Academic Tours & Language Classes
Workshops In Ottoman Arts -- No visit to the epicenter of Ottoman arts would be complete without trying your hand at the classic art of ebru, or paper marbling, calligraphy, or on a soulful saz. Seeking to promote Turkey's rich and vibrant cultural goods, Les Arts Turcs, Incili Çavus Sok. 37, 3rd floor, Sultanahmet/Istanbul (tel. 0212/520-7743; http://lesartsturcs.com), organizes private or group lessons in all three and then some. Interested in Byzantine mosaic art? Check. Want to learn how to apply a henna tattoo? Check. Willing to accept a dare to show off your belly dancing prowess? You can do it all here. Les Arts Turcs also organizes private language lessons. Some of their group workshops are organized in conjunction with the Caferaga Medresesi, Caferiye Sokak Sogukkuyu Çikmazi 1, Sultanahmet/Istanbul (tel. 0212/528-0089; www.caferagamedresesi.com), a project of the Turkish Cultural Foundation Service (www.tkhv.org). The restored medrese now serves as a handicrafts center, offering multiday workshops in ebru, calligraphy, illumination, miniature painting, jewelry, and decorative ornamentation of wood, fabric, or glass, among others.
Language Classes -- While an increasing number of resources offer language instruction in Turkish (and other languages) free on the Internet, there's no better way to learn a language than through immersion. Tömer is the language school arm of Ankara University (www.tomer.ankara.edu.tr), with locations in Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Izmir, Antalya, Denizli, Samsun, and Trabzon. At Dilmer, at the language center's Istanbul Taksim location (www1.dilmer.com), you can choose among the morning, afternoon, evening, or weekend modules, lasting either 4, 8, or 12 weeks.
Adventure & Wellness Trips
Active Vacations -- Gorp Travel (tel. 877/440-4677; www.gorp.com) is a near encyclopedic compendium of adventure holidays on one website, including the ones mentioned here. The Imaginative Traveller (tel. 800/225-2380; www.imaginative-traveller.com), the U.K.'s leading adventure tour company, offers culturally rich, physically active vacations, many with families in mind. Not for the faint of thigh, Great Explorations (tel. 800-242-1825; www.great-explorations.com), based in Canada, runs fairly hard-core combo cycling and Blue Cruise tours along the coast from Bodrum, through Datça, to Dalyan, and along the coast to Kas, Fethiye, and Olympos on its way to Antalya. Check their website for details and departure dates.
In 1994, archaeologist and professor Peter Sommer (Peter Sommer Travels; tel. 1600/888-220 in the U.K.; www.petersommer.com) set out from Troy on foot to walk the 2,000-mile path taken by Alexander the Great. His 19-day tour, aptly named "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great," retraces this trajectory and includes a short gulet cruise through some of the more scenic of the country's turquoise waters. His gulet tour of the Carian coastline makes the most of the Blue Cruise and of many of the region's off-the-beaten-track highlights.
In Turkey, Argeus Tourism & Travel, based in Ürgüp, Istiklal Cad. 13 (tel. 0384/341-4688; fax 0384/341-4888; www.argeus.com.tr), is the most qualified local company for organizing tailor-made hiking, biking and other active tours, with guides that are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Middle Earth Travel, Gaferli Mahallesi, Cevizler Sokak, Göreme (tel. 0384/271-2559; www.middleearthtravel.com), targets the hardiest of independent adventure travelers, with 6-day to 2-week treks into the Kaçkar Mountains, an 8-day climb up Mount Ararat, 2-day volcano climbs, and organized expeditions along the Lycian Way and St. Paul's Trail. If river sports are more your speed, Medraft (www.medraft.com) combines off-the-beaten-track travel with rafting trips in the canyons around Antalya and overnights at their rustic "Mountain Lodge." Medraft also runs a 9-day rafting trip into the Kaçkar region along the Black Sea coast. They also send their expert sportsmen to lead cycling adventures and jeep safaris to these regions.
In the past few years, Turkey has caught golfing fever, and it seems that everybody with a hankering and disposable greens fees wants to get in on the act. A number of developers have recognized the investment potential; the number of courses continues to exponentially increase. Most of these courses are located in the province of Antalya, taking advantage of the mild Mediterranean winter months. For more information, log on to www.bookyourgolf.net.
