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Turkey is a country with a multiple identity, poised uneasily between East and West. The only NATO member in the Middle East region, the country has recently been accepted as a candidate for membership of the EU. Yet although in many respects Western, Turkey retains its frustrating differences, and its contradictions: mosques coexist with churches, and remnants of the Roman Empire crumble alongside ancient Hittite and Neolithic sites. Politically, modern Turkey was a bold experiment, founded on the remaining Anatolian kernel of the Ottoman Empire and almost entirely the creation of a single man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk . An explicitly secular republic, though one in which almost all of the inhabitants are at least nominally Muslim, it's a vast country and incorporates large disparities in levels of development. But it's an immensely rewarding place to travel, not least because of the people, whose reputation for friendliness and hospitality is richly deserved.

Western Turkey is the most visited and economically developed part of the country. Istanbul , straddling the Bosphorus straits and the Marmara coast, is a heady mix of the Oriental and state-of-the-art modern. It's the country's cultural and commercial centre and also visibly the old imperial capital, and would take months of exploration to truly do it justice. Flanking Istanbul on opposite sides of the Sea of Marmara are the two earlier Ottoman capitals, Bursa and Edirne , and the former Byzantine capital of Iznik , with, just beyond, the World War I battlefields of the Dardanelles .

Moving south, on the Aegean Coast small country towns like Ayvalik are swathed in olive groves, while the area is littered with ancient sites like Assos, Bergama and Ephesus , which have been a magnet for travellers since the eighteenth century. Beyond the functional but not unattractive city of Izmir , the Aegean coast is Turkey at its most developed, with large numbers of visitors drawn to resorts like Çesme , Bodrum and Marmaris , beyond which the Mediterranean coast begins. There are remnants of the Lycians at Xanthos , and more resorts in Kas and Fethiye , along the aptly named "Turquoise Coast".

On the Mediterranean coast, Antalya is one of Turkey's fastest-growing cities, a sprawling place that is the best starting-point on the stretch towards the Syrian border, featuring extensive sands and archeological sites - most notably at Perge and Aspendos - until castle-topped Alanya , where the tourist numbers begin to diminish. It's worth heading inland from here for the spectacular attractions of Cappadocia , with its famous rock churches, subterranean cities and landscape studded with "fairy chimneys", as well as the Selçuk architecture and dervish associations of Konya . Further north, Ankara , Turkey's capital, is a planned city whose contrived Western feel gives some indication of the priorities of the modern Turkish Republic.