Izmir area holidays hit you with a triple whammy of ancient ruins, Blue Flag beaches and modern city living.
Izmir’s put in the hard yards to reinvent itself over the years, and the result’s a city that flits between historic and modern themes. Konak Square’s a bit of a throwback, with a century-old clocktower, the Yali Mosque and an opera house dotted around it. Crowds of people flock here for photos, and there’s a bit of overspill from the whopping Kemeralti market around the corner. The waterfront promenade’s like hitting fast forward, as contemporary restaurants and swish apartment buildings line its sides.
Blue Flag favourite
Ask anyone what Kusadasi’s best known for, and the resounding response involves a big scoop of sand that’s tickled by the Aegean Sea. It’s by no means the region’s largest city, but holds its own with eight different Blue Flag beaches, plus a marina that gets the same accreditation. Families give this place full marks – that’s mostly down to its friendly bars and bumper crop of restaurants. And any daytime hours that aren’t spent sunbathing are gobbled up by the hectic marketplaces dotted around the place.
You can toss the history books to one side when you’re in these parts, as plenty of it’s still in decent nick today. Alexander the Great had a hand in Izmir’s early years, but it’s the ancient city of Ephesus that grabs the headlines. It’s not far from Kusadasi and Izmir International Airport, and lines up one of the biggest and best-preserved archaeological sites in Turkey. Poke around the place, and you’ll see the remnants of the Library of Celsus, the Gate of Augustus and a huge amphitheatre.
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 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.
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 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.
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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