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East meets west in spectacular style amid Turkey’s splendid cities and sun-drenched coastlines.

Rich in archaeological sites and religious monuments, and with beaches on no less than three different coastlines – the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean – Turkey certainly has a lot going for it.

This is where Europe and Asia join hands, and from the days of the ancient Silk Road to present day multiculturalism, this legacy can be seen in every layer of Turkey’s rich cultural heritage, not least in its sublime cuisine.

Savour the spice of an Anatolian kebab, feast your eyes (as well as your belly) on a delectable mezze spread and enjoy the sweet crunch of a honey-drenched baklava for dessert. Last, but not least, you’ll find that the Turkish people are a charming and pleasantly garrulous bunch, who take great pride in their country and are not afraid to show it.

 

Things to do

On a holiday to Turkey you can sail the glorious Blue Coast in a traditional wooden schooner, explore Istanbul to your heart’s content and gaze at the twinkle of the moonlight on the Bosphrous. You’ll marvel at the ‘fairy chimneys’ in Goreme National Park, be moved by the war museum at Gallipoli and stay in many an excellent hotel. Book one of our Mediterranean cruises and you can stop off to visit Turkey’s coastal towns of Kusadasi or Ephesus, before travelling on to Croatia, Malta, Greece and beyond.

Marmara

Bordering Bulgaria, this region forms a tight little circle around its own sea – the Sea of Marmara. And upon this sea sits Turkey’s most charismatic city, Istanbul. Minarets, spires and basilicas rise up around the Bosphorus Strait and the influences of the many empires that have ruled here are very much in evidence. Gaze at the Blue Mosque; get a little lost in the Grand Bazaar and marvel at the Hagia Sophia mosaics or the ornate Topkapi and Dolmabahce Ottoman palaces.

The Aegean

Blessed with a sun-drenched coastline of sparkling beaches and enough ancient monuments to keep the most demanding of history buffs occupied for weeks, the Aegean coast is indeed a popular spot for a holiday. This is where you’ll find the Roman capital of Ephesus, as well as Izmir and the Didyma Temple. When it comes to a glamorous seaside escape, the lively coastal towns of Kusadasi, Marmaris and Bodrum all fit the bill.

The Mediterranean

Known as the Turquoise Coast or the Turkish Riviera, the central Mediterranean offers as beautiful a stretch of coastline as you’re likely to find anywhere in the world. Perfect sandy beaches and crystalline waters backed by rugged forest-clad slopes provide view after spectacular view. Of course there’s plenty of history here too, while the seaside resorts of Antalya and Alanya provide that carefree holiday atmosphere.

The Black Sea

This is a far less frequented region of Turkey with its band of coastal mountains resulting in heavy rainfall and making access tricky. The upside of so much rain is that the countryside here is a riot of green, so when summer finally does come, it’s a lovely (and quiet) place to be.

Anatolia

Actually made up of three separate regions, Anatolia encompasses the central lands of Turkey, as well as her eastern reaches. Turkey’s capital city, Ankara, sits in the central region, while to the east the sparsely populated highlands stretch on for many a lonely mile to the far-off border with Georgia, Armenia and Iran.

 

Culture and history

A firm handshake is customary in this largely Muslim country, a place where coffee is sipped, not gulped, and where the tea tends to be apple, not Tetley. Notable Turks include St Paul, St Nicholas (Father Christmas to his friends), Homer (the Greek poet, not Simpson) and King Midas. As you would expect from a country that straddles two continents, the Turkish culture is rich and varied.

While Turkey’s favourite sports are football and motor racing, their traditional national sport is oiled wresting – there’s an official tournament which takes place every year and with records dating back to 1362, it’s believed to be the oldest, continuously running sanctioned sporting competition in the world.

Condensing Turkey’s past into just a few paragraphs is a tricky task indeed, but we’ll give it a go… The country’s position at the meeting point between Europe and Asia means that it has a rich and somewhat complicated history, criss-crossed by many different peoples, empires and cultures.

Anatolian hunter-gatherers began to settle into communities here in around the 7th century BC, and there is evidence that they did a brisk trade with Greece and the Aegean islands in the proceeding centuries. The coastal city of Troy became a seat of power in the 12th century BC leading to the Trojan War with the Greeks. In the centuries that followed there was much wrangling for power and land between the Persians, the Greeks and various Anatolian kingdoms.

The Roman Empire ruled the roost for several centuries, establishing a new capital at Constantinople (present day Istanbul) in 330 AD and becoming known as the Byzantine Empire (or the Eastern Roman Empire).

In around 650 there was a decisive change of fortunes in Turkey, with the Arabs invading from the east and bringing Islam with them. The Ottoman Turks converted to this new religion with great zeal, but also embraced a multicultural acceptance of Christianity and other religions. The Ottoman Empire rose to significant power over the centuries, taking Constantinople in the 1450s and expanding their empire far beyond.

Their inevitable decline began in the 1600s and by the 1800s Greece, Serbia, Romania and Montenegro all sought their independence, followed by Bulgaria and Macedonia. After World War I Turkey was fragmented, with various regions in the control of Italy, Greece, France and Russian-backed Armenia. 

However, the Turkish people rallied and the country was modernised and united, largely staying out of World War II, but becoming involved in the Gulf War of the 1990s. Since then it’s been a tumultuous few decades politically for Turkey, but it has emerged as a vibrant and (mostly) united land, with plenty of dynamism.

 

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