Turkey cultural tour holiday

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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Turkey cultural tour holiday

Since our launch we have been striving to present an authentic and uncommercial vision of Turkey with independently minded travellers from across the globe.

Whole-heartedly opposed to the usual tours on offer, where hundreds of tourists are bundled on coaches, whizzed around the obvious sites, then herded into carpet, leather and jewellery shops, our tours offer the traveller a much more subtle, personal and intimate way to discover the country.

Our vision of low impact sustainable tourism is achieved primarily by keeping group numbers small. In small groups we are able to see and do things that are simply not practical with large numbers. We are thus able to contribute to the smaller community economies since we are able to utilise small accommodations, small local shops and eateries.

In addition, we are currently trying to draw attention to an important archaeological excavation, one that is racing against time to rescue the ancient city of Allianoi before it is submerged under the waters of Yortanli dam. The damn, currently in construction, has serious cultural and environmental consequences. Tourism could help save the site, since it would generate an alternative source of income, locals may realise the site’s cultural value over the dam.

Reviews of Turkey cultural tour holiday

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 30 Aug 2010 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


There were many highlights of our holiday. Istanbul was an interesting and colourful city to visit, especially the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. Cirali Beach was quiet and very relaxing. We went on a boat trip on day, spending 8 hours out, exploring different bays, swimming in the clear blue sea and eating a fresh fish dinner on board. It was fun. Chimaera; the natural geological feature was really interesting; well worth the cycle ride and hike up the mountain. We loved the Olympic Tree House Cafe Bar in Cirali its self and its eccentric hippy-feel. The sea was so clear at that end of the beach.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


We only had two and a half days we could have done with at least 3 if not 4 days in Istanbul. Make sure you visit Chimaera at night fall. Its well worth getting up at dawn to see the sunrise. Walk to the other end of the beach and go to the Olympic Tree House Cafe Bar. It was too hot at the end of August, although the locals said it was extraordinarily hot this week. As we were warned there are no ATM's in Cirali, so get Turkish Lira and souvenirs/ presents in Istanbul.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


We felt more could be done to use renewable energy especially as there is so much sun for solar energy. There were some solar panels, at the Bellerafron Hotel, but there certainly weren't enough to run the air conditioning in the rooms, as well. There were plastic bottles littering the beach and the road sides every where. We walked to the Cirali end of the beach and picked up a carrier bag full of rubbish, one day. Surely local people should be doing that on a regular basis and encouraging visitors to take their rubbish home with them.

The main good aspect was that the hotel and its neighbour, Arcadia, blended well into the trees and they used minimal low energy lighting on a night outside and a very quiet atmosphere pervaded.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


I was pleased that Cergan at the travel operator said he could arrange a stay in Istanbul which was additional to the advertised Cirali Beach holiday. The holiday was perfect and just as we had imagined, although hotter than we would have liked. The information sent to us about the hotel and Cirali was very useful. All the taxis turned up on time and all the flights connected well. I would love to go back but not when it is so hot in August. I would rate the holiday 8 out of 10.

Reviewed on 01 Oct 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


This was a holiday of variety and contrasts and full of memorable moments. I found the trip to Gallipoli moving, the stay in the small, pretty village of Sirince interesting - especially since it was Ramazan and the calls of the muezzin were added to by the loud drum beat at about 3.30am to wake people up in time to eat before the dawn to dusk fast began - and the boat trip from Kas wonderfully relaxing. The scenery was fascinating - from the calcium pools in Pamukkale, through high mountains to the wonderful landscape of Cappadocia.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


