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Trip Report Amazing Turkey with Thermal Waters 2 Ways!

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I previously posted here about the Rick Steves Tour portion of our trip and all the things I didn't like about it (as well as some I liked.) Now I will give a few details form our trip with some strong recommendations. First recommendation-- Go To Turkey!!! We had such an amazing 4 weeks.

Arrived in Istanbul via British Airways (their 'world traveller plus' class is a life-changer for us... the calmness of the cabin with only 20-some seats makes a huge difference... and the seats are roomy and (best of all for me) they have semi-foot rests.
We arrived after midnight and were so pleased to see that the arranged driver to the 'Erboy' hotel was waiting in the airport luggage area.

Erboy ended up being one of our favorite hotels. I went by the T.A. reviews and they were right on in this case. Super friendly desk staff. Great price. Nothing fancy, but the feel of a nice hotel. Breakfasts were bountiful and kept us going all day. And thank-you Erboy, for giving us at least 1 bottle of water each to start the day... were shocked that this was not the case in many of the other hotels...

This was a short stay in Istanbul--- we just spent the day getting our bearings and wandering the streets and waterfront. We knew we would be coming back with the tour group, so just enjoyed the wonderful sights, sounds and smells.

We wandered from the Erboy past the spice market and then past the grand bazaar a couple more blocks and found ourselves walking uphill through what seemed to be the "hardware store" area of Istanbul. Hardware and tools of all kinds. It was here that I found one of my fav souvenir bargains... big boxes of toothpicks with little glass evil-eyes on them. well over 100 in each box and bought them for about $3. Everyone seems to love these and they are useful! (haven't tried them in the oven yet... will test that out soon.)

btw-- there was a huge protest in Istanbul while we were there-- but it was across the bridge in the modern section of town. We actually didn't know about it until we saw it on the news a day later. (though we notices that the bridge had been raised all afternoon... and wondered why... turns out it was to keep others from coming to the protest-- or so we were told.

More on Istanbul later-- but will skip ahead to my big birthday across the Marmara at Limak Thermal Hotel.

After a few days in Istanbul, we took an easy taxi to the Ferry Terminal for Yalova, across the water. Easy to figure out tickets-- and it's a very nice terminal. I won't soon forget seeing all of the older, religious women in headscarves sitting at the terminal in front of a truly risque advertisement for H&M showing Beyonce in a tiny string bikini. This is an image that we saw many times in Turkey-- and we do admire the tolerance here.

We caught a taxi at Yalova (could have taken a Dolma for less, but it was my big birthday, after all.) Arrived at Limak Thermal Hotel & Spa and were welcomed into a beautiful room that looked down over the town in the distance-- 2 little balconies-- fancy ottoman empire style furnishings-- and felt super pampered already. This is a very old hotel that has fairly recently been reopened. The very beautiful and deep bathtubs in the rooms also have a spigot with super-hot thermal water.

This place is not cheap... it was our one real splurge. (about $280 total a night-- but included meals and all thermal pools.) The food was quite good-- my favorites being the outstanding salad bar choices and grilled meats/fish to order nightly. The indoor pool was lovely with hot water and nice lounge chairs. The outdoor pool was cool water and had a really pretty view of the mountains around and below. Birds sang. Just a heavenly place to hang out. We rarely ate our meals on the beautiful terraces because that was the smoking section. No other Americans-- mostly people from UAE and Russia. We were the non-smoking, non-cellphone talking minority at meal times!

We spent our days eating, soaking, lounging, napping and eating again. Occasional hikes around. Occasional walks into and through the tiny town-- which seems to be at an in-between state of abandoned buildings mixed with overbuilding of new hotels.

One day we took a trip to a nearby waterfall for a little hike. (about $40 for the hotel to arrange a driver for the afternoon) It was fun to watch young families and Turkish students on field trips stumbling over rocks to get a good shot of the waterfall. Moms in full burkas carried their ipads and took pictures as they scrambled up and down the trails.

It was here that we had one of our more delicious food adventures... a woman was making gozlame... she rolled out the thinnest, most delicate "tortilla" and filled it with a mild, smooth cheese and rice -- roasted on a big, convex metal drum over a hot fire by the river... it was a smokey, chewey, delicious lunch!

Back at the hotel, we had wonderful turkish music that night and by the end of our 4 night stay, felt that we were leaving friends behind-- the staff had been so kind and friendly. This is an outing from Istanbul that I would highly recommend. It was a spectacular birthday!

