You might argue all travel is wellness travel (red-eye business flights being the obvious exception to the rule). Isn’t that why we go on holiday in the first place? To relax and unwind and generally spring clean our brains? Isn’t that what a holiday means?
Well, not quite. Wellness tourism isn’t just an emerging trend; it’s now one of the dominant forces in global travel. Last year, in Europe alone, wellness travel generated $210b in revenue. The Global Wellness Institute now reckons the global wellness market – everything from Balinese yoga retreats to your local gym – is valued somewhere around $4.2 trillion. Not too shabby for what was once a niche, granola-crunching sub-culture.
Some destinations have benefitted from this trend more than others. Indonesia, Costa Rica and Thailand are all doing a roaring wellness trade (even Dubai now gets 15% of its tourist dollars from wellness-related travel).
But there’s another country that’s riding the global health boom, and that’s Turkey, home to hammams, white sand beaches, and award-winning spa resorts. Travellers have flocked back to the country since the failed coup in 2016, and the local industry has pivoted toward wellness travel. And the results are pretty amazing. In fact, tourism numbers are currently at an all-time high.
There are a few benefits to wellness travel in Turkey. For one thing, it’s less contrived. This isn’t a country that’s latched onto a passing trend. Hammams and natural spas have been part of the culture here since Ottoman times, gently pruning royalty and commoners alike for hundreds of years.
It’s also a chance to experience the more active side of wellness travel. Wellness in Turkey isn’t necessarily about chilling on the white sands of Antalya or practising your downward dog in Dalaman (although there’s nothing wrong with either of those). It’s more about getting out there, moving your body, seeing the country from handlebar height, or bobbing about in a kayak. Need some inspo? Here are a few of our favourite wellness activities in Turkey.
1. Cycle in Cappadocia
Almost two million travellers visit Cappadocia a year. We haven’t crunched the numbers, but we’re betting 1,999,900 of them see it from the skies in a hot air balloon (which is definitely a great idea, if you get the chance). But there are also dozens of great cycling trails through Cappadocia, particularly around the Devrent Valley and Urgup. The terrain is hilly, rocky and uneven, but you get some killer views. And after cycling around 30 kilometres of trails, you’ve well and truly earned that extra piece of baklava.
2. Hike the Lycian Way
Turkey’s Lycian Way is one of the world’s truly great long-distance trekking routes, right up there with Spain’s Camino de Santiago and the Appalachian Trail in the United States. It’s a 540 kilometre waymarked footpath that runs between Fethiye and Antalya along the Teke Peninsula. Usually it takes 29 days to hike the whole thing, but we prefer to break it up into day-hikes (ie. much more manageable chunks!). Everyone has their favourite sections of the Lycian Way, but for us it’s hard to beat the stretch from Kayakoy to Oludeniz, or Faralya to Kabak.
3. Kayak over the sunken city of Kekova
You won’t find this on many wellness travel brochures: literally kayaking above a sunken ancient city – nothing between you and the ruins except clear turquoise water and a couple of inquisitive amberjacks. Kekova is an island off the coast of Ucagiz, and on the northern side you’ll find stone archways and steps leading down into the water – the final resting place of the ancient Lycian settlement of Dolchiste. Our kayak route runs for about 12 kilometres, and it’ll take all your self restraint not to dive down and search for sunken treasure.
4. Steam in Istanbul
Most towns in Turkey have at least one hammam, but Istanbul takes it to the next level. There are 60 steam houses still in use in the city (back in Ottoman times, that number was 237). And after 10 days of hiking, cycling and kayaking around Turkey, there’s no better way to unwind and detox. Which hammam you choose is down to taste. If you’re after luxury, check out Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam or Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam – both built in the 16th century. For something more down to earth (and where you’ll actually get to hang with the locals), head to Cagalogylu, across the street from the Grand Bazaar.
Want to experience the very best of wellness travel in Turkey? Check out Intrepid’s 12-day Turkey – Hike, Bike & Kayak small group adventure now.
Feature image by April Wong.