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The D-Hotel Maris of Southern Turkey

If you hadn’t just arrived after a civilised four hour flight you could be mistaken for thinking you were in the Caribbean. Hotel D Maris, a large resort on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, makes no apologies for its brutal architecture which sits aloft a cliff and looms over the clear turquoise water. The sea is calm and the beach so white it looks like snow.

The hotel would make a fitting backdrop for a Bond film. A dark and sultry atmosphere descends over the interior corridors. The many terraces and balconies are perfect for watching the silhouettes of helicopters arriving on the backdrop of a blood red sky.

Dinner at Zuma (one of the six restaurants on site) is an experience not to be missed. Guests graze on works of art and drink their way through a sophisticated cocktail menu, whist the DJ spins tunes that are so good it’s impossible not to dance.

By day the resort is health conscious and the activities are endless. From Pilates to paddle boarding there is something for everyone and an expert to advise. I opted for a canoeing session with a German watersports instructor; he was patient and encouraging as I pushed myself to circle nearby Rabbit Island (yes it does have rabbits on and guests usually take carrots over to feed them).

When you have sampled each of the five beaches, a cruise along the peninsula on the elegant ‘Pasa’ Gulet will be the perfect end to the holiday. Sip champagne, snorkel, gorge on macaroons and drop the anchor in crystal clear coves.

With British Airways launching a new direct route into Dalaman from the end of April – just a 90 minute transfer to Hotel D Maris – this little slice of paradise will be even easier to access. Get in touch with me now to find out more. Call us on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Conquering a fear of flying

“What’s that noise?”

“Have the engines stopped?”

“Why is that person hanging around the exit?”

These are all common phrases I use when flying.

Having been bought up in south east Asia I started flying long haul when I was six (via Abu Dhabi in those days) and haven’t stopped since, despite threatening to never get on a plane again after most flights! All of the Steppes Travel team were lucky enough to flit off for an amazing weekend in Istanbul recently but my main concern was, am I going to make a fool of myself on the flight?

The time had come to conquer my fear. So with a deep breath and a burning credit card I signed up for the British Airways Flying with Confidence Course – one of my colleagues even asked me if I’d been learning to fly – I think that is a ‘Steppe’ too far for me!

Held at Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Sofitel, it was a day of technical and psychological speak followed by a short flight to the South Coast and back. Lots of information to take on board and quite draining when facing ones fears but all good stuff nonetheless.

Then came the flight; we walked silently to the terminal, lots of fixed smiles and nervous laughter.

For the duration of the flight the captain narrated what was happening, talking us through every bump and noise – telling us we could all let go of the arm rests and we’d still miraculously stay up in the air!

It was a fascinating, sometimes terrifying but most of all emotional. Funny how things get the better of us but I’m pleased to say there was no panic and no grabbing the poor unsuspecting traveller next to me.

The team at BA were amazingly supportive and very kind to us jittery flyers – I shall take their calming words of wisdom with me when I travel fly to France next month – watch this space to see how I get on…

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All is well in Istanbul

Before I depart for Turkey, I question whether the current demonstrations in Istanbul would hinder my trip in anyway. However, I am very pleased to advise that all is well in Istanbul, despite the recent media hype. Yes there are demonstrations taking place, but from a tourist perspective, you will be hard pushed to see them.

As I am staying in the Pera district, just a short drive from Taxsim square, my curiosity gets the better of me and I ask my taxi driver to take me there; but today it is empty of people. There is an increased police presence and at certain points along the Bosphoros, but only out of precaution. Most are sat chatting with colleagues and drinking Chai.

The atmosphere on this side of the city is great fun with contemporary bars, eateries and chic hotels. A welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowds in Sultanhamet, the old quarter of the city.

As the guide books will tell you, Istanbul is a melting pot of East meets West and not a truer word can be said. Visible in the way people dress and the ancient buildings sitting alongside modern apartments and high rise structures. Talking to my various guides you also sense the dilemma between those looking to be a part of Europe and those wishing to retain their Eastern roots. “It’s a salad”, to quote my local Turkish guide.

A few of my highlights…..The Blue Mosque with its ornate interior, decorated in beautiful blue hand painted Iznik tiles. The Agia Sofia, a former Byzantine church, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, with its wonderfully intricate mosaics that adorn the walls, only recently uncovered from the blanket of white wash that had them hidden for many years. The Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. A complete sensory overload. A word of warning! Be prepared to fine tune your bartering skills and spend a good couple of hours here as, like I did, you lose yourself in the maze of 60 alleyways and 3,000 shops!

I also spent a very worthwhile morning at Topkapi Palace. A former residence of Sultan Mehmett II. It is an oasis in the heart of the city, made up of a series of pavilions and gardens. Now a museum, the highlight for me is the treasury with its wealth of precious stones and jewellery and the beautiful, perfectly preserved imperial kaftans, as worn by the Sultans at that time.

I end my stay with a cruise on the Bosphoros, spending a glorious three hours seeing the city from a completely different perspective. This was my chance to also spend a bit of time on the Asian side. Very green, less populated and with lots of lovely little fishing villages dotting the shoreline.

Istanbul is a huge city with a population of almost 13 million and probably just as many vehicles. It reminds me a lot of Cairo, but without the smog. I’ve only scratched the surface during my three days here, and cannot wait to go back….

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Travel to Eastern Turkey – A rising star

Day 1
Just returned from an incredible afternoon at Ani, the very atmospheric former capital of the great medieval Armenian kingdom.

Despite the best efforts of marauding Turks, the Mongol hordes, neglect, decay and earthquakes, in the soft afternoon light set against vast rolling views, it really was magical.

Recently written about by Jeremy Seal in the Saturday Telegraph, the extraordinary thing is why there are so few visitors, but watch this space, Eastern Turkey’s star is rising, and not just because the PKK are putting away the guns.

Day 2
Rare, clear views of the iconic Mount Ararat.

Day 3
A day of learning about the Urartians (9th-6th century BC), eating pearl mullet from Lake Van (the only creature able to hack the lake’s high salinity), meeting the bizarre Van cat with their love of swimming and mismatching coloured eyes and a visit to the 10th century Armenian church set on charming Akdamar Island.

Day 5
One of the great natural attractions if travelling in Eastern Turkey is the contrast in landscape, no better demonstrated than yesterday.

Biding farewell to dazzling turquoise Lake Van which had held us spellbound with its beauty for the last three days, heading due south dropping down through a series of tight gorges we left the rolling grasslands of the Anatolian plateau behind and entered an entirely new world.

The transition from plateau to cultivated lowlands became complete as we crossed over the Tigris River and entered the ancient land of Mesopotamia. Long had I hankered after seeing this river and the lazy green water sliding underneath us which will continue on through Syria and past Baghdad certainly didn’t disappoint.

Mesopotamia, the ancient land and cradle of civilisation between the two great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates. Babylonians, Assyrians, Mongols, Medes and Persians are but a few of the multitudinous host of peoples who have passed through over the millennia and the richness of history is all but tangible as I stare out across a sun bleached biblical land.

It’s also damn hot down here and becoming alarmingly difficult to track down a cold beer.

Day 6
2 days ago I was in Mardin only 16km from the Syrian border with a heavy Arab/ Kurdish population. The town’s architecture was stunning, but what really blew me away was being introduced to Parkour and the local traditional in Eastern Turkey of teaching pigeons to do somersaults.

Day 7
Extremely remote to reach even today and set at 2,200 metres with commanding views all around, King Antiochus’ delusions of grandeur when he conceived to build a funerary tumulus for himself on top of Nemrut Dagi 2,000 years ago were plain enough as we staggered up the last 600 metres. In our quest to reach the famous statues though we had failed to register the brooding storm clouds amassing to the north and the ominous rumble of thunder.

By the time we were leaving the eastern terrace the rain had started and I was thankful for the goretex jacket and extra jumper I had been firmly urged to bring along. By the time we reached the western terrace, no more than 200 metres around the side of the hill, the full wrath of the gods had been unleashed upon us and I was now deeply regretting leaving my hat in our vehicle below. Hailstones peppered like bullets scattered us like starlings forcing us to take cover behind expedient rocks. This certainly wasn’t part of the itinerary I mused, crouched down against the lashing storm getting progressively damper by the minute.

But every cloud has a silver lining, as the worn adage goes. Poking my head gingerly above my impromptu shelter squinting through the ongoing deluge, where previously there had been a throng of camera toting visitors clustering around the charismatic statues, the place now resembled the Marie Celeste. And so for five precious minutes as a rainbow appeared we three hardy souls had this magical site and its incredible views to ourselves.

Living on a small damp island and being used to the odd downpour at last had a serendipitous use.

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Amazing Istanbul

Istanbul is a fantastic city. I am not generally a ‘city person’ but Istanbul is most definitely in my top 5 cities, I was there in November last year and absolutely loved it. It is the only metropolis with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia so you get the best of both worlds with shopping in both boutiques and bazaars, fabulous food, a fusion of cultures and religions and incredible UNESCO world heritage sites.

After extensive renovations, one of the cities oldest and most prestigious hotels, the Pera Palace hotel is due to re-open in September 2010.

When the world famous Orient Express chose Istanbul as its last stop in the East, the Pera Palace was opened in 1895 to offer suitable accommodation to adventurers as well as the elite and noble classes of Europe. Guests here included Ataturk, Agatha Christine, Alfred Hitchcock & Greta Garbo.

The hotel was designed in neo-classical, art nouveau and oriental styles, giving Pera Palace its timeless, refined look. It was also home to many firsts. Apart from the Ottoman Palaces, it was the first building to have electricity as well as the first electric elevator. British writer Daniel Farson described the elevator in these words: “It is the most beautiful elevator in the world made of cast iron and wood… It ascends like a lady who curtsies! Bathrooms that provided the only running hot water in the city were also privileges exclusive to Pera Palace Hotel guests. Tall spacious rooms lit by magnificent chandeliers were host to many unforgettable tea and dance parties.