Turkey – land of souks and great deserts, of the fairy chimneys and Christian hideaways of Capadoccia, of the white-washed Ottoman houses of Safranbolu, spanning Europe and Asia and influenced by the cultures of both lands – is unfortunately a destination often overlooked by travelers. This is a great shame, as not only is Turkey one of the most culturally interesting places to visit in Europe, with centuries of diverse religion and ethnic leadership, and a culture rich in the union of East and West, it is also one of the most affordable yet comfortable vacation destinations. Outside Istanbul, you can find single rooms in charming “pensions” – or Bed and Breakfasts – for around 20 YTL, or about $17, and doubles for only slightly more, with breakfast included. Plus buses – the preferred Turkish method of inter-city transfer – are frequent, the network is broad and covers most major and minor areas, and the vehicles are comfortable or air conditioned. So what’s not to lose? But if you go to Turkey, try to avoid the typical tourist traps like Bodrum (also known as “Bedroom” for its slightly salacious party behavior) – these seaside resorts are cookie-cutter, if pleasant. Instead, head to one of these destinations via night-train or bus from Istanbul.
This charming town is best known as the home of Ephesus (Efes, in Turkish), an ancient archaeological site that casts a great deal of light on the Classical world and its remaining influence on Turkey. Only a few kilometres from Selcuk proper, Ephesus is well worth a visit for the Celsius Library alone, and can be accessed by minibus (effectively a shared taxicab) from Selcuk for a reasonable fare. But Selcuk itself is a beautiful and historic destination, with great wines – it’s Turkey’s best wine-producing region – and long walks.
Near the modern city of Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, Bergama is a charming and historic town that, like Selcuk, is perhaps most famous for its archaeological site. This one is Pergamon, the ancient Greek city located not far from the modern one. See the Allianoi, the Asklepion, the Temple of Serapis, the Red Basilica, and more, as well as the archaeological museum. If you’re a classics buff, this is beyond doubt the place for you. Stay at the inexpensive but charming Athena Guesthouse – rooms are as little as 15 YTL a night, with a rooftop camping option at a mere 10 YTL.
The famous Cappadoccian Fathers – a group of theologian religious hermits – lived here in the days of late antiquity, hiding out in the gorgeous “Fairy chimneys” – rock and cave formations that dot the stunning Central Anatolian landscape, and the place has strong early Christian connotations. Cappadoccia is also known for its hiking trails, which circle around the “fairy chimneys” and valleys and plains.
Distinctive for its Seljuk Turkish architecture, Konya is most famous as the death-spot of Rumi, the mystical Sufi poet whose memorial is one of Turkey’s great monuments. On a night-train line from Istanbul, Konya is well worth a weekend excursion.