Turkey is where trade from the east and west meets, it’s a melting pot of cultures and religions and the bridge between Europe and Asia. This wonderful country has captured the hearts of travellers from all over the world for centuries. From the picturesque Bosphorus strait that splits Istanbul, to the modern capital Ankara, to the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia, up to the wonderful beaches of Antalya, these are the most popular destinations for adventurous travellers. Turkey has a multitude of facets, landscapes and atmospheres that manage to remain etched in the memories of those who explore it, all to be discovered along the less-travelled paths, on a journey that starts from the magnificence of Istanbul and continues towards breathtaking panoramas on the mount Ararat.
A trip to Turkey must start in Istanbul; the city that has embodied the country’s multicultural soul for centuries and which dominates the blue waters of the Bosphorus with its multifaceted architecture, its colours and heady scents. A tour of the most emblematic symbols of the city is a must, from Haghia Sophia to Topkapi Palace, plus a visit to witness the wonders in the historic centre. However, the essence of Istanbul goes far beyond its amazing monuments. Discover step by step a legacy of the Byzantine era and Ottoman rule through the characteristic neighbourhoods where the multi-ethnic social fabric comes to life and enchants travellers.
Nestled in the Beyoğlu district, the Çukurcuma neighbourhood is the ideal place to get lost in picturesque alleys dotted with ancient Ottoman houses and antique shops. The area is brimming with ethnic artefacts to be found in small shops, while at the same time, mixing with modern designer boutiques and avant-garde art galleries that are inspired by the past. The great attraction of this antique oasis is the hammam, one of the most famous in Istanbul, built in the mid-fifteenth century for the exclusive use of the sultan. It is now open to the public and is the ideal stop to experience an authentic Turkish bath.
Walking towards the Golden Horn you will come across the district of Fener, an ancient Greek district of Istanbul. A mass of colourful houses among which the Christian Orthodox churches and monuments truly stand out. Symbols of the neighbourhood, the Rum Lisesi, (Greek Orthodox High School) will render you speechless with its brilliant red brick facade. The same bricks are also found in the splendid Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, the only church of Byzantine origin in Istanbul that escaped the conversion into a mosque. Continuing through the maze of alleys left untouched by time, in addition to fleeting views of the Golden Horn, you can also admire the church of St. Stephen, designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, the same one that designed the tower in Paris), which is entirely made from steel and cast iron and, legend has it, was built in a single day!
The vibrant district of Kadıköy is found to the east of the Bosphorus straight. Once at the port, you’ll be greeted by the amazing sight of the ancient Haydarpaşa railway. Following the music and the clinking of glasses head into the heart of Kadıköy, where among the bars, clubs, and cafes the youngest and liveliest of Istanbul comes to life. The many outdoor tables give way, once a week, to the Salı Pazarı women’s market. Walking among the stalls, you’ll be greeted by female sellers perpetuating this joyful atmosphere.
Towards Anatolia and beyond …
Leaving the Bosphorus behind, the endless and evocative landscapes of the Anatolian peninsula extends as far as the eye can see. One of the most photographed areas is the famous “fairy chimneys” that make Cappadocia one of the most sought after destinations. If you need convincing, simply look up photos of the multicolour hot air balloons that float over the almost lunar landscape of the rocky valleys beneath.
Once past the Göreme valley, you’ll begin to glimpse the top of Mount Nemrut in the distance; at over 2000 metres high, its summit that hides a majestic secret. If you embark on a hike along the paths late at night, you’re set to arrive at the summit by dawn where the day’s first rays of sunshine begin to illuminate, first the waters of the Euphrates river, and then the suggestive heads of statues depicting Greek gods. The imposing statues were built by Antiochus I, a powerful king of the Hellenistic age, as part of his unique funerary monument. However, they now provide the most glorious spectacle for adventurous climbers.
The journey east continues along the Iranian border and the next stop is the ancient city of Mardin. Passing down the narrow winding alleys and through a colourful bazaar, you’ll reach the top of the castle, located at the highest point in the city, where you’ll be bestowed with a view of cascading sienna-coloured houses among which tall minarets peep through. Beyond the assembly of honey-coloured buildings, the landscape gives way to the Mesopotamian plains that extend out towards Syria on the horizon.