Heading back to Istanbul to meet up with our tour group... will skip to just a few highlights of those 12 days. Won't dwell on the many tour negatives , as I got that off my chest in my earlier review "Turkey through the Back Doors of Truck stops and Business Hotels"

will save this part of the report before I lose it... and continue this tomorrow.

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    Day 7 of the trip, we met our tour group (Rick Steves) in Istanbul at the Hotel Azade. Can't recommend the hotel... though it's in a good area and has charming Turkish touches in the rooms. (reviewed in T.A.) The group of 20 was fantastic-- everyone was a good sport and had interesting things to say. When you sign on for R.S. tours, the tell you that you must be willing to carry only 1 suitcast-- and carry it up several flights of stairs. I do think that this is a brilliant way of screening out the prima-donnas... and we actually had a 27 year old in the group who could not do this but she had called them and was well accommodated. We rarely carried our suitcases up stairs on the trip.

    The group spent 2 days touring Istanbul-- all the usual spots, with a really nice trip around the Bosphorus on a private ship being a highlight.

    Hit the Topkapi when they opened-- but still not early enough to avoid the crowds! (and it's not even really tourist season yet!) Leaving Istanbul, we travelled by very comfy bus to Ankara.This is the capital... and we noticed many fewer wearing headscarves here. This evening, we discovered our favorite sparkling water-- with a real kick to the bubbles-- brand name "Beypazari". Drank this water every chance we got... it will really clear out your throat!

    We visited the Anatolian Culture Museum and were just amazed by their treasures. This is where taking a tour really pays off... we would not have considered going here if travelling on our own... but ancient treasures so completely up close and personal (i was afraid my sunglasses would fall form my head and break a vase as I peered down into it.)

    Along those same "probably wouldn't have gone on our own" was the fabulous and well-designed Ataturk's Mausoleum. Filled with school kids and soldiers, it is worth a visit. You can feel the love and adoration that Turkish people have for him there at this beautifully laid out hilltop spot.

    Next stop was The Old Greek House in Mustafapasa (Capadocia). We loved this charming b&b! (All hotels reviewed on T.A.)
    This is a quiet little, tiny town and we enjoyed a walking tour throughout-- including a look at a local guy's wool (rugs) dyeing operation... all natural dyes and the most beautiful colors ever. After dyeing the wool yarn, it is covered with seeds/bark/whatever was used to create the color. Interesting to help shake all the seeds off so easily once the yarn had dried in the hot sun. All this was done in a tiny little shed and fenced area that smells like a world of goats!

    The Goreme Open Air Museum was a treat and an amazing glance into the life of these early people with cave-like homes and churches-upon-churches. The "Dark Church" costs extra and is absolutely worth it... this houses the most vivid ancient true frescoes i have ever seen. Very moving.

    The tour took us to lunch at a local woman's home which was behind a very plain looking gate and courtyard... and perched on a cliffside with a zillion-dollar view! It was fun to meet her daughter and granddaughter as well... and lunch was simple, fresh and delicious.

    We had an optional visit to the carpet cooperative... they gave us a really informative look at making double-knotted carpets... then a really cheesey but also informative look at many, many types of carpets. Prices seemed pretty good and (Carpetium) where we did actually buy an older used carpet (30-50 years)). Shipping is all included there-- and it has actually just arrived-- so it took less than 3 weeks to find its way to California!

    Next day went to the Kaymakli Underground City... and by that I mean TO the city but not THROUGH the city. I was super surprised by a bout of claustrophobia just after entering the city... I think It's because we were told "There's no turning back" which was fine-- except that we had a huge group of people in front and behind us... so were really trapped. I instead spent the hour wandering through the market there-- nothing special except for a lovely little 'womens cooperative' (first on the left as you head up to the city entrance) that had some nice handmade items... and some really great bead trimmings for sell by the meter.

    Had some lovely music at the Hotel but hubbie is getting up at 3:30 am for a 4am pickup to go on a balloon ride.(Butterfly Ballooning) He absolutely love it and loved the company. They had quite a substantial breakfast at the launch site-- and champagne and desserts after.

    That afternoon was one of my favorite of the trip. We took a 3 hour hike through Cappadocia's Rose Valley. Around each turn was a new color, texture and formation. There were wildflowers everywhere.

    Will continue tomorrow with a wrap-up of the tour, including a visit with a local Imam.

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    Left wonderful Cappadocia and headed for Konya. Stopped for tea in Guzelyurt-- a little town with a very typical town square filled with men of all ages having their tea, playing board games and discussing important things.

    Here, our group got to visit with the local Imam. A sweet guy who looked like a truly regular guy wearing a casual suit jacket, he answered our many questions about the Muslim religion and his job as a leader in the community.