Thermals & Spas -- Perched atop geologically dynamic soil, Turkey has suffered the fury of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions for millennia. But that same dynamism has also blessed the country with a phenomenal reserve of geothermal resources. Combine these with the centuries-old hamam tradition, and place them both squarely in the present where health and wellness have become the new buzzwords, and you've got a recipe for a budding spa industry. Even if Istanbul is your only destination in Turkey, the embarras de richesses of deluxe hotel spas will keep your skin smooth, your muscles supple, and your head clear.
In the hot-springs-rich peninsula of Çesme, a luxury thermal spa is now the rule rather than the exception. Five-star properties with thermal-rich waters include the Botanica Thermal Spa at the Sheraton Çesme, the Dulcis Thermal Spa at the Radisson Blu, the Nars Ilica, and 7800 Çesme. Two other traditional centers for thermal treatments are Bursa and Pamukkale. Where thermal bubbly does not spring up, the deluxe hotels along the Aegean and Turquoise coastline provide a worthy consolation.
Boat Trips (aka The Blue Voyage)
Any of the travel agents in this guide (and those not included) can help you arrange a bareboat yacht or gulet, a captained vessel or a cabin charter. Highly recommended are Credo Tours (tel. 0212/254-8175 in Istanbul; fax 0212/237-9670; www.credo.com.tr) and Argeus (tel. 0384/341-4688 in Cappadocia; www.argeus.com.tr), both of whom can provide the optimum amount of service to best tailor your trip to your needs.
Dozens and dozens of yachting specialists and brokers make bareboat and gulet charters their business. Three of the more established marine specialists are Aegean Yachting (tel. 0252/316-1517; fax 0252/316-5749, www.aegeanyacht.com), Gino Group (tel. 0252/412-0676; fax 0252/412-2066; www.ginogroup.com), and Bodtur (tel. 0232/421-8002; www.bodtur.com), but there are plenty other heavy hitters ready to compete for your business.
If you just want a taste of the Blue Cruise and you're on a limited budget, the cabin charter is the way to go. Most bareboat brokers also deal in gulet cabin charters, and any travel agent worth his salt will bend over backward to accommodate your cabin charter request.
V-GO Tourism Travel Agency, based in Fethiye, Fevzi Çakmak Caddesi (btw. the marina and the Yacht Club; tel. 0252/612-2113; www.boatcruiseturkey.com), arranges 3-, 4-, and 7-day cruises departing from Fethiye or Olympos. Information (including rates) and pictures of their substantial fleet of broad-beamed gulets, ranging in age and level of luxury, can be viewed on their website.
You can go the extra nautical mile on a Blue Voyage by signing up with a reputable sailing school. Gökova Yachting, based in Netsel Marina in Marmaris (tel./fax 0252/413-1089; www.gokovasailing.com), is the only licensed international sailing school where students can advance through the five levels of sailing proficiency from beginner to racer. Yacht master Cumhur (Jim) Gökova presides over one of the newest fleets in the Mediterranean and also handles bookings directly. Tuition is 600€ per person per week and covers one proficiency level of instruction.
All About the Blue Voyage -- The Mavi Yolculuk, or "Blue Voyage," emerged in the late 1920s, when Cevat Sakir Kabaagaçli, a dissident political writer whose "punishment" was exile in Bodrum, began cruising visiting friends around the idyllic Gulf of Gökova. Today tooling along the Turkish Mediterranean coastline is one of the highlights of any trip to Turkey, and in some cases, the only way to visit the small fishing villages and islands of the southwestern coast. But to do it right, you should plan in advance and know your options.
The traditional Turkish sea excursion is either by the traditional wooden broad-beamed gulet or sleek yacht cruiser. Hiring a private yacht without a crew (known in the lingo as bareboat charter) is a popular choice for those with sailing proficiency and a taste for independence and adventure. Captained yachts are also available as an option. But so are captained and crewed gulets, which typically accommodate 8 to 12 people (or more) and come equipped with many modern conveniences.
