Turkey's delights

Travel back in time from the war cemeteries of Gallipoli to the ancient wonders of Istanbul.

Marvel at Cappadocia's lunar-like landscape from above in a hot air balloon and visit its ancient underground cities. Photo / Thinkstock
Marvel at Cappadocia's lunar-like landscape from above in a hot air balloon and visit its ancient underground cities. Photo / Thinkstock

1. Gallipoli

This is the reason you are here, so make sure you do it right and get a guide. Though you can easily travel around the Gallipoli Peninsula and visit all the important sights, war cemeteries and memorials yourself, to get a real feel for how the battles unfolded at Anzac Cove a century ago, a local guide adds all the necessary background. Most guided tours go for about four hours and every second is needed to really appreciate the remote beaches, the ridges, valleys, trenches and tunnels hidden in the undulating wild scrub where so many lost their lives. You can do a long full-day tour from Istanbul or go to Canakkale and stay a night or two to enjoy the area.

2. Canakkale, the Dardanelles, Troy

While in Gallipoli, spend some time enjoying the seaside resort of Canakkale where hourly ferries dart across the Dardanelles, a narrow strait that joins the European Gallipoli peninsula with the Turkish mainland in Asia Minor. A half-hour trip south from Canakkale are the remains of the city of Troy. The giant wooden horse from the Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana is on the promenade at Canakkale, while there's another at the ruins themselves which are now starting to become a worthy tourist attraction. There is a lot more to Troy than the story from Homer's Iliad and the trip is worth the effort.

3. Istanbul

Your likely arrival destination in Turkey, you need at least four days to truly appreciate all that is on offer in this ancient city that straddles Europe and Asia. Once Byzantium, then Constantinople, the city has a history to rival Athens and Rome. The big sights include the Ayasofya Muzesi (the Hagia Sophia Museum, previously a Greek Orthodox basilica and an imperial mosque); the Blue Mosque, younger by about 1000 years; Topkapi Palace; the Roman Hippodrome; and the Grand Bazaar and Spice (Egyptian) Bazaar. Across the Golden Horn over the famous Galata Bridge is Karakoy, and the hip shopping strip of Istiklal Caddesi topped by Taksim Square. There are regular cruises up the Bosphorus from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, which showcase the great palaces and grand houses along the waterway.

4. Sultanahmet

The most famous tourist area of Istanbul, many who visit the city don't stray far from here. As well as the Ayasofya, Blue Mosque and hippodrome, it is within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar and alluring Spice Market. Other major attractions in the area include the ancient underground Basilica Cistern, made famous in James Bond movies and Dan Brown novels, the Topkapi Palace where sultans ruled for 800 years, and the three Istanbul Archaeological Museums. There are dozens of small hotels, hostels and pensions but the place to stay if you can afford it is the Four Seasons - a former prison that is now the ultimate in luxury.

5. Ephesus/Kusadasi

One of Turkey's must-see places, Paul the Apostle lived here in the years after the death of Christ and pilgrims still visit here in droves. Now they also come to see some of the best and biggest Roman ruins outside Italy. For fans of archaeology or Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's a fascinating look at how the Romans lived. Nearby are the remains of the Greek Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the supposed house where Christ's mother Mary lived out her final days. There's nowhere to stay in Ephesus itself but the beautiful beachside port of Kusadasi is a short drive away. Stay in a boutique hotel such as the LaVista on the hills on the south side of town to get the best views of the harbour and islands, including the Greek isle of Samos.

6. Aegean/Mediterranean Sea beaches

South of Kusadasi are the resort towns of Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye and Kas which have turquoise water and amazing western sunsets. Australia and New Zealand have some of the world's best beaches, but the village life and food at these Turkish beaches sets them apart.

7. Cappadocia

This region in Central Anatolia features a lunar-like landscape, ancient cities about 800m underground, towns carved into the sandstone mountains that are complete with churches and painted walls, and giant volcanic rocks carved up over centuries by the wind and rain. The towns of Urgup and Goreme are the starting points for tours on foot, bicycle, horse or bus. Some of the valleys and ravines look a bit like the Grand Canyon in the United States, and are a hiker's paradise. The other great way to see this area is by hot air balloon. Weather conditions are conducive year-round and while views of the landscape from on high are incredible, the experience of floating away as the sun rises is alone worth the cost.

8. Hamam (Turkish bath)

It's a sauna, body scrub and massage all in one. The men and women are separated and you can decide how many extras you want. Some of the baths are centuries old, especially in Istanbul, which adds to the experience, although the cost is usually lower in the regional areas. For about A$70 ($75) you can get the full service.

CHECKLIST

Top tips: Visit at least one mosque and one Turkish bath, at least for the experience. Wherever you go, drink Turkish tea and coffee and eat the baklava and Turkish delight: they are good all over the country. You can see whirling dervish dances if you enjoy the cultural side of things, or sit back and watch the chaos of the markets and the carpet-sellers, who all seem to enjoy the fast pace of life.

Getting there: You can fly to Istanbul from almost anywhere in the world. From Istanbul you can get either get buses or domestic flights to most of the places mentioned. Hiring a car is another good option and the roads in Turkey are pretty good.

Where to stay: Anywhere from backpackers' hostels to top-end hotels. In the off-season you can get good deals on the better hotels but in peak season be prepared to pay for quality. Avoid backpacker joints unless that's all your budget allows for; they can be pretty basic.

- AAP

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