Author Archive for Jeremy Seal

What’s in a Name?

There has been a sorry lack of good news coming out of Turkey in recent years, so it’s good to be able to report on one positive initiative by the government – which allows citizens to do something about embarrassing, idiotic or otherwise unflattering surnames.

The Turkish government had good reason to impose surnames in 1934, not least because the sheer number of Turks called, for example, Mehmet the Son of Mehmet, rather complicated attempts at administration and may have even militated against a personal sense of identity; those Turkish memorials to wars which predated the new law, such as the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign, often bear long runs of identical names which can leave visitors with a distressing sense of victims whose enduring loss, for all their sacrifice, was to be indistinguishable from their fellows in perpetuity.

In keeping with the example of the national leader, Mustafa Kemal, who adopted the surname Atatürk (Father Turk), many of his subjects went down either the patriotic or the proud route, with Öztürk (Pure Turk), Özdemir (Pure Iron), Özalp (True Hero), Korkmaz (No Fear) and even Ölmez (Immortal) all proving popular.  One of my favourites, and the one I’d definitely have chosen for myself, is Dağdevıren (Overthrower of Mountains)

Clearly, however, some didn’t take such a route.  Some went for Aptal (Stupid), Donsuz (No Pants), Ördek (Duck), Deli (Crazy) and even Taşak (Testicle).  These are among the names more than 100,000 people have opted to change under a temporary amnesty whereby they may circumvent lengthy and expensive court procedures by applying direct to local civil registry offices.

In these cases family lore tends to point the finger at 1930s bureaucrats whose impatience with those who had failed to come up with surnames of their own evidently impelled them to mischief; I know a Şalvarli (Trousers) family whose members assume their forebear must have been wearing a striking pair of strides when he turned up without a plan to file his surname.

In other cases, however, I detect the native cussedness of people frustrated by yet another western imposition; in barely a decade, starting in 1923, Turks had been required to adopt a new alphabet, calendar and dress code, not to mention accepting a President rather than Sultan as head of state and a great deal besides.  Unlike our own surnames, often abraded by long usage and the circumstances of their adoption long since lost, Turkish surnames still seem freshly coined.  They act, then, as a reminder of the sweeping changes that took place in Turkey not yet a century ago and of the distance that Turks have travelled.  They also tell of the resistance that many felt about being remade in a western form not of their choosing – which bears on the tensions so evident in Turkey today.

They are also, of course, an enduring source of delight, which is why a part of me feels uneasy about this particular initiative.  While I get why the Testicles and the Ducks might have had enough of their surnames, I fear for some of those other glories that I’ve picked up on my travels.  I never got Mr Mavituna to explain the origins of his surname, but it would certainly sadden me if the Blue Danube family decided it was time they were called something else.


Putting off the Turkey Visit….

Heaven knows there have always been reasons to Defer the Turkey Visit, as any tour operator will confirm with a sigh, but lately I’ve been coming across a new one.

Back in the 1980s it was Midnight Express, the film which turned off whole generations of visitors by portraying Turks as sodomites and sadists.  Since then, of course, we’ve all learned that Turks are by and large a brilliant people – courteous, helpful, engaging, great hosts and quite brilliant cooks.  That meant finding another excuse, which Kurdish separatism supplied during the 1990s.   Then there were the earthquakes, which always sent tremors through the bookings; and the migrant crisis, with many potential visitors expressing concerns that they might have to contend with boatloads of Syrians on their gulet holiday.   There was a catastrophic fall-off in 2015 and 2016, with visitors worrying, understandably enough, about bomb blasts and other terrorist outrages as well as being caught up in political unrest or even a coup.

Now that the security situation has dramatically improved – it was London, not Turkey, which suffered a wave of terror attacks last summer – would-be visitors appear to have shifted in their reasoning by developing a reluctance to support an administration they increasingly view with distaste.  Staying away from Turkey, as from Burma/Myanmar in former decades, has come to express an ethical position.

