From the scenic delights of Dalyan and Cleopatra’s pools at Pamukkale, to Ephesus, Troy and the glorious Hagia Sophia, Turkey is richer than most when it comes to wonders of both nature and culture.
Despite this well-trodden tourist trail the capital Ankara has tended not to be high on the list of European city-break destinations, partly because there is a dirth of direct international flights, but also because other attractions in this extraordinary country have tended to beckon foreign visitors more loudly.
For just over three weeks in high summer, however, this all looks set to change, thanks to the inspired inauguration of a city-wide ‘Shopping Fest’ by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ankara Chamber of Commerce, the Union of Chamber and Commodity Exchanges and the energetic mayor of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, Mr Melih GÖKÇEK.
The mayor presided over a high octane press programme that highlighted the unique selling points of Ankara over a whirlwind week of shopping malls, museums, top flight hotels and gala dinners, complete with the beautiful face of the festival, Dutch supermodel Doetzen Kroes (pictured here).
We were intrigued to discover how the Turks are pulling together to promote their retail sector at a time when many stores throughout the UK are struggling to keep head above water, as the recession bites and consumers tighten their purse strings.
Taking place between June 8 and July 1, the debut Ankara Shopping Fest has enlisted thousands of retailers across the city, who will be offering up to 50% discounts to everyone hitting the shops during the festival period.
Stores will remain open until late at night, while Ankara itself will be transformed into what the organisers describe as a ‘carnival area’. A plethora of activities, shows and cultural events are due to take place over 22 different locations throughout the city.
Much of the festival funding is being provided by the 25 participating shopping malls, while the majority of Ankara’s retailers will benefit from the forecast turnover increase of 35 per-cent during this major event. The express intention of all this is to make Turkey’s capital “The new heaven for shopping”.
Free public transport, meal deals at leading restaurants and major discounts at top hotels will ensure that not only will locals be able to enjoy a super-value shopping frenzy, but consumers travelling from overseas will largely cover the cost of their air-fares via the savings on offer.
Even without discounts, one of the clearest benefits for Brits shopping in Turkey is the excellent value for money offered by local retailers, who are dealing with Lira rather than the teetering Euro that notoriously brought about price hikes in former European shopping havens such as Amsterdam, Rome and Madrid.
With the pound riding relatively high in the currency markets, this is a great time to rejuvenate the wardrobe or stock up on gifts while soaking up some sunshine and taking in some of the unique cultural destinations that only Ankara can offer.
For those with a passion for ancient history, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders from the era Before Christ, while the Temple of Augustus is one of the most important Roman imperial monuments in the world, with an inscription recounting the deeds of Rome’s first emperor still preserved on its walls.
Imperialism may have reigned in Turkey for millennia – from the Hittites through to the Phrygians and Alexander the Great, Rome then the conquering Ottomans – but nowadays republicanism is very much the political keynote in the capital of this proud nation.
The imposing centrepiece of this republican zeal is undoubtedly the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, leader of the Turkish War of Independence and founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey.
Designed by architects Professor Emin Onat and assistant professor Ahmet Orhan Arda, the monumental complex incorporates a truly fascinating museum housing personal artefacts of Ataturk and a perspective on wartime history that is largely unseen by the British public.
While history buffs will be enthralled by the unrivalled collection of memorabilia, it is only fair to sound a word of caution. Leading the museum tour are Turkish soldiers whose immense national pride and love for their deceased Marshall is unfortunately matched by a passionate dislike for the British army that they are unwilling to rein in, even for the benefit of non-partisan tourists.
If you can stomach the gibes, however, you’ll be rewarded with a superb insight into the extraordinary life of a man who changed history.
Elsewhere in the city, which impresses further with its clean streets, good quality air and great hotels, a wide variety of high streets and malls are crying out to be mobbed by bargain-hungry western European shoppers.
While the fashions on offer in Turkey don’t scale to the heights offered by Paris, London or Milan, good quality jewellery, leather clothing and accessories, textiles, art, handicrafts and homewares are available in abundance at excellent prices. Big brands for few bucks are also readily on offer, with the bling-loving Turks embracing the likes of Versace and Cavalli with a vengeance.
The launch of the Ankara-wide fest follows on from the trail blazed by Turkey’s most-populous province, İstanbul, which already runs a shopping festival, due to take place this year from June 8 – July 1.