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Experience the Real Turkey

With the strong euro having caused many international travellers to look beyond the expensive Eurozone this summer, one of the countries that has been reaping the rewards is Turkey – rapidly on the rise as a favourite holiday destination. Istanbul’s recognition as European Capital of Culture for 2010 has also served to firmly establish Turkey on the tourist trail, boasting as much history and culture as it does natural beauty and excellent beaches.Turkey is still a relatively little-known country by tourism standards, with the majority of visitors flocking to Istanbul or beach resorts along the Mediterranean coast, but there’s a great deal more to see when heading off the beaten track. If you’re interested in exploring the ‘real’ Turkey, beyond the brochure, you’ll find many ways to delve into the local culture during your visit.One of the most effective ways to get a sense of what life is like in Turkey is to visit during Ramadan, the holy season that typically deters tourists due to the early closing of shops and scarcity of restaurants. But if you’re looking to escape the tourists in any case, this can be a real opportunity to connect with the locals, especially when taking part in the fast yourself, filling up on traditional delicacies such as Sahari and a bounteous meze feast to stave off the daily fast. You don’t have to put yourself through a physical challenge to experience the local culture on holidays to Turkey, of course, but if you want to show your dedication to fitting in rather than standing out as just another tourist, consider it essential to learn a few key Turkish phrases. ‘Afiyet olsun’ is a traditional greeting when sitting down to dinner, translated as ‘may you have health,’ and carrying a pocket phrase book should teach you the basics of meeting and greeting, rather than arrogantly presuming that everyone you meet can speak English.Even if you’re only visiting Turkey for a short break, there’s a lot you can pack into your itinerary to get an overview of numerous areas of Turkish life, history and culture. From exploring the minarets of Istanbul and the ancient ruins of nearby Ephesus to marvelling at the landscapes of areas such as Pammukkale and seeing dervish dancers in the flesh, Turkey is a remarkable country that’s long been overlooked by all but history buffs, but is finally reaching a wider audience.