1. Istanbul: where two empires meet

This dynamic seaside metropolis, straddling Europe and Asia, has an unparalleled legacy of Byzantine Christian and Ottoman-Muslim architecture, a vibrant contemporary arts scene and great places to eat and drink.

Why it’s so special

Istanbul holds two trump cards when it comes to unique selling points: no other city in the world straddles two continents and no other city has been capital of consecutive Christian and Islamic empires. Istanbul topography is fantastic – the hilly peninsula on which the old city stands offers stunning views south across the coruscating Sea of Marmara, north across the curving inlet of the Golden Horn and east, across the Bosporus, to the blue-tinged hills of Asia. 

Equally marvellous is the architectural legacy of those two great empires, from the iconic Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia to the cascading domes of the monumental Ottoman-era Blue Mosque, and from the picturesque pavilions and gardens of the Topkapi Palace to the glorious mosaics of the St Saviour in Chora church. Discovering these treasures is a delight, and the city lends itself to exploration on foot. 

The buzzing neighbourhoods of Beyoglu and Galata, across the Golden Horn, provide a vivid contrast to the historic ambience of the old city. They are dotted with great art galleries (notably Istanbul Modern), myriad bars, clubs and restaurants; Meyhanes, where copious starters (meze), grilled fish and booze are the order of the day, are an Istanbul institution and many offer great-value all-inclusive menus.

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Istanbul straddles east and west

Istanbul straddles east and west

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2. A blue cruise around Lycia 

Explore Turkey’s beautiful south-west region as the ancient Greeks did – by boat.   

Why it’s so special

Turquoise waters, dramatic headlands, beachside ancient sites, crumbling castles, lovely coves unreachable by road… Few experiences can be more relaxing than cruising the beautiful coastline of Lycia aboard a gulet, one of Turkey’s traditional hand-built wooden sailing boats. With sufficient friends or family you can charter your own gulet. Alternatively, join a cabin charter, which means you get your own cabin but share the boat with “strangers”, so sociability is an asset.

With all matters nautical taken care of by a friendly crew (including a cook to conjure up feasts in a cramped galley-kitchen), there’s little to do once on the move bar watch the mountains, forests, bays and promontories of mountainous Lycia slide by, idly looking out for ancient tombs carved from the hillside, herds of goats tugging at the shrubs or dolphins trailing your wake. Mooring for lunch in a secluded cove gives the opportunity for a dip in turquoise waters of unbelievable clarity, or a foray ashore to visit a deserted medieval church, tumbling waterfall or atmospheric Roman ruin. Come dusk, a convivial pre-dinner drink with your shipmates as the sky pinkens and the Mediterranean’s daytime blue morphs into Homer’s wine-dark sea, is almost obligatory. 

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Explore the Turkish coast by boat

Explore the Turkish coast by boat

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3. Anatolia’s ancient treasures

Take a road trip through history in the beautiful uplands of Central Anatolia, from other-worldly Cappadocia to the world’s first city.

Why it’s so special

Every bit as worthwhile as the incredible archaeological sites on Turkey’s Aegean coast are the surviving remnants of the once powerful Hittite Empire, strewn across the austerely beautiful Anatolian plateau hundreds of miles from the sea. Among the fascinating remains left by this mysterious people – foes of the ancient Egyptians – are the four mile-long circuit walls, lion and sphinx flanked gateways, temples and storerooms of the capital Hattusa, as well as Yazilikaya and Alacahoyuk. Flourishing in the second millennium BC, the Hittite Empire was a newcomer compared to another archaeological Anatolian jewel, neolithic Catalhoyuk, excavated initially by Briton James Mellaart in the late Fifties and once sensationally labelled “the world’s first city”. Head to the capital Ankara to see the amazing artefacts uncovered at these sites in the superb Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. Central Anatolia is not all pre and ancient history though – don’t miss the home of the Mevlana, founder of the whirling dervish order, in Konya, or the frescoed, rock-cut Byzantine – era churches of Cappadocia. 

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Cappadocia's lunar landscape

Cappadocia’s lunar landscape

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4. Walking in the Little Caucasus

Snow-capped year-round, spangled with glacial lakes, bejewelled with alpine flowers and home to birds such as the Caspian Snowcock – the remote Little Caucasus mountains are surprisingly well set up for walkers, trekkers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Why it’s so special

The highest part of the Pontic Alps, a long range of mountains running west-east parallel to the Black Sea and separating that mysterious body of water from the Anatolian Plateau to the south, the granite Kaçkar mountains, also known as the ‘Little Caucasus’, are an alpine paradise. The moist slopes facing the Black Sea are unbelievably verdant, with dense mixed deciduous forest giving way to pine and spruce.

Scored by tumbling streams spanned by arched stone bridges and dotted with traditional houses, this zone is a picturesque introduction to the alpine zone above, where the old routes of transhumant pastoralists lead to yayla, summer pastures covered with endemic alpine flowers and grazing herds of cows. Hanging valleys, high passes, a chance to summit ‘trekking’ peak Mt Kaçkar (12,900ft) itself, a meal of mıhlama (the Kaçkar’s very own version of fondue), the ringing call of snow cock echoing around your tent at dawn, a glass of tea with a family of shepherds, combine to make for a very special outdoor experience.

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Turkey offers mountains as well as coast

Turkey offers soaring mountains as well as glorious coastline

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5. Turkey’s Lakeland

Escape the sweltering summer coastal heat and head north from Antalya through pine-clad mountains to lakeside Eğirdir, a delightfully traditional, low-key base to explore this beautiful, unspoilt mountainous region.

Why it’s so special

Most people know that Turkey is blessed with plenty of often beautiful coastline (over 5,000 miles of it in fact), but how many realise that it also has a lovelylake district , reached in a couple of hours drive from the Mediterranean gateway resort of Antalya? Ringed by peaks rising to 9,000ft, the jewel in Turkey’s Lakeland crown is 303 square mile Lake Eğirdir. Take a trip out with local fishermen, try your hand at winsdsurfing or kayaking or just swim in the silky smooth waters. The natural base is charming Eğirdir town, with a number of simple guesthouses clustered around the ruined castle, and more on a tiny island linked to the mainland by a causeway. There’s little to do here – the ambience is circa 1950s seaside Britain – and all the better for it. As well as lakeside chilling, visitors use the town as a base to hike the surrounding peaks, walk parts of the St Paul Trail, explore nearby ancient sites, such as fabulous Sagalassos and Antioch in Pisidia, or visit the encampments of pastoralist shepherd families on their yaylas (summer pastures).

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