that lit up my imagination.
Three great things embody this country. Just four hours flight away from international London, it possesses a culture which can be profoundly different, distinctly unfamilar. A land in the very cusp of Europe and Asia, with two heads simultaneously facing both east and west, it embodies the magic and mysticism in the orient. Once nomads from Central Asia, the Turks were for many years the middlemen around the globe, famed merchants uniting three continents – Europe, Africa, and Asia, as far east as China. Today, its everyone is famed with regard to their warmth and hospitality, a present in their nomadic ancestry and Islam’s code of respect for strangers in the strange land.
The second great advantage of Turkey is its age. The place is steeped in history. It’s the web page of some of the very earliest cities, like Çatal Hoyuk, stretching back 10,000 years. Ever after it had been a veritable crossroads of civilisations. When archaeologists dig in Turkey they may be confronted by layers upon layers of peoples and cultures, from Hittite fortifications to Byzantine churches. Before I’d even set foot there, Turkey conjured up images of the things which I longed to see, great sun-burnt plains which ancient battles were fought, theatres where Greek philosophers declaimed, along with the marble clad ruins of Rome’s imperial ambitions.
It’s widely mentioned that Turkey has more and better preserved Greek and Roman archaeological sites than Greece and Italy combined. The landscape is actually riddled with ruins, many of which are virtually untouched. You may literally stroll with an olive grove and come across a Greek temple still standing proud, and also have the place all to yourself. Many people say a part of Turkey’s charm is it is like Greece was thirty in the past.
Your third fantastic thing about blue cruise turkey may be the landscape. About three plus a half times the actual size of Britain, it has almost the same population, leaving vast areas wide, empty, and pretty much as nature intended. Add to that soaring mountain ranges, brilliant white sunlight, plus a vast coastline stretching along three seas, the Black Sea, the Aegean, as well as the Mediterranean, and you will have a truly marvellous holiday destination.
I first went to Turkey eleven years back, on the 2,000 mile walking adventure, to retrace Alexander the Great’s footsteps from Troy for the battlefield of Issus, in which the epic warrior defeated the Persians for a second time. A five month journey took me on the western Aegean coast past some of the giant cities of classical history, like Ephesus, Priene, and Miletus; deep to the interior through tiny farming villages where I had been feted as being an honoured guest; and south through the peaks and valleys in the Taurus mountains, where donkeys remain a favoured mode of transport.
10 years later and my love affair with Turkey still beats strong. Even though it was walking that brought me to Turkey, today I enjoy a very different means of travelling: sailing. With a bit of 5,178 miles of coastline, Turkey is really a paradise for cruising. Its south and west coasts offer possibly the most spectacular sailing from the Mediterranean, packed with devjpky02 coves and sleepy fishing villages, bustling harbours and deserted bays in the shape of giant theatres with breathtaking vistas. Littered with antiquities, protected legally, large parts of it have remained undeveloped, still lapped through the clear waters which the giants of ancient history sailed: Achilles, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar…
In places, mountains of limestone drop sheer to the sea, elsewhere pine forested peninsulas extend like sinuous fingers hiding a cornucopia of golden beaches, deep gulfs, and tiny offshore islands. By using these a stunning everchanging backdrop, I can’t think of a better way to see Turkey, to discover its culture, discover such rich ruins, and drink within the landscape, rather than to set sail on the gulet. Spared the desire to constantly pack, unpack, and change hotels, instead one travels in luxurious style. Maybe the key thing for me is the fact it’s travel how the ancients usually did. It will make considering the past altogether easier. On the waves, time can literally dissolve from the water, two millennia can disappear from the mind.
A mad keen sailor, Peter Ustinov once wrote: “The ocean not only sharpens a feeling of beauty and of alarm, but in addition a feeling of history. You are confronted with precisely the sight which met Caesar’s eyes, and Hannibal’s, while not having to strain the imagination by subtracting television aerials in the skyline and filling within the gaps within the Collosseum… from the magical coast of Turkey you rediscover what the world was like in the event it was empty… and once pleasures were as simple as getting out of bed every morning… and each and every day is a journey of discovery.”
Gulets really are the vessel preferred by exploring the Turkish coast. Handbuilt from wood, usually pine from local forests, they’re often as much as 80 feet long and sleep between six and 16 guests in attractive double or twin cabins. They generally have 3 or 4 capable and helpful crew members, captain, cook, and one or two mates, that do everything allowing passengers to unwind. Most gulets use a spacious main saloon, a huge rear deck where foods are served, and sun loungers about the roof in the front. Almost all operate typically under motor, however, some are also designed for proper sailing. As soon as the sails increase, and also the engine turns silent, you will find the same soundtrack as Odysseus on Homer’s “wine dark sea”, the slapping of water on the side of the ship, along with the wind rushing through the canopy.
Aboard a gulet, one travels inside the footsteps of ancient Greek pilgrims en way to an oracular temple like Didyma, or in the wake of Byzantine merchants carrying a cargo of glass, like the Serce Limani shipwreck now in Bodrum museum, or like Roman tourists on his or her strategy to start to see the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of your seven ancient wonders of the world.
