Turkey may have had a tough time of it recently but it is very much open for business and remains one of our favourite European destinations with its beguiling mix of culture, history, scenery and incredible hospitality. In need of convincing? Here are five reasons why Turkey should be your next vacation destination…
The History and Culture
Turkey sits at the crossroads between Asia and Europe and, having been occupied by everyone from the Greeks to the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, its colonial history reads like a who's who of big-Empire hitters. Herein lies the reason for Turkey's modern-day melting pot of people, religion and architecture which make it such a mesmerising destination for anyone with an iota of interest in history and culture.
The combination of Middle Eastern, Asian and European influences come together once again, this time to create a wonderful array of cuisines. Expect mezze platters filled with fresh, seasonal products; delicious kebabs (much tastier than the Doner kebab you might find at your local take-away), shawarmas, stews and so much more. Each region in Turkey has different local specialities: sample freshly caught seafood and wild herbs along the Aegean coast, kebabs aplenty in the country's centre, while in Istanbul try the exotic flavours of Ottoman cuisine in broths and red meat and rice based dishes that were enjoyed by the sultans and their courtiers during the Ottoman Empire. If you haven't filled up too much on your main course(s), you can't miss out on trying the deliciously rich, sweet dessert, baklava, which originates from the Ottoman Empire. And remember, trying the local delicacies is all part of the cultural immersion, so you never need to feel guilty about spending hours on end indulging your taste buds.
As the only city in the world that spans two continents, we couldn't miss Istanbul off our list of reasons to visit Turkey. It is the city where east meets west, which is perfectly encapsulated by Hagia Sophia, a building which has been both a Greek Orthodox Church and an Ottoman imperial mosque in its time, and is thought to be one of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed. Other unmissable sights include the Hippodrome, once the heart of Constantinople's political and sporting life, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or the Blue Mosque, so named for the blue tiles that line the interior walls. If you enjoy some retail therapy on your travels, head to the Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of 4,000 stalls selling jewellery, antiques, leatherwear and countless other goods; or the Spice Bazaar, which is one of the city's oldest bazaars and is filled with the scents of saffron, cloves, sugar and spice.
The somewhat lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia is one of our favourite rural regions in Turkey, dotted with remote caves and underground cities that were carved out of soft volcanic rock by ancient civilisations, as well as the famous 'fairy chimneys' of Goreme. Head to Uchisar Rock Castle, the highest point in the region, to admire panoramic views of the valleys of Cappadocia. The Pontic Mountain range in the north is another beautiful area to visit, in particular the Monastery of Sumela, which is built into the side of the mountain (much like the remarkable Tiger's Nest monastery high in the mountains of Bhutan) and is a Byzantine monastery adorned with beautiful frescoes.
The Aegean Coast
The Aegean Coast is, in our humble opinion, one of the best coastlines in Europe. We'd recommend seeing this stretch of coastline by boat, so either stay aboard a luxury gulet or rent one for the day and travel up and down the coast stopping off in secluded coves and enjoying the incredible snorkelling. Back on dry land, there are some great coastal walks including Lycian Way: a 300 mile long footpath running along the Turkish coast, which is listed as one of the top ten long-distance walks in the world. Anyone who's read Terry Hayes' novel I Am Pilgrim may have a slightly skewed opinion on the town of Bodrum, but forget all that and spend some time in and around the town, and you won't regret it. Of particular interest is the region's fascinating Greek and Roman history, The Lycian Rock Tombs being a particular highlight of ours. The most common of these are carved directly into the cliff faces and are positioned at this height as the Lycians supposedly believed that a mythical winged creature would carry them off into the afterlife.