Trekking the Turkish Trails
Turkey is a huge landmass, stretching from Europe to the Central Asian Caucasus, and ranging up to 5,000 metres in height. The central plateau is edged by ranges of rugged limestone mountains overlooking the Black Sea in the north and Mediterranean in the south; the west slopes away more gently in long river valleys. The best walking areas are on limestone, sometimes steep and rugged, and on the occasional volcanic cones, much larger and barer than those in Central France. There are also inland areas with strange rock formations carved out of volcanic deposits, and a beautiful lake district, on a much larger scale than ours.
Landscapes in Turkey are on a vast scale; peaks soar from the sea to over a mile high; rolling plains are broken by canyon-like river valleys; hundreds year old cedars cling for dear life to windswept passes. And no photograph can convey the eerie silence at moonrise over a deserted valley, the gurgle and splash of natural jacuzzis in some remote canyon, the smell of myrtle and thyme as the early morning sun sucks up the dew. There's plenty of wildlife, from wild goats on the crags to butterflies in buddlia filled valleys. May is the time when storks and swallows return and beeeaters and rollers perch on the telegraph wires; but all year round buzzards, eagles and occasional vultures haunt the peaks.
Transhumance is still practised; villagers move their goats up to higher pastures in May / June and bring them down again in September / October; their migration paths make excellent trekking routes. Traces of old civilisations abound in the form of ruins of ancient cities, isolated graves or fortifications. In many areas there are ancient roads, ranging from Persian and Roman military roads to Ottoman mule trails linking a network of 'medieval 'kervansaray' or self contained travellers rest houses. State managed forest occupies large upland areas, where there are unsurfaced forestry roads. All these tracks give a wide variety of walking, which can be networked together so that walkers rarely cross surfaced roads, and only enter villages or towns for supplies or accommodation. A warning if you are walking alone; these paths are not signed or way marked, are often unmaintained and overgrown; you will very rarely meet other walkers.
Town Turks, often one generation removed from the farm, will not walk if they can use a car or catch a bus. However, trekking is the latest fad for educated young people in Ankara and Istanbul; the first popular sports magazine, Outdoor, is in its second year. Turkey's first long distance route around Lycia is being way marked now, to the French Grande Randonnee system. It runs from Ölu Deniz, near Fethiye, to Antalya, and is a 40-day route which you can join and leave at several convenient points. (see Maps / Guidebooks)
Getting around in Turkey is easy, but slow because of the distances involved. Intercity buses are cheap, frequent and run on time from the city 'otogar' or garage. Local minibuses ply between villages; you can hail them en route. Hitchhiking to smaller villages is perfectly safe; write down your destination, hand round sweets or ciggies and shake hands when saying good-bye.
Conventional accommodation in tourist areas for independent travellers is the 'pansiyon' (pension); bed, breakfast and (usually) cooking facilities. Prices are very reasonable, most are family run and clean, but if you are staying a few days don't just take the first one offered without walking around and checking prices and standard of accommodation.
Lack of pensions need not stop you wandering off the tourist trail; however, when you do, please dress conservatively, with, at minimum, shorts to the knee and upper arms covered. In villages or on summer pastures, the Muslim code of hospitality means that a foreigner is a novelty to be welcomed, fed, gossiped with and helped on his or her way. All that is required is that you smile, shake hands, and convey as much information about yourself as possible! If you play with the children, take photos (to send back), show how your compass works, or admire their rug making, so much the better.
Villages sometimes have a 'misafir evi' or visitor's house, where you can stay for a night or two; ask for the 'muhtar' or head man, who will accommodate you there or in his own house, normally at no charge. Shepherds are particularly welcoming, and will often ask you to stay in their black tents. If you have your own tent, you can camp almost anywhere and will not be disturbed.
Out of this vast country, we have selected a variety of good walking areas to get you started; they by no means cover the whole country. The Kackar Mountains are a spectacular cool, jagged but green range on the north coast, where the weather is reliable for short periods only, and local knowledge is essential; we have ignored them. Six south eastern provinces are under military rule due to the ongoing 'war' with the PKK (Kurdish independence movement); camping out is not recommended, so we have left the area out, even though it has Turkey's highest peak - Agri Dag (Mount Ararat).
Our areas are:
The many coloured mountains, containing the peaks of big and little Demirkazik; mountaineers' territory, with tough backpacking, 1450 - 3900m; best in mid-June or July, after snow melt, before the water dries up!
: The Aladaglar are best for a through trek starting at Demirkazik village and finishing at Aciman, on the way to Adana, or a circular trek returning to Demirkazik.
Accommodation: Dag Evi (mountain lodge) at Demirkazik village, also has campsite; trout farms near Cukurbag.
: Daily minibuses to Cukurbag or Demirkazik from Nigde; if necessary hitchhike from the main road to the Dag Evi.
