Istanbul not only delineates the continental divide between Asia and Europe, it serves as a lively meeting point of the modern and traditional, and of Western, Eastern, and Middle Eastern cultures. Turkey’s crown jewel won the hearts of the emperors and sultans of four empires who fought to claim the city as their capital. Even Napoleon thought it should be the capital of the world.
The magic of Istanbul lies in its many contradictions. Five times a day the müezzinler call the faithful to prayer from minarets, some atop former basilicas that were built by early Christians. In the streets, female fashionistas don designer dresses in the bars lining the Bosphorus while the more religious color-coordinate their hijabs with conservative overcoats adorned with gold buttons and trim. Nowhere is the synergy more apparent than on dining tables, where spice-infused kebabs are served alongside mezes (appetizers) and the ubiquitous Western cola.
This rich historical, cultural, and spiritual melting pot extends to the coastal lands just beyond Istanbul as well. Spanning over 10 millennia, the history of this fertile land is as layered as baklava. More than a dozen distinct empires have risen and fallen here, each fighting to gain or retain their wedge of this unique landscape. In Turkey’s interior, between the sun-kissed rambling Aegean coast in the west and the glistening waters of the Turkish Riviera in the south, there are hundreds of thousands of kilometers of rugged mountain ranges and cultivated plains, peppered with innumerable remnants of past civilizations.
Perhaps the most surreal geography in the country is in Cappadocia. The region is home to centuries-old cave dwellings and chapels carved inside majestic fairy chimneys, eroded from volcanic tuff accumulation. Explore this intense and unbelievable landscape from above in a hot-air balloon, the preferred method of sightseeing. Rides almost dip low enough for passengers to pick lusciously ripe apricots from high branches.
Sail the dreamy Blue Voyage along the Turquoise Coast, see giant loggerhead turtles glide in the waters off Dalyan, trek the 509-kilometer Lycian Way along the pine-clad mountains that jut into the Mediterranean, and whirl into mysticism at the Mevlânâ Museum in Konya. As dazzling and mysterious as its landscape and history are, Turkey’s people are just as amazing. Meet the locals and experience Turkish hospitality for yourself.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast.