Turkey hotel, restaurant, sites, tour guide and driver recommendations for
Istanbul, Ephesus, Bodrum, Fethiye, Cappadocia

November, 2010


Yes, ride a balloon!

My partner and I travelled for 14 days in Turkey in October-November 2010. Below are some of the best hotels, restaurants, sites, tour guides and drivers encountered during our trip. Weíre listing only the things you might not find in a guidebook or on the web--experiences and people we found particularly wonderful.

During our trip US $ 1 = TL (Turkish lira) 1.40. So 15 TL is about $10.

The weather was reasonable, though a little cold and moist sometimes. But we liked the smaller crowds and better deals off-season. It had been colder and wetter the week before we came.

Our itinerary:

* Arrived Istanbul, walked a bit, slept in Sultanahmet (Old Town). Spent next day sightseeing in Old Town.

* Spent two nights in Cappadocia, then back to IST for a night. We had a guide and driver in Cappadocia.

* Five nights on the Aegean Coast: two nights outside Ephesus (in Sirince), a night in Bodrum, two nights in Fethiye. We had a driver only.

* Four nights in Beyoglu (Istanbul New Town). Walked a lot. Also travelled by tram, ship, and subway.

Normally I make all travel arrangements on my own, but this trip was complicated (a lot of far-flung places were on our list, it was clear weíd need a car and I didnít want to drive) so we worked with an agency. I contacted Lale Aran, co-owner of SRM Travel (www.srmtravel.com). Phone +90 (216) 386 7623 (to call from inside Turkey: (0216) 386 7623) lale@srmtravel.com

You may know Lale from the Rick Steves TV shows and podcasts. She and her husband wrote the RS Istanbul guidebook. Lale had many good ideas for an itinerary that worked, places to see, and places to stay. I highly recommend SRM if you donít want to arrange everything yourself. Plus, Lale can get cheaper domestic flight tickets in-country than foreigners can on the web (and you probably wonít want to wait until youíre in Istanbul to book tickets).


Our Old Town hotel was not memorable, so I wonít mention it. But when we returned from the coast, we moved across the Galata Bridge and up the hill to a hotel in the New Town, a block from Istiklal Street, in a happening district with lots of interesting restaurants.

Hotel: Pera Suites
Mesrutiyet Caddesi
Orhan Adli Apaydýn Sok. No:17/A Tepebasi 34430
+90 (212) 252 50 50
info@theperasuites.com; www.theperasuites.com

We stayed in a Junior Suite, which is a studio apartment with small kitchen. The price was reasonable and the location excellent with restaurants, bars and clubs and small shops close by.


Outside the Spice Market we found the best lokum (Turkish delight), nice cheeses, nuts

(Pera Suites are a block from the famous Pera Palace Hotel if youíre looking on a map). The area is lively at night and even though the windows are double-paned, there is a hole in each for ventilation, so every word (and shout and late night song) rings clear. It helped to block the vent hole with pillows and to run the air con for white noise. The other challenge at Pera Suites is language (if you donít speak Turkish). The staff are very friendly and want to be helpful, but they have limited English and arenít able to assist with directions or information or recommendations. But they try their best! We recommend the place, especially if you are noise-tolerant (or are usually out making noise).

Food: You can get many variations of Turkish and regional food around Istiklal and in the other nearby neighborhoods. You will find surprisingly few restaurants offering other cuisines (Thai, Chinese, Italian, French, etc.) We saw a few Chinese restaurants.

By chance we had some of our best foodie experiences a block from Pera Suites, at Enstitu, the restaurant of the Istanbul Culinary Institute. The food was fantastic and the value was great. Both meals we had at Enstitu were much better than at trendy Leb-y-Derya restaurant nearby, but at half the price. (Also, unfortunately, without the great Leb-y-Derya view). The Enstitu staff are friendly and helpful, led by manager Gila Birman. Enstitu is near the Pera Museum and is open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday.


Jamon iberico at Enstitu

Mesrutiyet Caddesi No. 59
Phone 0212-2512214

Nearby, across from the Tunel upper station, we stumbled on KV (kah-ve, or coffee) who offered a great Turkish buffet lunch for TL 14.50. This was a very good deal in a pleasant setting. They also have a la carte dishes, coffees and drinks.

Tunel Gecidi No. 10
Phone 0212-2514338


Our guide in Cappadocia was Deniz Turgut, a licensed free-lancer who often works with SRM. Deniz has a wealth of knowledge and radiates a wonderful, positive energy. We spent three days with her and felt that we had become good friends. She taught us as much about todayís Turkey as she did about the ancient monasteries. When a detailed question stumped Deniz, she researched it at home--very helpful! Deniz also arranged lunch with a village family who have recently opened their home for meals. There is no restaurant signage, itís their house, and we sat on the veranda with a lovely view while the kids played nearby. Food was great! We highly recommend seeing Cappadocia with Deniz. And if you get in touch, please mention that you heard about her from Scott and Gary.

Deniz Turgut
Licensed guide in English and Spanish
+90 (532) 587 47 24

Hotel: We stayed at the new cave hotel SRM is building in Mustaphapasa village, near Goreme, called Sinassos Villas & Cave Suites. They have finished six rooms, and are building more now. Our rooms were charming, spacious, comfortable and quiet. There is a common area with a computer and wifi. Breakfast is at the historic ďOld Greek HouseĒ next door. SRM hasnít launched a website yet (contact Lale for reservations): 

Sinassos Villas & Cave Suites
Sahin Caddesi, Vezir Sokak No: 12; Mustafapasha
+90 (384) 353 5020 through 5022

The Old Greek House hotel and restaurant is charming. The mom grows the herbs, rolls the dolmas, makes the jams. Mustaphapasa is a nice town and interesting to explore.

Yes, go up in a balloon: Everyone told us that, and now we repeat it too. While ballooning is pricey (~US$220 each for a less crowded, longer ride), seeing Cappadocia from the air is worth it. We flew with Denizís husband, co-owner of Butterfly Balloons. Mustafa did a great job (we saw everything, then landed in the bed of the truck) and he is entertaining too. I understand that he has a travel agency, so Mustafa can probably help with lots of things.


Deniz helps out in the pottery shop while waiting for us


Mustafa Kursad Turgut
Butterfly Balloons
Phone: +90 (384) 271 30 10

Aegean Coast

Our home-cooked meal


We didnít book a guide for our tour down the Aegean Coast, but we wanted a driver. I was concerned that there might be some language challenges, because Lale couldnít guarantee a driver with strong English. But to our delight, Nuri was great! His self-taught English is extensive and once again we made a local friend. Nuri would ask hotel staff about sights to see in the area and helped us access Turkish food options we wouldnít have found otherwise.

Cave living in Mustaphapasa

As a driver he was safe and courteous and like Deniz, Nuri shared a lot about his life and events in Turkey. He works for Ertur, an agency in Kusadasi. You could write Nuri directly, or ask for him through the Ertur website. Again, if you get in touch, please mention our names.

Nuri Ezer
Driver (and culture guide and, previously, DJ)
Phone: +90 (554) 885 45 41

The first two nights on the coast we stayed in the hills above Ephesus, in the village of Sirince. With Sirince as a base, we visited Pergamum and Ephesus. I didnít care much for Sirince (itís touristy and the food was mediocre) and I found the Kirkinca House rooms to be uncomfortable. If I was to do it again, Iíd likely try Selcuk instead.

Lunch with Nuri


Charming Euromos

On the way from Sirince to Bodrum (third day) we visited Priene. Then Nuri suggested another stop, at a small, roadside temple site covered in Lonely Planet, but not heavily visited. Itís called Euromos, and it was one of my favorite stops of the trip. The temple has columns on two sides and sits in a quiet, forest setting. We were the only people there (even the ticket office was empty). It was fun to explore, and to imagine folks like us coming here in the past to pray or for a festival. Euromos was just one of Nuriís great suggestions.

For us Bodrum is overpriced and overdeveloped but it has a world class underwater archeology museum set in an old Byzantine fort. Donít miss the museum if you are at all interested in the classical world. And there are great views of the twin harbors of Bodrum from the castle walls.

We stayed in the Su (water) Hotel. It was bright, quiet and an easy, 10 minute walk to the marina and restaurants. No TV in the room, but they have free wifi and a pool. The hotel is owned by Mr. R. Zafer Kustu, who created the interesting collages in the rooms and hallways.

Su Otel
Cad.1201 48400
+90 (252) 316 6906

We had an Asian dinner in Bodrum, at the Hong Kong restaurant on the marina. While a bit expensive, the dishes were well-prepared and very tasty. The chef is from Xian, China (home of the terra cotta warriors).

Next stop was Fethiye. At this point we had entered the Mediterranean (not Aegean) seacoast and were in the heart of ancient Lycia. The Lycians carved elaborate tombs into the cliff faces, and we saw a lot of those. The first were in Dalyan, on the way to Fethiye. In Dalyan you can hire a boat for a two hour tour to see the tombs and the local turtles. But you also can get an excellent view of the tombs from the public park and sidewalk by the river.

Fethiye: we liked Fethiye better than Bodrum--it felt more natural and manageable. Note: King Amyntosí tomb in Fethiye looks better from the road than up close where you can see the graffiti.

One thing you must do in Fethiye is have dinner at the fish market. You buy your (very fresh!) fish or shellfish from the market stalls in the center of the square, then carry the raw, cleaned fish a few steps to one of the surrounding restaurants. For TL 5 each person, they cook the fish to order and provide bread and salad. You can buy additional mezes if you need them (the fava bean paste is great) and musicians serenade tables who invite them (for a tip). Our meal at the Fethiye fish market was one of the best of the trip.


Teamwork at the oil press (Bodrum museum)


Evidence of feasting in Fethiye

In his quest to learn about the area, Nuri gleaned local recommendations for visiting Lycian tombs and other ruins. He drove us to a site in the mountains called Pinara. It was fun hiking over the mountain to see the tombs and well-preserved theater. Again, we were nearly the only people there. Take water with you as there are no services at this slightly remote site (4 km of bad roads).

From our Fethiye base we also hiked in the picturesque ďghost cityĒ of Kayaköy, deserted at the time of the great population shift in 1924, when Greeks were forced out of Turkey and Turks out of Greece. The walls remain, but no one has lived there since.

We also visited Xanthos (Lycian, Greek and Roman ruins) where they are discovering new roads and new mosaics every year. As at Ephesus, they have uncovered only a fraction of the site.

Turkey is great, safe and easy. You need to go!







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