Whether it’s the time-warp streets of Ephesus, the ‘I want to buy it all’ factor of the Grand Bazaar, or the sandy beaches, holidays to Izmir can’t fail to impress.
The list of reasons to visit this corner of Turkey is a long one, but there’s one must-see that tends to come out tops. Ephesus – one of the best-preserved ancient cities on earth – is the big draw in this neck of the woods, and no wonder. All marble temples and amphitheatres, it gave Rome a run for its money in its heyday. Not only that, but the remains of the Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – are just down the road.
Not far from Ephesus is the beach resort of Kusadasi. It fuses old and new – look one way and it’s all trendy bars and restaurants, and turn in the other direction for narrow streets lined with sugar-cube houses. There’s also a souk here – the aptly named Grand Bazaar. Over 1,000 stalls compete for space, and traders peddle spices, rugs and Aladdin-style lamps.
Further along the coast you’ve got the port city of Izmir. This place is more of a modern fairytale – having burnt down after the War of Independence a century ago, it reinvented itself as a cosmopolitan hub. There’s a sleek harbour, a waterside park and a pier built by none other than Monsieur Eiffel – the man behind Paris’ iconic iron lady.
Things to See and Do in Izmir area
Izmir’s beach scene
When it comes to beaches, the place to be in the Izmir region is Kusadasi. All along the coast you’ll find sandy sweeps and shingle coves, but the best of the bunch are within half an hours’ drive of the town. There’s a stretch for every mood, too – whether you want buzzing bars and no end of watersports, or a quieter spot to lie back with a stack of paperbacks.
The Big Beach
Ladies Beach is the most popular patch. It’s a 10-minute drive from Kusadasi town centre – dolmus buses leave really regularly. The beach itself is a mix of sand and shingle, and unravels along the coast for about a kilometre. There are plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas to go around, and watersport-wise there are the likes of jet-skiing, parasailing and banana boating to try out. And if you’re feeling peckish, there’s a palm-lined prom behind the beach with cafés, bars and restaurants galore.
The Secret Beach
On the other hand, if you prefer to have the sands to yourself, Love Beach is the place for you. It’s a huge sweep of gold sand about 20 minutes’ drive south of Kusadasi. It’s hardly ever crowded, so you’ll have plenty of room to spread out. There’s a little shop and café for keeping you fed and watered, as well as a shady picnic area if you’ve brought your own supplies.
If you’ve got cash to splash, Kusadasi’s Grand Bazaar and Orient Bazaar are the places to do it. They’re right next door to each other, down by the port where the cruise ships come in. The Grand Bazaar in particular is the place to pick up gold and silver jewellery, although you’ll be tempted by Turkish rugs and ceramics here, too.
The cobbled streets of Kusadasi’s old town, Kaleiçi, are lined with boutiques and craft shops selling everything from handbags and leather shoes to embroidered hand towels and olive oil, so they’re perfect if you’re looking for souvenirs. The old town’s easy to find, too. Just follow the street behind the main post office and you’ll be there within minutes.
If it’s clothes, leather or shoes you’re after, put Kusadasi’s Wednesday Market at the top of your list. It’s right in the heart of town, and they close off the street for the stalls. If you’re a serious bargain-hunter, try the Soke Outlet Centre. It’s a 30-minute drive from town and has everything from Wrangler jeans to kids’ toys.
Get the evening off to a chilled start in Kusadasi’s Turkish Bath. It’s in the old town, open ‘til 6.30pm and, once you’re scrubbed up, you won’t have to go far to find a place to eat. There are loads of British-owned bars dishing up traditional pub grub, and plenty of Turkish restaurants. If it’s seafood you fancy, make a beeline straight for the restaurants in the harbour.
Let your hair down at one of the Turkish nights held at the Club Caravanserail Hotel. This restored Ottoman castle down by Kusadasi’s harbour lays on entertainment including belly dancing and traditional music. Or, cut loose in Kusadasi’s Bar Street. The bars – about 30 – get going around midnight and stay open ‘til about 4am.
No-fuss seafood is big in Kusadasi. Grilled cipura – or gilthead bream – is one of the most popular options, and it’s usually cooked whole and served with a dash of lemon juice. That said, anchovies and octopus are also favourites. For the freshest catch, try the al fresco restaurants around the port.
Meze is essentially a whole lot of little plates filled with bite-sized pastries and vegetables, and dips to share. Some of the popular ones include gözleme, or cheese pastries, peppers stuffed with herbs, spices and rice, and a cucumber and yoghurt dip called cacik.
It’s a kebab, but not as you know it. Iskender is made up of pieces of tender lamb, served on flat bread with yoghurt and tomato sauce. Of course, you’ll also find the more familiar coming-home-from-the-pub kebabs here, too. Pick between chicken, beef and lamb, all of which are grilled over hot coals.
This firewater has the nickname Lion’s Milk, and it certainly packs a punch. Taste-wise, it’s similar to ouzo and sambuca, and it’s served with meze and seafood dishes. And – despite its reputation with die-hard party types – it’s supposed to be served with water, and sipped rather than slammed.
A salty yoghurt drink? It’s not as strange as it sounds. This speciality is made with a mix of yoghurt and water, plus a dash of salt. It’s drunk cold, and you’ll find it on restaurant menus to be served with kebabs and rice dishes. Plus, it’s highly recommended as a cure for headaches.
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Kusadasi used to be a fishing village but it’s caught on fast. Set on Turkey’s west coast, the place now has holiday resort written all over it, with buzzing bars and a good-looking marina lined with cafés, restaurants and shops. The old town’s still around, but you’ve got modern shops jostling with traditional bazaars along the cobbled streets. Some things don’t change, though – like the selection of beaches.
Seferihisar is a peaceful district on the west coast of Turkey. There are two neighbourhoods to watch out for – Sigacik port, with its historical port and supermodern marina, and inland Seferihisar town. The rest of the countryside is a patchwork of tangerine trees, olive groves and vine-stuffed greenhouses. History runs deep here, so you can expect hills and beaches to be spritzed with millennia-old ruins.
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