Back in September, myself and Finley Newmark met up as part of my ride around the world to complete a section of bike packing from Istanbul, the city that links Europe to Asia, to Kayseri, a small city in the centre of Turkey.
I didn’t know what to expect from Turkey. All I really knew beforehand was that it was a popular holiday destination for Brits, and home to a number of unique civilisations of the ancient world including Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans and so many more, some of which I had studied in Classics back at school. Fascinatingly, it is also the location of Göbekli Tepe, a historical site dating back to 10,000BCE whose discovery has significantly changed our understanding of the development of human society.
With such an extensive history, the country is rich with culture, home to amazing roads and trails to lose yourself in, and full of warm and welcoming people. All of these things make it the perfect country to see by bike. Here are some tips I’d recommend for anyone thinking of heading there.
1. Head Inland
The most popular route for cycling in Turkey is to follow the southern coastline, which is popular for a reason, (it’s beautiful). However some of our favourite encounters and towns we came across were just inland. Pomegranate, pear and lime orchards cover a lot of the countryside here, and there are incredible villages that give you a sense of what the country is like away from the tourist hotspots. As Ian, our host for a night, put it: most of the busier towns, archaeological sites, and mountains have an equally impressive counterpart located just a few kilometres away, rugged and untouched by the tourism on the coast. Our favourite was Cal Dagi: a 2000m+ peak found near the town of Cogmen. It maintains a mythical status in my memories from the country.
2. Learn About the Land
As I mentioned before, Turkey is home to countless civilisations now resigned to history and learning about the places you pass through can inspire, knowing the shoes that have walked the road you’re cycling on. Spartacus, the renowned gladiator who famously rebelled against Rome, was from Thrace (the name in antiquity for European part of Turkey), and Ephesus in the south east housed the Temple of Artemis, one of the ancient wonders of the world. It would be hard to cycle through Turkey and not come across areas with such fascinating stories ready to be heard, but do some research beforehand and seek out some gems.
3. Try Wild Camping
I couldn’t find a definitive answer to whether wild camping is ‘allowed’ or not in Turkey, like it is in some places, but the fact remains that people don’t really mind what you’re doing as long as you’re discreet. You’ll get visited by some cats and you might have a dog fight outside your tent in the middle of the night (I’m sure I wasn’t dreaming), but you won’t be bothered by people. In some areas there are pigs around, so it's wise to make sure any food you have is not easily accessible by them.
Speaking of animals, if you see sheep: stay clear. The sheepdogs are big and ready to defend their flock at any cost. One valuable piece of advice suggested to me (that I didn’t have) was an easy-access whistle on a necklace to scare away dogs that might be chasing you. Others suggested water, but I challenge you to reach for a bidon as you’re sprinting away from two massive dogs barking and snarling at you...
4. Try the Tea and Coffee
When it comes to tea and coffee, the Turks have it perfected. Tea is part of the social fabric of Turkey, you’ll be offered it all over and it would be rude to turn it down. It’s a way for someone to invite you to feel welcome, and you get the sense that the ability to offer it fills the host with pride. In Islam, drinking alcohol is forbidden, so when Adem and Pinar took me in for the night in Corlu, we stayed up until the early hours drinking tea and eating fruit and nuts in its place. The other drink is coffee - Turkish coffee comes in a small cup similar to an espresso, but is prepared in a completely different way. The coffee is ground extremely fine and then boiled with water and sugar to then be poured in a cup with that ground. It’s meant to be sipped slowly to avoid drinking the sediment in the bottom of the cup, which is easy to do - you’ll want to savour this deep, oakey, chocolatey drink. It’s full of depth and is like no coffee I’ve had before.
5. Take a Bus to Discover More
The country is vast, with a wealth of varied environments and busy roads linking them. Don’t be afraid to take a bus to see more of it if you’re on a time constraint. Buses are the best way to get around as the train lines don’t service a lot of cities, plus you can get them overnight so they don’t take a day’s riding away from you. There is no extra charge for taking your bike on a bus (although the handler might ask for something) but it will be treated as luggage, meaning it’ll be put underneath with all the bags. As long as you put it in there with enough protection of the more fragile parts, it should be fine. Just keep in mind the bus will be in a rush to leave so it’ll be a frantic few minutes!
About the Author:
Boru Pratt McCullagh is a 23-year-old cyclist and former velodrome coach, who in August this year, embarked upon on a once-in-a-lifetime, 34,000- kilometre journey to cycle around the world raising funds for mental health charity, Mind.
Follow his adventures: Boru's Instagram
Donate to Mind: Boru's JustGiving Page
Photography: Finley Newmark and Boru McCullagh