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Sarah's Blog: My solo Turkey adventure

Premium Turkey in depth with Intrepid Travel

Back in the depths of the pandemic, Intrepid Travel saw a gap in the market of adventure touring and introduced their new range: Intrepid Premium tours. Designed for guests who want small group tours but with more comfortable hotels, private transport, unique experiences and the very best local guides. They now operate in 42 countries with 97 exciting tours to choose from.

I was fortunate to be invited on their Premium Turkey in Depth tour and I jumped at the chance to explore one of my favourite countries beyond the tourist resorts and experience this new way to travel.

I've been to Istanbul a couple of times and it's a stunning city so I was very excited to begin my journey here. With all Intrepid tours, the first day is spent meeting your guide and fellow travellers and usually includes a welcome dinner to get to know each other.

As tours are sold worldwide, it was no surprise to discover I was the only Brit with everyone else being from the USA and Australia. My room mate was Bev, a lovely lady from Melbourne who was doing the trip en route to Morocco for some volunteer work. That's the beauty of small groups - not only do you experience amazing destinations, you also meet really interesting people from all walks of life. Intrepid are perfect for solo travellers wanting to meet others and you can pay a supplement for your own room if you don't wish to share.

Onto discovering the delights of Turkey...

The one thing about Istanbul that isn't great is the traffic. I last visited in 2019 saw a huge difference in how busy the city is now. This meant our private minibus was two hours late reaching the hotel!

Our first stop was quite sombre as we spent the afternoon on the Gallipoli peninsular paying our respects to the brave soldiers who fought in the 1915 battles. The main landing point for the Australian and New Zealand troops is now known as Anzac Cove which together with the Lone Pine Memorial commemorates more than 4,000 Anzac soldiers who lost their lives.

For the next few days, we were to be immersed in the ancient historical sights Turkey is famous for. Our guide, Iso, was so knowledgeable and able to bring to life the ruins of Troy and Ephesus. The amphitheatre and library at Ephesus are incredibly well preserved and a few of the group took the opportunity to explore the newly unearthed terraced houses and their incredible mosaics.

A highlight for me here was also the cats - they've become quite the attraction and are very friendly - probably due to the guides feeding them lots of treats!

Immersing yourself in the local culture is at the heart of all Intrepid tours and having a local guide is priceless.

Down to small things like knowing where to find unique food experiences, how to get a table in a busy restaurant, not having to queue at tourist sights and of course speaking the language.

For anyone averse to taking a group tour rather than travelling independently, it's these things that make your holiday easy and so much more enjoyable.

Intrepid tours always have some unique experiences included, often involving the local cuisine. After browsing the local market, enjoying a fruit wine tasting and Turkish coffee, we headed to the Nisanyan Houses Hotel in the small village of Sirence. This was the perfect setting for our afternoon cooking class and dinner. We learnt how to make borek and meze which included the creamiest houmous I've ever tasted. The family who run the hotel were so welcoming and dining amongst the pine trees was a magical end to the first part of our trip.

Pamukkale is one of the iconic sights Turkey has to offer. Meaning 'cotton castle' this natural phenomenon is created by deposits from the thermal waters cascading over the hillside and forming a collection of pools and terraces. Sadly tourists are still allowed to walk all over them and combined with the diversion of the water source to the local town, the terraces are not as impressive as they once were. I chose to soak my slightly weary bones in the thermal antique pools instead - a lovely way to ease away the hours sat in a bus!

I've been to many resorts on the Turkish coast over the years but never managed to get as far east as Kas and Antalya so was really looking forward to the next part of the trip.

All of the hotels we'd stayed at so far have been excellent and Payam Hotel in Kas was no exception. Really friendly staff, a great location a few minutes walk from town but what made it stand out for me was breakfast!

Turkish breakfasts are legendary - a sumptuous spread of salads, eggs, cheeses, honey and jam, wonderful breads and pastries and of course copious amounts of Turkish tea. At Payam, everything was incredibly fresh with the most stunning views across the bay to the Greek island, Kastellorizo.

Kas was relaxation time and luckily we had a beautiful day for our boat trip along the local coastline with Mehmet and Sebahat. The married couple welcomed us aboard for a wonderful day of swimming, snorkelling and eating superb homemade food.

Antalya is generally known in the UK as where you fly to before staying in one of the many all inclusive resorts along this stretch of the Mediterranean. I think it would make a perfect winter city break - weather is good year round, the old city is fascinating and it has a vibrant dining and live music scene.

Here our guide really came into his own as a few of us had asked to visit a hammam (Turkish bath). He suggested we'd have a really authentic experience in Antalya - he was not wrong!

The ladies at Demirhan Hamam were so lovely (despite none of us understanding each other!). After a cleansing steam room and an invigorating pummeling, the oil massage was just wonderful and so relaxing.

