Dive into cosmopolitan, crowded, manically busy Istanbul, the country’s biggest city. Then venture to the Sea of Marmara, a short ferry-ride (and easy day-trip) from Istanbul. The pretty, pine-coated Princes’ Islands, a summertime retreat for the Ottoman sultans, are now car-free: transport around them is by horse and carriage. A trip along the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara takes you to Thrace, and Turkey’s westernmost border. An area of pine forests and long sandy beaches, it has a tourist trade that is intertwined with its wartime history – the region is redolent with memories of World War I and the campaigns fought to control the narrow strategic straits of the Dardanelles. At Gallipoli with its huge expanses of beautifully manicured war-graves you can visit evocative reconstructions of wartime trenches.
Take a ferry to the southern shores of the Sea of Marmara, which brings you within easy reach of Bursa, a picturesque Ottoman city on the slopes of Uludag. The city is famous for its green tiled mosques, its bazaar and its hans (a type of Ottoman warehouse). It also boasts therapeutic hot springs: there are more than 3,000 spas in the city, some dating from the 16th century. Children love exploring the nearby Uludag National Park, accessible via cable-cars and ski-lifts from the city. In spring the slopes of the mountain are carpeted with wild hyacinths and crocuses; in winter, when it is snow-covered, it is a major ski resort with a wide choice of hotels.
Head (along with most visitors to the country) for Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, which offer hundreds of kilometres of clear blue water, beaches of every kind, tourist resorts, secluded villages and a vast range of classical ruins. The climate is benign, and the arid landscape is typically Mediterranean – strewn with olives, cypresses and tamarisk. From the coastal resort of Marmaris, it's about a a three-hour drive to Pamukkale or 'cotton castle, famed for its hot springs and vast terraces of travertine, a white mineral left by the flowing water. It’s beside the ancient Roman spa city of Hierapolis, where you can see a well-preserved theatre and a 2km necropolis. Don’t miss the Antique Pool with its submerged Roman columns dating from an earthquake.
Tour the shores of the Black Sea, a region comparatively unknown to foreign tourists. The climate is warm and moist, and the foothills of the Pontic Mountains, which lie immediately to the south, are cloaked with tea and hazelnut plantations. Amasra and Sarfranbolu in the west are picturesque Ottoman towns. Trabzon in the east, once the capital of a Byzantine state, has many Christian and Ottoman remains, and the nearby 4th-century monastery of Sumela with its dramatic clifftop location is well worth a visit. And if you’re fed up with sightseeing, you can relax by the waterside and enjoy the superb local fish.
Get away from it all in eastern Turkey, especially in the rivers and forests of the Coruh Valley, where white-water rafting and kayaking are popular activities with older kids.
Though much of the extensive interior is high steppeland – empty quarters, with few roads or settlements – make time for Ankara, the country’s administrative capital. This efficient modern city with its international airport has an excellent archaeological museum.
Don't miss the most extraordinary destination in the interior, Cappadocia (the ‘land of beautiful horses’), a surreal landscape of conical rock outcrops (sometimes called ‘fairy chimneys’) created by the erosion of hot volcanic ash thrown out by the eruption of Mount Erciyes some 30 million years ago. From the 4th century AD this hauntingly beautiful region was occupied by early Christians, who carved troglodytic cities and churches out of the soft rock and decorated them with exquisite frescoes. The Göreme Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has the greatest concentration of rock-cut chapels and monasteries in Cappadocia. Hot-air ballooning is a popular way to see this region.
Discover Mount Nemrut National Park to the east. On the mountain itself, 2,150m up, you can marvel at the huge stone heads of Greek and Persian gods.
Swim in Lake Van further east – several times bigger than Lake Geneva and up to 400m deep, it has startlingly blue waters that reflect the surrounding mountain peaks. Kids adore the local breed of cat, which have one blue and one amber eye and love swimming in the lake! On a small island in the south-east corner of the lake, the beautiful Armenian church of the Holy Cross (Akdamar w Kilise) dates from the 10th century.
Ski! Turkey is not the first place that comes to mind when you’re planning a skiing holiday, but Palandöken on the outskirts of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia is the country’s coldest and highest (3150m), with good hotels and facilities and superb powdery snow.