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.
, 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,
, and the former Byzantine capital of
, with, just beyond, the World War I battlefields of the
Moving south, on the
small country towns like
are swathed in olive groves, while the area is littered with ancient sites like
, which have been a magnet for travellers since the eighteenth century. Beyond the functional but not unattractive city of
, the Aegean coast is Turkey at its most developed, with large numbers of visitors drawn to resorts like
, beyond which the Mediterranean coast begins. There are remnants of the Lycians at
, and more resorts in
, along the aptly named "Turquoise Coast".
On the Mediterranean coast,
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
- until castle-topped
, where the tourist numbers begin to diminish. It's worth heading inland from here for the spectacular attractions of
, with its famous rock churches, subterranean cities and landscape studded with "fairy chimneys", as well as the Selçuk architecture and dervish associations of
. Further north,
, Turkey's capital, is a planned city whose contrived Western feel gives some indication of the priorities of the modern Turkish Republic.