The best of the west
Here are a few suggestions of where to visit in Western Anatolia, starting with the blockbuster destinations of Pamukkale-Hierapolis and Afrodisias that already receive their fair share of visitors and moving on to places such as Afyon and Gölhisar, which are waiting in the wings.
Why? Rare combination of man-made and natural beauty
Pamukkale is the site that launched a thousand dog-eared posters of tourists frolicking in the turquoise waters of the travertines that cascade down a hillside in front of the sprawling ruins of ancient Hierapolis, the place where St. Philip is believed to have been buried. With more than enough to occupy a day of anyone's time, Pamukkale is already a fixture on many tourists' itineraries. The sleepy little village at the foot of the travertines could do with more staying visitors, though, and those who do linger will find that there are plenty of other sites to see in the surrounding area including the increasingly impressive ruins of ancient Laodikya, site of one of the Seven Churches of the Revelation; and the beautiful old painted mosque at Akköy, within walking distance of Pamukkale village.
Why? Magnificent Greco-Roman archaeological site good enough to rival Ephesus
Famously publicized by photographer Ara Güler, Afrodisias, the ruins of the city of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, once stood silent and forgotten around the village of Eski Geyre. Today some of the old buildings of Eski Geyre survive to serve as a café and exhibition center, but you'll probably be too busy racing out to the Classical ruins to notice them. Afrodisias has all the typical features of a Greco-Roman site (Theater? Tick. Odeon? Tick. Huge temple? Tick), although perhaps the most striking survivor is the glorious stadium, one of the best preserved in the world. In the end, though, the real winner these days is the restored Sebasteion, a temple to the Roman emperor as deity, the splendid carvings from which are now housed in a purpose-built gallery that shows them off to perfection.
Why? Ceramics with a backdrop of fine Ottoman housing
Once known almost exclusively as a place to come to eyeball the sort of ceramics that took over from İznikware in the 18th century, Kütahya is also a great place to come to explore a partially restored Ottoman townscape and stay in Ottoman style at the Ispartılar Konağı (tel: 0274-216 1975) in the renovated Germiyan quarter. It's also the best base for making a side trip out to the remains of ancient Aizanoi, appealingly scattered around the village of Çavdarhisar.
Why? Drama of a hilltop castle combined with the pleasures of an old Ottoman townscape
Modern Afyon labors under the weight of its full name, which is Afyonkarahisar, a moniker that commemorates both the opium poppies (afyon) that grow hereabouts and the black castle (kara hisar) that looms above the town, daring visitors to make the ascent. Afyon's new archeological museum is way out of the center unlike its other great treasure, an Ulu Cami that belongs to a group of so-called “forest mosques,” their ceilings supported by a forest of columns carved from tree trunks. With Eskişehir, Afyon also makes a great base for exploring the newly waymarked Frig Yolu (Phrygian Way), centered on the remains of a great Phrygian temple at Midasşehri. Much of the lovely old Ottoman housing survives, some of it restored, some not. Stay at the lovely Şehitoğlu Konağı (tel: 0272-214 1313) to get the full effect.
Why? Remains of ancient Lydian town where coins were first minted
Most easily visited on a day trip from İzmir, Sardis is nonetheless on the edge of Western Anatolia and easy to fit in if you're heading across country from Denizli. The remains of the ancient mint are pretty unmemorable, unlike the spectacular mosaic floors of what was once one of Anatolia's largest synagogues and the reconstructed Court of the Hall of the Imperial Cult. A short walk away from these obvious ruins lie the remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the four largest temples in ancient Asia Minor and beautifully sited against a mountain backdrop.
Turkish Lake District
Why? Glorious lakeside settings. Stopping point on waymarked St. Paul's Trail
If it's lakeside scenery you're after, then you should head straight for Eğirdır where you can either stay on the mainland in the shadow of a ruined castle or out on an island linked to it by a causeway where the strong breezes will act as a constant reminder that you're sitting in the middle of a lake. Surprisingly, there's little in the way of watersports development, not even in the form of boat trips out onto the lake. For that, you should head for equally lovely Beyşehir, where the ruins of a Selçuk summer palace sit right beside the water. Finally, you could stay in Burdur, where the lake is a couple of kilometers out of the town center, but where there's a great museum and a couple of lovely restored Ottoman houses open to the public.
Why? Newly excavated archaeological site you may well have to yourself
If you've popped your head into Burdur Museum, you will have seen some fine carvings depicting gladiators that were found south of town at the remote site of Cibyra, uphill from Gölhisar. Barely ready for visitors, the site nonetheless boasts another very impressive stadium as wall as a theater and bouleterion (council house) that are almost intact. An impressive mosaic showing the head of Medusa may or may not be visible when you visit.
Why? Nasrettin Hoca links make this a fun place to bring children
The small town of Akşehir is completely off the radar when it comes to foreign visitors, and yet it is a surprisingly pleasant place with several lovely Selçuk monuments. But what makes Akşehir refreshingly different from many other similar inland towns is that it is believed to be the last resting place of Middle Eastern funnyman Nasrettin Hoca, a fact enthusiastically celebrated in the local park with reproductions of some of his best-known stories dotted about.
Yalvaç and Antioch in Psidia
Why? Archeological site associated with St. Paul
Compared to Afrodisias and Hierapolis, Antioch in Psidia is very much an also-ran tourist attraction with few of the surviving ruins especially striking to the non-specialist visitor. On the other hand, the site has strong associations with St. Paul, who is believed to have visited on three out of four of his trans-Anatolian missionary journeys and for some people this will give it a particular poignancy. Yalvaç is the small town just up the road from the site. Here, in the Çınaraltı Meydanı, you'll find one of those lovely Turkish corners where a group of teashops are grouped together in the shade of a huge and ancient plane tree, in this case rumored to be more than 800 years old.
Why? To appreciate what can be done with a so-so town with a bit of imagination
Not so long ago the large town of Eskişehir was not a place where anyone wanted to linger unless they were tempted to sample its thermal baths. Then came an imaginative administration led by Yılmaz Büyükerşen, and the next thing anyone knew there was a flashy new tram, gondolas and Amsterdam canal boats on the river, inviting public parks and the restored Odunpazarı district where Ottoman houses grouped around the attractive 16th-century Kurşunlu Cami had been restored to serve as cafes and restaurants. For anyone interested in urban regeneration projects Eskişehir is Turkey's most unexpected must-see destination.