Turkey has many officially-recognized culture routes that are ideal for anyone wishing to delve deeper into the country’s history, natural wonders and way of life. Signposted, GPS-friendly and usually accompanied by booklets, they cover everything from mountain hikes to walking in the steps of the apostle Paul.
One of the newest and most interesting routes is designed specifically for horseback, following in the path of 17th century writer and adventurer Evliya Çelebi. After a lifetime of wandering that had taken him from sub-Saharan Africa to Russia, Evliya set out from his hometown of Istanbul for one last journey in 1671. His destination: Mecca.
The Evliya Çelebi Way follows the route of the traveler’s pilgrimage and was established in honor of his 400th birthday last year. Istanbul’s vast sprawl and churning traffic make it a mite less equestrian-friendly than it once was, so the present-day route starts from a village south of the Sea of Marmara. It then heads south before hitting Iznik Lake and then Iznik itself – home of Turkey’s ubiquitous colored tiles.
Riders continue down towards Kütahya and on to Afyonkarahisar, where the route takes a westward turn towards Simav. That’s as far as it goes at the moment, but there are plans to extend the route in Evliya’s hoofsteps towards Izmir. It’s a winding route of some 650km, taking approximately 25 days, passing through ancient villages, lush farmland and stunning landscapes, at times following old Ottoman and Roman roads. The aim is to savor the journey, reflect on history and absorb the myriad of tiny details along the way.
This is a great opportunity for horseriders to saddle up for the next big thing in “equitourism”. Not a rider? No problem: there’s also a 330km hiking route. And however you do it, organizers recommend spring or fall as the ideal seasons.