Iain Tait stopped in his tracks as he realised he was trampling over dust-covered mosaic tiles at a Roman amphitheatre almost as perfect today as the day it was built centuries ago.
There was no entrance fee or even guards. Visitors – had there been any – could sit freely on the same stone slabs that once welcomed Roman families waiting to be entertained. But Iain was alone. For this Triumph explorer, that speck-like moment in time sums up the magical allure of Turkey, a nation where east meets west, where history is just a part of everyday culture and where authenticity is king.
Iain and wife Ingrid had visited more than 100 countries on a Tiger 1200 and Thunderbird from their home in Australia.
“I had an American, then a Thunderbird but then added an Explorer two years ago and it’s just the best way to cover big miles on and off-road and not have a sore backside at the end,” he says.
Ingrid says: “Turkey is one of the most brilliant riding destinations in the world, from the quality of roads to the geographic and cultural perspective. It’s an astonishing country to ride through and was so good we’re going back again. It’s also very cheap when you get there… the cost of everything was a huge surprise, with food, accommodation and most other things a fraction of what we expected.”
If memories are made of experiences and images in the mind’s eye, then it’s the history that blew Iain away: “From 1,600-year-old monasteries to Roman ruins with fully functioning Roman baths to hundreds of perfectly preserved castles the size of towns, Turkey is as accessible as it is authentic.
“Everywhere you look there’s a wow factor and with my big Tiger 1200 Explorer to take me wherever I wanted to go, with heaps of power and comfort, once wasn’t enough.”
Turkey motorcycle touring
It’s taken us a day or two to get over the jet lag, but first impressions suggest we’ve made the right decision. We landed in Antalya on Anatolia’s flourishing south-west coast. It’s Turkey’s fifth most populated city, bordered by the Taurus Mountains, and we can already see this is a city filled with colour and music.
Antalya to Alanya
Up to speed we’re heading for Alanya, on through mountain and coastal roads, but stop off at the historical seaside town of Side, an ancient Greek city and one of the best-known classical sites in the country.
The colossal ruins of a 15,000-seat theatre complex, the largest in the region, are the first we’ve seen where no entrance fee is necessary. In fact, you have to walk through the Vespasian Gate and Temple of Apollo to get around town. Incredible.
Alanya is a beach city on the southern coast of Turkey, in the country’s Mediterranean Region, guarded by a castle and overlooking the sea below. It also boasts a tropical lifestyle – like most of Turkey they know how to do leisure time – so we rest awhile.
Alanya to Silifke
From Alanya the road dips and curves between the mountains and the sea, with ancient castles dotted along the route. Silifke and the Caves of Heaven and Hell, steeped in Greek mythology, are well worth a visit if only to cool down. We sweep into Silifke, a riverside country town with a striking Byzantine castle and moat, 20 towers and vaulted underground chambers. The fortress, overlooking the Taurus Mountains, was once the town’s command centre and it reminds us that this is a country with more history than almost any other on the planet.
Silifke to Karaman
We’re leaving the sea views behind to ride twisty mountain roads to the old Alahan Monastery on top of the mountain. It’s one of the earliest Christian churches in Europe and was initially carved into the cliff face. We were completely alone here, which was quite common in Turkey as there are thousands of ruins, Roman towns and castles, without the push and shove you find elsewhere.
Karaman to Ürgüp
After Karaman, north of the Taurus range, we’re cruising through the mountain roads and after a superb veggie lunch we head to the magical town of Ürgüp and its famous Cappadocia fairy chimneys, where we’re staying in an amazing underground boutique hotel built within the caves. A breathtakingly awesome location, which would have been memorable without the added attraction of a sunset balloon trip.
Ürgüp to Konya
From the air we’re dipping down to explore an underground city and caves. What can you say about this place except that it’s like somewhere from a different planet and a brilliant example of why we love Turkey. Places like this recalibrate motorcycle adventures to a whole new level. We’re now heading to stay in Konya, a town famed for its food and the trance-like Whirling Dervishes dance.
Konya to Eğirdir
After dropping in to the Mevlâna Museum, we’re back on the bikes and headed towards Eğirdir Lake and then to Beyşehir for our lunch break. What a stunning ride following this huge inland lake on amazing roads through twisties galore, all with incredible views interspersed with slower sections through a string of old villages.
Eğirdir to Pamukkale
Perfect white sand and turquoise water greet us as we ride into this resort paradise that is, in fact, a lake complex in the mountains. The lake features similar rock structures as found on Mars and is the highest lake above sea level in Turkey. After lunch alongside it we’re riding to Pamukkale, an ancient Roman spa town with almost everything intact… including the hot baths famous for the natural hot springs – perfect after a long day’s ride.
Pamukkale to Fethiye
As we switch into the twisty mountain roads we break for lunch in a cool pine forest. Then we’re making the short hop to Dalyan’s mud baths before stopping by the coast in Fethiye for a sumptuous dinner in the fish market by the sea.
Fethiye to Antalya
Sadly this trip to a paradise previously undiscovered – and possibly undiscoverable without our Triumphs – was coming to an end but not before we’d called in at the Saklikent Gorge and Canyons, 300 metres deep and 18km long and one of the deepest in the world.
Lunch stations jut out into the ice-cool water flowing down from the Taurus Mountains but we have to press on to the Lycian town of Myra, famous for being the birthplace of Father Christmas, before heading back east to Antalya, and Oz, along one of the most beautiful stretches of coast on earth.
This year we’re going back, after a brief tour of Ireland, to explore the other side of the country… can’t wait!