As usual, I’m writing this post a few days after we were in this region and if some of the names seem familiar, it is because this is the region that was struck by the horrendous earthquake in the early hours of Monday 6 February. As of now the recovery process is still ongoing but it is being hampered by the weather which turned cold and snowy just before the disaster struck.
The people of this region have been some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met and our thoughts go out to them all.
We left the cold of Cappadocia to head back to the coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Our first stop was Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, although we have to confess that our primary reason for visiting was the free washing machines at the municipal motorhome aire! With the washing drying we wandered into town and followed a tourist walking route which took us past most of the main historic attractions – well worth a few hours of our day.
After Tarsus we drove around lakes close to Yumurtalik but couldn’t find a park up there so we headed to a car park near Yumurtalik Beach. As we were sitting outside the van having a coffee, we were approached by a family who were having a picnic nearby and who asked if they could look inside. No problem, we said, and after all three generations had stuck their heads through the door, we suddenly had an invite back to the grandparent’s house for coffee, so we packed up the van and followed them the 30km or so to Ceyhan. Having settled down for a cup of tea, we were then offered dinner, a shower and a bed for the night! Not wanting to offend anyone, and knowing the Turks are incredibly hospitable, we ate the delicious soup and the kibbeh but very politely turned down the bath and bed.
The family would have been in the region impacted by the earthquake and we just hope Yusuf and the rest of the family are ok.
From here we drove further south along the Mediterranean, spending a couple of nights beside the beach at Arsuz, catching up on admin and housework.
We visited the Titus Tunnel near Samandag, a flood prevention tunnel built by the Romans in the first century and whilst there had a great homemade flatbread stuffed with cheese and spinach – that was worth the entry fee alone!
We reached our southernmost point a few kilometres south of here, about 12km north of the Syrian border, when the track became impassable so we turned north again towards Antakya (also known as Hatay).
Sadly the city carpark was unable to accommodate us so after a few twists and turns through the busy narrow streets we found a campsite out of town. This meant we missed exploring the town and all that it had to offer.
Our bellies were looking forward to our next stop at Gaziantep, known for its baklava and other foodie treats! The town is in the centre of the pistachio growing region and given our habit of stopping occasionally for coffee, we had to try the local pistachio coffee. Well, what a revelation – we really liked it!
We wandered around the old bazaar area where we had all our kitchen knives sharpened in a small workshop and had our first kebab of the day.
The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum is definitely worth a visit. The mosaics were unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma and moved when the Birecik Dam flooded the area. The size and detail of the mosaics is phenomenal.
We had taken a taxi from the campsite with another English couple, Rich and Sarah, aka tracey_van_ness on Instagram, and met up with them again later in the day for an early dinner at Kebap ve Baklava (worth a visit and don’t be put off by the queue as it moves really quickly). We don’t eat out much as a rule as we’re on a budget but we knew we’d blow that in Gaziantep! We had different kebabs so we could share and of course had to finish with a couple of pieces of pistachio baklava.
We were now beginning our journey east and spent a couple of nights near Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates. The old town of Halfeti (Eski Halfeti) was partially submerged following the construction of the Birecik Dam. It’s now a destination for boat tours to view the Rumkale fortress on the opposite bank and the flooded village of Savas, where the minaret of the submerged mosque stands above the water.
We had hoped to visit the famous statues at Nemrut Dagi but knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t get there and indeed, at a height of 5,500ft we found the snowbound and very much closed approach road.
We spent three nights in Mardin but had only one day when we left the van – can’t be helped travelling in this region during the winter! We did have one glorious day when the sun came out so we could explore the old town and look across the plains to Syria.
Our final stop of this leg was the Mor Gabriel Monastery where we spent a couple of nights in their very snowy car park! The monastery is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world having been founded in 397AD and is located near Midyat. Although still home to practising monks and nuns it is possible to take a guided tour of the monastery.
The snow of the last couple of days was a gentle introduction to what was to come next!
Tarsus Municipal Campsite, Tarsus: Free, including EHU and limited use of a washing machine. Small individual pitches for 10 vans and any overflow was accommodated in the car park – it’s worth arriving early to secure a pitch. The maximum stay is initially 3 nights and return visits are limited. The washing machine is under lock and key and used under the supervision of the site manager but it’s free so can’t complain! Great restaurant next door and others within short walking distance. The city of Tarsus is about 2km away, a flat, easy walk.
Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay: tl150 p/n (£6.50) including EHU. Small, rural, riverside campsite. All grass pitches. All the usual facilities but we only stayed overnight (only because we were on our way to somewhere else) so can’t comment on them.
Gaziantep Karavan Park, Gaziantep: tl150 p/n including EHU. Free use of washing machines and DRYERS – yes, tumble dryers, although it did feel like you had to fight with local caravan owners who had bought their week’s washing from home with them! A fairly new, 24hr guarded, large, tiered site with hard standing pitches next to a lake. Reception building with a communal seating area and terrace. Pitches available for long term rent and lots of caravans seem to be long term. Taxi point just outside the front gate and it cost us tl150 to get to the centre of Gaziantep.
Mardin Karavan Camping, Mardin: tl150 p/n including EHU. A small car park run by a really friendly and helpful family – we drank lots of tea with them! A great location for access to the old town of Mardin and it has all the facilities you need, albeit it’s not a pretty site. Some noise as you are right next to a mosque and the owner’s dog barks at anything and everything passing the front gate day and night.
Other overnight stops:
Buyuk Ataturk Park, Ceyhan: Free overnight spot in the car park. A few cars around in the evening but once they had gone, it was quiet enough.
Arsuz: Free parking on grass close to the beach (no swimming allowed though at this point). Some noise from the construction site behind the parking area but quiet at night. A great place to rest for a couple of days. Short walk into town.
Siverek Picnic Area, Siverek: Free parking overlooking a dammed lake on the Euphrates. Large parking area. Toilets at the entrance. Very quiet night.
Halfeti: Free parking on a track alongside the Euphrates river. They are working on the track so some lorry noise during the day. Short walk to a few shops.
Mor Gabriel Monastery: Free parking in the outer carpark. We arrived during a snow storm and staff from the monastery came out to see if we needed anything. Great views across the countryside.