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Balıkesir - Winner 2019

Balıkesir is the leading city in Turkey for health and wellbeing tourism potential thanks to its high-quality healing waters. The hot waters are used in spas purposes and have excellent quality due to their chemical composition.

Balıkesir had always been a historical hotspot. One of the first health centres in history, Pergamon is only 100 km away, Çanakkale, with its famous Trojan war and Bursa, the cradle of the Ottoman civilization are close neighbours. Balıkesir is right in the middle of these three significant cities. Last but not the least, it is just across Istanbul.

Come and enjoy hot springs, cultural richness, mythology, healthy local cuisine, sea, mountain and forest. Its mountains are ideal centres for health tourism thanks to biological diversity, clean air and their microclimatic properties. Mount Ida currently houses many health centres. The province hosts yoga camps, ecological villages, medical and aromatic plant production centers, under the theme of ‘feeling good’. There are also traditional and complementary medical centers where you can experience services such as ozone, acupuncture, phytotherapy, leech therapy and mud therapy.

The national parks in the city are ideal for alternative options such as jeep safari tours in nature, botanical trips, hiking and cycling tours. Unique experiences also include 22 blue flag beaches, surfing, diving, amateur fishing, bird watching, astrotourism and olive oil-rich gastronomy.

What makes Balıkesir special

Balıkesir ranks high for its natural beauty, ancient cultural heritage and hot waters. There are many tourism opportunities in the city and it can be easily reached by any means of transportation, rail, sea or air. You can ‘heal’ in rich hot waters, see archaeological treasures, cool on blue-flagged beaches and indulge in nature rich endemic species of Mound Ida. Getting to know the gastronomic values of this olive-scented city, where green and blue meet, will provide you with an unforgettable experience.

Health and wellbeing tourism

Local authorities in Balıkesir give great importance to sustainable tourism moves above all tourism efforts. Environmental protection is an indispensable policy approach and one of the most protectionist philosophy of the country is applied across the province. All municipalities in the province gave priority to the expansion of bicycle roads to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. It has made legal arrangements for the protection of 2 national parks and many nature parks it has. Balıkesir actively protects its 22 blue flag beaches, by collecting waste released in nature and distributing free alternatives to plastic bags.

Balıkesir already applied to ‘European Route of Historic Thermal Towns’ and the process is in the final steps toward admission. The 4th International Thermal & Healthcare Travel Summit was organised in Edremit, Balıkesir and all hot spring districts of Balıkesir actively participated. As of 2019, professional support is provided to ensure the sustainability of all thermal reserves, each reserve is being individually assessed and good practices are being adopted for sustainable hot waters.

Sightseeing tips

  • Bathe in hot springs located in every district, with thermal waters of varying chemical composition to address different ailments, surrounded bylush forests, some of which are also home to incredibly rare geological formations.
  • Visit ancient cities in the cradle of civilizations, western Anatolia. Including places like Antandros where Aeneas started his journey which ended in Rome, Adremitteion, Kyzikos and Daskyleion, while also adjacent to Assos, Troy and Pergamon.
  • Ayvalik Archipelago, with its 22 islands and the famous ‘Demon’s Feast’.
  • Bird Paradise National Park is a true nature haven that hosts 266 different avian species. Its importance was also registered by the Council of Europe and it received a class A certificate.

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Gaziantep - Winner 2015

Winner in the Tourism and Local Gastronomy category

Largely thanks to its powerful history, the city of Gaziantep is one of the top destinations in Turkey's south-eastern region. The city lies in the middle of Mesopotamia and is both a dynamic industrial centre and meeting point of cultures - it is the gateway to Iraq, Iran and Syria. Over the course of its over 5,000 year history, Gaziantep has been home to civilisations like the Hittites, Seljukians, Accadians, Byzantines and Ottomans. The spirit of these characterful cultures are still very much alive in the city today.

Gaziantep has much to offer visitors, with a plethora of fascinating museums, as well as astonishing culinary traditions. Gaziantep is a unique city known all over the world for its very special gastronomic culture and many visitors travel here solely because of the food.

Although a very ancient city, Gaziantep has expanded massively in the 20th century and continues to do so. The area lies between the Tigres and Euphrates rivers, within the agriculturally rich 'fertile crescent' that has enabled so many ancient cultures to flourish.

The Gaziantep area is one of the regions that pistachios originate from, where they used to grow in wild pistachio forests. Evidence of human pistachio use dates back to 5,000 BC in the area. Famous for its traditional foods (Gaziantep makes the world’s best katmer, yuvalama, lahmacun and beyran), the city has launched many innovative new projects to encourage and boost gastronomic tourism in the area.

