Explore The central and southern Aegean
The Turkish central and southern Aegean coast and its hinterland have seen foreign tourism longer than any other part of the country. The territory between modern İzmir and Marmaris corresponds to the bulk of ancient Ionia, and just about all of old Caria, and contains a concentration of Classical Greek, Hellenistic and Roman antiquities unrivalled in Turkey. Ephesus is usually first on everyone’s list of dutiful pilgrimages, but the understated charms of exquisitely positioned sites such as Priene and Labranda have at least as much appeal, if not more.
The landscape can be compelling, most memorably at the eerie lake of Bafa Gölü, towering Samsun Dağı and the oasis-speckled Bodrum peninsula. Towns, however – not least sprawling İzmir – tend to be functional places, best hurried through en route to more appealing destinations. But there are some pleasant surprises inland, particularly Muğla, Birgi and Şirince, the first two unselfconscious Ottoman museum-towns, the last a well-preserved former Greek village still just the right side of tweeness.
Despite the tourist-brochure hype, most coastal beaches are average at best. Worse still, of the various resort towns on the so-called “Turkish Riviera”, only Bodrum and Çeşme retain a small measure of intrinsic charm. Costa-style tourism has been embraced with a vengeance and even the shortest and most mediocre sandy stretch is dwarfed by ranks of holiday apartments aimed at the rapidly growing domestic market. However, head off the beaten track to Alaçatı, Datça, Ören, and the Hisarönü peninsula, and unspoilt seaside villages, clear seas and shabby-chic guesthouses are yours for the taking.
It takes determination, a good map and, in some places, your own vehicle to get the best out of this coast. Public transport in the region is excellent and very cost-effective along well-travelled routes, but connections to less obvious places can be frustratingly difficult. The area is well served by international flights to İzmir and, in particular, Bodrum, which is now the main gateway to the Aegean resorts. Five of the eight international ferry/hydrofoil links with neighbouring Greek islands are found here too, making a visit to or from Greece feasible. The Turkish authorities rarely cause problems for holders of charter tickets who wish to do this.Read More