Here’s what we did on our Wild Walk in the Taurus Mountains, which featured selected sections of the St Paul Trail (plus a couple of extra days in Istanbul at the end for me and Hazel), with links to photos from each day.
To sum up, a good walking holiday with a great guide – I’d go on another trip with Mike Belton any time. He wears his knowledge and expertise lightly, and makes every effort to ensure everyone has the best experience Turkey can offer. I’ve added Mount Ararat to my list of places to visit (and mountains to climb).
Our Wild Frontiers’ Wild Walk in the Taurus Mountains did not start well, with a very delayed flight from LHR to Istanbul (and lots of boring hanging around in terminal 3).
But having landed in Turkey, a mad dash and charm got us through passport control, customs and visa purchase and from the international to the domestic terminal, with minutes to spare before our onward flight was due to depart….
…. and then we found that the flight on to Antalya was delayed, presumably because so many people were on the inbound London flight – including the Team GB Archery squad, en route to the Archery World Cup tournament also taking place in Antalya.
Hazel’s rucksack didn’t make it, but Mike was on hand at the airport to help out with paperwork/procedure, and to transport five weary travellers into Antalya old town where a late dinner awaited at the lovely Mediterra Art Hotel (warning: comes with music…).
The remaining 3/8s of the group were already there, having flown direct with easyJet – I’d recommend doing that if you decide to do this trip.
After an early breakfast in the open air, poolside courtyard of the Mediterra Hotel, we piled into the minibus and squeezed out of the narrow streets of Antalya old town.
Once out on the open road, we drove past giant greenhouses of tomatoes and cucumbers, orange groves with amazingly fragrant blossom, and, in time, reservoirs formed by small scale hydroelectric power generating dams in the foothills of the Taurus mountains.
In the upland valley, we lunched at a family fish restaurant in Kırıntı, and then drove further up to summer meadows to start our first walk. A short, afternoon stroll, Belton style: undulating. With snowy forested ranges to our left, and grey silhouetted mountains behind, we walked up through what, in a matter of weeks, would be summer shepherd pastures.
The clouds behind promised rain, which caught up with us just as we crossed a ridge – so it was a speedy descent into the valley where we chanced upon the mess tent of a newly opened marble mine. There are lots in this part of the world – vast white wounds cut into mountainsides dominating the surrounding countryside. Sheltering from the rain, we were given tea and introduced to Mike’s trail mix, which would turn out to be a daily treat.
Once the rain eased, we set back off along the trail, pausing to take in the views out over Lake Eğirdir before dropping down via orchards and orchids to Akpınar and thence by minibus into Eğirdir town.
After a quick shower and settling our stuff in our room at the Otel AltınGöl, Hazel and I headed out for a stroll around down – tranquil evening light over the lake, the sky still heavy with cloud. We scrambled up to the remains of the castle, and returned to the hotel via the Hizir Bey mosque and Dündar Bey madrasa.
Dinner at the Melodi restaurant, out on the “island”, Yeşıl ada.
After breakfast we scooted back to the Hizir Bey mosque and Dündar Bey madrasa for a daytime visit, but the man with the key to the mosque sadly failed to materialise. So it was au revoir Eğirdir.
A half hour or so’s minibus ride brought us into the hills north west of Eğirdir, and having stopped in a small village we filled up our waterbottles at a commemorative water fountain and admired the mysterious whirling dervish statue, before starting our first full day’s walk.
We strolled on a rocky path between almond orchards and fields of roses and then headed up through oak woods, making for the pass a few hundred metres above. Plenty of stops en route. Hot work.
Once at the pass we found ourselves in upland plateau, littered with empty army ration packs – the area is used for commando training, but that’s no excuse.
Although there was more uphill ahead, there were beautiful flowers underfoot – plus surface level mole “burrows” or runs, revealed by the winter snow melt. As we climbed, we skirted a short section of very resilient snow, harbouring yellow and pale purple crocuses.
Tasty picnic lunch under a fir tree, then onwards and upwards towards the snow, scrambling over boulders to reach the col… where rather more substantial snow fields awaited us, together with ominously heavy grey clouds. Tomorrow’s route had already been changed to avoid the late lying snow which still made the Davraz Dağı pass impassible – Mike told us it has been a hard winter – but it turned out that today’s path would need to be adapted too.
So, off we set, literally in Mike’s footsteps, across the snow. Three snow fields, a steep descent and stream crossing later we were back on a rough road – only to find that it too was blocked by snow, so it was a bit more “up and over” before we made our final descent across the grass slopes towards the ski lodges on the Kulovası Yaylası.