    Also on the way to Konya, we stopped at Mevlana's Museum (Rumi's burial place) which was very moving. I have never been a particular fan of Rumi's poetry-- but was inspired by his words-- and by the many, many visitors from all over the globe. This man who said "All religions are truth" is visited by Muslims and Catholics alike-- all inspired by his writings.

    Arrived in Konya at the terrible Otel Selcuk... definitely not recommended. However, Kona was not a total loss, as we found one of our very favorite (very casual) restaurants of the trip, called "ATA". A student led us there when we asked where she eats... and it was amazing and inexpensive. 3 or 4 plates of cooked marinated onions, eggplant, etc were served before our main courses. Each was better than the last. Highly recommended.

    After a terrible night at the hotel, we were rewarded with a gorgeous ride through the Taurus Mountains toward Antalya. This is just a wonderful drive... high in the pines with lots of snow-capped mountains in the distance. This day's drive was just great.

    Antalya is a resort town-- with lots of awful resorts lining the seaside (well-- they look awful-- I'm sure they're very relaxing...) We stayed in the old part of town which was great for strolling-- either down to the waterside or along the cute shopping streets. Enjoyed a lovely sunset with a beer perched above the harbor. More wandering through the little streets.

    Best dessert EVER was at a charming restaurant in the old section, called HASANAGA. This was halva (helva) that had been baked in a clay bowl until bubbling hot. Toasted walnuts on top. A spoonful had the texture of half-baked brownies, but the nuttiness of halva. I will dream of this dessert-- and absolutely must have it again!! It's the only dessert this restaurant makes-- and it's the best.

    Took an all-day sail along the coastline-- with delicious food on the boat and lovely salty swims in a pretty cove. This was a wonderful day is all I can say!

    The next day, we took a little sleep-in. Ahhhh.
    This relaxation was followed by a trip to a Hamami. (Demirhan Hamami) Went with a group of 7 women-- this place was in the non-tourist part of town and was the real deal! We roasted on a huge hot circle of marble.. were scrubbed within an inch of our lives, bubble-powder-puffed on a table, then massaged with warm oil. magical. Can we do this again, tomorrow??

    Went for dinner to "Castle' restaurant which is very touristy but has a fabulous view. I was lucky to be in the mood for vegetables... so had the grilled veggies plate which was done perfectly, with a smokey and smoothe cheese melted on top. yum.

    Stopped the next day, on the way to Pamukkale, at a market in Korkuteli. It had the freshest looking produce I can remember seeing on our weeks in Turkey so far. In this town, we had to try the "burnt ice cream" which tasted more "smoked" than "burnt." I loved the chocolate and simply found the vanilla to be odd.

    Pamukkale did not disappoint, with it's endless ruins and beautiful white pools. We took a very long walk through the old city ruins and were grateful to be there in slightly cloudy weather.

    Could not resist taking a swim in the "ancient pool" (cleopatra's pool) which is strewn with ancient roman columns that fell into the pool during an earthquake and were simply left. The water is effervescent and tiny bubbles cover your skin, causing a wonderful tingling sensation. It costs $$ to swim here-- but you will never forget it! We happened to get to the pool at about 4pm (I think) and so paid a greatly reduced price because it was late in the day. If you are on a budget, arrive late and enjoy the bubbles!

    Will really finish this up tomorrow with Aphrodisias and Kusadasi and the 2nd thermal hotel stay... can't wait to tell you about the Med-Spa!

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    Well, it's been a month since I said I would finish up this very long report. Will skip through quickly. Must say that the hotel near Pamukkale was yet another disappointment on this Rick Steves Turkey tour... bad almost beyond belief. Stained carpets, tiny t.v. from another century, loud music from nearby at night and tremendous amounts of bird-poo on the sliding door.

    Coming down into the area near Kusadasi, it looked like Italy with sloping hills filled with olive trees. The city itself is a typical port town with lots of tourist temptations to shop for. The town was slow in late May..and as we stopped for a beer along the water, we were told that they do not have beer on tap until July when the tourist season kicks in. The town was far from quiet.. and the lovely walk along the water had plenty of traffic noise.. so I think that the place must be absolutely mobbed during high season.

    The Onder Otel had a fabulous water view from the lobby, and the drinks were reasonable. We did not have a view room (other than the ugly building next to us)... but I would recommend this hotel if you can be sure of a view room. The location is good, with a short minute walk uphill as you approach the hotel.

