by Jane Archer, The Telegraph, March 21, 2019
The country has a cosmopolitan face and sandy shores lapped by the Med, but it’s hard to stray far without tripping over the ruins of a Greek temple here and remnants of imperial Rome there. This is, after all, the country at the crossroads of east and west, where civilisations came and went. It’s the place brought to life in Homer’s Iliad and the country that gave us the Trojan horse. Stroll around Istanbul and you will walk through Greek Byzantium, Roman Constantinople and the lavish palaces of the Ottoman sultans.
Many of Turkey’s key sites are on or near the coast, making it one of the most practical and picturesque ways to see the sites. With many cruise lines rediscovering the country’s treasures now that the political situation has calmed, we round up our 10 favourite holidays.
1. Take the family
French cruise line Ponant has younger travellers and inquisitive teenagers in mind on a Mediterranean cruise in Greece and along Turkey’s Aegean coast, this summer. This cruise, designated English-speaking only, is on the small yacht Le Lyrial and includes tours to Turkish villages and the Roman site of Ephesus, from Kusadasi. Pompeii, ancient Olympia and the Cretan palace, home of the mythical Minotaur, are among other highlights.
From £2,480pp for a seven-night Treasures of the Mediterranean World cruise from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Piraeus (Athens), departing July 15, 2019. Excludes flights (0800 980 4027; ponant.com).
2. Inclusive Istanbul
It would be impossible to see all that Istanbul offers in just one night, but Regent Seven Seas Cruises is incentivising cruisers with all excursions (bar one) included in the cruise price. On the itinerary are tours to the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, where sultans once held court, the spectacular Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Orthodox Church turned mosque and museum. The city sits at the entrance to the Bosphorus; from there, a visit to Kusadasi and the island of Bozcaada complete the Turkey sector of the cruise.
From £6,059pp for an eight-night Crossroads of Antiquity cruise from Civitavecchia to Piraeus (Athens), departing October 8, 2019 (02380 682280; rssc.com).
3. Best foot forward
For the perfect blend of walking (along remote shepherd’s tracks) and cruising, this voyage around the Gocek Islands and Fethiye, on Turkey’s Lycian coast, fits the bill. There’s between two and five hours’ walking most days with opportunities to walk in the morning, afternoon – or both. Alternatively, relax on the gulet as she sails between bays.
A sample day might include a walk from Aga Limani to the remains of a Roman settlement, finishing with bathing in the mineral-rich waters at the submerged ruins of Cleopatra’s bath, at Hierapolis. Work off lunch with a late-afternoon walk through a pine forest.
Departs from May to October, from £990pp. Excludes flights (0800 0744 135; utracks.com).
4. Horsey business
The city of Canakkale in northwestern Turkey is a gateway for two of Turkey’s important sites – the archaeological site of Troy and Gallipoli – a ferry ride away across the Dardanelles. Celestyal Cruises’ one-day excursion combines both sites in a long (nine hours) but rewarding excursion. At Gallipoli, trenches, cemeteries and memorials commemorate World War One. A short cruise on the Bosphorus and a visit to the Grand Bazaar are included in the fare during an overnight in Istanbul.
Departures from £899pp for a seven-night Eclectic Aegean cruise round-trip from Piraeus departing October 21, 2019. Excludes flights. Full-day tour from £66pp (0800 411 8038; celestyalcruises.com).
5. Boats, bikes and bathers
It may not be warm enough for a swim when Marella Cruises visits the Mediterranean beach resorts of Alanya and Marmaris this autumn, but there is plenty more to occupy days ashore. Marella has boat excursions, guided cycle rides, jeep trips and a visit to a Turkish hammam, where bathers are taken through the extensive Turkish bathing ritual (three hours from £18pp).
From £977pp for a seven-night Ancient Affair cruise, round-trip from Limassol in Cyprus. Departs November 13, 2019 (0871 230 2800; tui.co.uk).
6. Temple of Zeus
Ten thousand people were able to fit into the Hellenistic hilltop theatre at Pergamon. The steepest theatre in the world, it offers views over the valley to the town of Bergama. Star Clippers is visiting this summer from the port of Dikili, a town on Turkey’s Aegean coastline, during a cruise around the Greek Isles on Star Flyer, a handsome three-masted sailing ship.
From £1,490pp for a seven-night Mamma Mia cruise round-trip from Piraeus (Athens), departing August 17, 2019. Excludes flights (0808 231 4798; starclippers.co.uk).
7. Linger at Ephesus
Oceania Cruises is celebrating its return to Turkey’s west coast resort of Kusadasi (three calls this year) with a tour for up to 16 people that stays six hours at the Roman site of Ephesus. Given the popularity of the site, the exclusivity is appealing. The £249pp price includes lunch and a visit to the house, now a church, where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived. Calls into Italy, Greece and Croatia complete the cruise.
From £4,739pp for a 10-day Mediterranean Pathways cruise from Civitavecchia to Venice, departing August 23, 2019 (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
8. Page the oracle
What did the Greeks ever do for us? Well, they gave us town planning for one, or rather the architect Hippodamus did, in the ancient city of Miletus. Holland America Line visits on a cruise around Turkey’s west coast resort of Kusadasi, and Greece, this summer. The Miletus (from £57) visits the theatre, baths and stadium, and Temple of Apollo, from where an oracle used to offer advice to anyone who came calling.
From £1,599pp for an 11-day Ancient Empires cruise round-trip from Civitavecchia on August 10, 2019. Excludes flights (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).
9. Take a dip
For some, the only way to really appreciate the Turkish coast is on board a gulet (traditional sailing boat). Peter Sommer Travels’ cruise around Turkey’s south-eastern coast offers an away-from-it-all dip into the region’s rich historical seam of ancient history − as well as opportunities for a fresher dip in warm, clear waters. The gulet holds 14 people and visits temples in the ancient Persian and Hellenic sites of Kaunos and Knidos respectively. Bodrum is the final port of call.
From £2,395pp for an eight-day Cruising the Carian Coast cruise from Gocek to Bodrum, departing September 14, 2019. Excludes flights (01600 888220; petersommer.com).
10. Dinner at the Library
The façade of the Library of Celsus in Roman Ephesus is a spectacular sight, located not far Kusadasi on the Aegean Sea. Windstar, which sails smaller yacht-style ships, ends a day in the port with an exclusive (and complimentary) after-hours visit to the site followed by dinner under the stars to the sound of music played by a trio from the Aegean Chamber Orchestra.
From £4,070pp for a seven-day Treasures of the Greek Isles cruise round-trip from Piraeus (Athens), departing October 5, 2019. Excludes flights (windstarcruises.com).