Travel to Turkey
Turkey is an immense country, its land mass measures at 302,535 miles squared, and with immensity comes diversity, not only in its terrain but in its culture. You could spend years travelling the four corners of Turkey and still not experience everything that this great country has to offer. The Turkish hospitality is recognisable wherever you go; you will always be welcomed with open arms and a hot, tulip shaped glass of delicious çay. But with every corner of Turkey comes a different vibe, influenced by its geographical proximity and historical roots. Travelling to the four corners of Turkey will surely give you a taste of what this country is all about.
Edirne on the Balkan Peninsula
Edirne could be your first or last destination in Turkey, depending on the direction of your itinerary, since it is located at the junction of the borders between three countries: Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Due to its strategic position on the major routes to Istanbul and onward into Asia, most of the tourism in the city involves day trippers from Istanbul and the Balkan countries. The city is very old, with an ancient history, and has a comprehensive cultural wealth. Over the past century, Edirne has become home not only to Turks but to Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and more, giving the city one of the most multi-cultural backgrounds of any city in Turkey.
It is the city’s imperial past which presents so much interest. Huge Ottoman imperial complexes can be found all over the city, mixed with the neo-classical architecture of downtown shops and more modern concrete apartment blocks. The major streets of the city all fan out from the main square which is surrounded by three imperial mosques, with the great city of Istanbul in one direction and the Bulgarian border in the other. Almost all of Edirne is walkable, made even easier by the flat topography of the city, despite its mountainous surroundings, so all of the major sites in the city are easily reachable.
The Selimiye Mosque at the central square dominates the city’s skyline as it is built on a slightly higher hill that its surroundings. The mosque has been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO since 2011 and is considered the zenith of Ottoman architecture and a must-see in Edirne. The mosque was built by Sinan, the Ottoman architect of the 16th century and hosts the second highest minarets in the whole world. It was also the prototype for the much admired Blue Mosque of Istanbul. The Old Quarter of Downtown Edirne is locally named ‘Kaleiçi’ or ‘the walled city’ and is the oldest part of the city, though the walls and gates have since disappeared. Along the side streets and Maarif itself line a number of elaborate wooden houses, the walls of which are decorated with delicate handwork.
Of course, the city has many nods to Balkan life and one of its many museums, the Şükrü Pasha Memorial and Balkan Wars Museum celebrates the Balkan Wars with displays of various weapons used at that time and in the northwestern part of the city, across the Tundzha is the Monument to the Martyrs of Balkan War. The site here is said to be a mass grave of an estimated 30,000 soldiers and is an area that demands great respect. Much of the Balkan culture can be found through the city’s music and art which is heavily influenced by the Romani culture. Basket making, Romani dancing and folk music ensembles all take their lead from the Romanis who travelled to the Balkans from northern India, many of whom settled on the Balkan Peninsula.
Culturally, Edirne is the founding home of the national sport of Turkey; oil wrestling. If there is one thing you should do in Edirne, it is to find the opportunity to experience this incredible sport. The festival takes place in a stadium in Sarayiçi on the outskirts of the city at the very beginning of the summer season, from late May to July. Oil wrestling events occur all over Turkey, but as the sport originated in Edirne, this is by far the best place to experience its authenticity.
If you are looking for a little piece of Edirne to take home with you, the city is famous for its fruit-shaped soaps which are used for decoration and fragrance around the home. These can be found at the Arasta, a small Ottoman covered bazaar in the centre of the city. If you have room in your suitcase, try taking a broom home with you; Edirne has a long tradition of brooking and ornamental brooms (traditionally given to brides as a gift) can be found at markets and stalls all over the city.
Artvin of the Northeast
Travelling 1600km east, you find yourself in Artvin, a city that lies in the northeastern corner of Turkey, about 30km inland from the Black Sea. Largely populated by Armenians at the end of the 19th century, the area has retained some of its Armenian cultures despite the Turkish influences of over a century. There are a number of Ottoman houses and public buildings in the mountainside city including three mosques and the fountain of Çelebi Efendi, built in 1783, but the city is better known for the Caucasus Culture and Arts Festival, a celebration that takes place at the Kafkasör plateau in July every year. The most famous event is the Bull wrestling which draws many local and international visitors.
While the city itself is certainly a rough and ready town of mountain farmers and livestock herders, the area surrounding the city is incredibly attractive, with steep valleys carved by the Çoruh River system and the national parkland of the Karagöl-Sahara, which contains the Şavşat and Borçka lakes and a forest which is home to brown bears and wolves. The Kaçkar Mountains are among the most popular venues for trekking holidays in Turkey, as is the Macahel Valley on the Georgian border. You could even spend the day at the Savangin pre-historic cave and try and solve the inscription inside written in an unknown or unsolved alphabet.
The city of Artvin doesn’t have much in the way of accommodation, so we recommend spending some time travelling along the Çoruh River and staying in Yusufeli, which makes the perfect base for seeking out the churches and monasteries of the medieval Georgian kingdom of Tao-Klarjeti, which left its mark on the spectacular landscape. These 10th and 11th century religious buildings are scattered amidst the area’s rugged peaks, some abandoned and out of use, yet picturesque nonetheless and others relatively well preserved, with their distinctive conical domes perched atop cylindrical drums like pointed hats.