I remember the 1st time I visited the original city of Knidos, a sensational site for maritime trade perched at the very tip of your Datca peninsula, between Bodrum and Marmaris. We sailed and moored up inside the city’s old commercial harbour, just as merchants from Athens, Rhodes, and cities right over the Mediterranean might have done over 2,000 in the past. My fellow travellers and that i gawped in wonder, as we eased to the ancient port, as well as its monuments took shape: the small theatre, the rows of houses, the miles of fortifications climbing up a steep ridge. We anchored where countless vessels had previously – large cargo ships, local fishing boats, maybe even some fighting triremes. Even today the original mooring stones where they tied up will still be visible, projecting out of the harbour walls.
One in the defining characteristics of your gulet trip is the returning to nature appreciation of your simple things: the clean clean air, the canopy of stars during the night, some time to lounge about and browse. Swimming within the crystal waters of your celebrated turquoise coast is needless to say one of your frequent highlights, where there tend to be windsurfers, kayaks, and snorkelling gear accessible for the slightly more adventurous.
Alongside the archaeology and the relaxed atmosphere, one in the greatest delights may be the food. Turkish meals is justly famed, often ranked as one of the three pre-eminent cuisines worldwide alongside French and Chinese. The main focus is centered on simple but incredibly fresh local ingredients, often grown organically or raised free range. You only have to taste a tomato in Turkey to discover the real difference. It’s surprising how even about the smallest gulets, out from the tiniest of galleys, the boat’s cook can produce such a variety of fresh local delicacies.
A Turkish breakfast typically contains bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, eggs, yoghurt and honey. Lunch and dinner are generally one or two main courses, combined with salads and mezes, Turkey’s speciality starters, including cacik (a garlic and cucumber yoghurt), biber dolma (stuffed peppers), and sigara borek (white cheese and herbs in a cigarette shaped filo pastry wrap). Fruit is really a mainstay item, and ranges from the seasons from cherries and strawberries, to melon and figs.
But with the amount of miles of coast where do you choose to sail? Three areas are particular favourites of mine. First is the ancient region of Lycia, a huge bulge into the Mediterranean on Turkey’s underbelly. Situated between Fethiye and Antalya, it’s a location oozing with myths and packed with archaeology. Here, behind the soaring Taurus mountains, an extraordinary culture plus a fiercely independent people developed. Their funerary architecture, unlike other things worldwide, still litters their once prosperous ports.
It was the fabled land of your Chimaera, a dreaded monster from Greek mythology, described as soon as Homer: “She was of divine race, not of men, inside the fore part a lion, in the rear a serpent, and in the middle a goat, breathing forth in terrible manner the force of blazing fire.”
The legend probably owes its origins to an extraordinary site up high in the hills. Sacred since time immemorial, it was actually the key sanctuary of the port city of Olympus. Here flames leap from the ground, a phenomenon as a result of a subterranean pocket of gas which spontaneously ignites on contact together with the outside air.
Not only is blue cruise turkey the easiest way to explore this kind of essentially maritime civilisation, sometimes it’s the only method. Even today, you will find tiny coastal villages that happen to be accessible only by sea. One favourite is definitely the sleepy hamlet of Kale, in the southern tip of Lycia. Above several piers where small fishing boats jostle, rises a ramshackle series of houses produced from ancient stones. Dominating the whole scene is a mighty Ottoman fortress built 550 in the past to overpower the Christian knights of Rhodes and secure the all important sea lanes between Constantinople and Jerusalem. The castle, however, had been a latecomer. 1,800 years before, a compact town called Simena was perched here. Its small Greek style theatre sits slap during the Ottoman castle, and throughout the village are tombs hewn in the rock, and sarcophagi standing ten feet tall.
A 2nd great area for sailing is west of Lycia, the traditional region of Caria, between Bodrum and Fethiye. This was the original arena of Mausolus, a powerful dynast 2,400 years ago. A strategically vital region, densely pack in antiquity with rich cities, it was jealously guarded and sought after. Alexander the Great liberated it from Persia, Rhodes sought to annexe it into her empire, and the legacy of Crusader castles still speaks of the epic battle that raged along this coast between rival religions, Christianity and Islam. Today, there remains an excellent mixture of architectural and historic marvels. The exquisite temple tombs of Caunos, carved in a cliff face by masons dangling from ropes; the monumental city of Knidos, famed for Praxiteles’ infamous statue of Aphrodite, the very first female nude in the past; and Halicarnassus itself, site from the fabled mausoleum along with the mighty fortress of St. Peter.
A third glorious area for cruising, is ancient Ionia, on the north of Bodrum. Along this stretch of coast created a civilisation of quite exceptional brilliance. In the centuries before Alexander the excellent, the dynamic cities of Ionia helped lay the foundations of Greek literature, science, and philosophy, nevermind architecture.
Under Rome, these cities became more and more rich, prosperous, and exquisite – filled with the best temples, theatres and markets that money could buy. The highlights are plentiful: from your pretty little harbour of Myndos, where Cassius fled after murdering Julius Caesar; on the marvellously preserved Hellenistic city of Priene, in which the houses, streets, and public buildings are laid out across a hillside in a perfect grid; and naturally, Ephesus, capital of Roman Asia. It was one of the first cities on earth to get street lighting. The web page is magnificent, a cornucopia of colonnaded streets, agoras, baths, private villas, a theatre for 28,000, plus an extraordinary library.
When you fancy exploring some of the world’s finest ancient wonders, spring or autumn is the best time and energy to go. April and early May sees Turkey decked out with a stunning display of wild flowers. From the end of May through the start of June the sea becomes swimmable just before the summer heat scorches, while September through October is great for leisurely bathing.