‘We are,’ says one, ‘uncomfortable with supporting Erdoğan’s regime’.  ‘Turkey has turned into a brutal dictatorship,’ says another who goes on to suggest that it is time I end my love affair with the country.

Turkey’s President, acting under emergency powers granted after the attempted coup of 2016, has certainly hammered all opposition to his rule.  He has targeted human rights’ workers, peace campaigners, academics, writers and journalists, branding them as terrorist sympathisers.  Many thousands of innocent people are under arrest or investigation; many thousands more have been convicted, some on life sentences, been sacked or had their passports removed.

It’s a society where blind obedience to the top man has come to count for everything – forget ability, experience or talent – and the effect has been catastrophic.   The clearing out of officials from key posts in the judiciary, the security services, higher education and elsewhere, perhaps because their support for the President has been unacceptably lukewarm, has left a cadre of inept cronies in charge.  No surprise, for example, that the lira should have been in free-fall given that the Minister of Finance’s only qualification for the role seems to be that he is the President’s son in law.

But any notion that a tourism boycott might pressurize Erdoğan into a rethink is misguided.  All it would do is hit those guides, hoteliers, gulet owners, restauranteurs, minibus drivers and the rest who depend on visitors for their livelihoods.  Most of these people think no more of Erdoğan and his policies than we do; but they will not thank us for our high-minded principles if taking a stand means staying away – to the immediate harm of people whose main concern remains the care of their families.

None of this need be the immediate concern of guests whose own interest, understandably, is merely to get the holiday of their dreams.

And that’s why we hope you can be persuaded to join us in Turkey in 2019.

Midwinter Turkey

I recently had occasion to dust down some travel articles I wrote on Turkey a few years ago – back before the bombings and shootings, the coup attempt, the opposition purges and all the other horrors sent the country spiralling – when my main concern appears to have been inventing strategies to help visitors side-step the crowds in Turkey’s tourism hotspots.  How to time one’s visit to avoid the cruise-ship hordes which habitually descended on the Covered Bazaar in Istanbul, then one of the world’s top visitor cities?  How to minimise the interminable queueing time for Haghia Sophia, the great church of eastern Christendom, or to avoid the tiresome crush at the Open Air Museum’s rock-carved chapels in Cappadocia?

But over the last two years there has been no demand for articles on a country the travel media currently seems disinclined to touch – and, given their wholesale evaporation, no need whatsoever for strategies to avoid the crowds.  All that may change this spring, with predictions that the country is set for a dramatic recovery in visitor numbers, which is one reason why we ran a midwinter tour to Istanbul and hinterland Cappadocia, our first, earlier this month.

January may not sound like any kind of time to visit Turkey, but after several winter visits I had convinced myself it was the perfect season and not only in terms of beating the crowds – the sights all but our own, comparative space on the usually busy streets and in the restaurants, and cheap flights and discounted hotel rooms.  But also for the stoves and log fires, lentil soup, warming hamams (Turkish baths) at day’s end and, we hoped, fresh snow beneath bright blue skies.

Did midwinter Turkey deliver?  Here are seven photographs, one for each day of our stay, to help you decide.  Let me know if you’re tempted to join us next year, when we plan to return.


Day 1: Touring an empty Topkapı Palace, Istanbul


Day 2: Warming cups of sahlep (a milk drink made from orchid root and cinnamon) and a nargilye pipe near Istanbul’s Covered Bazaar.



Day 3: Admiring exquisite Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul’s empty Chora Church (Kariye Cami)




Day 4: A fine lunch by an open fire in Ayvalı village, Cappadocia, with the promise of snow at the window.


Day 5: The snow promise kept


Day 6: Dervishes whirling just for us, and no doubt for themselves, at Saruhan, a 14th-century Cappadocian caravansaray




Day 7: The dawn as we checked out of our Cappadocian hotel

The Real Real Santa

‘Tis the season of St Nicholas, whose saint’s day is celebrated on December 6th but whose red-robed alter ego will be with us, trading tat and childhood wonder out of countless ply and tinsel grottoes, until Christmas Eve.

In fact, the third-century Bishop of Myra has been attracting interest since Turkish archaeologists announced in October that they had found what they took to be the bishop saint’s undefiled grave beneath the mosaic floor of his basilica in Demre, as his hometown of Myra is now known.  Nicholas was back in the news with the further development that a piece of pelvic bone, said to have passed from the saint’s Myra tomb to a church in Illinois via Italy and France, had been carbon dated to around 340AD, when the saint is supposed to have died.

These announcements caused plenty of stir in the press, not least because the discovery of the tomb was the work of experienced archaeologists while the analysis of the pelvic bone was conducted by an august institution called the Oxford Relics Cluster based at Keble College.

But while each story initially intrigued, they also flatly contradicted each other; for how could the saint’s bones be in circulation – and tradition has relic bits of St Nicholas not just in Illinois but New York, St Petersburg, Venice, Antalya and especially in Bari, Puglia – if it were indeed the case that his remains lay intact and until now undisturbed beneath a Demre mosaic floor?  In the established narrative, at least in parts historically attested, the saint’s tomb at Myra/Demre has always been above ground and accessible – his sarcophagus a locus of devotion and ritual for almost 1700 years.  Accessibility to the saint’s remains is crucial in specific ways, not least in the central belief, which persists even today in places like Bari, that St Nicholas is a myroblyte, which is to say that his encased bones exude a miraculous balm or ‘myrrh’ which the Myra faithful were said to be in the habit of collecting from his sarcophagus via a specially adapted leak hole – and which the Demre guides like to point out even today.  What further contradicts the subterranean tomb claims are historical accounts which assert that Norman freebooters lifted his relics from Myra in 1087 and carted them off to Bari, to the cathedral built in the saint’s honour, where his relic remains are said to rest.

As to the pelvic bone, I merely cite calculations that the sheer volume of splinters said to have come from the Holy Cross would amount not merely to a cross but a small forest; the medieval trade in relics must appear to us as a preposterous scam, its practitioners prepared to stoop to eye-popping levels of charlatanry in assigning false provenance to personal possessions, body parts, funeral shrouds, nails, sponges, crowns of thorns and anything else that the gullible might swallow.   .

I mention all this because it seems to me that a trick has been missed here; for the resting place of the real Santa Claus – the name is an Americanised corruption of the Dutch Sint Heer Klass, or Lord St Nicholas – lies in plain sight some twenty miles east of Myra at a little-visited classical site called Rhodiapolis.

To appreciate the significance of Rhodiapolis, an otherwise unremarkable place, it is necessary to appreciate that of all the deeds attributed to St Nicholas, and there are many, the one which underpins his modern and secular manifestation is to be found in a story called ‘Three Daughters’.  This story, a staple of medieval devotional iconography, endlessly the subject of painted triptychs like the Fra Angelico one below, of church carvings and windows and the rest, tells of how the saint came to the aid of a local citizen who proposed to prostitute his three daughters to relieve the family’s impoverishment.   So the saint delivers to the house three bags of gold, the dowries by which the girls’ honours are saved; and in doing so – bearing gifts, in secret and at night – he embarks on his own long posthumous journey to Santa Claus.


Fra Angelico’s ‘Three Daughters’ (from the Perugia Triptych)

The question is whether this charitable deed can factually be attributed to St Nicholas.  Very little is known about the saint’s actual life, and the sheer volume of stories associated with him persuades that our saint is in fact a composite – of the virtues, actions and examples in fact performed by others and which proved influential and exemplary, and so gained traction, in the early-medieval Christian world.

Which is what brings us to Rhodiapolis, the home town and burial place of a wealthy benefactor by the name of Opramoas who lived perhaps a century before St Nicholas.   I made a recent visit to Rhodiapolis – the site stands above the poly-tunnel town of Kumluca – to discover that Opramoas’ much admired tomb is currently being restored and off-limits.   I’ll have to return if I am to view for myself the long inscriptions which detail Opramoas’ extensive good works; these include funding civic buildings and festivals, paying for schooling of the children at Xanthus, the regional capital, and funding burials for the indigent.

The inscription also mentions that Opramoas was renowned for paying the dowries of poor families’ daughters.

What we are looking at, then, is a classic case of false attribution; it’s time, it seems to me, that we credit Opramoas and not St Nicholas with the exemplary deed that would lead, finally, to Santa Claus.  For of all the stories credited to St Nicholas ‘Three Daughters’ was to prove the most resonant if also the most amenably adaptable to the commercial expediencies of our venal age; the story which gives us the man who bears gifts, secretly and at night – but who gets the parents to foot the bill.

So I was pleased to visit the home town of Opramoas though I’ll have to return to view the tomb of the man who reminds us what giving should really be about at this time of year.

My book on the posthumous life of St Nicholas – Santa: A Life in the UK edition, Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus – is out of print but available second-hand through Amazon or as an e-book by visiting



How to Spend It… This Life or the Next?


As I reflect on this year’s tours to Turkey – we managed two, an achievement given the fraught political situation, both entirely without mishap and to rave reviews – I’m struck more than ever by an aspect of the country’s magnificent archaeology; that what tells us more than anything about the native Anatolians and their civilisations, exceptionally, are the tombs.

Few of us are free from the need to be remembered; it’s just that these days we tend to make do with modest headstones or even wooden crosses.  Foregoing the sarcophagus, mausoleum or even mega-scale pyramid means we spend very much less on our memorials, no doubt, than our forebears, be they the Victorians or the ancient Egyptians.  But it’s my guess that even these funerary first-divisioners can’t compete with the Anatolians, especially the Carians and Lycians of coastal southwest Turkey, when it comes to investing in the posthumous future.

Really, it amazes me there was any dough left to live on.  Local dynastic leader Mausolos may be said to have kicked it all off, of course, with his monumental tomb – the fourth-century Wonder of the Ancient World at Halicarnassus, modern Bodrum – which spawned the word mausoleum.  This tomb lay beneath a podium set with 36 columns and topped with a pyramidal roof to a height approaching 200 feet.  The best of this mausoleum’s friezes now grace the British Museum – as does the great lion which once topped the similarly impressive mausoleum at nearby Knidos.  These funerary monuments appear to have inspired a spate of copies, no less impressive for their comparatively modest scale, to judge by the one which survives in perfect condition on a remote hillside above the coastal village of Turgut.

It’s a little further east in Lycia, however, that the sheer abundance of funerary architecture becomes truly giddying.  Everywhere there are beautiful sarcophagae on high plinths, sometimes movingly fronted by exedrae (rounded seats) for relatives to commune with their loved ones.  At Pinara and elsewhere there are tombs cut into the rock face, their facades like those of houses, thereby preserving in stone, even down to the projecting roof beams, the form of timber dwellings otherwise entirely lost.   At Sidyma there are later tombs, from the Roman imperial era, with exquisitely coffered ceilings carved with what I take to be drama masks.   And at Xanthos there are the sixth-century pillar tombs whose replica friezes – in place of the ones also removed to the British Museum – represent the Sirens (not, as was thought, Harpies) who bear the souls of the dead to Hades.

I’ve lately been reading about Cappadocia, early centre of Christian monasticism, in preparation for the superb midwinter trip we have planned to this remarkable region in January 2018.   I have always been struck by the extraordinary abundance of rupestral (rock-cut) chapels – thousands, it is estimated – and wondered how there could ever have been enough hermits to fill them.   Experts increasingly seem agreed, however, that many of them were as much tenth-century AD tombs as places of worship.  It’s a persuasive idea, this yearning for the church (or its simulacrum) rather than the churchyard as place of entombment, not least when we recall the dead interred beneath slabs in so many of our own churches.  Remember, moreover, that the ancient Lycians’ own tombs, constructed some 1500 years before the Cappadocians, are often fronted by colonnaded facades in unmistakable temple form.

We may hope that all the effort and expense proved worthwhile, and that the afterlife has been long and happy for these Carians, Lycians and Cappadocians alike.  Many of us will agree, however, that we’re better off spending what we have not on the next life but on this one.

Perhaps on that overdue holiday among the ancient sites of Turkey – either on its beautiful Mediterranean shores or in the haunting painted cavescapes of Cappadocia.

Wondrous Winter


Anybody who has seen Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2014 Palme D’Or winner Winter Sleep, a wrenchingly acute portrayal of an ageing hotelier in the depths of a Cappadocian January, will have been enthralled by this Turkish director’s Chekhovian vision.  What it won’t have done is make them rush to book a mid-winter trip to the region.

For if Winter Sleep is exceptionally rich in tragic-comic human truths, it seems to me that the weather it presents – slate-grey skies, unremitting sunlessness, sleet rather than snow – reflect the characters’ downbeat moods at the expense of meteorological reality; I wonder, Mr Nuri Bilge Ceylan, how many days were lost to the actual Cappadocian weather during the filming of Winter Sleep?  I mean to the bright-blue skies over a crisp fall of snow (the chill-dry air scented with coal and walnuts) that were no use whatsoever to you as they would have cheered up your characters no end, to the ruination of your magnificently sombre film, but precisely the exhilarating conditions I’ve experienced on the several occasions I’ve visited the region in the depths of winter.

While I’m one for Turkey in all seasons, it’s stoves, snow, bowls of lentil soup and even the howl of wolves – this last probably half-imagined  –  that make up my most abiding memories of the country.  The depths of winter have an especially transformative effect upon hinterland Cappadocia, arrestingly beautiful at any time but magical in January.  That’s why I’ve devised a winter tour, taking in the best of the region along with Istanbul, which can also look magnificent in its winter plumage.  As for the queues (which after the carnage of the last two years look set to return to Turkey in 2018); you can be sure they won’t have formed this early in the year.

This trip, which I will be leading along with resident Cappadocian archaeologist Yunus Özdemir, runs from 14-21 January 2018.  For itinerary and prices, click here.

Timewarp Turkey

Blame the heat, but I’m currently suffering from an aggravated case of goulette envy – I have adopted the French form in the hope it will go some way to eradicate the undeserving pronunciation abuses that dog these lovely Turkish traditional boats – even though I spent a week on one not a month ago.  I’ve taken solace in The Lycian Shore by Freya Stark which tells of her travels by boat – ‘the first of its kind, I rather think, to have followed this route for pleasure,’ as she described it – which she took along the coast of Lycia in 1952.


Lycia @ F Stark, 1952


Lycia, @ J Seal 2017

The best part of a lifetime ago, then, but even so this coast of Turkey clearly spoke to the formidable Dame Freya as it does to us today.  It’s just that she says it better, insisting that a Turkish ‘journey without history is like the portrait of an old face without the wrinkles.  Every bay or headland of these shores, every mountain-top round whose classic name the legends and clouds are floating, carries visible or invisible signs of its past’.

I find myself delighting in her journeyings, not least because it took in many of the same places I visited on my own recent trip: St Nicholas Island, Fethiye, where her explorings were truncated when her ship’s captain David Balfour, Consul-General of Izmir and formerly a Greek Orthodox priest – Freya kept a strong suit in patrician and interesting friends – hurried her on so they might make a rendezvous with some French archaeologists at Kaş; lovely Kekova, then so little known that even Freya was to mistake it for Aperlae; and Andriake, the site of Hadrian’s great granaries, where there were ‘camels moving across the sand’ and boys ‘drumming bare heels into donkeys’ sides’.

The camels are mostly gone, donkey numbers in definite decline, and Hadrian’s granary has been turned, not very successfully, into the Museum of Lycian Civilisation.  But beyond the old stones and the sun and the bare heels another aspect of our recent trip recalled The Lycian Shore – which is that it proved as easy, exceptionally enough, for our captain to find an anchorage all our own in May 2017 as it was for the Consul-General sixty-five years ago.


Remote Anchorage @ F Stark 1952


Remote Anchorage @ J Seal 2017

The same was true of the sites – so much so that the lone sailor we encountered among the glorious ruins of Arikanda felt like an intrusion.   In this vital respect – however turbulent the politics in this increasingly autocratic country – these are glorious times to visit Turkey.

After running last month’s tour – ‘as good as we hoped and in some ways better’, in the words of repeat guests Craig and Frankie Davidson – Turkish guide Yunus Özdemir and I are beginning to think about next year’s offerings.  The same emphasis – great swimming, fabulous food, overnight anchorages, enchanted ruin sites, a wealth of insights – will apply, but Yunus’ presence gives us more flexibility in cases, for example, where some guests wish to extend their walking.  We are also keen to add a few more lunches on land, especially where there are irresistible options to hand like Hoyran Wedre.

The focus remains goulettes but we also want to offer a few land-based options.  In most cases these will be just three or four days – perhaps at the wonderful Agora Pansiyon on Bafa Lake, a great base to walk and explore a wealth of wonderful sites like Labraunda – which guests can join as an extension to a goulette holiday or as a stand-alone experience.   We’d also love to get guests to Cappadocia in central Turkey, home to Yunus (when he’s not away guiding) and to the fabulous Kale Konak, the base for exploring these hauntingly other-worldly and surpassingly lovely landscapes.   And I’m very keen to do something in the Meander Valley where there’s another cluster of magnificent sites – Laodicea, Magnesia, Nysa, Aphrodisias – to drool over.

Email with any Turkish travelling ideas or ambitions, however outlandish, that you may have.  Anything is possible, numbers permitting.

We’ll be putting together itineraries for your consideration, and updating our tours page, over the summer.  Enjoy it – whatever the temperature.

Keeping Turkish Tourism Ticking


During a recent research trip to Turkey, I learned that this holiday season looks like being as dreadful as the last, with many hotels, travel agencies, restaurants and bars sure to close and a great many livelihoods lost.  The sector is realistic about its prospects and is not the least surprised that the turmoil of the last year – the bombings, the shootings, the attempted coup, the state of emergency, the crack down on writers and journalists – has deterred even some of its most devoted visitors. Read More→

Saying it Right: Gulets

Goulette/Goélette (Fr.): schooner


At a time like this, when Turkey is in such turmoil, there seems precious little point in sweating the small stuff.   Like pronunciation.

Except that, unlike the assassinations and the massacres, and the imprisonment by a shamefully craven judiciary of every dissenting voice, however original and distinguished, we may at least be able to do something about pronunciation.

Like sorting it.  For once and for all.

I care that words sound as they should, especially the ones closest to my heart.  One such Turkish word is gulet.  I have spent some of my happiest days on gulets, the traditional timber sea boats of southwest Anatolia, but these would have been happier still without the interminable talk of ‘gullets’ (like mullets) or ‘gulays’ (to rhyme, at a pinch, with blue haze).

Old hands will know that the first rule when boarding a gulet is to take one’s shoes off.  The point seems two-fold: to echo the age-old custom generally observed in Turkish homes, and also to protect the decks.  Which is fine, but it doesn’t do anything for my outraged ears. Which is why I’d like to insert another rule in front of this. Now I’ve no wish to jeopardise the warm welcomes for which gulet crews are renowned, but I do think there’s something to be said for posting an officious person, with clipboard, at the foot of the gangplank to check that guests can at least pronounce the thing they’ll shortly be calling home (much in the same way that the Ellis Island, NY immigration officers once inspected new arrivals for unwelcome contagions like TB) before allowing them on-board.  Heaven knows, we could even hand out congratulatory certificates.