The Datça Peninsula
A large spit of land that divides the Mediterranean from the Aegean Sea, the Datça Peninsula is a prized location for tourists visiting Turkey but is often overlooked due to its close proximity to beach-side favourite, Marmaris. A popular stop-off for the famed ‘Blue Cruise’ which voyages along the Turkish Riviera aboard the iconic gulet schooners, tourists find themselves travelling around the peninsula from either Bodrum of Marmaris or from the town of Datça itself. The peninsula has many stunning coves and bays which must be explored by boat when in the area.
Datça is accessible by land, though the road from Marmaris is a little bumpy at times, but it is a beautiful drive along a fauna that gradually but strikingly differs from that of the mainland. In 1999, the World Wide Fund for Nature specified 100 European Forest Hotspots, areas that in terms of biological diversity are in need of urgent protection and nine of these are in Turkey; Datça is one of these hotspots, making the area a haven for nature enthusiasts and environmentalists. Datça’s flora consists of 861 different types of plants and the peninsula sits on the migratory routes of the barn swallow, bee-eater, swift and alpine swift bird species. Other birds found in the region include Eleonora’s falcon, peregrine falcon, lesser kestrel and bonelli’s eagle. Mediterranean monk seal has also been sighted around the peninsula; one of the world’s rarest pinniped species. It is estimated that fewer than 700 individuals survive in the Aegean Sea.
There are nine villages to explore on the Datça Peninsula; Cumalı, Emecik, Hızırşah, Karakul, Kızlan, Mesudiye, Sındı, Yakaköy and Yazıköy. The settlement pattern of these villages is that the locations chosen were never in the immediate coastline, but always at a mile’s distance or more from the sea and at a relatively safe altitude on the slopes of a hill. The reason was the fear of pirates who found great advantage in the intricate geology of the shores around the peninsula and its many islands and islets. Piracy here remained a problem until the beginning of the 20th century. The village of Mesudiye, however, is very near the sea shore and has a jetty which is owned by the community at the bay of Hayıtbükü. A little further to the west, Palamutbükü also has a little pier that allows boats to moor and is known today as a holiday village with a long beach.
Datça is openly opposed to investing in large-scale infrastructures for the tourism industry, more in favour of developing the tourism potential of the region through family pensions, inns and small hotels which are well integrated into their environment. Datça may be the last place on the south coast where visitors can experience the true Mediterranean Turkey.
Van and the Southeast
The southeast of Turkey once again offers a complete contrast in tourism opportunities. Its terrain is rugged and full of natural beauty and its culture is heavily influenced by the large ethnically Kurdish population. At its very heart lies Lake Van, a vast inland sea ringed by snowcapped peaks. The lake is so beautiful, it is said that the Armenians who once lived around it developed the saying “Van in this life, paradise in the next”. North of the lake is the graceful 5137, volcanic cone of ‘Ağrı Dağ’ or Mount Ararat, the highest peak in Turkey, while the wild alpine range south of the lake contains mighty ‘Reşko’, the nation’s second highest.
Rapidly expanding and modernising, Van is a civilsed and welcoming centre for exploration. Just between the city of Van and Lake Van, the Fortress of Van, a massive stone fortification built by the ancient kingdom of Urartu and the largest of its kind, overlooks the ruins of Tushpa, the ancient Urartians capital during the 9th century. A stereotyped trilingual inscription of Xerxes the Great is inscribed upon a smoothed section of the rock face, some 20m above the ground near the fortress. The inscription survives in near perfect condition and is divided into three columns of 27 lines written in Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite. It is the only known Achaemenid royal inscription located outside of Iran.
Of course an excursion to Lake Van is a must where you can enjoy hundreds of kilometres of beautiful beaches surrounded by the most picturesque mountain ranges in all of Turkey. Several boat cruises can be enjoyed on the lake which can take you to and from various villages that sit on the shores or you can take a short trip to Akdamar Island. Upon the island is a small Armenian church, the Holy Cross, which can easily be explored, or you can take the time to picnic, relax and enjoy the views. Lake Van is one of the world’s few soda lakes which have high concentration of sodium chloride and other dissolved salts. Swimming in Lake Van is like swimming in a bathtub full of baking soda and the water is said to have great healing properties which can fight infection.
Approximately 80km from the city of Van is the spectacular Muradiye Waterfall, a magnificent waterfall located on the borders of the Muradiye district. Every season of the year offers a different view of the falls and their stunning environment and you can swim underneath them when the weather is warm enough. Take a tent and spend a night under the stars next to Turkey’s favourite waterfall.
While you are in Van, take advantage of the wonderful Van Museum which houses artefacts dating from significant eras in the history of Turkey. Visit the Hosap Castle which sits on a rocky outcrop on the shore of the Hosap River where legend states that the architect of the castle, Kurdish man Mahmud Suleyman, had his hands cut off by the authorities so he would be unable to build another castle that would rival Hosap. If you are an animal lover, take an afternoon to see the Van Cat Museum, which celebrates a breed of cat native to the town and noted for its white fur and colourful eyes. Lastly, be sure to enjoy a famous Van breakfast, the cuisine that the region of Van is famed for. An entire street of the city is dedicated to this early morning meal and goes one or two steps further to promote the Turkish breakfast as the most important meal of the day!