Western Anatolia -- an overview
Of all the regions of Turkey, Western Anatolia probably suffers most from an identity crisis. The area inland from the coasts, due south of the Sea of Marmara, and west of Ankara is, for most visitors, somewhere to transit en route to other destinations, something encouraged anyway by transport links that have their eyes set on propelling people speedily towards İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir. There are a few hotspots that attract the crowds, especially as places to break long journeys -- Safranbolu and Pamukkale spring to mind -- but only the Lake District around Eğirdir is a staying destination in its own right. For those in search of “the real Turkey,” this is an area that offers rich pickings. Towns like Afyon and the ceramics center of Kütahya attract far fewer foreign tourists than they deserve and yet offer a real insight into modern Anatolian life. Once singularly dejected, Eskişehir is now an impressive city, a Western Anatolian tiger to give its central Anatolian cousins a run for their money. And there are many forgotten mini Safranbolus full of old Ottoman houses just waiting to be discovered here.
Getting there: If you want to transit Western Anatolia to the big cities, you'll have no trouble since plenty of big, comfortable buses ply all the main roads. Crossing from one Western Anatolian settlement to another can, however, be time-consuming, involving more changes of transport than you might anticipate. Comfortable high-speed trains link Ankara to Eskişehir, while sensibly timed slower trains connect Selçuk (for Ephesus) to Denizli (for Pamukkale).
Safranbolu: If there's one place in Western Anatolia that does really well out of tourism, it has to be Safranbolu, the small place whose Ottoman townscape survives so completely that it has been designated a world heritage site. It was here as much as in İstanbul that the trend for converting old Ottoman houses into boutique hotels took off. Treat yourself and eat breakfast beside the glorious indoor pool of the Havuzlu Asmazlar Konağı hotel, or stay at the lovely Gül Evi, where hip hotel meets Ottomania to pleasing effect. Visit midweek to avoid the crowds.
Pamukkale and Hierapolis: Another world heritage site, Pamukkale-Hierapolis attracts mixed reviews, partly because tourist posters still suggest that people can frolic in the extraordinary water-filled travertines that cascade down the hillside facing the small village when in fact they're now largely off-limits for their own protection. But few people come away from the extensive Roman ruins of Hierapolis disappointed, and the small museum near the tourist office is one of Turkey's best.
The Lake District: Were it in a country less blessed with attractions, Turkey's Lake District around Isparta would be much more of a drawcard. As it is, it mainly attracts trekkers walking the St. Paul's Trail and enthusiastic mountaineers. Less adventurous types put up at the pensions in Eğirdir and the small island connected to it by a causeway and then take a boat ride round a lake surprisingly lacking in facilities for water-sports enthusiasts. Come in May to see the pink roses in bloom around Isparta, or in the fall when russet apples piled up by the roadside inject more color into a landscape already made glorious by the autumnal foliage.
Eskişehir: Turkey's fifth largest town, Eskişehir is not initially inviting, although the waterway running through its center has been cleaned up and equipped with Amsterdam-style pleasure cruisers. The tourist action mainly focuses on the restored Odunpazarı (Wood Market) area which is full of colorful Ottoman houses. To take full advantage of the experience, put up for the night in the swish new Babüssaade Konağı housed in Ottoman style on the edge of the action.
Kütahya: When the famous tile-making town of İznik went into a decline in the 18th century it was Kütahya that stole its crown, becoming the main center for the production of all things ceramic. Until recently people mainly came here to visit the large pottery workshops, but recently the old Germiyan quarter has been spruced up to attract tourists. The Ottoman-style Ispartalılar Konağı offers them a bed for the night.
Aphrodisias: Ephesus too crowded for you? Then the extensive Roman ruins at Aphrodisias make a pleasing alternative because they're just that little bit too far inland for most tour groups. Visit in spring to see a stunning sea of poppies filling the ancient stadium. The museum has been revamped to provide a pleasing home for the marble statues for which Aphrodisias was once famous.
Afyonkarahisar (Afyon): Lurking at the foot of a stupendous plug of rock crowned with a ruined castle, Afyon is a delightful small town full of graceful Ottoman houses and with one of the few remaining mosques whose roof is held up with wooden columns. It's unexpectedly conservative, though, and there are few really good places to stay. Use Afyon as a base to explore the lovely but scattered ruins of the Frig Vadisi (Phrygian Valley).
Uşak: Drop by to admire the splendid silver treasures excavated from Lydian tumuli in the local museum, then move hastily on again.
…and the hidden treasures
Bilecik and Söğüt: Want to see where the Ottoman dynasty first took root? Then hop out of the Eskişehir-İstanbul bus in Bilecik and into a dolmuş to nearby Söğüt, where Ertuğrul Gazi, father of Sultan Osman I, is buried beside an enormous arena where, every September, pilav is served to thousands of visitors in a tradition dating back more than 700 years. Bilecik itself is home to the tomb of Şeyh Edebali, set in a lovely ravine that was much shelled during the Turkish War of Independence (1919-22).
Abant and Mudurnu: Looking for somewhere other than Safranbolu to stop en route from İstanbul to Ankara? Then beautiful Lake Abant should fit the bill perfectly. You can stay right beside the lake or head into Mudurnu, another mini-Safranbolu, where several hotels play the Ottoman card to perfection.
Göynük and Taraklı: Why don't more people visit Göynük, a delightful small town whose Monday morning market features village women in tartan şalvar selling cheese and yoghurt? The answer is simple -- without your own car, getting here is a pain involving several changes of bus. On the other hand, in the Akşemsettin Konağı it boasts a gem of an Ottoman place to stay. Just to the west, Taraklı is just as appealing and just as irritatingly awkward to get to.
Sivrihisar: Exit the bus from Ankara to Eskişehir and stroll one kilometer into town to find perhaps the best of the mini Safranbolus set at the foot of an outcrop of dramatic jagged rocks. With a plethora of wooden columns supporting its roof, the Ulu Cami still has colorful kilims spread over its floor. The remains of a gigantic 19th-century Armenian church lurk at the back of town. For the time being there's nowhere really suitable to stay -- head on to Eskişehir for the night.
Akşehir and Yalvaç: If you want to visit the scant remains of Antioch-in-Psidia, one of the sites where St. Paul is known to have preached, your best base is probably Akşehir, an appealing small town whose Ottoman core has been renovated recently. Stay there, then take a dolmuş to Yalvaç, where chunks of marble from the ruins are embedded in many of the older buildings and where you can sip tea in a lovely square shaded by one of the country's largest plane trees.
Sagalassos: Even Aphrodisias too busy for you? Then climb the hill above Ağlasun to visit the dramatic ruins of Sagalassos, once a stronghold of the fearsome Psidians who, at Termessos, actually managed to hold Alexander the Great at bay but here had to accept defeat. Bring water and sturdy shoes.
Nysa: Just a little way inland from Aydın, the Roman ruins of Nysa attract few visitors despite the fact that many of the fine carvings that once offered a backdrop to the theater are still in situ (and, unfortunately, vandalized).