Local gastronomy

One of Gaziantep's finest treats is the incredible food - so come hungry!

There's one Turkish word you should learn before visiting Gaziantep: Fistik is Turkish for pistachio, and you won't walk a block without seeing a shop selling the local pistachio pastry, the baklava. 

The pistachios and thus the baklava in Gaziantep are considered by many to be the best in the world. Local inhabitants may tell you: "France has champagne; in Antep, we have baklava". And as soon as you try one, you will understand why the Gaziantep people are so proud of them. Take one bite of this fluffy pastry filled with crushed pistachios and drizzled with honey, and discover that it is quite possibly one of the finest indulgences in life.

In Gaziantep, as in many cities of Turkey, eating places tend to specialize in one or two types of cooking. You go to a kebap house if you want chargrilled meat (with soups and salads), or a köfte house if you want spicy meatballs (usually served with white bean salad). A börek house serves savoury pastries, and a baklava house or a rice pudding house offers dessert. To try a variety of small dishes (mezes), go to a meyhane, which is a kind of bar/bistro. In Gaziantep, you can also find places for lahmacun (a kind of pizza) or katmer (a kind of crunchy pancake stuffed with crushed pistachios and clotted cream, folded into a square and baked in a wood fire oven). There are almost as many places dedicated to food varieties as there are varieties of food!

Environmental sustainability

The city of Gaziantep has approximately 1.8 million inhabitants and has been facing high demographic growth because of its economic attractiveness and the flow of migrants coming from Syria (the city is located at 135 km from Aleppo in Syria). Gaziantep is the 6th biggest city in Turkey, and functions as regional capital in the southern part of the country. In terms of industrial development, the city ranks as the fourth most important city in Turkey.

In the context of its partnership with Turkish municipalities, the French Development Agency (AFD) has established a cooperation with the Metropolitan Municipality of Gaziantep (MMG) to conduct a pioneer action in the field of sustainable urban development. The municipality of Gaziantep, as a pioneer in the field of urban sustainable development, took the initiative to realise a climate plan on its territory.

Following the first phase of the study, the city presented its environmental policy at the international summit for climate change in Cancun, Mexico in November 2010. The final results of the study will allow the city to define its priorities in terms of fight against climate change for the coming years. The MMG also wishes to act as a role model for other cities in Turkey, to inspire the implementation of planned policies tackling climate change at a local scale.

Sightseeing tips

  • Enjoy a change of scenery. Travel deep into Gaziantep by wandering around the city for an afternoon, a whole day, or even a week. Let yourself be mesmerized by the bazaars full of metal workers and shoe makers, all the hand-crafted products, the tea being offered at every corner, and the scents of exotic spices. 
  • Experience history by visiting the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, the biggest mosaic museum in the world. This museum (built in 2012 and rewarded the same year by the Presidential Culture and Arts Grand Award) showcases superb mosaics unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma. You can even create your own mosaic, through mosaic practice and training. Other noteworthy attractions are the Emine Gogus Culinary Museum, and the City Museum, set in a restored Bayazhan building.
  • In Gaziantep, hospitality is a way of life. Take part in it by visiting a traditional coffee house, a kahvehane. Known for its strong coffee, Turkey offers an array of atmospheric coffee houses where you can pass the time with a tasty energy boost. For a taste of Gaziantep, try the local menengic, a Turkish coffee made with raw pistachios. If you're lucky, you might be able to find an experienced Turk to read your fortune in the coffee remains at the bottom of your cup.

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Tarakli - Winner 2013

Winner in the Accessible Tourism category

Tarakli is a district in the southern part of the Marmara region, in the Sakarya province of Turkey. It was the first city of the Ottomans in Anatolia, dating back to 1289.

Over the years, Tarakli has managed to preserve its natural beauty and its cultural values and traditions. Its narrow cobblestone streets are lined with a unique architectural heritage from the Ottoman period. More than 100 registered houses and mansions are examples of fascinating historical attractions.

The district is also home to the Yunus Pasha Mosque, built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan in 1517.

Around Tarakli, the nature offers wonderful sceneries and deep forests. The Karagöl Plateau with its many canals is the starting point of a famous trekking path.

Tarakli is a member of the CittaSlow International network, a network of municipalities promoting sustainable development.


Tarakli is the most frequently visited and easily accessible town in the province.

All important spots at the destination are barrier-free, and infrastructure can be used by all residents and visitors without problems. High quality accommodation services are provided in boutique hotels reflecting the unique architecture of the area.

