The need to get closer to nature, which we see today in modern society, isn’t just another trend. It’s an aspect of the human character that many of us, residents of the world’s big cities, have forgotten. Let us help you follow the call to reunite with the living world through a wide range of activities in Istanbul and other parts of the country.
After daily traffic, the most common complaint of Istanbul residents regarding the quality of life in the city is the lack of green spaces. So if you’re hoping to find here a list of new green locations that nobody knows about, we have bad news for you–no such places exist.
With the highly dense allocation of people, and new leisure projects that leave no room for nature in its “natural state,” one must get creative in order to find the space they are dreaming of: unspoiled, unoccupied, and quiet.
Used to external stimulants, we struggle to remain still, perpetually asking “what now?” To help you address this constant need, we put together a list of experiences that will help you notice and appreciate the many faces of the natural world that surrounds us.
1. Escape to Istanbul’s Black Sea coast
A simple walk in nature is one of man’s greatest pleasures, and Istanbul is lucky enough to be surrounded by every imaginable type of landscape that can turn this basic activity into a memorable experience.
Our favorite routes follow the Black Sea coastline along more than five kilometers of sandy beach between Yeniköy and Karaburun on the European side of the city, where outside the swimming season you can hear your own thoughts to the accompaniment of crashing waves.
A short drive from there will take you to Terkos Lake, one of the largest inland bodies of water on this side of the city. Although several of its easily accessible corners have been discovered by the picnic-loving masses, there are dozens of locations, particularly on the western shore, where the quietude has been embraced by solitary anglers.
The best spots are not entirely accessible by car, so be ready to take a short hike through the woods until you hear the gentle splashing of water.
Istanbul outdoor action plan
- Consider the timing: If you can manage your own schedule, take the opportunities afforded you when everyone else is in the office.
- Consider the weather: Since Istanbul’s climate gives us dozens of warm and sunny days throughout the year, why not take advantage of them in November as well as in May?
- Consider ease of access: The better the connection, the more people visit. Think of particular places in terms of public transport as well as car traffic.
- Consider the facilities: Does your destination have designated picnic areas, breakfast places, and other signs of organized human activity? If it does, this means that there’s a demand for it, and that crowds are already there.
- Consider the destination: Sometimes getting out of the city by car takes more time than it does to simply take a domestic flight or high-speed rail connection to central Anatolia. Do the math.
2. Enjoy the simple life
Many of us fantasize about leaving the city to enjoy the simple pleasures of the countryside, but few of us actually dare to do it. Such ideas don’t always work in the long run, but if the feeling is recurring and tempts you to act on it, start with a weekend getaway in a semi-secluded location, equipped with everything a modern escapist might need to feel comfortable.
A spot beloved by many is Adatepe, a little hillside village in the Kaz Mountains, at our accommodation of choice: the Ida Blue boutique hotel. Since the place’s dedication to detail and authenticity is admirable, you might fall for this picture-perfect utopia. A private township within a township, Ida Blue blends into the landscape, offering coziness and great care for every guest.
Its soul sibling, 400 kilometers away but cast from the same mold, Güllü Konakları in Şirince sets very high standards at the ever-popular wine village near Izmir. Among many accommodation options on offer, its vineyard cottage is a true escape from man-made inanities, far from Şirince’s mainstream entertainment.
Simple, not basic
Examples of the adaptation of traditional architecture to the needs of modern travelers so as to offer them an experience reflective of a bygone era is a practice implemented in many parts of Turkey. But there’s a thin line between understated polish and ill-fitting details. Both these locations deliver on their simple promises:
3. Visit ancient sites
In search of natural beauty around the country, you might wonder why we often suggest visiting ancient sites.
In the past, the choice of location in which to live was never a matter of coincidence. Strategically located settlements had either the best view of the entire area to make sure approaching enemies could be seen before it was too late, or were established at points relevant for other reasons, such as agriculture, ease of transport, or weather conditions.
