Like the whirling dervishes of Mevlevi -- the Sufi mystics descended from the 13th-century Turkish poet Rumi -- your head will spin with all there is to see and experience in the ancient land of Anatolia. Home to one of the earliest known human settlements (Catalhoyuk, near Konya, predating 6000 B.C.), Turkey was the stomping grounds of the Trojans, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and several other great ancient civilizations. It's the place that launched a thousand ships, in Troy, the land that made a political force of Christianity, in Constantinople, and the site of the first secular Islamist government, under Ataturk.
Despite the fact that it's one of the world's most historically and culturally rich regions -- as the eastern end of Europe and the start of Asia Minor -- it's also one of the least expensive in Europe. Once you touch ground, that is. Getting to Turkey isn't cheap, at this time of year, and you might do best with one of the many great air-hotel packages available, with a range of independence or structure, depending on your preference.
Airfare alone is costlier than Go-Today's "Istanbul Spring Supersale" -- round-trip air and six nights in the capital starts from $619. For even shorter stays, Picasso Travel's "Istanbul Special" -- round-trip flights and four nights' lodgings -- is based from $579. Both packages are bargains indeed compared to the cost of flying independently: For midweek travel in mid-May, round-trip air from New York is $714 on Delta non-stop; $813 from Chicago on KLM, with one stop in Amsterdam; and $891 from Los Angeles on Delta, with one stop in New York.
The "Spring Supersale" from Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) is the best value if you don't mind spending all your time in the capital. In fact, this sort of focus actually might be advisable if it's your first trip here. A week hardly seems sufficient to explore the modern life of the city as well as the sixth-century Hagia Sophia -- the cathedral turned mosque turned museum that best embodies Istanbul's Christian-era history, and survives as the best extant example of Byzantine architecture; the 15th century Ottoman Topkapi Palace Museum; and the Byzantine Hippodrome, with its 3,500-year old Egyptian obelisk; among other treasures.
Go Today's rate of $619 for six nights is good for travel from New York JFK or Newark through May 31, and the purchase deadline is April 28. You'll stay in the three-star Nazar City Hotel in the Laleli district, near the business center. Hotel transfers and air taxes and fees of $40 to $200 are not included. Alternate departure cities are available at extra cost, including Boston and Philadelphia for $30 more, Washington, D.C. for $50, Chicago for $90, and Los Angeles and San Francisco for $180. See website for further details.
Picasso Travel's "Istanbul Special" (tel. 800/995-7997; www.picassotours.com) is good for travel through May 31 from New York. You'll stay in the four-star Ilkay Hotel, in the heart of Sirkeci (the old city center), and a short walk from the capital's ancient treasures. The purchase deadline is April 29. Additional departure cities are available (including Boston and Philadelphia, for $50 more; $100 from Washington, D.C.; $125 from Chicago; and $200 from Los Angeles and San Francisco). You can also extend your stay by purchasing additional nights; call for details. The price includes daily buffet breakfast, but not transfers or air taxes and fees.
If you don't mind the constraints of an escorted tour -- and if you can wait until this fall or next spring to travel -- you won't beat the value of "14-Day Affordable Turkey" for $1,069, from Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com). The price includes airfare, 12 nights' accommodations in four-star hotels, seventeen meals (daily breakfast and five dinners), all transfers, and guided tours of more than dozen destinations.
You'll stay for four nights at the Bulvar Palas in historic Istanbul, one in Canakkale at the Akol Hotel, two in Izmir at the Kaya Prestige, one in Pamukkale at the Richmond Thermal, one in Konya at the Dundar, two in Cappadocia at the Dinler Hotel, and one in Ankara at Ickale. The itinerary includes Troy, the Acropolis in Pergamum, the 2nd century BC city of Ephesus, the home of the Virgin Mary, the cave homes and cathedrals of Cappadocia, the underground city of Kaymakli, the whirling dervishes of Konya, and Istanbul.
The discount is good for travel between November 10 and March 16, 2006; for March 2 departures, the price drops even lower, to $999. Airport taxes and fees between $50 and $250 may apply.
Pacha Tours' "Super Value Western Turkey Tour" (tel. 800/722-4288; www.pachatours.com) -- airfare and 17 days (15 nights), all inclusive, for $1,445 -- is slightly more expensive, but the price includes all meals and a few extra days' travel time. It covers similar ground as the Gate 1 escorted tour, with a cruise on the Bosporus, and tours of even more artifacts of Anatolia's rich heritage. See the website for details.
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