Regular festivals and meetings are organized in Tarakli, and local entrepreneurs, residents, young people, women and disabled people are encouraged to participate in various activities.

Sightseeing tips

  • Enjoy traditional way of life in the peaceful environment of the district.
  • Visit thermal springs close to the village of Haciyakup.
  • Discover sports activities in a wonderful natural environment: paragliding, canyon trekking and camping.

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Hamamonu, Altindag - Winner 2011

Winner in the Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites category

Hamamonu is a district in the old town of Ankara, Altindag.

Following a recent and remarkable restoration process, Hamamonu has reemerged as an attractive place to live and visit.The district of Hamamonu is now a unique place that reflects both the traditional styles of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic.

Located in the oldest part of the city, Hamamonu offers various leisure and shopping opportunities as well as cultural activities.

Regeneration and revival

Since 2006, Hamamonu has seen restoration and expansion projects in 250 locations, including masjuds and mosques from the Seljuk era (11th and 12th century). Many buildings were reconstructed or completely rebuilt, and several streets were pedestrianised.

An area of around 210 hectares was reconstructed, and 33 sites were registered with the Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board.

Today, Hamamonu treasures and history are unveiled for a new generation to enjoy.

Sightseeing tips

  • See the the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, winner of the 1997 ‘European Museum of the Year’ award and the Ulucanlar Prison Museum.
  • Visit Mehmet Akif Cultural Park and Mehmet Akif Literature Museum where you can learn more about the poet and the author of the Turkish National Anthem.
  • Don’t forget to visit the Haci Musa (Seyfeddin) Mosque, founded in 1421, famous for its wooden framework and gates.

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Nemrut Crater Lake - Winner 2010

Winner in the Aquatic Tourism category

Nemrut Crater Lake is the largest crater lake in Europe and the second largest in the world. It is located inside the crater area of Mount Nemrut, one of the youngest volcanoes in Eastern Anatolia, in the the Bitlis province in the eastern part of Turkey.

The main attractions in this area are the hot and cold water crater lakes on top of the mountain.

The still waters of the Nemrut Crater Lake are ideal for swimming and boating. The temperature of the lake water reaches 40°C in winter and 60°C in summer.

There are thermal baths located in small ponds close to the lake, which attract visitors who regularly come to receive treatment.

What makes Nemrut Crater Lake special?

The unique location of the lake attracts thousands of tourists every year, with its numerous volcanoes and extraordinary nature, as well as the rich historical heritage. City-ruins, castles and other historical monuments, some of which date back to the Ottoman era, offer a truly unique experience for all visitors.

Every summer, festivals and activities like fishing competitions, swimming competitions, junior sailing group shows, various folk performances and concerts like the Presidential Symphony Orchestra draw large crowds.

Don't miss...

  • the city of Bitlis, dominated by a Byzantine Castle. Be sure to taste the delicious honey from the local producers
  • the Seljuk Cemetery in Ahlat District, the largest Turkish-Islamic graveyard in the world.

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Kuyucuk Lake Wild Life Reserve, Kars - Winner 2009

Winner in the Tourism and Protected Areas category

Lake Kuyucuk is a small, shallow lake in the Kars Province of northeastern Turkey. It is known for its amazing bird watching, and is a popular place for sightseeing and trekking. The lake was dedicated as a wild life reserve in 2005.

The Kars Province is filled with many interesting archaeological sites. Ani, a medieval city located close to Lake Kuyucuk, was once the capital of the ancient Urartian civilization. Many churches, palaces, bridges and baths still stand today, and make this abandoned city definitely worth seeing.

Another main attraction in Kars is Seytan Kale (Satan's Castle). This mysterious castle dates back to around 880 BC, but its exact time of construction is unknown. The castle rests on the highest hill in Karacay Valley and offers incredible panoramic views of the region. To reach this formidable castle, there is a rugged 3.5-kilometer trail that winds its way to the top.

What makes Kars special?

For stargazers, Lake Kuyucuk is said to be one of the best spots in all of Turkey due to there being minimal light pollution. In the warmer months, butterflies fly freely through lake-lined flower meadows as visitors relax lakeside.

Kars is also a food-lovers paradise. The locals are known for their rich dairy products, including world-class cheeses, and their roasted domestic goose, which can only be found in this part of Turkey.

Kars is an area that has a high regard for the environment. Ongoing studies that monitor the ecological impacts on the lakes and other shoreline vegetation are taken seriously. Designated parking, picnicking and walking trails have also been introduced to help preserve the lands.

What to do in...

