Travel: Why Turkey is the perfect choice for an autumn wellness break
Katie Wright heads to the Aegean coast of Turkey in search of nourishment for the mind, body and soul...
WISPS of fragrant smoke rise from a clutch of incense sticks on the wooden deck of a boat chugging gently out into Kalemya bay, as the sun begins to peek over pine-covered slopes in the distance.
On deck, young women in activewear sit cross-legged on lavender-coloured yoga mats, listening to waves rolling into the horizon.
“Do you mind?” asks Rida Kirasi, somatic experimentation practitioner and founder of Soundala Therapy (soundalatherapy.com), proffering a small piece of smouldering wood.
I nod and she wafts the smoke around me, its piney aroma filling the air. “It's palo santo,” she explains. “It's a tree from Peru used in shamanic healing.”
Once everyone on board has been cleansed with the smoking twig, we settle down and our breathwork and sound-healing session begins.
“It's not a psychedelic experience; it's about untangling the energy in the body,” Kirasi says, instructing us to sit with our eyes closed and palms open (“energy flows through the hands”) as we breathe in and out to a count of four – into the belly for one second, into the chest for another, then out for two seconds.
Soundtracked by upbeat instrumental piano music, the breathwork is a lot more energetic than I'd imagined. There's no chance to feel sleepy while listening to the guided meditation and concentrating on breathing in time.
When the 20 minutes are up, we lay down, cover ourselves with blankets and place bean bag masks over our eyes as Kirasi and her assistant take up their instruments.
Gongs reverberate softly, Tibetan singing bowls hum, something called a Shruti box (a classical Indian instrument, a bit like an accordion) drones pleasantly.
With the boat bobbing up and down, I feel myself falling into an intensely relaxed yet alert state. When Kirasi, who is moving about the deck, runs her fingers across a set of delicate chimes close to my ears, I feel a wave of euphoria spread over me, tingling from head to toe.
As someone who's long been sceptical about this kind of ‘woo woo stuff', I'm shocked at how engrossed I become in just a few minutes. By the time the anchor is up and we're sailing back to shore, clutching cups of green tea, I consider myself a convert.
The Soundala session is part of Feel Good Week, held twice a year at the five-star Hillside Beach Club (hillsidebeachclub.com), where guests are invited (but not obliged) to take part in a variety of wellness-themed activities.
The autumn edition at the resort – located just outside the port city of Fethiye on Turkey's southern coast – is perfectly timed to take advantage of balmy daytime temperatures, when the summer heat has passed.
As well as dipping into the wellness offering, during my stay I schedule in plenty of sunbathing time at Serenity, one of the hotel's two adults-only beaches, and book a traditional Turkish hamman at Sanda Day Spa.
Dating back to the Byzantine era, a time when most Turks didn't have their own bathrooms and instead visited communal baths, the treatment is invigorating, to say the least.
Laid out like Vitruvian man on a huge, round, heated slab of marble, wearing nothing by disposable underwear, I'm sloshed with warm water by my tellak (therapist), who scrubs me from top to toe with a coarse kese mitt, sloughing off what feels like years of accumulated dead skin.
The thorough exfoliation is followed by a warm, foamy massage, a quick scrub with a handful of crushed ice (thankfully on my limbs only), then a final warm rinse, leaving my skin squeaky-clean and baby-soft.
Turkey is one of the few countries where tired cliches about ‘melting pot' history and ‘east meets west' actually ring true.
“A wonderful mosaic of cultures” is how tour guide Atilla Yay describes the blend of European, Asian and Middle Eastern influence, as we begin a walk through the crumbled ruins of Kayakoy ghost town.
“There aren't any ghosts, don't you worry,” Yay says, describing how the 18th century village was first populated by Greek settlers, then Turks, before being abandoned by the 1940s.
The wooden roofs of homes, chapels, and a school have long since disintegrated, but the stone walls have held fast for centuries, because the builders used egg white in the mortar, Yay explains.
Descendants of former Kayakoy residents now run nearby restaurant Antik (facebook.com/kayaantikk), which specialises in Turkish breakfasts so big they make the full English look puny in comparison.
Served family-style on a big round table, the meal starts with dishes of cucumber and tomato slices, olives, a variety of local cheeses, runny honey, apricot and fig jams, and a basket of fluffy flatbreads fresh from the oven, accompanied by strong, sweet Turkish coffee or black tea.
Just when I think the waiters are done, along come the hot dishes: potato cakes, fried cheese-filled pastries, slices of spicy sausage, scrambled eggs with tomato and peppers, plus pancakes with the option of lemon and sugar or hazelnut spread.
With such delicious fresh local produce, eating healthily doesn't feel like a chore here.
At Hillside, there's plenty of opportunity to indulge in epic buffets at every meal, but alongside the pasta and paella stations and vast dessert selection, there's also freshly-caught seafood grilled to order, loads of scrumptious salads and a wellness section laid out with nutritious nuts, chia seeds, kefir and other trendy superfoods.
Evenings at the resort are about letting your hair down, with live music on the beach and DJs by the pool bar, where the dancefloor is always buzzing.
When kids (and tired mums and dads) head off to bed, those still up for a boogie (myself included) shimmy over to the after-party at Pacha, a dinky nightclub carefully tucked away, so the music doesn't disturb guests who want their beauty sleep.
I might not have made it to yoga on the beach the next morning as planned, but that's OK. Wellness doesn't mean sticking to a strict schedule and banning all guilty pleasures, it's about finding your own path – especially when you're on holiday.
From peaceful moments of morning bliss to lazy days and joyous evenings, I think I found the right balance.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at the 5* Hillside Beach Club, from £1,149pp, travelling on selected dates between April 1-30, 2023 inclusive. Includes economy (Euro Traveller) return flights from London Gatwick Airport, 23kg luggage allowance and accommodation on full-board basis. 10 per cent hotel saving also included. Book by October 31, 2022 at www.britishairways.com/turkey.