After many many cups of reviving tea, with biscuits, in the reception of the Isperia Davraz Hotel we had revived enough to venture down the corridor to our giant room. After a requisite wash and brush up and camera battery recharge, we returned to the vast lounge-cum-dining room for more tea, a browse through Mike’s two volume photographic encyclopaedia of Turkish flora (for me) and a complicated looking game involving 6 dice for Fiona, Jay and Hazel.
In front of the open log fire, lit on request, Mike gave us a great hour’s run through Turkey‘s geography, history and cultures, and then it was time for dinner. We were the only guests, which made for a fine meal.
I think we all slept well that night….
Snow on the high passes of the Davraz Massif meant that we were doing an alternative, lower level route today, but after yesterday’s snowy terrain I don’t any of us minded!
A short drive from the Isperia Davraz Hotel brought us to the start of today’s hike, summer grazing meadows where we were offered apples by one of the shepherd ladies in the tent village there. A lovely stroll through the yayla‘s green pastures, with the occasional skirting of fiercely protective shepherd’s dogs, and closer inspection of a more docile tortoise.
As we walked further into the valley, the pine covered mountain sides closed in and we were soon walking through forest, emerging for a stretch along a forest track and for views out over the snow covered mountains – which proved a good spot for lunch. Blue skies today, so we were glad of the shade when, at the elephant rock, Mike took us off the “main” road and back onto a footpath that wound up through woods of oak, cedar and juniper that form the Kasnak Meşesi Ormani Nature Reserve.
Having admired the giant Kasnak Oak, it was handy to have the minibus cover the kilometres of tarmac that led down to the village of Yukarı Gökdere, where we sat sipping tea outside the çay bahçesi and tucked in to Jean’s fruit cake.
A slightly longer minibus ride brought us to the remote Roman ruins at Adada, where we had the temples and theatre all to ourselves for almost the whole time.
Then on, driving through meadows and pasture, wending our way between the mountains to Kasımlar, where we were the inaugral guests in Abdulrahman Kokdogan’s brand new en suite bedroom block. After a shower, time for a smashing dinner in traditional style, sat on cushions at low tables in the main lodge room.
Wednesday 02 May 2012: Kasımlar – Damla – Kesme – Çaltepe (photos)
A lovely village breakfast, then a short hop in the minibus to takes down the steep stretch of road from the top to the bottom of the village of Kasımlar, where we started our onwards descent on foot heading for the bridge over the river Köprüçay. Grey skies overhead, cuckoos calling in the woods, flowers by the roadside. A stroll through meadows and fields, right past the front door of the farm, and on up to the spring/water fountain and cemetery at Yukarı Fındık Kabristanlıgı, 5km from Kasımlar, 7km to go to Kesme.
After a stroll through sheep and goat grazing shrub land, it was up, up, up up along pine forested and rock strewn gully, with rockfaces towering above. We emerged into a green expanse of upland meadow, the perfect setting for a shepherd hut complete with frog filled pond. A great place for a bit of a rest and refuel, with amazing limestone rock formations in the valleys ahead, and stunning views out across to snow covered mountain ridges.
Rested, and entertained by the local goats, we weaved our way down through the karst fairyland, and along bare rock ledges where lizards sunbathed.
We lunched at the spring and natural stone bridge at Damla, where a mother and daughter were looking after sheep, goats and cows. Across the Köprütaş bridge, Mike led us through the mysterious remnants of an ancient civilisation, with a paved pathway leading to a cave with carved portico, and stone building blocks bore carved Manx-like symbols. Skirting clockwise round the hilltop, passing ancient threshing circles, we had stunning views out over the mountain ranges and of the shining minarets of Kesme in the valley below, both demanding lots of photos, none of which really do either any justice.
A tricky bit of navigation for the initially steep descent distracted us from the scenery, and the rain just about held off for our final drop down into another limestone wonderland, parallel ridges of rock looming over alleys of grass, which then widened out encompass freshly ploughed fields on the outskirts of Kesme.
Refreshed by tea, we left Kesme in the minibus, pausing at a village house where ladies were hand spinning goats’ hair. Reaching the outskirts of Çaltepe, we turned off the road and drew up at Erdinc and Emine’s new chalets, complete with en suite bathrooms and al fresco dining. Lovely, albeit a little cool under cloudy skies. After a wash and putting the camera batteries on to recharge, time for tea and chat before dinner was served – plenty of excellent stuffed aubergine for me. More chat around the fire once night fell, but not a late night with those lovely new beds calling….