It may be better to avoid this trip during Ramadan/Ramazan as food is more limited during the day and there is a scramble for restaurants after sunset. This didn't prevent our guide, Mehmet, from finding places to eat, however. If you want to walk along the Saklikent Gorge make sure you wear shorts and plastic shoes - the water is deep and very cold in some parts and too stony to go without shoes. Don't expect gourmet food. Turkey is largely self-sufficient so this means eating food that is in season. There is therefore far less variety and you may end up having the same tomato and cucumber salad, the same aubergine and tomato dishes and the same melon for pud throughout the trip. It is often tepid and there is little variety in the main meals once you have exhausted the lamb/beef/chicken kebabs and stews. It was tasty food but it was significant that one of our best meals was cooked for us on the boat when we had a simple barbecue and salads. This time the meat was hot as well as delicious and there was greater variety in the salad dishes. Our guide was anxious to ensure we had a large quantity of food from his daily budget and ordered soup, salad, often mezes, a main course [which usually included more salad] and a pud. This quantity of courses meant he had to choose the cheaper main courses. We seemed to have a lot of food left over so began to ask him to leave out the salads and often the soups [usually they were lentil or tomato] in the hope that we would have a more interesting main course. I think we would all have liked to have the chance to choose from the menu ourselves - it would be worth asking the guide to do this.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


In our mini-bus we were able to stay in smaller villages than the big tour groups could get to so the local shops and hotels benefited from our money. People in our group bought from local craftsmen and women, too. I hope that our smaller bus had less impact on the roads than the huge coaches.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Both my husband and I enjoyed the holiday, though the food wasn't as great as we'd hoped it would be. We also felt that the trip could have cut out the visit to Safranbolu as this was a very long journey at the end of the holiday and to a town that, though very quant, wasn't different enough from Sirince to warrant the time taken to reach it. The hotel there was quite an experience, too as the 'bathroom' was hidden inside a cupboard and you had to climb up wooden steps to get to the door and go in. Once you had used the shower you needed to put the towels on the floor to prevent skidding over - there was no shower tray. It was so small that my husband could only stand at the loo by twisting his shoulders sideways! We nevertheless have many enjoyable memories of Turkey and would recommend a visit.

Reviewed on 20 Jun 2007 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


I think that Goreme is a special place, where nature plays the major role, but we enjoyed very much all the places we visited. Ephesus is quite interesting for the good quality of the roman buildings.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Groups should stay small and the quality of the guide is very important, not only his knowledge of the country’s history but also how he interacts with the visitors. We where very fortunate on this regard. Visitors should read some books about the country (and the Bible as a historical book) before traveling and be open minded for what they are going to encounter. We must not forget that the European civilisation started around the Mediterranean sea of which the land that is now Turkey is an important part.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes, in generally the choice of hotels and places visited benefit the local people. We have nevertheless two remarks concerning the hotels: 1-Spina, wonderful location, needs to improve maintenance, many small problems that should not exist (taps leaking, bulbs not working, etc etc) and 2. the hotel in Konya is a disaster, as soon as you get into your room you just want to get out, very bad food. I know, the location is good but in this case it does not pay because there is nothing to visit nearby other then the mosque.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We were very pleased with the organisation, the hotels (with the exception of Konya), the restaurants, the driver and the guide. Aykut is a very special person and the best guide one could have. The itinerary was well done and we had the opportunity of visiting a variety of natural and historical sites and learn about life in present and past Turkey, which is a very diversified country with a lot to offer. We have traveled extensively and this trip stands out as a remarkable experience.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very pleased that you had a very positive experience on this tour and we greatly appreciate your honest feedback.

We agree wholeheartedly about the Hotel in Konya. We have been into many hotels in Konya when researching accommodation and they are all lacking in some way. Konya, however, is one of those places that this tour needs to stop at since many people are fascinated by Rumi and the history of the whirling dervishes. It is a pity, but as we point out on our website, "the concept of boutique hotels is a little lost on Konya, the hotels here lack imagination to say the least". We are working on alternatives.

As for Hotel Spina in Istanbul and the issue of maintenance. This sadly is often the case in Turkey. Standards in plumbing and other aspects of building are not to European or American standards and sometimes fall short, even in 5 star hotels. Bathrooms often have leaky taps, badly cut tiles or doors that don't fit properly. We apologise for this particular experience you had. We will certainly be on to the hotel to eliminate these faults at once as we still believe that Spina is a great little hotel in a fantastic location.

Whilst our tours are about an alternative vision of Turkey, we appreciate that certain standards need to be retained. We endeavour to do this as much as possible without compromising the 'off the beaten track' character of this tour.

Reviewed on 04 Jun 2005 by

This tour was more than I could have hoped for, Burma became my benchmark 10 or so years ago, many, many trips in between and nothing ever really lived up to that holiday. Perhaps it was because it was my coming out holiday so to speak. Recently separated after 25 years, Burma helped me define who I would become. Now, Turkey has stolen 1st place on my list of holiday favourites. Each sense has been impressed with a memory that will not be forgotten. Hours of driving defined by moments of clarity and magic at every turn. Breath taking vistas, melodic calls to prayer, whiffs of wild herbal hedges while curving round mountain highways, calcium mud between my toes, tomatoes, oh those tomatoes and will never forget the eggplants either. There’s feta cheese with wild honey or fresh cherry jam on wonderful thick slices of bread all washed down with amazing Turkish coffee or apple tea. Turkey has it all.

Our guide (owner) Serkan embodies Turkey and is the reason the tour surpasses all expectations. His passion for Turkey is evident in his every breath. His dream of introducing Turkey to the world has come to life and his passion is contagious. From his love of the countryside, to his ability to marry current political idiosyncrasies with historic events and wrap it all in a gastronomic dream, Serkan makes Turkey very easy to love.

Why Turkey?
As the cradle of civilisation she provides answers to the why and how of our existence on the planet. She encourages breaking down of personal barriers with her tantalising mix of East & West cultures in; religion, food, dress, music and so much more. Enlightenment can be found while lying naked on a large heated slab of marble in a 400 year old Turkish Bath surrounded by female strangers yet feeling connected to them, and women in the past who’ve shared their secrets, laughter and tears in this bath house. Mesmerising Whirling Dervish dancers slowly draw you in as you revel in the understanding that their dance / meditation imparts the knowledge that the answers are already inside you. New ways of thinking created by new sights and experiences; the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the wonder of the Eternal Flame, floating along side birds in a hot air balloon, catching daylight sneaking down to water level in deep Saklikent Gorge. Traditional female garb covering up blue jeans and cell phones that give themselves away with a distinctive ring...everywhere, a reminder we’re more the same than different. Genuinely friendly Turkish people who really want to know your story and tell you theirs. This trip provided a deep insight into it all.

Reviewed on 24 Aug 2004 by

We woke to the sound of prayers wafting from the minarets of the Blue Mosque, the haunting sound that was to follow us throughout our journey. The verses of the Koran are chanted five times a day from mosques in every village and town in this country of surprises. In homage to a dear friend who died recently and had asked me to write up our trip together five years before, I returned to Turkey, now accompanied by my artist friend Graham Davis.

Turkey is a huge peninsula that juts out into the Eastern Mediterranean with 5000 miles of coastline, and mountains twice the height of Blue Mountain Peak. We visited only a fraction of Anatolia, the region across the Bosphorus in Asia, but moved from dense forests, to salt lakes, gorges, and the extraordinary landscape of Cappadocia.

Despite a population of 68 million, Turkey can feed itself, one of the few countries in the world able to do so. Throughout our journey we saw both men and women working in fields of cotton, potatoes, olive trees, pumpkins and grains. Families with young children and well-trained dogs tended large herds of sheep and goats. There are also large industrial areas, a thriving textile industry, and a steadily growing tourism business.

I had researched our trip on responsibletravel.com, and chose a small locally operated tour company. Owner Serkan, Turkish born and raised in England, had similar interests as myself, having previously worked in film and design. His passionate love for his homeland and eagerness to share would bring a time of laughter and lasting memories. Through him we discovered its ancient history, culture, cuisine and beauty, travelling over 2,000 miles in his trusty Landrover, which gradually filled with our purchases of carpets, lamps, fruit and spices.

Turkey has numerous Greek and Roman archaeological sites - huge amphitheatres, aqueducts, temples, tombs, mosaics and inscriptions. Some were on remote coastal headlands or hidden as in the forests of Olimpos. In more modern times, from the 12th Century, traders along the Silk Route brought exotic goods from the East. Turkey, the crossroad between two continents, has always been a meeting place of both worlds. There are museums everywhere. The famed Topkapi Palace in Istanbul evoked the fairy tale images of my visit as a student, after sitting in a train from England for five days and nights. Once the home of Sultans, it offers a breathtaking insight into their opulent lives with diamonds the size of hens’ eggs, exquisite inlaid thrones, and the bejewelled robes that adorned the concubines of the harem.

