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Turkish delight: a journey from Istanbul to the Mediterranean

In Turkey, Joanna Tovia uncovers the bounty of riches that await discerning travellers in a land replete with World Heritage wonders and cultural marvels.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world – if the people are friendly, a place is instantly more likeable. Nowhere have I encountered friendlier people than in Turkey, a country that straddles the divide between Europe and Asia as easily as it merges ancient and modern traditions. And it isn’t just the lure of the tourist dollar that encourages such amiability. Hospitality is a cornerstone of Turkish culture; locals believe each visitor should be treated as a guest sent by God.

It helps if you come from Australia, too. Where once ANZACs and Turks faced off against each other in battle on the shores of Gallipoli, now the two countries enjoy a strong bond forged on forgiveness. Responding to the oft-asked question ‘Where are you from?’ with ‘Australia’ never fails to elicit a beaming smile and a hand outstretched in friendship.

Joining the tens of thousands of Australians in Gallipoli each Anzac Day is an experience in itself, but Turkey has much to offer throughout the year, whether you’re seeking rest and rejuvenation by the sea or want to explore some of the many historic, cultural and scenic attractions this country has to offer. Turkey has no fewer than 15 cultural and natural sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, so think weeks — not days — when you’re pondering how long to stay.

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Essential Istanbul

The minarets towering above this bustling city’s mosques punctuate the day five times with haunting and beautiful calls to prayer. Its moving sounds remind you that you’re in an exotic land with a long and fascinating history. Find your own way around or book a hassle-free tour to see the sights – the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia will simply entrance you.

When visiting any mosque, women should cover their heads and shoulders. Both men and women should ensure their legs are covered and that they remove their shoes before entering. Mosques are usually open to visitors outside of prayer times. Along with Antalya and Izmir, Istanbul is the place to brave the colourful bazaars and outdoor markets to bargain for a memento; handwoven Turkish carpets and kilims, jewellery, antiques and Iznik ceramics are all on show in abundance.

Centrally located in an intimate enclave in the heart of the Old City, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is a charming place to call home during your visit. Set in a former prison, this upscale hotel is loved as much for its location as it is for its customer service and luxurious neoclassical decor.

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Ancient treasures

There are seven regions to explore within Turkey, so don’t be tempted to visit only Istanbul and keep going. Beyond the city lie forests and farmland, lakes, mountains and magnificent coastlines, and some astounding natural formations. Two of the world’s seven ancient wonders are also located in Turkey: the Temple of Artemis and Halicarnassus Mausoleum.

Whatever you do, don’t leave Turkey without visiting the quaint World Heritage city of Safranbolu in the Black Sea region, famous for its well-preserved Ottoman Turkish houses dotted around its cobbled streets. Also making the World Heritage list is Mount Nemrut, where huge disembodied stone heads form the highest open-air museum in the world.

In Pamukkale, western Turkey, calcite-rich waters cascading down white travertine terraces have created an unreal landscape of petrified waterfalls and shallow pools of ice-blue water. Explore ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis and other Greek monuments, including a thermal spa dating from 200BC. Just as otherworldly, Cappadocia on the Anatolian plains in central Turkey showcases nature’s topographical might with honeycombed hills and underground cities, along with soaring rock formations, rock-cut churches and rippled landscapes. Plan to stay at least four days to explore this area alone; hire a private car and driver to get around with ease.

Hiking, hot-air ballooning and soaking in thermal springs are just some of the activities to get excited about (and don’t even get me started on the food). There are 1000-plus thermal springs in Turkey, but it’s also the place to go for an authentic hammam and massage. Every Turkish town has at least one hammam, as do most upmarket hotels.

Museum Hotel in Cappadocia is a luxury boutique cave hotel with a difference. Not only is it the only Relais & Châteaux hotel in Turkey, it’s a living museum built into ruins and caves. Bold furnishings and colourful antiques brighten up the bare stone decor, and its lofty terraces overlook the fantastical landscape below.

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By the beach

Those seeking to combine sightseeing with beachside bliss are spoilt for choice in Turkey. The word ‘turquoise’ comes from ‘Turk’ and was derived from the perfect blue of the Mediterranean Sea on the southern Turkish coast. Opting for this touristy but beautiful stretch of coastline is sure to deliver fun and relaxation in equal measure, but if you’d like to really get away from it all, consider the North and South Aegean CoastsBlack Sea Coast and Dalyan Coast.

The ‘Blue Voyage’ has been a staple of the Turkish Riviera since the 1960s and ‘70s, when Bodrum joined the Mediterranean must-see list, but its origins extend to a time when the coast’s occasional visitors would head out on excursions with local fishermen in their traditional wooden gulets. Ever since, yachting has grown in popularity thanks to the coastline’s clear waters and calm conditions. Book well in advance for a crewed yacht, opt for a bareboat charter, or join in the fun of a flotilla: you crew your own boat, but are part of a group of yachts following the same itinerary with an experienced sailor skippering the lead vessel.

This article appeared in Volume 22 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style Magazine.

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