Places To See
Hidden away in hill country, Safranbolu boasts a glorious collection of old Ottoman houses so beautifully preserved that it qualifies as a Unesco World Heritage site, on a par with Florence. It's a place to slow down and enjoy ambling along narrow cobbled lanes, observing traditional trades and crafts practised just as they were in Ottoman times.
During the 17th century, the main Ottoman trade route between Gerede and the Black Sea coast passed through Safranbolu, bringing commerce, prominence and money to the town. During the 18th and 19th centuries Safranbolu's wealthy inhabitants built mansions of sun-dried mud bricks, wood and stucco, while the larger population of prosperous artisans built less impressive but similarly sturdy homes. Safranbolu owes its fame to the large numbers of these dwellings that have survived.
The weather, too, can play a part in this unique experience: summer thunderstorms periodically close over the sunken valley like a heavy black lid, and you can watch the lightning-pierced darkness drawing on inch by inch until finally the light is gone and the rain bursts down onto the tiled roofs. Simply magic.
Ancient Ephesus was a great trading city and a centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. Under the influence of the Ionians, Cybele became Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon, and a fabulous temple was built in her honour. When the Romans took over, Artemis became Diana and Ephesus became the Roman provincial capital.
Of Turkey's hundreds of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is the grandest and best preserved. Indeed, it's the spunkiest classical city on the Mediterranean and the ideal place to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times.
In 356 BC the Temple of Cybele/Artemis was destroyed in a fire set by Herostratus, who claimed to have done it to get his 15 minutes of fame, proving that modern society has no monopoly on a perverted sense of celebrity. The Ephesians planned a grand new temple which, when finished, was recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
To avoid the heat of the day, come early in the morning or in the late afternoon, when it's less crowded. If you can, avoid public holidays all together. Bring water with you as drinks at the site are expensive.
The ruins of ancient Troy may not be as breathtaking as those of Ephesus, but for anyone who has ever read Homer's Iliad or who has heard the tales of the Trojan Wars, they have a romance few places on earth can hope to match. Excavations have revealed nine ancient cities on the site, with Troy VI or VII believed to be the setting for the Iliad.
When amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann started excavating Troy in 1871, the pants of classical studies boffins around the world became decidedly damp. Up to this time, the Iliad was assumed to be based on legend, but post-digs, Troy was revealed as the Homeric city of Ilium, site of an epic battle between the Achaeans (Greeks) and the Trojans in the 13th century BC. Excavations by Schliemann and others have revealed nine ancient cities, one on top of another, dating back to 3000 BC. Troy VI (1800-1275 BC) is the city of Priam and the one that engaged in the Trojan War.
For aficionados this is all amazing, but unless you have a keen appreciation of archaeology, you may find little of interest in Troy. Apart from a hokey replica of the Trojan horse, there's little to catch the amateur eye. That said, this is the site of one of the world's grandest tales, so soaking up the atmosphere should be just about enough.
Recently, Troy has become a popular destination for weekending school parties. Do yourself a favour and visit midweek.
A highlight of any trip to eastern Turkey, the twin peaks of Mt Ararat have figured in legends since time began, most notably as the supposed resting place of Noah's Ark. For many years permission to climb Ararat was refused because of security concerns, but this fantastic summit is back on the trekking map, albeit with restrictions.
Permit and guide are mandatory and you'll need to apply at least 45 days in advance. Several guides and hotel staff in Doğbayazıt claim they can get the permit in a couple of days. Don't believe them. It's much safer to follow the official procedure, even if you have to endure the excruciatingly slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy.
Despite the difficulties and costs, climbing Ararat is a fantastic experience. You'll be rewarded with stupendous views and stunning landscapes. The best months for climbing are July, August and September.
You can also do daily treks around the mountain. Provided you stay lower than the village of Eliköyü (2500m/8200ft), you won't have to go through as much official hoohah, but you still need permission from the local jandarma (police) - it's best to go with a local agent.
Many Cappadocian valleys boast collections of strange volcanic cones, but the ones near Aktepe in northern Cappadocia, known as the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, are the best-formed and most thickly clustered. While geologists might congregate to appreciate the effects of differential erosion, everyone else just likes their other-worldly appeal.
Most of the rosy rock cones are topped by flattish, darker stones of harder rock that sheltered the cones from the rain that eroded all the surrounding rock. This process is known to geologists as differential erosion but you can just call it kooky.