Turkey is, in many respects, the ideal travel destination. It scores highly across the board: layer after layer of history; an amazing variety of landscapes; super-friendly people; terrific food; relatively low prices; reliable public transport... the list could go on. What a pity, then, that the vast majority of travellers to Turkey confine themselves to Istanbul, the Mediterranean coast and, perhaps, Cappadocia. To take the country’s pulse you’ll have to head outside these tourist-friendly comfort zones; I’m immensely fond of northern Anatolia, which provides an intriguing, off-the-trail mix of the elements which make Turkey so special. Here’s a few highlights on my favourite tour of the region.
My first stop is earthy Kütahya. Though it’s just a short bus-ride from Istanbul, travellers here are as good as non-existent. The city is famed for its tiles, and many downtown buildings are covered from tip to toe with these gorgeous ceramics. To this can be added swathes of unspoiled Ottoman architecture, museums housed in 14th-century seminaries, fantastic restaurants – and no tourist kitsch, or tourists full-stop, to sully the vibe. I head to my favourite cafe (sitting pretty in another centuries-old building) and simply survey the scene... it’s so easy to tune yourself into local culture in a place like this.
After a couple of pleasant days, I take a bus to the nearby city of Eskişehir. This is a different side of the same coin – while Kütahya is grimy and old-fashioned, Eskişehir’s status as a university city lends it a sort of youthful exuberance. The old town here has tried to cash in on the current Turkish “Ottomania” trend, painting its imperial buildings in saffron, aquamarine, lime and other friendly colours. It makes for a truly enchanting scene, especially when the aforementioned colours are ignited at sunset; local tourists come in dribs and drabs, but foreign travellers stay away. I love it.