With a renewed spring in our step, it was another early start to visit the ancient city of Sagalassos. Having never heard of it, no one had any expectations other than it's 'just another ruined city' Oh my word how we were wrong.

Set high in the Taurus Mountains, the setting and panoramic views are just breathtaking. It's one of the few places I've been where the more you explore, the greater treasures you find. On arrival, most of the city is hidden from view. Following easy paths up the mountain past rock tombs you find yourself looking down on the spectacular, still working, Antonin Fountain at the head of the upper agora (which means meeting place). The sight is so well preserved it takes very little imagination to picture a thriving city that dates back to 1200BC. Best of all, hardly any tourists were there.

As if the day couldn't get any better, we had a delicious lunch on the way down the mountain at Sagalassos Yörük Çadırı. Gozleme is a Turkish speciality flat bread cooked on a griddle with all sorts of fillings. I enjoyed spinach and cheese and spiced potato - simple but so tasty, the best I've eaten in Turkey.

Saying goodbye to the Mediterranean coast, we headed north east towards Cappadocia.

This has long been on my wish list and probably the reason I said yes to this tour!

First an overnight stop in Konya, Turkey's most religiously conservative city. It's famous for being the burial place of Rumi, the Islamic philosopher and founder of the Sufi aspect of Islam. An afternoon visit to Rumi's mausoleum now part of the Mevlana Museum was fascinating although I wasn't expecting the Instagrammer posing in front of his coffin... I guess that's all part of travel in 2022!

It's been a pretty full on tour up to now so I think we were all looking forward to Cappadocia as it promised to be a bit more relaxing - well aside from a 4am start but that was totally worth it!

We arrived at the Splendid Cave Hotel and what a splendid place it is! Peaceful with wonderful views across the valley it was the perfect spot to explore this unique area from. Luckily my room mate Bev and I have gotten along fabulously however when presented with a only a double bed in our room this was a step too far! Having being shown pretty much every room in the hotel by the patient owner, we settled on an original cave room, completely carved from the rock face. Cool during the day but warm at night, no air conditioning or heating is required and it was surprisingly comfortable - I've never stayed anywhere quite like it.

The 4am start was for the main reason everyone visits Cappadocia - to see this stunning landscape in a sunrise hot air balloon trip. This is an optional extra so if you don't like heights or early mornings you can opt out. That being said, I recommend you get over both of those fears as you'll miss the trip of a lifetime!

We arrived in the dark, in a field in the middle of nowhere to dozens of balloons being prepared for the morning's flight. Normally when I'm doing touristy things, it's nice for there not to be many other tourists there (I think most people would agree with me!) but this experience was made all the more remarkable because of the other balloons.

As we floated through the air with the sun slowly emerging, the landscape opened up in front of us to reveal the distinctive fairy chimney rock formations and cave dwellings below.

Our expert pilots departed at the optimum time and conditions were perfect so we saw the most beautiful sunrise.

A truly magical experience.

Goreme is the main town in Cappadocia and the location of the open air museum. Here you can learn about the history of the area and visit ancient cave dwellings, churches and monasteries.

Despite the early start we had an exciting evening ahead as we travelled out to a local restored karavansary for a Whirling Dervish show. This mystical ceremony is a form of meditation by Sufi Muslims to reach a state of nirvana. The musicians sing hymns throughout the performance based on the works of Rumi. A deep and very moving experience, truly mesmerising.

We enjoyed one of my favourite meals on the trip in Cappadocia on a visit to Nuray, a local lady who welcomed us into her cave home for a delicious home cooked meal. It was wonderful evening listening to her talking about her family and her life, meeting her daughters and sharing different experiences with her and how she's been affected by the pandemic.

She's been welcoming Intrepid guests for over 10 years so was very pleased to open her home again once borders opened.

Sadly our time in Cappadocia has come to an end. With a delayed flight back to Istanbul and chaotic traffic getting to the hotel, this just left a couple of hours for some last minute shopping in the Grand Bazaar and time for an evening drink to say goodbye to everyone. People who in just two weeks had gone from strangers to excellent travel companions and friends.

Although I've travelled to Turkey many times, I still thoroughly enjoyed this trip. It really highlights the ancient, natural and cultural treasures this often overlooked country has to offer.

Intrepid Premium tours definitely fill a gap as the whole trip was incredibly easy so you can just enjoy every day to the full. Having private transport was a huge part of this as was Iso, our wonderful guide. Aside from his knowledge and passion for his country, he was interesting to talk to, not shying away from discussing aspects of Turkish life that many tour companies would gloss over. He became part of the group not just the leader and it was really quite emotional saying goodbye to him and the rest of our lovely group.

This 15 day tour operates from March through to October with prices starting from £3,015 per person plus flights.


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