: Described in the Lonely Planet and Aladaglar books; well used by local groups and university climbing clubs. If you join a group or hire a guide, your pack will be carried by mule or donkey.
rating - easy, Hasan Dag medium / tough.
The Fairy Chimney district in central Anatolia, about 1000 m., long a Christian stronghold, and also base for the volcanic Hasan Mountain (3000m). Sept / October for the grape harvest or February for snowy landscapes.
: Goreme, for exploring the valleys. Aksaray is the start of Ilhara / Hasan Dag trip.
Accommodation: Goreme has a choice of charming pensions; Aksaray has town centre hotels/pensions or a large motel (Melendiz).
: Frequent minibuses from Goreme to Nevsehir, Ürgup, etc. You should hire a car or join a group for Ilhara and Hasan Dag.
: Get the local map; for most valleys, you pay an entrance fee and walk to explore rock churches, some underground, on well defined paths; take a torch and chalk! Many local guided tours of the valleys; Baraka leads groups up Hasan Dag, which is also in Lonely Planet.
rating - medium / tough
The mountainous district just north of the Toros around the huge lakes of Egirdir and Beysehir, at 950-2800m. Best in May/June, but cool all summer.
: Egirdir; on a peninsula in the lake; used as a centre by many groups.
Accommodation: Plenty of pensions on peninsula; large hotels near the mosque in the town centre. Ski lodge past Cobanisa at base of Davras Dag (car essential) Tel: (90) 246 264 2020, no English.
: Local buses from mosque to outlying districts for low level walks or to the hospital for Sivri mountain, Barla village for Barla mountain. Car necessary for Davras Mountain or Candir gorge.
: For advice, maps, or to join an outing, consult the active local mountain club, based at small cafe near harbour (ETUDOSD, Liman ici 32500, Egirdir, Tel 246 311 6356, Fax: 246 311 4051), or the mountain equipment shop nearby, or tourist office.
- rating - medium
Spectacular views over the Med from old footpaths and migration routes on the mountain flanks (sea level - 700 m). Best in spring (April / May) and autumn (October), February is often clear and bright.
: Olympos, Kas, Kalkan or Faraliye; all seaside villages.
Accommodation: Tree houses or pensions at Olympos, pensions at the other three.
: Hourly bus services running from Fethiye to Antalya around the coast call at Kalkan and Kas and stop 12km from Olympos on the main road; minibus, taxi or hitchhike the last stretch.
Daily dolmus to Faraliye from Fethiye bus station (9.00 am).
: See the Lycian Way under books; it links all four and will be way-marked next year. Two routes from Olympos in Lonely Planet. Many hilly low and medium level routes, plus migration routes around Kas and Kalkan. Active mountaineering club in Antalya (TODOSK, PK. 650, 07004 Antalya, Tel/Fax: 242 244 0883).
: rating - easy
Included because it is a popular holiday destination. Sea level to 300 m; best spring and autumn.
: Bozburun area preferred.
Accommodation: Plenty of pensions and small hotels; go on a cheap off season package and use the money you save to hire a car and walk / tour independently.
: Plenty of local minibuses, hire a car or taxi for a few days, or take a boat trip to a bay and then walk home!
: Use Sunflower Books and the routes in Lonely Planet to plan a series of short day walks to and fro across the peninsula of Hisaronu or from Datca. Dalyan delta and Bafa lake are in easy reach.
- rating - easy / medium
Ski centre on mountain near Bursa and handy for Istanbul, which has pleasant day hikes from comfortable accommodation; 1500 - 2500m. Best June - July. There are thermal springs at Bursa for aching muscles afterwards!
: Uludag, hotel district.
Accommodation: Some of the ski hotels (grandest is the Grand Yazici, many others), are open and offer cheap rates in summer. Book from Bursa or Istanbul, or take pot luck!
Transport: Teleferik (cable car) from the outskirts of Bursa runs every 20 minutes or so to Sarialan, from where there is a minibus running 6km to the hotels, or minibus/ taxi from Bursa bus station.
: See Lonely Planet, but you can walk where you like on the ski trails or though pine forest; it's difficult to get lost!
Planning your own route or joining a guided walking holiday - which is best?
If this is your first visit, then I unhesitatingly recommend joining a guided group for two reasons - one is the lack of maps and other information; the other is the travel distances involved.
If you want to travel independently, there are two ways to do it. Either gather a group, contact a local guide firm, and take a cheap flight to Antalya or Dalaman to rendezvous with your guide.
Or get a map from Stamford's, find the Lonely Planet book, research your selected area by writing to a local mountain group, and work out an approximate route. Take an altimeter and compass to check out your route on the ground, and backpack your own tent. Allow plenty of time, carry lots of water and stick to lower altitudes, and seasons when water is available and weather dependable (generally May - July).
International airports - Ankara, Antalya, Dalaman, all 10-20km from city centres. National carriers fly to all, charters to the last two from May - October.