In addition to chartering the entire gulet, it is also possible to charter a cabin on an individual basis. This last option, however, is riddled with pitfalls, not the least of which can be safety concerns. Generally, the gulets used for individual cabin charters didn't make the first cut for that season, thanks to torn cushions, faded decks, clogged toilets, smelly cabins, and a boat that should have been sent out to pasture long ago. Many tour operators and yacht agents have responded by acquiring and chartering out their own gulets, so check at the time of booking to make sure you'll be on one of these more recent acquisitions. If your booking agent can't or won't give you specific information about the boat you'll be on, be prepared for the worst, and negotiate a discount in advance if the gulet you were promised gets substituted at the last minute.
The most popular gulet cruises depart from Marmaris and ply the waters to Fethiye and back, stopping at (conditions permitting) Cleopatra's Baths, Dalyan, Kaunos, Istuzu Beach, and Ölüdeniz. See if you can get your agent to book you an excursion out of Marmaris in the opposite direction (to Datça), or start in Finike and loiter around Kekova Bay.
Weeklong gulet cruises commonly depart on Sunday mornings (boarding Sat nights) and last 1 week, although it's also possible to arrange minicruises departing from anywhere your heart desires. A typical weeklong Blue Voyage will run you anywhere from 350€ and up per person, with as much as 70% added on for a single supplement. Meals are usually included, but all drinks, even water, are extra (but available and reasonably priced onboard). Boats may come equipped with air-conditioning, but even on a private and comparatively luxurious boat, the generator, and thus the A/C, gets shut down at night.
Although most Turkish boat operators offer their services directly to the public, every travel agent (and his brother) has a friend in the boat business. The problem is wading through all of the brokerage options, especially when the ship's captain lists his boat with multiple agencies. The best way to ensure quality in booking your gulet or yacht cruise is to use one of the reputable local tour brokers that I recommend under "Boat Trips," above. Through long-standing relationships and extensive scrutiny of the boats, these brokers/tour operators can ensure a level of quality, as well as act as your agent in the event of unexpected developments. You will also have the added insurance of dealing with an outfitter working to protect you and your investment. Be an informed buyer and get a detailed description of the boat, keeping in mind that vessels need a complete renovation at least every 5 years. Also, decide whether a hose attachment to the sink faucet is sufficient as a shower or whether you require an enclosed stall. Finally, flush toilets (as opposed to the hand-pump type) are considered a luxury.
But look, the cabin charter is not all bad news. There's really no way to ruin a week of tooling around turquoise waters with a culturally and linguistically diverse passenger list. Hold your nose and just dive in.
Food & Wine Trips
Only a true foodie can appreciate the rewards of planning a vacation with a special emphasis on the eating habits of a country. In Turkey, where much of the language and expressions refer back to the kitchen, there's no better way to get to the heart of this culture.
The Istanbul Culinary Institute, Mesrutiyet Cad. 59, Tepebasi (tel. 0212/251-2214; www.istanbulculinary.com), offers professional and amateur programs, as well as short, 1-day crash courses in techniques (cutting, stocks, or sauces), Ottoman cuisine (meat dishes with fruit, for example), or in Turkish basics (rice, böreks, and mantis). There are also monthly gastronomic walking tours, where groups of at least four people get a crash course in street food. One such tour stumbles over to the Kumkapi wholesale fish market at 4am! Tours cost about 100TL per person; custom tours are available for 200TL per person. Turkish Flavours, Vali Konak Cad. Ugur Apt. 14/3, Nisantasi (tel. 0532/218-0653; www.turkishflavours.com), takes this culinary concept into private homes in Istanbul, and on the road through private food-focused Istanbul day excursions and tailor-made itineraries into the heart of Anatolia. All tours get to the heart of the Turkish culture through market excursions, house cooking, and even wine tastings.
Volunteer & Working Trips
It's the very special traveler who is ready, willing, and able to trade time, effort, and public service AND pay for it in exchange for the satisfaction derived from connecting with another human being and culture. Bugday (tel. 0212/252-5255; www.bugday.org, in English and Turkish) is an organization dedicated to ecologically sustainable living. As part of their efforts, they have built up a network of farm stays in Turkey that allows volunteers to live and work with a rural farming family. (Visitors can also pay a small fee to gain the experience but avoid the free labor.)
CulturaLinks USA (tel. 425/608-9186; www.culturalinksusa.com) is a cross-cultural exchange resource connecting volunteers with seasonal internships and village home-stay opportunities. United Planet (tel. 800/292-2316; www.unitedplanet.org) organizes short-term (4-12 weeks) volunteer placement working in community service centers in Istanbul.