Below the palace is the Bosphorus, the narrow strait that divides Europe and Asia. One of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, our ferry zigzagged past boats of all sizes, and elegant Ottoman homes, the summer residences of Turkey’s wealthy. The silhouette of the city from the water is a sight never to be forgotten. To cleanse ourselves for the journey, we visited a Turkish bath, or ‘hamam’, where I got steamed and scrubbed on an enormous marble slab. Men and women are in separate areas, but the sight of so many naked women was bizarre.

Our route took us past the killing fields of Gallipoli, memorialised in the Mel Gibson film of the same title. As in most places, Serkan knew where to find the best food, and that night we dined on lamb that had grazed on wild oregano, and was cooked with yoghurt over coals. Turkish cuisine is a heady mixture of spices and local produce. In markets we marvelled at shiny eggplants, cabbages twice the size of my head, beautifully presented fish and radishes as large as grapefruit. Peppers in a rainbow of colours, lush pomegranates and pistachios jostled for space between crimson tomatoes and pale green pumpkins.

I learned to love lentil soup, and ‘pide’ – the Turkish version of pizza. I drank endless cups of cay, apple tea and Turkish coffee, along with local beer, wine and a yoghurt drink called ‘ayran’. Each region has its own specialities, including bread all shapes and sizes of bread. We especially enjoyed Turkish delight, a sweet concoction of nuts and fruits whose popularity rivals our Easter buns. Luckily our journey was quite active, so that our waistlines did not expand too-too much.

Our next overnight stop, Pamukkale, has spectacular calcium cliffs and pools, gleaming like snow in the sunshine. The Romans recognised their mineral properties and built a large spa nearby. The weather became warmer as we travelled south, past the spectacular Saklikent gorge, narrower and higher than Bog Walk. Kas, our home for two days is a former fishing village where tourism has made its mark with many shops and restaurants. Around the harbour, the captains of gulets (boats of traditional design) wait for customers to explore the many islands, sunken cities and coves. It was here that Graham succumbed to the charms of a carpet. Turkish carpets are world famous and the finest sell for many thousands of dollars, but after nuff cups of tea (and most of the morning) a bargain was struck with the Turkish higgler.

Travelling along a truly dizzying coastal road, we reached Olimpos. It was here that I saw my most surreal sight of the journey – the Chimaera. Steeped in mythology, these eternal flames appear spontaneously out of crevices on a remote hillside. Used in navigation by ancient mariners, no one can explain the gas coming from deep within the earth, hot enough to cook on, and photographs cannot capture the otherworldly feel of the experience.

Our next stop, Konya, is a conservative Moslem city, birthplace of the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. Despite the name, the religious ceremony is graceful and majestic. Like pocomania, it involves chants, music and dance, and for the uninitiated it is a deeply moving experience. From there we drove to Cappadochia, a World Heritage Site of volcanic valleys and pillars formed from wind and rain over the centuries. With its incredibly improbable rock formations, cave houses and frescoes, it is probably the most photographed area of Turkey. Indeed our hotel was carved into the rocks. At dawn we viewed it from a hot air balloon, passing vineyards and villages - a journey that ended unceremoniously as we tipped gently over on landing.

Our last nights in the countryside were spent in Safranbolu, another World Heritage site, which became prosperous from the sale of saffron and leather. We stayed with a local family in their 18th century Ottoman home. Early in the morning our host, Cengis, took us into the mountains to his father’s sheep farm. Here, as everywhere, the people were friendly, dignified and eager to share their knowledge. We returned to Istanbul along mountain roads and super highways. It was now the month of Ramadan when during daylight hours people are forbidden to eat or drink, so nightfall is a time of festivity. All around the Blue Mosque, stalls and restaurants are set up, and children gazed wide-eyed at the colourful homemade sweets and special foods. As we say goodbye, I too feel wide-eyed and awed by the magnificence and magic of Turkey.

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