Today, their remains, as well as the surrounding nature, are protected due to their special status, making them some of the most interesting destinations for those who enjoy unspoiled, natural beauty.
One such place is the ancient site of Sagalassos, located in the Burdur province of southern Turkey. After extensive renovations conducted by Belgian researchers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the site has become one of the main cultural attractions of the area, offering a close look at well preserved Greek and Roman remains dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries.
With a single entry ticket (or a Museum Pass), you gain access to four kilometers of walking paths at various altitudes, spanning from an ancient theater to upper and lower agoras. The breathtaking view of the valley is best enjoyed early in the morning, when the sunlight kisses the peaks of hills visible through the fog, making visitors feel like they’re walking on clouds.
The nearby village of Ağlasun makes the ideal bridgehead for further exploration of the area, and provides an opportunity to stock up on snacks and water. Walking paths around the village and its environs will take you all the way up to the ancient city. Official trails are marked with the usual red-and-white markers, while helpful locals will point out connecting cycling paths and climbing routes.
Practical info: Sagalassos
- Nearest airports: Isparta (a one-hour drive), Antalya (less than two hours)
- Where to stay: Sagalassos Lodge & Spa is located only a ten-minute drive from the ancient site. Offering an unparalleled view of the valley and comfortable accommodations, you can fill your day exploring the area by bicycle and take yoga classes in a historic setting.
- Weekend getaway plans: Visit the lavender fields near Burdur (in June and July), enjoy a boat trip around Eğirdir Lake, or take a dip in the Salda Lake, which has been described as “the Turkish Maldives.”
4. Get adventurous in southern Turkey
When at a new destination, if you’re not sure what to expect from the unknown surroundings, asking locals for help can be a first step towards a new and surprising experience, like the one we enjoyed at Köprülü Canyon National Park near Antalya.
Breathtaking photos of the area–taken from the hills surrounding the canyon–were the main reason for our visit. But once we entered the national park, our initial plan changed completely. Encouraged by the popularity of rafting locations along the way, we decided to explore the area from the canyon creek itself.
Going upstream with a guide isn’t just another boat tour. Water currents in the area are very powerful, so there’s a lot of resistance every step of the way. But our guide, Mustafa Cirit, seemed used to this, knowing exactly where to turn and climb to pull the boat with a rope.
Watching him was like watching an adventure movie, where the main character fights against the elements. “I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years; in the beginning I used to fall off the cliffs quite a lot,” Cirit laughed. “But for the last seven years, this hasn’t happened even once.”
His confidence is contagious as we decide to get out of the boat and climb up the cliffs ourselves. Our adventure ends when the sun begins to set behind the cliffs, and we head to Bozyaka village for early dinner and tea.
Practical info: Köprülü Canyon
- Nearest airport: Antalya (a 75-minute drive)
- What to do: For those looking for close contact with nature, Mustafa Cirit from Çağlayan Rafting can organize rafting expeditions down Köprüçayı Creek, or keep you safe and dry on a tour upstream to explore the waterfalls and caves of the area. T: 0536 065 57 92
- Weekend getaway plans: Köprülü National Park offers unique landscapes, which can be explored both from the canyon and the surrounding hills. Simple accommodations are available in the area in a very limited capacity. If you’re looking for more options and greater comfort, Antalya is just one hour away.
5. Join organized events
Organized events are some of the best ways to engage with nature in a way that’s otherwise impossible, or difficult, to pursue on your own. One of the most experienced organizers of outdoor activities in Turkey, Uzunetap, has found a niche that is challenging yet safe for all participants: night events.
Varying in length and levels of difficulty, programs range from culture walks to runs and rides and ultramarathons. First-timers might want to keep an eye on Moonlight Cappadocia, a monthly series of full-moon walks organized between June and October in groups of up to 40 people. Walks feature several stops at historic sites, accompanied by live music.
Increasingly popular each year, there are also sporting events in natural settings. Although generally intended for fit and active participants, some of the most interesting locations also include short-distance routes without cut-off times, in which beginners can enjoy the scenery at their own pace in a less competitive manner.