Arriving solo at night, you will have to take a taxi to the nearest pension or hotel.
There are no absolutely level strolls, and medium / tough grades predominate. For gentle walks, choose the southern coastal areas in Spring or Autumn; for exhilaration, choose winter hill walking in snow from February - May.
A miserable dearth accounts for the lack of independent trekkers in Turkey.
Turkish Tourism Office 170-173 Piccadilly, London W1V 9DD Tel: (0171) 629 7771 Fax: 491 0773 for camping and mountaineering brochures, plus addresses of the Turkish Mountain Federation groups in areas of interest.
The largest Turkish maps are 1:250,000, from the Village Services Ministry (Koy Hizmetleri Balanligi), Bakanliklar, Ankara. Stamford's of Charing Cross Road may have aircraft maps or others.
Trekking in Turkey - Backpackers routes on Uludag, Lycian and SW coast, Toros, Cappadocia, Lake Van, Kackar - Marc Dubin and Enver Lucas - Lonely Planet - Australia. Written 1988 and out of date, out of print.
Lanscapes of Turkey around Antalya and Marmaris (2 books) - short walks and car touring - Brian and Eileen Anderson - Sunflower, London. Revised 1994, some routes out of date.
Aladaglar - General information and climbing routes, with sketch maps. Haldun Aydingun, Redhouse, Istanbul. Printed 1987; more trekking routes now known.
Aladaglar - I'm told there is a new book from Cicerone with more detail than the above.
Garanti Bankasi, Buyukdere Cad No 83, Maslak, Istanbul, will be printing a guide to Lycian Way, the first long distance footpath, in English and Turkish, for release in Jan 1999.
Atlas, Turkish geographic magazine, has spectacular photos on Internet , http://www.atlasturkey.com
Take long-sleeved shirt and trousers necessary to observe the Turkish dress code in villages and mosques. Stitched boots with thick soles and absorbent socks, 2lt waterbottles per person, petrol stove, as gas cylinders are not widely available. From May - September, take sun protection; hat, sunglasses, sunblock, plus swimming gear. Winter months require light wind-waterproofs, plus warm clothing depending on altitude; if snow trekking, ice axe and crampons essential.
Tetanus essential. Rabies, malaria and cholera are not endemic in these areas. If you are allergic to bees, bring the antidote. Water purifying tablets required in summer / autumn, plus streptomagna or similar for tummy upsets.
£10.00 visa for UK passport holders is payable at airport.
Currently 450.000 Turkish Lira to one pound sterling, but inflation is about 80%. Bring cash or dollars (better) and change at banks, post offices or change offices. Visa/access machines in towns.
GMT plus 2 hours.
Turkish; older schoolchildren learn English and love to help. Many shopkeepers speak German.
Upcountry (see below)
Baraka, Istiklal Cad No 216-8 Kat 4, Beyoglu, Istanbul, Tel: (90) 212 292 2979, Fax: 212 292 3011
Yelkovan Turizm, Kadife Sok No 13/2, Kadikoy, Istanbul Tel: (90) 216 418 9764, Fax: 216 346 1160
All provide guides for groups. The Turkish companies do week long trekking tours, some camping, some pension based, in several of the above areas, for Turks; you can join locally or in Istanbul. All guides and many clients speak English, but check on trek difficulty, equipment required and client age range. If you have the patience to speak slow, grammatical English in response to lots of friendly questioning, you could get a real insight into Turkish life.
Guided day walks are often available from Olympos, Kemer, Kas, Goreme and probably other places, but this is taking pot luck!
Explore, Exodus and Sherpa do treks in Lycia and trans Toros; usually local support plus English guides for groups of 10-20. The guide is often UK based and may not know the area / language / culture well.
Simply Turkey, Chiswick Gate, 598-608 Chiswick High Rd., W4 5RT, Brochure 0181 995 9323. Walking combined with other interests (botany, archaeology), in south west Turkey.
Talking Turkey, 2 St, Christopher's Ave, Ashton under Lyne, Lancs, OL6 9DT, Tel/Fax: 0161 330 1404. Easy centre based treks, plus mountain biking and canoeing from Kas.
Upcountry Ltd, 5, Clifton Road, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6QL Tel/Fax: 01298 71050 or (90) 242 243 1148. Experienced resident English guides lead centre based and trekking holidays of varying difficulty, in Lycia and Lake district, walking with archaeology, etc, peak bagging, cruise / trekking.
Waymark Holidays, 44, Windsor Road, Slough, SL1 2EJ, Tel: 01753-516477 Fax: 517016, Fairly easy centre based trekking from Kas (Lycia) and Egirdir (Lakes), with experienced resident English guides.
Weekly local prices from £170 (not all inclusive); total packages around £750 for 2 weeks inclusive trekking. Solo travellers should allow about £30 per person per day, excluding flight but including internal transport/ accommodation.
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