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A land rich in history and heroism.

Costa Rica

Turkey is one of the hits of the year as an outside the Euro-zone destination, with a big surge in interest from people looking for low-cost stays in the sun. I explored the top north west corner, rich in history and heroism. His must-do list includes an oil wrestling tournament, a meeting with the world’s biggest gift horse, the site of an epic swim, and the birthplace of the first doctor to promote a healthy diet.

Nice Troy

Alone under a high wall built to repel great armies and defend huge wealth, with only a wild tortoise for company, we suspend disbelief and conjure up ancient Troy. We picture the glorious warriors Achilles, Ajax and Ulysses. There is Aeneas rescuing his father from the flames, Troilus pining after Cressida, the Greek soldiers tumbling out of that huge horse – see the massive replica at the entrance. And the wondrous beauty Helen, who triggered the siege. It’s the setting for the greatest story ever told, outside the Bible. No sign of the massive gates and palaces Homer described in the Iliad. But enough 3,000-year-old masonry survives to suggest that, whatever actually happened here, this was once a very important place. (10 miles from Çanakkale.)

Great straits

We stayed in Çanakkale’s Hotel Akol, watching the great argosies creeping through the mile-and-a-half-wide strait dividing Asia and Europe. The Dardanelles (Hellespont) is the world’s most history-rich neck of water. They all came to this link between the Aegean and the Black Sea. Xerxes, king of Persia, crossed north on a bridge of boats to conquer Greece. Alexander the Great went south to take Asia. Julius Caesar called in. Britain and her allies failed to pass in 1915. We took the short ferry trip from Eceabat to Çanakkale. It’s where the mythical Leander swam across nightly to meet his girl Hero. The real-life Lord Byron emulated his feat in 1810. Every August 30 they halt all ships and stage a swimming race across.

Hill of heroes

No holidaymakers disturb the dignified calm on the beaches of the narrow peninsula where the doomed Gallipoli assault began. Thousands died in 1915 as forces from Britain and her allies, New Zealand and Australia fought with Turkish soldiers over this vital spit of land. We move inland up the steep green slopes, past the still visible trenches where troops fought each other to a standstill to the top, and the silent cemeteries. I have two spine-tingling memories. One is reading Turkish leader Attaturk’s message of reconciliation to the mothers of the dead: “Your sons…have become our sons as well.” And the letter from a Turkish boy to his mother in the museum, very like the one in the book “Birds without Wings.”

Catch a coach

Coach travel in Turkey is excellent. It’s one of the most planet-friendly modes of transport, and very cheap. Mobiles and smoking are banned. There are frequent comfort stops. They serve drinks in your seat.
The smart, often new, coaches ply all over Turkey. Flying into Istanbul by Easyjet, we diverted to Tory and Gallipoli, then on down to Marmaris, past Ephesus and the many west coast resorts. First leg, 220 miles to Çanakkale was in a Truva (Troy) coach, emblazoned with extravagant Trojan motifs. Storks circled in stately swirls over the rolling landscape of Thrace, as green and hedged as England. (5 ½ hours, £10). Pre-book seats in the bus company’s city centre offices - two people can usually travel together. A courtesy bus runs to the bus station.

High history

Edirne, in Turkey’s top north-west, contains many overlooked wonders. (It’s a long day trip from Istanbul - 146 miles.) Since the ancient Greeks there have been 16 major battles at this strategically vital site. Today peace reigns, in the shadow of the world’s second highest minarets (220 feet) on the fabulous 16th century Selimiye Mosque. It’s a match for the better known Blue Mosque in Istanbul. With its 999 windows, this is the finest of a clutch of splendid old buildings. Even older is the annual oil-wrestling championship (29 June - 05 July) [2009]. It dates from 1382, possibly the oldest organised sport after the Olympics. (Francesco da Mosto was there in his yacht series last year.) Formidable wrestlers douse themselves with olive oil for some slippery competition.

Glorious golf

It’s a game you may not expect to find in Turkey. But there is plenty of space for golf in this diverse and spacious countryside. And there’s the guarantee of dry, hot weather games in summer. Many resort courses are in the south, around Bodrum, and Antalya. There are two very good courses in the NW. Klassis Golf and Country Club, 40 miles from Istanbul, designed by Tony Jacklin, is a tournament course. It is close to the small town of Silivri, birthplace of ancient Greek physician Herodicus. Very appropriate. He is said to have first suggested the healthy benefits of good diet, massage and exercise. Kemer Golf Club is another excellent course, on hills in the nature rich Belgrade Forest.

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