    The big reason to stay in Kusadasi is as a base for Ephesus, which must not be missed. In May, we were able to get pictures of the library there, with no other people in view. We were assured by our guide that this is not always the case. If you can possibly visit before the high season, it will be well worth it. Just so beautifully preserved and restored, it is a wonder!

    Back in Kusadasi, more walks and lots of fun watching the local men playing games out near the park.

    Will simply skip to the highlight of our trip... a visit to Natur-Med spa in Davutlar. This was about 30 minutes from Kusadasi... and we found a taxi to take us there for 50TL. (the spa could have picked us up, but their shuttle was busy.) We couldn't find much info on this place and agreed that we would leave if it was awful. It was heaven!

    Turns out, Natur-Med seems to be some sort of a 'fat farm' to use an indelicate term. The food was all included and it was healthy, vegetarian and absolutely delicious!! (and i'm no vegitarian!) They served their own home-made tea after every meal.

    And the water?? It was absolute magic. Sent us into a stupor the first day. The indoor pool is so hot, that nobody is allowed in for the first hour after it's filled in the morning. The outdoor pool is wonderful as well. They have separate hours for women who can't swim with men... though some just swim in head-to-toe swim outfits. It's at the edge of a national forest.. and about 3 miles form the water for those who like to seriously walk.

    They offer yoga, morning walks... all kids of fitness routines, which are included. Would seriously love to go back and spend 2 weeks there, relaxing, eating healthy, soaking and losing a few... I think one could fly there from California and spend 2 weeks for less than going to a weight-loss spa for 2 nights at home!

    After 3 days of serious relaxation and soaking, we took a taxi to Izmir for a flight to Istanbul. (I believe it came to about $50 US... the hotel shuttle was again booked... 4 women going to the airport at the same time, but who could not let a man (my husband) share the van with them. Gotta love Turkey!)

    The AtlasJet flight was very cheap (maybe $35 US each) and we were very impressed with the level of service. No fee for a checked bag and no fee for not having a pre-printed boarding pass. They do not gouge... very rare today.

    Arrived in Istanbul without a hitch, and off to our very last hotel for 3 nights. Will save this and finish up later tonight.

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    oops.. it's been a month so i will absolutely and finally finish this up. Stayed at the Cosmopolitan Park hotel and loved it!! I was determined to find a hotel with a full view of the water for under 100TL . The hotel was in no way fancy and minimal in both size and amenities. (though it was just 3 doors down from the 'Four Seasons". lots of stairs. sweetest breakfast/maintenance guy ever! they let us hang out on the roof in the evenings and could see the water and both big mosques. just lovely.

    enjoyed these last few days in istanbul, as it was our 3rd time coming into town during the trip. it felt like home!

    did major shopping-- saved it all for the last. found that the Arasta market near our hotel had among the highest quality items of our month-long trip! There were some superb 'ikat' fabrics as well as some divine hand-embroidered fabrics. we found that there generally wasn't much flexibility in prices... but that the shop-owners really responded well to admiration for their really high-quality goods.

    ate dinner (a short walk from the hotel) at "Fatih Belediyesi Cankurtaran Sosyal Tesisler" which looked out over the water (and highway) and was in a little 'park.' we went here with some hesitation, as it was a rick steves pick and we have oft. been let down... but it was close and on the water so we gave it a go. it was cheap and delicious. service was great. and it had a very sweet, family feel to it. it seems to be run by the city as part of the parks system.???

    we found our way to the place that's supposed to be the best cup of turkish coffee in istanbul and it did not disappoint!! Mandabatmazoff is just off of istiklal caddesi, just down from taskim square... super easy to find. a real experience to watch the master slowly make each cup of coffee.

    we wandered back to the area of istanbul that was filled with hardware stores, where i had seen big boxes of tothpicks with evil-eye tops for just a couple of dollars. trips to the grocery store to pick up sundries to bring back... their popular lemon oil astringent (about $2) has been a big hit... and i really am going to need to go back just to get the kitchen rags that i now covet (and excellent to use to pack fragile things in... the rags are branded 'mr green' and are indestructible and dry in a flash. i think of turkey every time i wipe down the counters!! finally, stocked up with a full box of candybars called 'Karam Gurme Bitter Cikolatali & Kremali" ***this is the best tip i can give you. have tried unsuccessfully to find these online and would give anything for more!!!

    This was a fantastic trip all-in. If i had it to do again, I probably would not do a Rick Steves tour, as I was disappointed with the accommodations and food...but all in, it was a perfect month in Turkey.

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    Kawh-thanks for this report on a less visited area. I'd love to go to Turkey one day, but its admittedly not on my short list. Your descriptions of the thermal waters and spas has moved it up the list a few spots though!

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