10 Best places to travel in Turkey
This richly historical land has some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, scenery from reaches to mountains and the great city of İstanbul.
A succession of historical figures and empires – including the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans – have all left their mark on this former stopover along the Silk Road. From the ancient port city of Ephesus (Efes) to the soaring Byzantine dome of Aya Sofya, Turkey has more than its fair share of world-famous ruins and monuments.
Turkey’s diverse landscapes, from Aegean olive groves to eastern steppe, provide a lyrical setting for its many great ruins. The country’s most magical scenery is to be found in Asian
Anatolia, where beautiful vistas are provided by the vertiginous Mediterranean coastline, Cappadocia’s otherworldly ‘fairy chimney’ rock formations and wavy valleys, the alpine pastures of the Kaçkar Mountains, and golden beaches such as 18km-long Patara. Whether you settle down with a çay to enjoy the view across mountain-ringed Lake Eğirdir or explore the hilly hinterland on the southwest coast’s many peninsulas, Turkey’s landscape will leave a lasting impression
Top places to travel in Turkey
Cappadocia’s hard-set honeycomb landscape looks sculpted by a swarm of genius bees. The truth – the effects of erosion on rock formed of ash from megalithic volcanic eruptions – is only slightly less cool. Humans have also left their mark here, in the Byzantine frescoes in rock-cut churches and in the bowels of complex underground cities. These days, Cappadocia is all about good times: fine wine, local dishes and five-star caves; horse riding, valley hikes and hot-air ballooning. There’s enough to keep you buzzing for days.
Even in mighty İstanbul, nothing beats the Aya Sofya, or Church of the Divine Wisdom, which was for centuries the greatest church in Christendom. Emperor Justinian had it built in the 6th century as part of his mission to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire; gazing up at the floating dome, it’s hard to believe this fresco-covered marvel didn’t single-handedly revive Rome’s fortunes. Glittering mosaics depict biblical scenes and ancient figures such as Empress Zoe, one of only three standalone Byzantine empresses.
Undoubtedly the most famous of Turkey’s countless ancient sites, and considered the best-preserved ruins in the Mediterranean, Ephesus (Efes) is a powerful tribute to Greek artistry and Roman architectural prowess. A stroll down the marble-coated Curetes Way provides myriad photo opportunities – not least the Library of Celsus with its two storeys of columns, and the Terrace Houses, their vivid frescoes and sophisticated mosaics giving insight into the daily.
Crossing Between Continents
In İstanbul, you can board a commuter ferry and flit between Europe and Asia in under an hour. Every day, a flotilla takes locals up the Bosphorus and over the Sea of Marmara, sounding sonorous horns as it goes. Morning services share the waterways with diminutive
fishing boats and massive container ships, all accompanied by flocks of shrieking seagulls. At sunset, the tapering minarets and Byzantine domes of the Old City are thrown into relief against a dusky pink sky – it’s the city’s most magical sight.
At many hamams in Turkey, plenty of extras are on offer: bath treatments, facials, pedicures and so on. However, we recommend you stick with the tried and true hamam experience – a soak and a scrub followed by a good (and optional) pummelling. After this cleansing ritual and cultural experience, the world (and your body) will never feel quite the same again; do leave time to relax with a çay afterwards. For a truly memorable hamam, seek out a soak in Antalya’s atmospheric old quarter or historic Sultanahmet, İstanbul.
Acclaimed as one of the world’s top 10 long-distance walks, the Lycian Way follows signposted paths for 500km between Fethiye and Antalya. This is the Teke Peninsula, once the stamping ground of the ancient and mysterious Lycian civilisation. The route leads through pine and cedar forests in the shadow of mountains rising almost 3000m, passing villages, stunning coastal views and an embarrassment of ruins at ancient cities such as Pınara, Xanthos, Letoön and Olympos. Walk it in sections (unless you have plenty of
time and stamina).
The narrow stretch of land guarding the entrance to the muchcontested Dardanelles is a beautiful area, where pine trees roll across hills above Eceabat’s backpacker hang-outs and Kilitbahir’s castle. Touring the peaceful countryside is a poignant experience for many: memorials and cemeteries mark the spots where, a century ago, young men from far away fought and died in gruelling conditions. The passionate guides do a good job of evoking the futility and tragedy of the Gallipoli campaign, one of WWI’s worst episodes.
The improbable cliff-face location of Sumela Monastery is more than matched by the Black Sea hinterland’s verdant scenery. The gently winding road to the Byzantine monastery twists past riverside fish restaurants, and your journey from nearby Trabzon may be
pleasantly hindered by a herd of fat-tailed sheep en route to fresh pastures. The last few kilometres afford tantalising glimpses across pine-covered valleys of Sumela’s honey-coloured walls, and the final approach on foot leads up a forest path to the rock-cut retreat.
Ani is a truly exceptional site. Historically intriguing, culturally compelling and scenically magical, this ghost city floating in a sea of grass looks like a movie set. Lying in blissful isolation right at the Armenian border, the site exudes an eerie ambience. Before its decline
following a Mongol sacking in 1236, Ani was a thriving city, a Silk Road entrepôt and capital of the Armenian kingdom from 961 to 1046. The ruins include several notable churches as well as a cathedral built between 987 and 1010
Listed for eternal preservation by Unesco in 1994, Safranbolu is Turkey’s prime example of an Ottoman town brought back to life. Domestic tourists full of nostalgia descend here to stay in halftimbered houses that seem torn from the pages of a children’s storybook. And the magic doesn’t end there. Sweets and saffron vendors line the cobblestone alleyways, and artisans and cobblers ply their centuries-old trades beneath medieval mosques. When the summer storms light up the night sky, the fantasy is complete.
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