Treasures of the Dardanelles

Traveling incognito on a tour bus is one good way to gauge travelers’ reactions. In the case of Turkey, there is a lot of pointing and staring out the window. It’s not often this type of rowdy crowd falls silent, but in the course of a day in Turkey it happens often because the drive can take visitors from a popular beach spot to snow-covered mountains, witnessing more than a few sunflower and tulip gardens along the way. Contrary to popular belief, tulips are indigenous to Turkey, not Holland, thank you very much.

Here’s why Turkey is hot: It’s affordable—much more so than many other European destinations. Tours to Turkey are less expensive than so many others, yet a visit to the country is very rewarding—plus there’s no pesky euro (yet) to deter clients from having incredible dining and shopping experiences. It’s also alluring, bringing together much historic merit—much of it rarely recognized in this part of the world—with great beauty. It’s new to many and appealing to seasoned travelers who have experienced Western Europe exhaustively. And it’s diverse—one week in Turkey and you almost think you’ve been in five different countries.

“Turkey is a great destination for agents to recommend because it offers something for everyone—from some of the Mediterranean’s greatest sites of antiquity, to wonderful cuisine,” says General Tours World Traveler’s marketing manager Mickey Huang. “It’s an exotic destination that offers terrific value. The hotels are superb…and the transportation infrastructure is top-notch.” General Tours’ Gems of Turkey, one of the company’s privately guided options, consists of an 8-day journey along some of the country’s most extraordinary locations and allows clients to add more days in Istanbul. Prices start at $3,499 pp dbl; a 4-day extension in Istanbul starts at $749 and also includes private sightseeing.

battlefield heroes The region along the Dardanelles strait, which separates the European Gallipoli Peninsula from the rest of Turkey—the Asian mainland—has had strategic importance for thousands of years. During World War I, the Allies tried to establish a supply route to Russia through the Gallipoli Peninsula, with disastrous results for armies on both sides. Today, Gallipoli (Gelibolu in Turkish) is an inspiring and bittersweet site. Turks recognize it as the location where many of their own lost their lives but also where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and Turkey’s first president, became a hero as he and his Turkish forces defended his country against the Allies. For history buffs and descendants of those who perished here following Allied orders (particularly members of ANZAC, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), it is a stark reminder of the consequences of war.

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The area is now part of the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park, where quite a few monuments and cemeteries are available to visitors; trenches and other remains of war are also found throughout. One notable memorial notes the words of Ataturk after the war, which reads in part:

“…There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries…your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Apart from its historic meaning, the Gallipoli Peninsula is one of exuberant beauty. The park covers 33,000 hectares of land—pine groves, bushy slopes and sandy beaches. Offshore there are sunken ships and the park itself is popular among birdwatchers. The park is located within the province of Canakkale, and the city of Canakkale itself is often the starting point for exploration of the Asian side of the Dardanelles, which connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara; ferries with cars and tour buses cross this strait daily.

canakkale & troy Canakkale is much more than it seems at first sight. Many restaurants, hotels and cafes dot its boardwalk, as do ice cream and sweets vendors and entertainers. This promenade also holds an interesting souvenir: the Trojan horse built for the movie “Troy,” starring Brad Pitt. Canakkale is also home to an archaeological museum and a military museum at Cimenlik Fortress, built in 1451 by Sultan Mehmet II to control the traffic of ships through the strait.