Top Travel tips for Turkey 2012

24th, 2012
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Welcome to 2012, everyone! And seeing that this is a time when so many people will be making resolutions to see them through the coming year, it seems the perfect opportunity to dangle some tempting travel prospects in front of you so that you can schedule your weekend breaks around them.

Without more ado, then, here are Sunday’s Zaman’s top-10 tips for places to visit that offer more than enough entertainment for a short stay but that somehow tend to get overlooked. Some of them rarely see a foreigner, so expect lashings of that old-fashioned Turkish hospitality that sometimes runs a little low in the overexposed coastal hot spots.

Cerrahpaşa, İstanbul

With İstanbul’s popularity as a tourist destination rising rapidly, it might seem that there’s nowhere in the Old City that isn’t overrun with visitors. But all you have to do is hop on the tram to the Haseki stop, then walk south toward the Sea of Marmara, to reach the Cerrahpaşa district, which is crammed full of beautiful mosques ranging from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Restoration work is currently ongoing at the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Camii, designed by Sinan for Süleyman the Magnificent’s wife Roxelana. Look carefully and you may also find a house-high rubble plinth, which once supported a column like the Çemberlitaş. Here, too, is the splendid Bulgur Palas, a vast early 20th-century mansion built for a man who made his money in bulgur and that once housed the Ottoman Bank archives.

Bilecik and Söğüt

Stepping out from İstanbul, you might want to stop off in Bilecik, where a series of shattered minarets lining a valley stand as silent reminders of the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922). The valley itself houses an important shrine to Şeyh Edebali (1206?-1326), father-in-law of Sultan Osman I.  But the main reason to come to Bilecik is to hop on a dolmuş to Söğüt. Bursa is often talked up as the birthplace of the Ottomans, but Söğüt was the stronghold of Ertuğrul Gazi, father of Osman Gazi, the first of the sultans. Every year in mid-September, lavish festivities in an arena beside the tomb celebrate the founding of the dynasty.

Birgi

Inland from Selçuk and so easy to visit alongside a trip to Ephesus, Birgi is an unusually pretty small town of whitewashed stone cottages with, as its centerpiece, the truly spectacular 18th-century Çakırağa Konaği, a mansion built for a local bigwig and his two wives. Unlike most inward-looking Ottoman houses, this one is entirely open to the outside world, and, with rooms opening off from the back of long wooden corridors, it looks rather like a child’s overgrown toy theater. Easily overlooked, the Ulu Camii is a fine 14th-century structure built at a time when Birgi was briefly the capital of a local emirate. Pieces of Roman masonry embedded in its walls recall an even older history.

Sivrihisar

Heading from Eskişehir to Ankara, the main road swoops past Sivrihisar, just one kilometer to the north. This is one of a number of small towns in western Anatolia that have managed to hang onto much of their Ottoman core, and recently its beautiful wooden houses have been getting a makeover as the town prepares to welcome tourists. The Ulu Camii is also interesting as one of a group of “forest mosques,” whose ceilings are supported by columns hewn from tree trunks. Decent accommodation is in unusually short supply here, a deficiency that will no doubt soon be rectified.

Göynük

Heading from Sakarya (Adapazarı) to Ankara, the main road bypasses Göynük, a small town that has everything going for it apart from a tourism industry. Once again, much of the Ottoman housing has survived, and one mansion, the Akşemsettinoğlu Konağı, has been turned into a lovely hotel a la Safranbolu; its upstairs lounge is one of the loveliest such rooms in any Turkish hotel. But Göynük has one other big draw, which is a Monday-morning market that attracts women from the surrounding villages who sell their butter and cheese. Most still wear distinctive tartan şalvar, although sadly, it’s obvious that this lingering quirk of costume is unlikely to survive for very much longer.

Akşehir and Yalvaç

Religious tourists to Turkey who want to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul usually head straight for Antakya (Hatay). Another possibility is visiting Antioch ad Psidiam, a somewhat underwhelming archeological site on the outskirts of Yalvaç, itself home to one of the most delightful gatherings of tea gardens beneath the shade of an ancient plane tree to be found anywhere in Turkey. Yalvaç itself is best visited from Akşehir, a delightful small town, full of fine old mosques and small museums. Here, too, is the supposed grave of Nasreddin Hoca, the Turkish funny man who is usually depicted beneath an outsized turban sitting backward on his donkey. The local park makes merry with his fables, in addition to commemorating more recent comedians such as Kemal Sunal.

Arykanda

Many of Turkey’s best-known archeological sites are overrun with visitors throughout the summer. But for those who like to experience their ruins alone, there are plenty of alternatives, not all of them especially hard to get to. Arykanda sits just off the road inland between Finike, near Kumluca on the south coast, and Elmalı, and it would be hard to imagine a more splendid site with its theater and stadium set one above the other on terraces cut into the hillside. On your way back, you could even drop in on Limyra, where more Roman ruins lie semi-submerged in a peaceful water meadow.

Kağızman

Well, to be honest, it’s not so much Kağızman itself, a small town on the road from Kars to Iğdır, that deserves a visit so much as the spectacular scenery to be found on drives around it. There are several possible places to head for, including the lopsided remains of a vast Georgian church that now serves as a cowshed in Çengili village and the shattered ruins of the Armenian Kecivan Kalesi, a medieval castle now housing a village. But perhaps the most spectacular trip of all will take you to Camuşlu (Yazılıkaya), where the road winds up and up to a beautiful yayla (plateau) where prehistoric images of horses, goats and donkeys, as well as some stags with antlers so impressive they would surely have won them the does, can be found incised into a rocky overhang.

Midyat

When it comes to publicity, Mardin in southeast Turkey tends to have the market tied up. Just a little way further east, though, its little sister Midyat easily gives it a run for its money, with plenty of honey-gold, densely decorated stone houses, a cluster of Syrian Orthodox churches and lots of shops selling telkari, the silver-filigree jewelry for which its residents are famed. Much of the new accommodation opening in the old part of town is shamelessly aimed at the well-heeled, but you can also stay at the delightful Governor’s Guesthouse (Konukevi) at the highest point in town, provided you don’t mind that it doubles up as a tourist attraction-cum-film set. Failing that, there’s always Estel, the newer part of Midyat which, curiously, turns out to have its own old quarter, currently being prepared for visitors.

Bitlis

During the 1990s, Bitlis was a town to dash through without stopping on the way from Diyarbakır to Tatvan. Now, though, it’s an increasingly fascinating small town set in a valley full of dark stone buildings that have caused it to be compared with some of the mill towns of northern England. Since its five most-beautiful minarets have been immortalized in song, it’s hardly surprising that one of Bitlis’ real gems is the superb Şerefiye Camii, currently undergoing restoration. While here, be sure to find time to lunch on büryan kebab, the local incarnation of pit-baked meat and finger-lickingly delicious.

Resource: Today’s Zaman

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