Among several examples found around the country, you can find the St. John’s run, a five-kilometer route of the Ephesus Ultramarathon, which leads through the ruins of one of Turkey’s best-known ancient sites. Held in the heart of the Phrygian Valley near Afyon, the Frig Ultramarathon features a six-kilometer route through Love Valley, which is among the most picturesque settings in the area.
Practical info: Outdoor events
- Get the info: uzunetap.com, limitsensin.org
- How to plan: Given most people’s schedules, outdoor events are almost always organized on weekends. Since they require travel, the smartest option is to plan for at least two days in the area. After the event, you will have at least one extra day to explore the area on your own.
6. Trek along Turkey’s famous routes
You don’t have to be an orientation expert to follow the trails that others have blazed before you. Although the trekking culture is relatively new to Turkey, with the first route opened in 1999, each year international travelers flock to areas that have seen important moments in history.
The most popular routes aren’t just paths. They carried holy men of many traditions (like Saint Paul) and explorers who set standards for generations to come (like Evliya Çelebi); witnessed some of history’s most important battles (Troy); and provided shelter to settlers before our era (the Phrygian Valley).
To enjoy the experience in full you don’t really need advanced research, but knowing the history of the land you’re visiting can provide awe-inspiring moments along the way.
Practical info: Hiking trails with history
- Turkey’s first hiking trail, known as the Lycian Way, was waymarked by Kate Clow in the late 1990s. Attracting adventure-seekers from around the globe for the past two decades, it spans across more than 500 kilometers offering breathtaking views of the Turkish Mediterranean.
- Presenting a real challenge at times is the author’s second project, the St. Paul Trail, which takes you to less discovered locations between Antalya and Isparta. trekkinginturkey.com
- Currently Turkey’s longest walking route, the Carian Trail is one of the best ways to explore the region of Muğla, its picturesque coastal line, and some of the country’s favorite summer spots. kariayolu.com
- The Troy Culture Route is a 120-kilometer-long trail passing through more than 20 historic and archaeological sites, including the ruins of ancient Troy. troycultureroute.com
7. Find little pleasures in local foods
It’s a well-known fact that food tastes better when enjoyed in nature, while eating the way nature intended has the most health benefits for our bodies. The process of nurturing goes beyond what’s on the plate or in the glass, providing diners with experiences that nourish their souls as well.
Learning about how food is made, and understanding the connection between that process and our wellbeing, helps us establish new habits that offer many benefits along the way. In light of this, dinner outdoors isn’t just another meal, but an eye-opening affair involving small doses of learning.
How much better does cheese taste when we know who made it for us and how the animals were fed? How much richer are meals when we pick the vegetables ourselves from a nearby garden? And how much more aromatic is the olive oil after a visit to the olive grove during harvest?
Chef Semsa Denizsel, who relocated from Istanbul to a little village near Ayvalık to pursue her dream of ensuring that Northern Aegean cuisine gets the recognition it deserves, has gotten to know the region well over the years. But she admits that the olive tree is still a miraculous source of learning each and every day.
Students in her Cooks Grove programs have the unique opportunity to explore all aspects of the local olive culture, from cultivation and production to everyday use. The learning process extends beyond the grove–Denizsel also collaborates with local farmers and food producers to ensure that even the shortest dining experience with her is a celebration.
Another strength of the western Turkish landscape is its perfect environment for wine cultivation. The ancient region of Thrace, which extends across the border, is legendary for the quality of its grapevines since ancient times.
The region, as well as its extension towards the northern Aegean, is known as the birthplace of the Old World’s greatest winemakers. Today, the places where nature has been preserved in its unspoiled state, might be the perfect choice for your escape into the wild.
One of these is Caeli near Eceabat, a beautifully designed luxury hotel. Serving as the ultimate base to further explore the area, it is secluded and peaceful, and offers exquisite accommodations paired with local wine-tasting opportunities and farm-to-table dining.
Practical info: Food, wine, and nature
Weekend in the vineyard: