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.