A tasty breakfast, then farewell to Erdinc and Emine, as we left to drive through Çaltepe and on to the starting point for today’s hike: a house built on a rock. Turning off the road, we walked through walnut trees and past limestone chimneys sprouting Judas trees. This morning’s path took us through woodland, and along sunken stretches of ancient Roman and Ottoman droving roads, with a stone cut staircase bringing us into the village of Kestanelik (village of chestnuts). After a stretch along the road, we reached the next village, Delisarniç where we had a breather in a meadow by the cemetery before taking the track down through the woods to the stream – bone dry and stony at this time of year, but you could see from the debris how high the waters would run.
From the stream we climbed up, an easy path through woods, with lots of pink daisies and purple violets, and occasional rests to take in the views. A thick blanket of cloud meant that we didn’t get the most amazing views, but given that we didn’t know any better the ones we had were still great.
Then a more gradual descent, through pine forest, past ancient terraces that show how far Selge stretched in its heyday, and more limestone rock oddities. A shower delayed lunch until we reached woodland cover, and soon after we emerged into farmland fields and meadows for a beautiful walk that brought us back down to a stream, which descended further as we stayed on the level, giving lovely river valley vistas.
Reaching the road, it turned out we’d arrived in Selge (aka present day Altınkaya). Our accommodation in Selge was at Adem’s lodge, which was the most basic of the whole trip but still perfectly fine. Once we had settled on one room for the ladies, the other for the gents, we sorted out mattresses and unfurled our sleeping bags, over several glasses of tea at the outside picnic tables. The cloud cover continued to deny us our mountain vistas, and indeed it meant that our much anticipated evening beer in the ruins of the Roman theatre was a rather chillier affair than we’d hoped. That said, the ancient Greek theatre itself was stunning (heaps of photos!), only a short walk from Adem’s house, and the perfect place for Mike to fill us in on lots more history and architecture before we strolled back for dinner and then to bed to play “guess the snorer” well into the night.
We had a splendid couple of hours in the morning exploring the ruins of Selge with Mike. It’s an amazing place – and, unlike Aspendos, it’s free, unspoilt and in a stunning setting. We had the whole place to ourselves, without a Roman Centurion in sight. Plus the cloud had lifted, a bit.
Taking our leave of Adem and his wife, it was a short minibus drive to our drop off point for the start of the day’s hike to Tevfik’s House. Hot and humid, and a lot lower down in terms of altitude than we had been for a while, it wasn’t that pleasant walking, especially through the maquis as that obscured what views there were until we emerged into meadows a long way down from the road above.
Lunch in the shade of an old oak tree, sat on the walls of an old ruined house, then on down towards the thundering waters of the Köprüçay River at the point where it forces itself through a hole in the limestone. Rain en route, and far more water in the river than usual – the “beach” was drenched and the waters muddy.
It felt like a long way along a forest track to Tevfik’s Mountain Lodge, but once there we found ourselves in a smashing place. Lovely wood cabins with en suite bathrooms and balconies, and a shady dining deck with views out over the fields and over to the sheer rock faces of the Köprülu Canyon reaching up towards Selge.
Time to relax.
Although we were due to have a relatively late and leisurely breakfast, I was awake not long after 6am – and a peer through the curtains revealed cloud right down to the river. Decidedly errie. But by 8.30 breakfast time, the sun was out and the skies were blue – and indeed we had great weather all day.
Leaving Tefvik’s House, we walked along a narrow path through the woods that come down to the river in this stretch of the Köprülu Canyon – indeed, with the river running high, some of the trees were under water. Still, all the water made for exciting excusions out onto the rocks in a couple of places during the morning, including the famous viewpoint over the Canyon just above the Oluk Roman Bridge, which turned out to be disappointingly modern in its reinforcement, and just down stream hordes of holiday makers were setting off on their white knuckle river rafting adventures.
A lovely lunch at a shady fish restaurant on the banks of the river Köprüçay, before travelling on to the famous ruins at Aspendos. They may be famous, but they weren’t my favourite by a long way. Too many people, too much hassle, not enough wow factor. A well preserved theatre, but everything else is decidedly disappointing, although the aqueduct is impressive and the souvenir sellers surprisingly relaxed.
Back in Antalya, a quick bag drop in our (new) rooms at the Mediterra Art Hotel, then an hour seeing the sights with Mike: Hadrian’s Gate, the narrow streets and old houses of Kaleiçi, the Hıdırlık Tower keeping watch over the coast and the harbour, the famous fluted minaret of Alaaddin Camii and the broken minaret of Kesik Minare.
After a long awaited wash and brush up / shave for some of the chaps / Gin and Tonic, we headed off into the night for our final group dinner in the courtyard of the Parlak restaurant, followed by a few more beers / rakis close to the hotel watching Saturday night life, Antalya-style.
A day of abrupt changes; this lovely trip had come to an end far too fast.
Au revoir Antalya, Hello Istanbul!
For those on the group flight, breakfast in the courtyard was so early that we had to leave before the kitchen staff started for the day, but – brilliant to the last – Mike provided pastry goodies, sweet and savoury, from the bakery down the street.
Farewells in the lobby, as Jay and Fiona were staying for a couple more days and Nick was on a Monarch flight back to the UK, then quiet minibus ride to the airport for Jean and Brian, Helen, Hazel and me. Sad farewell to Mike, then a speedy check in for Turkish Airlines TK2409 to Istanbul, and not long to wait once through security.
Once back on the ground, it was final, hectic farewells at Istanbul as Helen, Jean and Brian headed off to the International Terminal, and Hazel and I went out to find our driver… who was ready and waiting for us at the arrivals gate.
Easy journey into Sultanahmet, where we were deposited at the lovely Turkoman Hotel – another Thelma tip, it’s a restored, Ottoman era town house. Great location, amazing view of the Blue Mosque, roof top dining room and terrace and lovely staff – what more could you want (a larger bathroom, apparently, if you’re American).
Refreshed by a complimentary turkish coffee on the roof terrace, we headed out to see some sights, starting with the Hippodrome and the columns within it, then straight into the grounds and courtyard of the amazing Blue Mosque. We’d arrived during one of the day’s closed periods (which only means you can’t go inside, and there’s plenty to see on the outside), so we continued out exploration round the back of the mosque, and worked our way round to the Hagia Sophia, where the queues were ginormous. We spotted 3 massive cruise liners docked at Karaköy, which probably contributed to the volume of people and the length of the queues, as we passed lots of tagged tour groups.
Continuing on, we passed the beautiful Fountain of Ahmed III, strolled through the grounds of the Topkapı Palace, and then dropped down towards the waterfront at Eminönü and crossed the Galata bridge to Karaköy. A lot of uphill brought us to the Galata Tower, again with a long queue.
Back over the bridge, we explored the Spice Market, the Egyptian Bazaar and the streets around the New Mosque, but our attempts to return to our hotel via the Grand Bazaar were thwarted by key streets being cordoned off for filming… the new James Bond film, apparently. No sign of Daniel Craig though, sadly.
Once we did make it back to the hotel, it was time for a beer on the roof terrace, and to admire the minarets and domes of the Blue Mosque in the afternoon light – beautiful blue sky, grey architecture and green leaves/trees. So, no surprise that we headed back to take some more photos en route to dinner at the Doy-Doy Restaurant, where we sat on its roof terrace with views over the Marmara Sea and the Blue Mosque. Food was so-so, but not pricey and – unlike the restaurant streets we’d walked through earlier – there was no hustle/hassle from the waiters.
Back to the hotel via Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in their night time guise.
Another day of sightseeing, under yet more glorious blue skies.
Fuelled by several trips to the Turkoman Hotel‘s delicious breakfast buffet, we headed back to the Blue Mosque to see the beautiful interior, then onwards to the Hagia Sophia (closed – we never did go inside), the Fountain of Ahmed III and into the Topkapı Palace, where we spent a good few hours exploring the courtyards, gates, gardens, kiosks and council rooms, and taking in the views.
After a picnic lunch in Gülhane Park, we wandered back towards the Egyptian / Spice bazaar, taking in the New Mosque en route. Back to base via the Basilica Cistern and the side streets of Sultanahmet.
We had a beer aperitif on the roof terrace, and then wandered down to Dubb Ethnic Restaurant (warning: music!) in the part of Sultanahmet that hides between the Blue Mosque / Hagia Sophia and the Sea of Marmara. A nice stroll back to the hotel, and more wonderful night time views of the Sultanahmet sights.
Our final day, but given that our flight wasn’t until 19:15, we had plenty of time for more sightseeing. We were a little weary by now, so we limited ourselves to a morning out at the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) and the Süleymaniye Camii (Süleymaniye Mosque), and spent the afternoon reading on the roof terrace.
Smooth transfer back to the airport, and a good flight home.
[01 July 2012: Photos and notes now complete]