  • Spring: Do like the locals and pick delicious mushrooms
  • Summer: Watch the cattle grazing in the meadows next to Lake Kuyucuk
  • Fall: Hike your way to the top of Seytan Kale
  • Winter: Go ice-skating on the frozen Cildir Lake

Other highlights

  • Enjoy a picnic in total solitude
  • Eat roasted goose at a local restaurant
  • Go stargazing along Lake Kuyucuk

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Edirne - Winner 2008

Winner in the Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage category

Edirne is a province in northwestern Turkey, in the region of East Thrace. Located about 225 km from Istanbul, it is one of the oldest settlements of both ancient Thrace and Anatolia.

According to the latest excavations, Edirne dates back to the neolithic age (7,000-6,000 BC). Examples of prehistoric monuments can be seen from its outskirts, notably in the Cardakalti prehistoric settlement and in Lalapasa.

The various historical names Edirne has had, indicate the many historical periods it has been through. Originally named Odrisia – founded by the Thracian civilisation Odryses in the 5th century B.C., it was renamed Hadrianopolis – after Roman Emperor Hadrian who re-founded the city in the 2nd (123-124) century A.D.

The name Edrine was given by by Sultan Murad I upon his conquest of the city in 1361. It kept this name until the 18th century when it became known as Edirne.

As the second largest capital of the Ottoman Empire, the city has a rich cultural heritage. The tradition of wrestling is big in Edirne and dates as far back as 1361. The mosques, religious centres, bridges, bazaars, caravanserais and palaces, all make Edirne a living museum.


Edirne is a city of rivers – the Meric, Arda and Tunca rivers all meet at Edirne and join the Ergene river in the south. Edirne has become famous for the historical bridges on these many rivers – Gazi Mihal bridge built in 1420 is the oldest and Uzunkopru bridge the longest (1,392 m long) with 174 arches.

Four ancient bazaars are worth seeing:

  • Bedesten, a covered bazaar where valuable goods and jewellery were sold
  • Arasta Bazaar and Ali Pasa Bazaar, the centre of commercial life in the 16-17th centuries with 129 shops
  • Rustempasa Caravanserai which was converted into a hotel in 1972. The last two buildings were built by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan

Edirne is also famed for its mosques, the most spectacular of which are:

  • the Selimiye mosque. Built by architect Sinan in the 16th (1569-1575) century, it is the focal point of the city at the top of a hill and one of the greatest achievements of Ottoman architecture.
  • the Eski mosque. Covered with nine domes, it is the oldest monumental Ottoman structure in Edirne dating back to the 15th (1403-1414) century.
  • the Uc Serefeli mosque. Built in the 15th (144-1447) century, it is a typical Ottoman monument. Its dome was revolutionary at the time of construction, showing the evolvement of two architectural periods – from early to classical Ottoman.

Museums preserve and reflect the history and traditions of the city:

  • the Health Museum (Sultan Bayezıd II. Mosque and Complex) – where patients in the 15th century were treated with the sound of water, music, scents, various occupations, as well as medical knowledge and medicine
  • Edirne Archeology and Ethnography Museum where Ottoman household goods and furniture, rugs, coins, dresses, wooden goods are exhibited
  • Kirkpinar House – encasing belongings of Kirkpinar wrestlers, pictures and documents about Kirkpinar
  • Hafizaga Kiosque (the city's museum of history) – an authentic example of traditional Turkish houses
  • the Museum of Turkish Islamic Works exhibiting Ottoman tiles and ceramics, artifacts belong to wrestlers
  • the Museum of Balkan War and the memorial of Sükrü Pasa
  • the Lausanne Memorial War Museum built at the historical train station area in the Karaagaç district

Aditionally, visitors can sample delicious local cuisine like white cheese, almond paste, fried liver, wrapped liver, Deva-i misk (a kind of halva) and Hardaliye (a drink produced mainly from grape juice mixed with mustard and marzipan).

Kirkpinar Wrestling Events

The highlights of the city are the Kirkpinar wrestling events. This traditional oil wrestling tournament has been officially organised on the island of Sarayici in Edirne since 1925, but Edrine has been the battle ground for wrestlers for nearly 700 years.

Wearing nothing but a kisbet, traditional trousers made of leather from the water buffalo, wrestlers (known as pehlivan) cover themselves with olive oil and engage in one-on-one battles.

The competition winner receives the prestigious Golden Belt, and is awarded the title Chief Pehlivan. The contest starts after a visit to the graves of two famous wrestlers – Adali Halil and Kara Emin, who are said to be the first Kirkpinar wrestlers in Edrine.

The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival is listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

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