Despite recent difficulties, Turkey is open for business and is one of our favorite European travel destinations thanks to its captivating blend of culture, history, scenery, and fantastic hospitality. Still not convinced? For your next vacation, consider these five reasons why Turkey is a great choice.
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Its Cultural and Historical Context
The colonial history of Turkey reads like a who’s who of powerful Empires, what with the country’s location at the crossroads between Asia and Europe and its occupation by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. This is why modern-day Turkey is such a fascinating place for students of history and culture: the country is a melting pot of people, religions, and architectural styles.
Once again, blending European, Asian, and Middle Eastern traditions results in a delicious variety of foods. Delicious kebabs (far tastier than the Doner kebab you might buy at your local take-out), shawarmas, stews, and so much more can be found on the menu, as can mezze plates brimming with fresh, in-season ingredients.
Try the fresh seafood and wild herbs near the Aegean coast, the great kebabs in the country’s center, and the unusual flavors of Ottoman cuisine in broths, red meat, and rice-based dishes that the sultans and their courtiers relished during the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. If you still have room after your main course(s), the sweet and creamy baklava dessert from the Ottoman Empire is a must-try. Don’t feel bad about indulging your taste buds for hours on end; doing so is integral to experiencing the local culture.
Istanbul is the only city in the world to be located on two continents, so it was a must-see on our itinerary for Turkey. The Hagia Sophia, formerly an Ottoman imperial mosque and a Greek Orthodox church, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most impressive and significant buildings. It brilliantly encapsulates the city’s position at the crossroads of east and west.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of the color of its interior tiles, is another must-see in Constantinople. The Grand Bazaar is a maze of 4,000 shops selling everything from jewelry and antiques to leather products and spices. The Spice Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in the city and is filled with the heady aromas of saffron, cloves, honey, and sauce.
Cappadocia is one of our favorite rural places in all of Turkey. Its lunar-like scenery is littered with ancient tunnels and underground civilizations hewn from pliable volcanic rock, as well as Goreme’s fabled “fairy chimneys”. Uchisar Rock Castle is the highest point in the area; therefore, if you want to see the valleys of Cappadocia from above, that’s where you need to go.
The northern Pontic Mountain range is also breathtaking. It is well worth your time to see the Byzantine Monastery of Sumela, which is carved into the side of the mountain (similar to Bhutan’s spectacular Tiger’s Nest monastery high in the hills) and features stunning murals.
The Aegean Coast
In our opinion, the Aegean Coast is among the best in Europe. The best way to explore this coastline is from the water, so book a night on a luxury gulet or a day trip and cruise up and down the coast, stopping at quiet coves and enjoying the fantastic snorkeling. Once you’re back on dry land, you can enjoy some excellent coastal treks, such as the Lycian Way, a 300-mile-long footpath that stretches down the Turkish coast and is considered one of the world’s top ten long-distance hikes.
If you’ve read Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim, you could have a warped impression of the town of Bodrum. Despite this, I assure you that you won’t regret spending some time in and around Bodrum. The Lycian Rock Tombs highlight our trip, but the region’s fascinating Greek and Roman history is second. Most of them are cut into the cliff walls and placed at this level because the Lycians are expected to be swept away by a mythical winged monster on their way to the afterlife.