Turkey – Ephesus and traveling aroundBack to Story

Ephesus, Milet, Priene and Didyma - Turkeys ancient history

Our base for exploring this southern part of Turkey was the small seaside village of Altinkum. The destination was chosen based on negotiations with my travel buddy who wanted sun and relaxation on a budget. It proved to be a central base for exploring the area and we thought apartment living would suit a longer stay.

This took us to an apartment hotel called the Seahorse Hotel.  The pool area was large and inviting and as the season was at the tail end we found that we almost had the place to ourselves.  The real find, though, were the team at the hotel who were incredibly welcoming and helpful.  A true example of great Turkish hospitality.

This brings me to describing my experience with the people in this area.  I have nothing but warm praise for the hospitality and humour that the locals showed us.  There was none of the hassling from restaurateurs and shops.  While there was encouragement to come in as soon as you expressed disinterest this was accepted with grace.  Everyone was very helpful and went out of their way to show the way or assist with no expectation of reward other than courtesy. So my advice is that if you venture here after Istanbul then please keep an open mind and heart so that you experience some of the warmth of the people.

The location proved to be a perfect base to travel around exploring the many ruins and the magnificent coastline. We found ourselves approximately half way between Ephesus and Bodrum.  While I had planned from my home base to visit the famous Ephesus I was surprised to find so many interesting historical cities and monuments to explore each with a different story and stunning location.

Renting a car is the ideal way to get around this picturesque countryside.  The drivers are surprisingly orderly making it an easy to get around.  It is October so not the busy time of the year.  In some parts of the countryside there were more tractors on the road than cars.  It was the cotton harvesting time, which meant the fields were full of pickers and the roadside has balls of cotton filled in the grasses.  Finding a good roadmap proved difficult so it may be worth picking one up in your home country if that is your chosen mode of transport or validate with the car rental company that they have tourist roadmaps.

The countryside is a surprise to me.  It is very Mediterranean in that it is arid, rocky and quite hilly.  It is countryside that grows not only cotton but olive trees.  The coastline is also reasonably rugged with crystal clear blue waters.

Ephesus

So I will begin with the highlight of the historical sights – Ephesus.  It is deservedly famous and gives real insight into a very complex ancient civilisation.  You can tell that you’re nearing a tourist sight as there are an increasing number of leather shops, weaving factories and tourist stories.  Perfect hunting ground for tour buses and there is some pleasure in zooming past them.

There are two entrances to this ancient city and unless you have a driver prepared to meet you at the other side you will have to double back and repeat your walk.  Our walk began at the end where the Great Theatre is – and you cannot miss is as you drive into the car park.  The huge amphitheatre looms  large on our left and is built into the imposing hill. A point that I didn’t understand is that it is an incline from here to the other end.  Personally this works well for me because you are walking uphill while your feet are fresh but take your pick. Being without a guide and little prior knowledge we opted for the audio guide, which was very good.

Even in the off-season there are a lot of people making me think that the high season must be a bit of a nightmare.  The lack of shade and sheltered aspect means even in autumn, it is warm. Bring your provisions if you are pounding these elegant marble payments in summer.  I have seen warnings of extortionate prices for water but didn’t experience that myself.

The highlight of the visit is definitely the Grand Theatre and the Library of Celsus.  The theatre seated 25,000 people in its time. What you see today is the theatre stage and the seats, which are built into the hill.  Brave the steep steps and climb up to the top to both enjoy the view of the ancient city and surrounding countryside but also to get a sense of what it might have been like as a spectator.  There are groups that will clap and individual’s who fancy themselves as singers, will break into song.  Either way you can hear for yourself the amazing acoustics.

As you move through the site you can see the library complex looming in front.  It stands tall in front of you as you turn the corner and is a truly impressive structure.  Walking up the Curetes Way I couldn’t help but look back and enjoy the view back on different angles.  Curetes Way is stone paved street with treasures all the way up to look at. There are fountains and ancient houses.  I enjoyed seeing the latrines and was interested to see they had toilets carved out of stone effectively.

The visit finishes with Odeum Theatre which I liked if for no other reason than you could fit the whole theatre in the wide angle lens. Silly reason I know.

Sirince

If you have time in your day a drive over to Sirince, which is a very interesting and authentic Greek village. A local tells me that the village did not road access until approximately 50 years ago which may explain the feeling and absence of inappropriate development. The main area was full of tourists but we arrived in the late afternoon and as they were all jumping onto their tourist buses and riding out of town. A perfect time to arrive and makes the best like to photograph this picturesque village. The main street is full of tourist shops so make sure you go for a walk up the hill and into the back streets to get a feel for the architecture and a traditional way of life.

Around the around

There are other ancient cities, which I also found interesting if for no other reason that they provide great viewpoints to see the area. They are Priene, Milet , and Didyma. You can effectively do all these smaller ruins in a day but hopefully you had a less taxing schedule and can mix it up with some time in the sun because it can be overload.

If you have time and a car take a drive out to Karina Sahil Pansiyon a very small fish restaurant by the sea. Follow the signs to Doganbey and keep going until the road hits a dead end.  There is a cute little stone house with a grill in the awning and fresh fish sizzling on it. But the gem is to sit on the picnic benches overlooking the sea and eat fish so fresh you could swear they had just caught it.  Don’t expect tablecloths and glamour though. You will be dining with the local ducks and someone’s white rabbit. It is all part of the atmosphere and experience.

The big question is where to base yourself so you can explore this area. There are a few options – Selcuk is a reasonable sized town and close to Ephesus and the gorgeous Sirince. We were based in the small town of Altinkum, which is a good central base and a lively beachfront restaurant scene. Bodrum is another popular choice with travellers but it is a 3 hour drive down to Ephesus and would be a big trip to do in a day.

Bodrum

Bodrum is town based around a harbour and outside the peak season is very nice.  It also has a street full of restaurants along the waterfront and there are definitely more fine dining options. Kocadon was a recommendation by one of the locals and proved to be an excellent option. It is stone building with a leafy courtyard and has excellent food and very friendly service.  There are many good options close by though if you can’t find a table here.

I can imagine the entertainment strip along the harbour being jammed with tourists in the height of the season. Our visit was October and we were rewarded with peaceful restaurants and clear days. There is a pleasant and very relaxed atmosphere

A destination hotel is the Kempinski Hotel, which is about 30 minutes out of town on the coast. It was the Six Senses Spa, which was the first drawcard and it did not disappoint. The spa is world class as are the pool facilities. The infinity pool is perfectly appointed to merge into the sea and skyline beyond. We made a day of it at first enjoying the poolside lifestyle and spa. However it was like a drug and I went back later in the week to enjoy a night there before flying out.

Travel photographs in Turkey. Including images of the ancient cities Ephesus, Milet, Prien, Didyma, and Sirince. Images of modern Bodrum including the Kempinski Hotel.

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