Do the names Constantinople, Troy and Izmir conjure up exotic images from your school days? What about the great Ottoman and Byzantine civilisations? Well, these days, people are more likely to visit Bodrum or Kusadasi, but Turkey still retains all of the mystical magic of those ancient times.
And now, thanks to Wings Abroad, a new Irish travel agency dealing exclusively in Turkey, that wondrous and astonishing country is more easily accessible than ever.
Kusadasi is the bustling starting point for many travellers. Incongruously situated alongside ancient monuments, such as the Temple of Apollo, rich in the symbolism of fertility, dating to 300BC, lies Adaland -- a super water park.
You can even swim with dolphins for €80, making it much cheaper than equivalent experiences elsewhere. If shopping is your thing, you won't beat Sirince, a lovely hillside village with jewellery, leather and souvenirs. Try the famous apple tea or if you feel hardier, enjoy tasting new and unusual wines, such as pomegranate, cherry or melon wine for just €8 a bottle.
Carpet shops abound, but watch for fake outfits. Turkmen on the Kusadasi/Ephesus road is the real deal. Watch weaving being done, and even handle the tiny silkworms busily creating their luscious fabric. Don't worry about a hard sell -- you won't get one here: carpets run up to €20,000 each so, if you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it. Just enjoy the visit instead.
Do not miss a trip to Ephesus. It is truly extraordinary -- the kind of place you will remember for the rest of your life. If it sounds familiar, it's because it's where St Paul wrote all those letters to the Ephesians. They didn't take overly kindly to him -- imprisoning him for the privilege. But this ancient city, which is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, has been beautifully preserved and you are free to walk around, through and on the ancient site.
Its sheer size fills you with wonder. In the first century, it was home to more than 400,000 well-heeled citizens, making it the second largest city in the world.
The gladiators' graveyard, bathing houses and the library (complete with secret tunnel to the red-light district) are fascinating. Lose yourself in the vast amphitheatre -- it seats 4,500 and is still in use. Elton John played here a number of years ago and I imagine the spectacle was fantastic.
St Paul is not the only religious attraction at Ephesus. The Virgin Mary supposedly lived here with St John after Jesus' crucifixion until her own death and her house hosts Mass every Sunday. Muslims and Christians alike revere the area. It is peaceful and you should act accordingly.
A word of caution: tour buses (organised by your hotel with Peninsula Tours) will drop you at the Virgin's house and you will walk down to Ephesus -- a journey of more than an hour. It is not suitable for those with mobility problems. Go early in the day to avoid crowds.
The Golden Day Wings Hotel is a good mid-market choice to stay in Kusadasi. It has a lovely view of the bay. The beach is within walking distance and the poolside restaurant is top notch with a very wide menu. The hotel has been recently refurbished and the nightly entertainment is fun. This is an exclusively Irish hotel, so you can mingle with all the guests!
Travelling south towards the developing Altinkum area, you can regain your mental calm by staying in the most luxurious resort in the country: the Venosa Beach & Spa. This outstanding five-star, all-inclusive hotel is pampering personified.
The traditional Hamam (or Turkish bath) will de-stress all those muscles -- in a milk bath if you like! A one-hour facial costs a laughable €26 and a full pedicure or manicure just €20. This hotel seriously has it all. Boasting five restaurants, extra-large bedrooms all with sea views and balconies, there is even a private beach with a full watersports programme.
The nearby family-friendly Palm Wings is a sister hotel, immensely popular for those with children, and is definitely worth a look.
Bodrum has long been a favourite of Irish visitors. This beautiful cobbled town with its myriad shops, restaurants and cafes is a haven for the shopper.
And yes, there's lots of Dior, Gucci and Versace at prices which ensure you won't be naive about its provenance, but it's all good fun. Haggle hard -- it's expected.
Wings Abroad also offer an interesting twist -- a seven day cruise of the Aegean on a yacht (gulet). No worries about cooking, cleaning or sailing -- it comes with a full crew, and is a charming way to get your sea-legs.