Traveling Turkey: The road to Alahan Monastery

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing series of spots of interest in the area.

One of the things I hear most from people who have been stationed at Incirlik is, "I wish I would have traveled more and seen more of the country."

Turkey is full of so much history and beautiful scenery, and all you have to do is step outside your front door.

And to top it all of this off, Incirlik AB provides numerous ways you can enjoy Turkey without even having to do the driving.

My most recent adventure was with Outdoor Recreation to see Alahan Monastery, a monastery that has been deserted for more than 1,400 years. It clings to the side of a mountain in the Taurus range near Mut and is being considered for inclusion in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage list.

The group from Incirlik met early on a Saturday morning at Outdoor Rec and loaded themselves and overnight bags into our van. From there we took off. Passing through the hillsides and through Mersin, the first stop was Kanlidivine, also known as "The Bloody City."

The orange colored ruins are centered around a giant sinkhole. Legend says that criminals would be thrown into the sinkhole where wild animals lived. If the criminals made it out of the sinkhole alive, they would be allowed to live among the people of the town in peace.

We were given free rein to wander around the ancient city ruins. Signs were placed around the area in Turkish and English to explain what certain buildings were.

After Kanlidivine we took off down the road again, the deep blue water of the Mediterranean at our side, as we made our way to a picnic area by the sea for lunch. A little restaurant was across the street where we ordered lamb or chicken sandwiches or fresh salads. The food was delicious and the meat and veggies were fresh, and it all went along perfect with the salty sea air and clear blue sky.

After lunch our trip continued. We paralleled the sea for several miles, admiring Turkey's glistening coastline, before turning north and into the mountains.

Suddenly the scenery changed from shimmering coastlines to rolling green mountains, soaring cliffs and valleys with the lolling Gosku River. We stopped at a scenic point to take photos and catch our breath at the incredible view we witnessed.

We continued on our way through the mountains till we came upon an open-air shop filled with pottery and containers full of olives. Gurhan Celik, our guide, explained to us that the region we were in was famous for its olives.

The group spent a couple minutes looking around at the pottery and produce, and playing with the squirrels, sheep, puppies and even a monkey in pens behind the shop before heading off again.

Finally, we reached the town of Mut, where our hotel was located. On the top floor of the hotel was a balcony overlooking the city. Looking beyond the city to the hills was a giant Turkish flag as part of the hill. When I looked to the center of the town, I could see the inner tower of Mut Castle towering above the rest of the city.

Dinner was provided by the hotel, and for those who wished, a spa and massage was available. I opted out of the spa, though most went for it.

The following morning we explored the city of Mut, making our way to the castle and seeing all the effects of when Rome occupied the city. It was a very beautiful town.

The castle had nine bastions around the fortification and a cylindrical inner castle. We were informed that the courtyard is still used for wedding ceremonies to this day.

After exploring the city, we packed back up and continued on down the road and deeper into the mountains. Finally, we came to the entrance that would lead us up to Alahan Monastery. The van began winding back and forth, switch-back after switch-back, up and up and up, until we finally reached the parking lot to the monastery.

The monastery was a site to behold. Clinging to the mountainside, it towered high above the valley. It was easy to imagine what it used to look like while wandering through the remnants. Many walls and archways remained intact, and the masonry carvings in stone showed the mark of the Templar Cross on walls and tombs.

After exploring the area, we made our way back to the van and headed out. We wound back down the mountain and into the valley. Our next stop took us to a small park nestled in the valley next to a trout farm. It was a cute area complete with picnic tables, a stream and a secluded pool where you could watch the trout swimming around.

The trout was delectable and the salad seemed like it came straight from the garden. The sights, sounds and smells of the little park all blended together for a wondrous euphoria. But as in all things, time was up and we needed to head back to base. We traveled through the mountains and by the sea until we once again arrived back home.