The Aegean has some of the most significant of Turkey's archaeological sites with a rich cultural legacy from early Greek, Roman and Ottoman civilisations. The ancient cities of Ephesus and Troy are permeated with the past, where the well-worn street suggest offer up hints of history. It was here that St Paul laid the foundations for the beginnings of Christianity, and where the legendary Trojan War played out thousands of years ago.
Besides historical attractions, the Aegean is known for its magnificent coastal scenery and long stretches of sandy beaches, where pine and olive clad hills surround popular resorts like Bodrum and Kusadasi. Inland, the calcium-rich mineral springs that surge over the edge of a mountain plateau at Pamukkale form Turkey's leading mineral spa and is one of the most celebrated natural attractions in the area. The city of Izmir, once famous for its figs, is today the modern capital of the region, and a major port and busy commercial centre, with good hotels and restaurants.
Ephesus is the biggest and best-preserved ancient city in Turkey and is one of the world's most spectacular historical sites. The city and its harbour were established on the mouth of the Cayster River and, in the 2nd century BC, became the most important port and commercial trading centre in Anatolia. Alexander the Great ruled over it during the Hellenistic period and it was once capital of Roman Asia under Augustus in 133 BC.
Ephesus declined during the Byzantine era with the silting up of the harbour,and by 527 AD it was deserted. Ephesus is also important as the early seat of Christianity, visited by St Paul, whose letters to the Ephesians are recorded in the New Testament. The site needs little imagination to see what a functioning Roman city would have looked like, but guides are available and can offer a rich insight into the history and architecture of the ruins.
Among the amphitheatres, murals and mosaics, baths, fountains, brothels, and columns, the chariot-worn streets lead to highlights like the enormous Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, a row of public latrines, and the Grand Theatre where Paul preached to the Ephesians. The city was originally dedicated to the goddess Artemis and her once-magnificent temple was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Calcium-rich mineral springs surging over the edge of a mountain plateau for thousands of years have resulted in an intriguing natural masterpiece. The rock formations of Pamukkale ('Cotton Castle') are a series of natural shelves and ridges, terraces that have been turned white from the solidified chalky calcium deposits left behind as the thermal waters tumble into further basins clinging to the cliff edge below.
From a distance it appears to be a dazzling, white, fairytale castle, with a formation of tiers rising from the ground containing warm water pools. The hot springs have been used since Roman times and are believed to cure certain ailments. Additionally, visitors should not miss the bubbling 'sacred pool of the ancients', the main source of the springs which created the white terraces; fortunately, its mineral waters are open for public bathing.
Pamukkale is also the site of the ancient Roman spa-city of Hierapolis, and there are several ruins scattered about the area, including an impressive Roman theatre. It was considered a sacred site for its magic healing waters and was the holiday destination of kings and emperors of the Pergamum and Roman Empires.
For about 3,000 years the legend the battle of Troy pervaded Western culture. The story, told by Homer in the Iliad, was regarded as just a myth, until the ruins of the city were found at Hisarlik, in western Turkey, in the mid-19th century.
Today the romantic story draws tourists and archaeologists alike to the site, where not a great deal remains to be seen beyond the ancient walls and a replica of the famed Trojan horse which enabled the final conquering of the city by the ancient Greeks. The setting is also spectacular, offering views of the Dardanelles and the hills of Gallipoli. The Hollywood epic film, Troy, has revived interest in this piece of ancient history.
Both the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. Temperatures here can often rise above 86ºF (30ºC) in July and August. Showers are unlikely in the summer months, but the rainfall is quite high in winter.
The best way to travel in and around the Turkish coastal resorts is in dolmuses, the local minibuses which can be hailed from the roadside. Moreover, there are good bus routes between the major towns, as well as organised tours to most of the attractions, though more independent travellers often prefer to rent a car.
The Aegean is one of Turkey's most visited and most developed regions, for good reason: the area is home to some of Turkey's most captivating treasures, from gorgeous white-sand beaches to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. The Roman city of Ephesus is the big draw for sightseers, and rightfully so. Bodrum and its surrounding beach towns attract sun seekers from around the world.
Visitors are spoilt with choice when it comes to sightseeing and activities on the Aegean coast with sophisticated hotels, a buzzing nightlife scene, and remarkably unspoiled historic sites. Even Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city and no stranger to concrete sprawl, will surprise travellers with an interesting collection of museums, bustling bazaars, and lively seaside promenades.
There are also the fascinating places between these major stops: charming hill towns like Sirince; the otherworldly white cliffs and thermal springs at Pamukkale; the seaside charms of sleepy Gümüslük village, near well-heeled Bodrum; the ancient cities of Priene, Miletus, Didyma, and Laodicea; and the long, sandy beaches at Altinkum and elsewhere along the coast.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination