Venture beyond Turkey’s traditional holiday hubs to discover its unfrequented but no less fascinating charms
Straddling continental limits as well as the frontier separating ancient times from modern ones, Turkey serves up a wealth of experiences. The country is home to a truly intriguing blend of well-preserved ruins, a wide selection of idyllic beaches, coastal retreats, architectural marvels and sweeping landscapes.
Unsurprisingly, Turkey’s hotspots tend to get a little crowded, packed with eager tourists clambering to experience its top highlights. But you can step away from the crowds and view the country through a different lens with these hidden gems.
Take in the view from a hillside amphitheatre
Set on a lofty, isolated hill, ancient Pergamum sees much fewer tourists than the popular Ephesus, allowing visitors to enjoy its classical splendour without hectic crowds. The site is particularly famous for its hillside amphitheatre — one of the largest as well as one of the steepest Roman amphitheatres in the world. But unlike the Colosseum’s amphitheatre in Rome, which is packed with endless throngs, you can have this one more to yourself. Among the Pergamum’s ruins is also its library, which at one point contained over 200,000 titles, rivalling the great library in ancient Alexandria in Egypt.
Hike up the ‘Mountain of Gods’
Mount Nemrut is one the highest peaks of Mesopotamia, and its summit at 2,206 metres above the sea level contains the tomb of King Antiochus I of Commagene. The gigantic statues of gods, each weighing six tonnes and ten metres tall, are indicative of the effort required for the construction of the tomb. The hike to the top of Mount Nemrut is particularly rewarding, especially to catch the sunrise, with the tomb and stone statues scattered across the hilltop, adding up to a stunning view.
Visit a hanging monastery
One of Turkey’s most powerful but well hidden sights, the Sumela Monastery is hewn into a cliff 1,200 metres above sea level. It was built during the height of the Roman Empire and is accessed by a path that runs through a forest packed with scenic streams and rivers. Many tourists give the monastery a miss because of its far northeast location, but this incredible piece of architecture and the beautiful natural landscapes surrounding the nearby village of Macka are well worth the trip.
Explore Turkey’s deepest underground city
Discovered in the 1960s, Derinkuyu is the deepest underground city in Cappadocia. Located 40 kilometres from Goreme, this multi-level ancient city was built during the Byzantine era and extends hundreds of feet below the Earth’s surface. Connected by a host of long tunnels, the city has over 600 entrances, multiple churches, wells, tombs, stables, schools, cellars, and can hold up to 20,000 people at simultaneously.
Visit an ancient spa city
Set just above the gleaming white travertines of Pamukkale, the ancient spa city of Hierapolis is not as crowded as other ruins listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and well worth exploring after dipping your feet in Pamukkale’s natural pools. The star attraction of Heirapolis is the partially restored Roman Theatre, which once held more than 12,000 spectators. Other must-see locations include the on-site museum, Cleopatra’s Pool, the Temple of Apollo and the Plutonium and the Roman Baths.
Experience an untouched paradise
Turkey's 86,000 square-metre Butterfly Valley is home to roughly 100 species of butterflies, including the endemic orange, black and white Jersey Tiger. The Turkish coastline is usually packed with tourists and resorts but Butterfly Valley is surprisingly serene — the government named the valley a preservation area in 1987 disallowing the construction of permanent structures. Accessible only by boat, it features majestic waterfalls and forests that allow for unforgettable camping experiences.
Head to an architectural marvel
Located in the isolated region of Dogubeyazit and atop a plateau, the Ishak Pasha Palace is a striking example of Islamic architecture. The palace has retained much of its opulence and grandeur; visitors can still look upon its windswept courtyards, extensive halls and spacious rooms, and the view from the palace is a huge bonus. And the protective glass roofing over several parts of the palace means you can visit even on a rainy day.