The heady aroma of exotic spices wafts through the air in Istanbul’s Spice Market. I’m enticed by stalls stacked with cheese, figs, dates and variations of Turkish delight. One stall is laid out like a science laboratory, with an entire wall lined with rows of glass jars filled with mysterious oils. The shopkeeper offers me a pear-shaped bottle filled with luminescent straw-coloured liquid.
The label says the perfume is called ‘Night of Istanbul’. I dab some onto my wrist and breathe in the perfume. Like the oils in the bottles, Istanbul is mysterious, romantic and sometimes intoxicating.
Centuries of Byzantine and Ottoman history have left Istanbul with a legacy of dreamy domed mosques and majestic churches, grand palaces and bustling souks. This layering of historical periods gives the city an air of fantasy and the Arabian Nights fairy tale setting is perfect for walking hand in hand around enchanting architecture. The Byzantine Empire left a legacy of ancient Roman walls, Byzantine churches, columns, public baths and aqueducts while the Ottoman Empire is remembered in the hundreds of imposing mosques, curved domes, wooden mansions, palaces and bazaars. Sailing along the Golden Horn (which is the section of the Bosphorus that separates the European and Asian sides of the city) at dusk reveals alluring vistas of domes and minarets silhouetted against an orange sky.
The city’s architectural icons include the Blue Mosque, with its controversial six minarets and blue-and-white tiles, and Ayasofya, now a museum, which was the largest cathedral in the world for almost 1000 years until Mehmet II converted it into a mosque in 1453. The marbled courtyards of Topkapi Palace conjure images of harems, sultans and royal riches. The palace’s walls reverberate with legends such as the tale of Selim the Sot, who drowned in his bath after drinking too much Champagne.
Away from the hustle and bustle, a short flight from Istanbul to Antalya brings me to the Turkish Riviera, a holiday destination with a gorgeous Mediterranean climate, clear, turquoise waters and its more than its fair share of archaeological sites. Antalya’s old town has a charming atmosphere. Its cobblestone pathways wind lazily down to the Mediterranean Sea and are lined with bars, clubs, restaurants and shops. It’s chic and glamorous but it doesn’t matter where you are in Turkey, history is never far away.
The Turkish Riviera has Greek and Roman historical gems including the remains of the Temple of Artemis near Ephesus, which dates back to 650BC and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Perge is another archaeological wonder and is where most of the statues displayed in Antalya Museum were unearthed. Perge was a major city of ancient Pamphylia. It was originally settled by the Hittites around 1500 BC. The Roman theatre at Aspendos, which was an ancient Greco-Roman city, was built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelious and is one of the best preserved Roman theatres in Turkey.
COUPLES WILL LOVE:
The relaxed party atmosphere at the newly re-branded Club Med Belek which is located on the shores of the Mediterranean. Club Med Belek has a Sailing Academy, Golf Clinic and a substantial Wellness Centre offering Turkish baths, Japanese baths, anti-ageing treatments and massage therapies. After exploring ruins and discovering gems of ancient history, couples can sink into a comfortable day bed on the resort’s two kilometre-long beach and gaze at the blue, blue sea. Club Med also has one of Turkey’s top golf courses.