No visit to Turkey is complete without a few days in Istanbul. Unique among cities in that it stretches over two continents Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus with one bank in Europe and the other in Asia.
At various times in its history Istanbul (once Byzantium and then Constantinople) was capital to three successive empires and has the fortresses, palaces and cathedrals to prove it. And, while it may no longer be the country’s administrative centre, it’s certainly both the cultural and business capital and boasts a nightlife that puts most European cities to shame.
A hard day’s sightseeing can be rounded off dining, dancing and drinking into the morning. And if it all gets too much you can always take a relaxing boat trip up the Bosphorus. Visit in June and you’ll find the city in the middle of its cultural festival, the envy of the world.
Kusadasi, Ephesus and Selçuk
One of the busiest tourist destinations on Turkey’s Aegean coast, the city of Kusadasi itself has little to recommend it. The reason why people flock here is the nearby ruins, some of the best preserved in the whole of Turkey.
Nearby Selçuk boasts a huge Byzantine fortress and basilica, but the piece de resistance are the shattered ruins of Ephesus. Once the second largest city in the Roman Empire even earlier parts of Ephesus date back to 1000-1500BC. The Roman remains are the best preserved however, and you can still see the colonnades and façades that fronted the buildings lining the intact paved thoroughfares of this once thriving city.
Legend has it that the Virgin Mary herself visited the city in around 40AD, whereas the Temple of Artemis here (6th century BC, no longer standing) was numbered among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Truly awe-inspiring.
The natural hot spring of Pamukkale – near the southern city of Denizli, has fascinated people for thousands of years.
Calcium carbonate deposited by the waters over millennia has created a beautiful fairytale castle of soft white stone. The believed therapeutic powers of the water were enough to encourage the founding of the adjacent ancient city of Hieropolis whose ruins are particularly well preserved.
Just one of Turkey’s many important religious centres, Konya is home to Sufi Islam’s Whirling Dervishes, whose members achieve oneness with god by spinning themselves into a trance in special ceremonies held every December.
There is a museum to the Sufi founder Mevlana, and the city also boasts a number of fine mosques built by the Selçuks – the first Muslim invaders of Turkey. The city is also a good jumping off point for an exploration of the entire Cappadocia region, with its unusual cave dwellings and bizarre rock formations, one of the most interesting areas in the whole of Turkey.
A unique mix of geology and history make Cappadocia one of Turkey’s most fascinating regions. Volcanic activity combined with wind and weather erosion has shaped the local rock into bizarre fairy chimneys. During the Byzantine era whole valleys were dug out to build monastery complexes, decorated with elaborate frescoes, while the threat of invasion saw the construction of immense underground cities.
The town of Guzelyurt is one of the best areas for seeing this traditional type of housing. In the city’s old town and the adjacent Monastery Valley you can see still-inhabited rock houses as well as many churches. You can also visit the traditional stone Hans, a one-time important feature of the transport infrastructure. Mini-settlements, they were located approximately a day’s ride apart from each other along major caravan routes. Look out for one of the best preserved around the regional centre of Anksaray.
One of the best ways to see this surreal landscape is by hot air balloon. You won’t regret it as you float over the strange pink-hued peaks, the other-worldly shapes spiralling up towards you. Balloons depart daily at sunrise. Make sure you leave yourself enough time for a drink here: the soft volcanic soil in the area is ideal for growing grapes and the region produces some of Turkey’s best wines.
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