We so often think of ancient Rome, the famous sights of Athens, the Pyramids and wonders of Egypt to be the highlights of western antiquity. Another country, Turkey, bridges the lands between east and west and holds a wealth of civilisation and history with vast treasures just waiting to be rediscovered by the more intrepid traveller.
Tourists visiting Turkey may coo at the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, they may rave at the natural wonders of Pamukkale or Cappadocia; however, far too often a trip to Turkey is undertaken as a whistle-stop tick the boxes type of tour and given the vast size of the country it seems, at the least, to do a vast disservice to both host country and visitor alike.
It is tempting if one only has a short break or a tight budget to try to cram as much in as possible. I would suggest that visitors could get “more bang for their buck” by concentrating on a couple of regions and endeavouring to spend less time travelling on long distance buses and more of their valuable vacation actually in situ.
Sometimes it is challenging to hold your ground when all others are flying off on blue cruises or tearing at pace from Gallipoli to Olympus but believe me you will be repaid several fold by patience and perseverance.
One promising location, often used as a one-day stopover, is the well-located town of Selçuk, less than an hour by train from the very useful Izmir airport and well served by all the major bus lines.
Accommodations are cheap and plentiful with a price range to suit all budgets, the locals are welcoming and the beer is cold!
So let us look at the where, how and why.
Located in the south west of the country Selçuk is only a few minutes from the port of Kuşadasi making it very useful for beginning or ending a Greek island tour through beautiful Samos. A regular train service directly from Izmir airport in around an hour means that Istanbul and other regions are easily accessible and with budget airlines such as Easy Jet and other tour operators using this very modern airport prices are very competitive most of the year.
So what’s here and why all the fuss?
Primarily the major tourist hotspot is Ephesus; this once very important port city is only 10% uncovered at present however still holds sway as one of the most intact Greco Roman cities in the ancient world. Most visitors come for a day but far more rewarding is to visit early and late, getting a sense of the vastness of the city and its outstanding artefacts without the madness of the crowds.
Also on the to do list is the triple site visit, easily done as a day trip, of Priene, Miletus and Didyma often referred to as “PMD”. This is a great trip, best done with a guide in as small a group as you can get on. Clambering over ancient ruins, being educated by an expert in the history of Turkey followed by a late afternoon lunch overlooking the Temple of Apollo can be a great way to spend the day.
If you need a break, the nearest beach is easy to get to by local minibus; loads of them ply the area from the central bus station. The “resort”, I use this term very loosely, of Kuşadasi is also close although not of great appeal unless you aspire to the package traveller delights. It is however a great gateway to Samos and the rest of the Mediterranean so should not be completely overlooked.
If the heat gets too much to bear it’s time to escape to the mountains above Selçuk. There are quite a few other spots to pick out but the obvious one, albeit a little over used, is the village of Şirince located in a majestic location high above Selçuk. Grab a fresh orange juice in the market, or a coffee at one of the delightful side alley cafes. Indulge, if you must, in the local fruit wine, I won’t say anymore about that particular beverage. There is a small market rambling up through the town but to my mind the old well-restored Greek houses are the draw here along with the fresh air and, once the day-trippers have departed, the sense of calm.
Within striking distance you could easily explore the ancient market town of Tire or Birgi and Golcuk; stretch your legs for the climb up the calcium created Travertines at Pamukkale to Hierapolis even at a push adding the site of Aphrodisias to a very long day. The number of discoveries and adventures can easily take you several days to a week.
What do you think? Better to check the boxes or slow down?