Turkey isn’t just for Christmas
short of markets. Immediately, we got lost in the Grand Bazaar. I had my purse pinched, and we ended up in a police station.
As we sat shivering with misery, we were overwhelmed by kindness as one of the officers disappeared for a rummage through a locker room and emerged with two brand new pairs of police issue socks. His friend popped out to a street stall and brought in paper plates of menemen – delicious scrambled eggs, mixed with onions, tomatoes and peppers – to warm us up.
I never saw my purse again, of course. But that episode inspired in me a massive admiration for the courtesy and innate hospitality of Turkish people (apart from the ratbag who stole my purse) – a first impression that’s been strengthened over the years by countless acts of generosity and friendship. Having visited almost every summer since that first trip, I’ve been able to get to know the country so much better.
I initially threw myself into exploring what became my favourite part of Turkey: the glorious Turquoise Coast. This enchanting strip of Mediterranean seaboard in the south-west harbours the bijou towns of Kalkan and Kas and little fishing villages galore, alongside a treasuretrove of ruins dating back 3,000 years.
For me, there is nothing – but nothing – as magical as weaving through silky creeks on board a beautiful traditional gulet, visiting deserted pine-covered islands or crystal coves by day, then falling blissfully asleep on deck.
Later, I travelled further afield to other-worldly Cappadocia, in central Turkey, taking a balloon ride over its astonishing sherbet-coloured landscape of fairy chimneys.
I’ve also revisited Istanbul many times, thrilled not just by Sultanahmet’s ravishing mosques and minarets, but also by the city’s vibrancy as a fantastically varied waterfront metropolis. The Bosporus ferry zigzags between Europe and Asia for a beguiling 20 miles on its way to the remote fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi. Traffic-free Buyukada island, just 50 minutes or so south-east of the city across the Sea of Marmara, is what the Hamptons are to New York: a leafy rural idyll of clapboard houses and honeysuckled porches.
Only in the summer of 2016 were my Turkish travels disrupted after a barrage of terror attacks, closely followed by an attempted military coup. Visitor numbers dwindled, but then a miraculous recovery began. Perhaps people realised that Istanbul is hardly unique in being targeted – and that south-west Turkey is as far from Syria as London is from Prague.
By this summer, Turkey was recording a 28 per cent rise in bookings and people began to return. Like a boomerang, I landed back on the Turquoise Coast to revisit my favourite haunts [see panel]. It was as though I’d never been away.
Harbour town Kalkan was as gorgeous as ever – awash with papery clouds of pink and purple bougainvillea and twinkling at night with its cheery of seafront restaurants buzzing with smiling waiters. It was exactly the same in neighbouring Kas. Late in my stay, as I sat in the town’s central tea gardens, shaded by eucalyptus trees, an elderly man I didn’t know came up to the table and pressed a blue “Evil Eye” lucky charm into my hand. “It’s good to see you Brits back,” he said, shyly.
The pleasure, I was happy to tell him, was all mine. Linda Cookson travelled as a guest of Fairlight Jones (020 3875 0351; fairlightjones.com). A week’s self-catering in Kalkan’s one-bedroom waterfront villa, Sun, starts at £675 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes transfers from Dalaman airport (flights arranged on request). UK carriers serving Dalaman include British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) and Jet2 (0800 408 1350; jet2.com). Or try the Turkish carrier Pegasus (0333 300 3555; flypgs.com).
Balloons over homes carved into the rocks of Cappadocia
The inviting waters of Olu Deniz on the Turquoise Coast