Move over Tuscany and make way for Aegean Turkey.
Even when you are not eating, this southern region is a feast for the senses. I love visiting Turkey, even when it is snowing.
This stunning region, which stretches from Cannakale on the Dardanelles in the north to Bodrum in the south, is one of Turkey’s richest. It's rapidly becoming a serious rival to Italy’s top rated region.
Flanked by the sparkling Aegean Sea and dotted with picturesque coves and fishing villages, its fertile soils support rolling wheat fields, olive groves, citrus, stone fruit and fig orchards while its Mediterranean climate ensures hot summers and mild winters. According to Herodotus, the famous ancient historian of Bodrum, the Aegean shores have the most beautiful skies and the best climate in the world.
Today, more than a third of the population inhabit Aegean Turkey. Tourists are attracted to its fine sandy beaches, yachting and nightlife, and to its ancient cities, temples, amphitheatres and agoras. The variety and number of well-preserved ruins is incomparable, and it is in this region that Homer’s myths and heroes came to life. Numerous civilizations including the Greek and Roman have fought over its beauty and bounty, then made it their home.
It is at Sirince, a charming little village nestled in the hills behind Ephesus that I am most struck by the similarity of the landscape to Tuscany. Grapes, olive groves, peach and apple orchards and lots of history abound. Handmade cotton tablecloths and napkins are a great buy.
In Istanbul, during the glittering years of the Ottoman Empire when the city was called Constantinople, a sophisticated, aristocratic cuisine developed. It is considered by culinary historians to be on par with the great cuisines of France and China. In the massive kitchens at Topkapi Palace, hundreds of chefs eager to please the royal palate perfected Saray cuisine. It is an excellent example of the Mediterranean diet, a style of eating we are increasingly encouraged to follow by nutritionists.
Once Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, he filled the kitchens at Topkapi Palace with specialist chefs when Europe still had no sophisticated culinary identity.
The rule of Suleyman the Magnificent, 1520-1566, was studded with lavish banquets. He was the first to bring a harem into the palace, a practice which more than likely resulted in some descriptive dishes as meaty ladies thighs, sweet syrupy ladies navels, Grand Viziers fingers, sweetheart’s lips just to name a few.
Fortunately for today’s traveler, Turkey offers the best of both worlds, gourmet Ottoman dishes at five star hotels like the Kempinski in Istanbul, and more home style dishes at villages like Sirince.
With its glorious landscape, ancient treasures and colorful flavorful food, Turkey is a feast even when you are not eating.
The best thing to buy in Turkey is a carpet. The selection is out of this world and I always carry one home. The Grand Bazaar has over 1,000 shops and I now have a system for not getting lost inside. Buy some Turkish Delight in the Spice Market, I can finish a box before I’ve left the market.
You can't go wrong in staying at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, or the Swisshotel Bosphorus – both outstanding.
A great way to enjoy Turkey is to go on a cruise. Do a pre- or a post-cruise visit and enjoy something different.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street in Los Altos. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.