When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk abolished the Ottoman (Arabic-style) script in the 1920s, he replaced it with a Roman-style alphabet which was adapted to provide a near-total phonetic logic; that explains all the odd-looking diacriticals – the cedillas, and especially the umlauts which convey the unfamiliar and off-centred vowel sounds Turks tend to make.  The problem is that while this logic may not trouble the locals, it’s anything but apparent to the rest of us.  There’s a reductive quality to Turkish words that makes many of them appear bewildering, or plain ugly.

Gulet, to be clear, is the phonetic rendering of the French word goulette or goélette – and doesn’t that already look so much lovelier?  Written like that, we instantly get the salt spray and the sunshine, and that lovely long bowsprit.  There’s a rich and wonderful etymology at play here as the word is also closely connected to other variants – the Spanish goleta, the Italian goletta or the Portuguese galeota – and, more distantly, to the English galley.  And galleon.

This originally Romance-language term no doubt found its way into Turkish as a consequence of the mercantile influence Europeans, especially the French and Italians, traditionally had in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant.    So it is that the port for Ephesus, Kuşadası (note the cedilla and the undotted ı) was until the 19th century known as Scala Nuova, or New Quay in Italian.  Which further explains where the Turkish word for quay, iskele, comes from.

But it’s the words of the French – for centuries the Ottomans’ most favoured trading partner, not to mention their main creditor – which have the most to offer linguistically-minded visitors.   The more thinly disguised of these like otogar (autogare; bus station) and bilet (billet; ticket) are a sinch.  But one of the many joys of a protracted acquaintance with Turkey, and Turkish, is identifying less obviously recognisable ones.  Let’s start with this example which I spotted last summer in Kars, eastern Turkey; what’s this café called?

The answer is, of course, sympathie, sympathy in English, though the French word’s richer resonance means it better translates as something like ‘Friendship Café’.

Here are ten more, some extremely testing and one or two verging on the obselete, to get your teeth into:










and aksesuar.

The first respondent to email me all ten correct answers, with both the French rendering and the English translation, gets a free bottle of reasonably good wine.  Turkish, of course, which tastes best on the deck of a gulet, ideally on one of the gulet tours I’m leading this summer, though I’m afraid you’ll have to book that bit…

Which brings me back to gulets and why I’m so fond of them.  I love their honorable working origins as sponge-diving boats or citrus fruit freighters, and I love the way the way this heritage is expressed in the varnished timbers, in that handsome sprit and galleon-style stern and in the crews, often the sons and grandsons of seafaring men.  I also love the way that southwest Turkey’s topography – all those indents, coves, headlands and islets, like a heated-up Hebrides – means the gulet can sidestep harbours or soulless marinas to drop anchor, and loop a stern line, where and when the captain sees fit.  And sometimes in the very shadow of the classical sites which litter this myth-haunted shore.


I also love the small groups – no more than ten – and the like-minded souls that gulets attract; companionable types in thrall to the classical world and to rural Anatolian life, to good food and some light learning, night skies and night caps.

The only stipulation is that they can pronounce ‘gulet’.


For more on my summer 2017 gulet tours, please visit



Another Turkish Tour Operator Closes, But Its Spirit Lives On

Some of you will have heard that Westminster Classic Tours, a knowledgeable specialist tour operator with a glorious niche product, announced yesterday that it is to cease trading at the end of this season.  The small-group cultural gulet (Turkish schooner) tour company went down in characteristic style; which is to say honourably, all debts paid, without any of its clients, suppliers or friends left hanging. Read More→