Our Luxury Custom Travel consultants have the enviable task of taking to the road to scout destinations for our guests. Whether revisiting favorite haunts to remain up to date on the latest offerings and behind-the-scenes access, or delving into up-and-coming destinations, they aim to stay a couple of steps ahead of the crowd.
Consultant Colleen Clayton recently returned from a scouting trip to Turkey. She sat down to tell us all about the architecture, landscapes and cuisine that made her fall in love with this fascinating and diverse country.
Where did you go?
Istanbul, of course, and then the Cappadocia region, Bodrum and Ephesus.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences in Turkey?
Istanbul is the obvious starting place to explore Turkey, and this ancient-meets-modern city sets the tone for this dynamic country. There’s no way to fully understand the grandeur of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia until you walk the halls yourself. Every element of these magnificent structures, from the intricate tiles and wrought-iron chandeliers of the Hagia Sophia to the sea of worshippers coming to pray at the Blue Mosque, shows off Turkey’s rich cultural heritage.
Afterward, you should stroll the few blocks to the Grand Bazaar, where once again “grand” is an understatement. It’s a feast for the senses—the intermingling aromas of mounds of spices, the glow of antique lanterns hanging from the rafters, the velvety silk scarves in every shade. You could easily get lost among the winding halls and endless blocks, so we can arrange for a guide to show you around.
What are some can’t-miss experiences and destinations?
A visit to a Cappadocian rug factory ended up being one of the most memorable parts of my trip. I hadn’t planned to purchase anything, but when you watch the women weaving, their hands flying over the intricate patterns, it’s an incredible display of talent. Afterward, you go to the showroom, where rug after rug gets unfurled until the floor looks like a patchwork quilt. You’re invited to take off your shoes and walk on the rugs, many of which are 100 percent silk and buttery soft. Needless to say, after being treated like a royal at a personal showing, I brought a beautiful rug back home with me.
Cappadocia is full of rugged landscapes that you can explore from multiple perspectives. Start underground in the network of tunnels and caverns where Christians once lived to escape religious persecution. To discover the terrain above ground, we can send you riding on horseback or by ATV. Both are perfect ways to see the area’s remarkable rock formations up close, and you can wind through valleys filled with grape vines and apricot trees. For a quintessential Cappadocia experience, wake up before sunrise for a hot air balloon ride, timed so that you’ll be eye-level with the sun as it crests the mountains. Surveying the landscape from above is breathtaking, but seeing the other colorful, glowing balloons all around you as the sky changes colors is even more impressive.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
Cappadocia is known for its cave hotels, but the Museum Hotel is truly one of a kind. Built into the rocky outcroppings of the town of Uchisar, the hotel is a living museum full of historic artifacts. Each of the rooms and suites are unique—the only common features are the extravagant jacuzzi tubs and wood-burning fireplaces. The heated outdoor pool is perfect for stargazing, and the buffet breakfast spread is incredible. I was surprised at first to have olives, cheeses, tomatoes, meats and smoked fish served alongside pastries, yogurts and fruits, but I came to enjoy the variety and balance.
The Mandarin Oriental Bodrum was a dream even though I stayed there in the off-season. I can only imagine the hotel in the peak of summer, when the private beaches and pool would be irresistible. The rooms are opulent, all generously sized with private gardens. The largest suites are downright palatial, with private elevators, multiple bathrooms, private plunge pools and plenty of room to spread out.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
Definitely eggplant and yogurt. I’ve been inspired to work these two staples of Turkish cuisine into my home cooking. My best food experience, though, was at a little roadside café a few miles from the site of Ephesus. It’s a family-run establishment that has become a local sensation. Every day, they prepare a family-style buffet featuring dozens of traditional Turkish dishes. Pile up your plate and then sit out in the peaceful courtyard, filled with bubbling fountains and trees.
What surprised you about Turkey?
The sheer size of Istanbul blew me away. I’m a former New Yorker, so New York City is my point of comparison for metropolises, but it pales in comparison to this cosmopolitan meeting point of the continents. Istanbul is the fourth-largest city in the world, with 15 million people spread over 594 square miles.
This is just a small sampling of some of the things we can arrange for you in this fascinating country. We can design the perfect Turkey trip for you, based on your interests and time constraints. Just give us a call or click on the “contact a consultant” button below to get started.