Climb the Cotton Castle
The rippling alabaster terrace of Pamukkale, or “Cotton Castle”, rises steeply from a low green valley to a dreamy mountain ridge in Anatolia. Renowned for its otherworldly landscape and shallow, milky-blue pools, Pamukkale gives visitors a sense of overwhelming awe and strange excitement at this natural wonder. The fading hours of daylight attract the biggest crowds, when the blank white canvas of calcium carbonate formations reflects the extraordinary prism of colors from the sky.
Pool of Hierapolis
Swimming among the ruins
Sparkling warm springs fill the delicate pools of Cleopatra, where, legend has it, the Queen of Egypt herself liked to swim and enjoy the beautiful gardens of nearby Hierapolis. The white marble columns scattered in the pools are remnants of the Temple of Apollo, which tumbled into the waters during a 7th century earthquake. Take a quick dip before exploring the wider ruins of this extravagant Roman-era city, or spend the day lazing in the turquoise shallows and wading between sections of what feels like a semi-submerged museum.
Discover the Sacred Islands
Perched atop the limestone peaks of Akdamar Island, the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross whispers a thousand-year old story of long gone fragrant vineyards, busy monks and ancient palaces. Today, visitors ferry across the turquoise waters of Lake Van for a close-up view of the church’s carved stone reliefs that exemplify a unique blend of Christian, Turkic, and Arabic art. Cobblestone trails on the island lead hikers over patches of wildflowers and rocky overlooks to picturesque coves and stony beaches.
A palette of color
Ranging from soft aquamarine to a deep and glowing blue, the beautiful colors of Lake Van shine in summertime. Clean, sandy swimming beaches attract boaters, bathers and windsurfers who come to enjoy the pure and open water, while the city of Van is a delightful place to explore. To truly appreciate the sheer size of the lake, climb past the stone turrets to the top of Van Citadel, built nearly 3,000 years ago and inscribed by King Xerxes the Great of Ancient Persia. If you’re lucky, you may encounter one of the exotic Van Cats, famous for their snow-white fur and mismatched eyes (one blue, one amber).
Larger than life
Reaching an altitude of 7,001 feet, the climb up Mount Nemrut is not for the faint of heart but well worth the reward – a spectacular view over the surrounding Taurus Mountains. Watching the stoic stone faces light up in the rising sun offers a magical and unforgettable moment, hinting at the ancient history that is buried beneath this tomb of King Antiochus I. The famous stone carvings represent a veritable Who’s Who of old-time religion, covering Ancient Greek, Persian, and Zoroastrian deities. To appreciate the enormous scale of Mount Nemrut, be sure to visit both the eastern and western terraces of the tomb.
Step onto the Silk Road
The splendor and flavors of the Silk Road still flourish on the stone streets of Mardin. A storybook town perched on a mountaintop overlooking Mesopotamia, Mardin represents an amazing mix of architecture from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, including a medieval Turkish Bath that is still in service. Browse the ancient shops of jewelers and craftsmen, taste test the syrupy pastries of bakers in the bazaar, or venture into the arched caravanserai – a roadside inn where camel caravans and merchants once rested on their trade routes across Asia. Follow local custom by grabbing a table at a little café in the heart of Mardin’s historic district for a potent cup of Menengiç, a “coffee” drink made of roasted wild pistachios.
Wind, water and time have shaped the spectacular landscapes that attract adventure lovers to Cappadocia. Deep grooves and spindly “fairy chimneys” offer an unusual backdrop for exploration in every form, be it horseback, hot air balloon, mountain biking, or hiking on foot. A crossroads of culture and art since Old Testament times, Cappadocia is home to secret underground cities, historical architecture, and brightly-painted churches like the incomparable Karanlık Kilise, or “dark church”, still decorated with marvelous and carefully restored frescoes from the 11th century. At Göreme National Park (near Nevşehir), there are complex networks of tunnels and cave cities that housed early Christians during the Roman Empire.
City of Spectacle
Always in motion, Turkey’s largest city has a way of thrusting visitors into the action, or at least making them stop to admire the spectacle. From afternoon bathers to fishermen pulling their catch to the bridge, to the flurry of boats on the Bosphorus, or the colorful commotion of the Grand Bazaar, the experience of Istanbul is bigger and better than running through a quick list of sights. Make time to walk the waterfront and steeper streets, and to explore vibrant neighborhoods like Karaköy and Beşiktaş. No matter where you wander, the great metropolis delivers for all fives senses.
Necropolis in Hierapolis
Ancient cities of Stone
Rugged on the outside, yet pocked with windows and doors that lead to hidden worlds, the Necropolis within the ruins of Perre in modern is a gigantic hand-carved maze of some 1,200 graves. Wandering the tombs gives visitors a better understanding of how Greek and Roman culture evolved into the Byzantine Empire.
Pool of Abraham
The birthplace of Abraham
Surrounding the sacred birthplace of Abraham, the pools of Sanlıurfa flow with thousands of grey and silver fish that were supposedly created from the burning ashes of the fire meant to destroy the Old Testament prophet. Tree-lined promenades and shaded cafés make this an attractive place to walk in, while visitors can buy small bags of food to scatter for the holy fish. Aside from bowing into the cave where Abraham was born, pass through the arched colonnade and polished stone courtyard before visiting the brilliant domed mosque of Mevlid-i Halil, famous for its stained glass and calligraphic painting.