Holidays to the Izmir area of Turkey are about more than just sun, sea and sand. You could be browsing the stalls of a bazaar one day, and inspecting the ancient ruins of Ephesus the next.
All about the beaches
The Izmir area, which curves along the west coast of Turkey, is starting to make its mark on the country’s tourism industry. The beaches alone make it worth the visit – they range from vacant stretches of sand hugged by parkland, to windsurfing hubs packed with cafés and volleyball courts.
In terms of resorts, Kusadasi is the name on most people’s lips. The beaches here are popular with families, thanks to their white sand and shallow waters. And the town is crammed with restaurants that’ll treat taste buds to every cuisine under the sun. But that’s not to say the place has lost touch with its traditional side. Nosy down the backstreets and you’ll come across the Grand Bazaar. This ancient marketplace is bursting with exotic spices, hand-woven carpets, and lamps that look like they’ve been pinched from the Aladdin set.
Izmir Town follows closely on Kusadasi’s heels in the popularity stakes. Turkey’s third-largest city is known as ‘the beautiful waterfront’ thanks to its sweeping harbour, stylish water-view eateries and palm-lined pier. The pier was actually designed by Monsieur Eiffel, the man behind Paris’ famous iron lady.
You can’t talk about the Izmir area without mentioning Ephesus. This ancient city, just 20 minutes’ drive north of Kusadasi, is one of the best preserved Roman settlements in the world. The site flaunts still-intact libraries, gymnasiums, and an amphitheatre.
Things to See and Do in Izmir area
Beaches with all the frills
There’s a beach for every day of the week in the Izmir region. You’ll find the most popular sweeps in Kusadasi. These sandy spots go all out when it comes to facilities – you’ve got watersports down by the shore, and cafés and ice-cream parlours just footsteps from the sand. If you’re in the mood for something mellower, you can catch a dolmus bus to the pebbly bays in Dilek National Park.
The big beach
Once upon a time, Ladies Beach, in Kusadasi, was strictly reserved for female bathers. Today, though, it draws a decidedly mixed – and large – crowd. It’s especially busy in the early evenings, when people flock here to watch the sun duck behind the Greek Island of Samos.
The secret beach
If you want to slip under the radar, catch a dolmus bus to Dilek National Park. This protected peninsula, just south of Kusadasi, is sewn with pine forests and footprint-free beaches. Koyu, Aydinlik and Karasu are three of the best. Each one comes with a mix of soft sand and smooth pebbles, which spill down into the waves.
On a Wednesday, the streets of Kusadasi are closed off to traffic for the weekly market. Stalls sprout up along the roadsides, almost buckling under the weight of soft leather handbags, exotic herbs, and jewelled Ali Baba slippers. You can catch a dolmus bus to the nearby Selcuk Market for similar buys – this one stays open until late at night if fancy eating out and having a browse afterwards.
Head into the heart of Kusadasi, and you’ll find lots of gift shops, boutiques, and Debenhams-style department stores. On the outskirts of town, meanwhile, there’s the Soke Mall, where you can browse the rails of familiar stores like Nike and Benetton.
Kusadasi’s Grand Bazaar and Orient Bazaar are next door to each other, down by the port where the cruise ships dock. Intricately-woven rugs and bespoke artwork are among the buys, but the real sensation is the quality gold and silver. Out of the two, the Grand Bazaar has the best selection.
Dozens of cafés and restaurants line up along the Kordon waterfront in Izmir Town, so you can eat just metres from the waves. Afterwards, make your way to the smart Alcansak district, where cocktail bars and live music joints showcasing edgy local bands and acoustic singers are ten-a-penny.
The nightlife in Kusadasi gives places like Magaluf a run for their money. Irish pubs, karaoke bars and thumping nightclubs keep visitors frolicking until the early hours. For the best choice, make your way to the aptly-named Bar Street. It’s one long conga-line of neon-lit pubs and waterholes. Alternatively, try one of the open-air discos down by the seafront.
This is the soup of choice in the Izmir region of Turkey. It’s a flavoursome mix of onions, tomatoes and peppers, mixed and thickened with tarhana – a sticky combination of flour and yogurt. It’s extra tasty with feta cheese crumbled on top.
This Turkish pastry originates from the Izmir area, and to this day it’s still baked by a handful of the region’s master boyoz bakers. It’s made with flour, sunflower oil and tahini – a kind of sesame seed paste. The most popular way to eat it is plain, although sometimes it’s stuffed with cheese or spinach.
Kumru is a supersized sandwich made with a special type of sesame seed bread. It’s stuffed with melted cheese, crunchy pickles, salami, tomato and sucuk – a dry and spicy Turkish sausage. The word ‘kumru’ actually means pigeon, and it’s called this because of the pigeon-like shape of the bread.
The Izmir area is one of the few regions of Turkey that still serves this dish. It’s a traditional wedding speciality, and consists of tender lamb chops served on a bed of porridge, and then sprinkled with flakes of red pepper.
Forget Coca Cola and Sprite, the soft drink du jour in Turkey is Ayran. At first glance this drink looks like shaving foam. But on closer inspection, you’ll find it’s a cold mixture of yoghurt, water and salt. It’s so popular in Turkey, it’s included on the menus in Burger King and McDonald’s.
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It used to be a fishing village but now Kusadasi, on Turkey’s west coast, has transformed into a bustling holiday place. The beaches are the main pull during the day, and after dark the town comes to life, with vibrant bars and clubs setting an upbeat pace. If you’re in search of old Turkey, you’ve got cobbled streets, mosques, old-school tavernas and bazaars here, too.
The beach is the star of the show in Ozdere. It’s dotted with little secluded coves, and dolphins can often be spotted from the shore. Or swap the sea for history by driving 40 minutes east. You’ll hit Ephesus, once an important ancient Greek city. Today it’s a UNESCO-protected archaeological site of bone-like ruins.
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