After deciding to spend 10 days in August visiting some of the unique towns along Turkey’s very own riviera, The Turquoise Coast, MB and I were in for some struggles! A combination of factors including a lot of driving, accommodation issues and packed towns and beaches made this journey a ‘challenge’ in some respect, but overall gave us some funny stories, great times and a chance to encounter some amazing scenery and history that this magnificent stretch of coastline had to offer!
Since it was to be our last stint in Turkey together, we decided to go out with a bang and join the masses in the descent upon these colourful seaside towns. Being the most popular time to go for the majority of Turkish folk as it was their annual summer holiday time and also their national religious holiday period of Bayram, we had been warned that this would be a rather ‘busy time’ in all areas! Adding to this, however, was the summer silly season for about two thirds of Britain and what with the Turkish Lira being at an all time low and the popularity of Turkey as a holiday destination in general, we were not expecting just how many people there were at every turn! Word of warning… I suggest maybe not to go during this time if you hate crowds!
We took a quick 45 minute flight from Istanbul to Izmir as we had decided to hire a car from Izmir airport and drive along the coast starting in Çeseme and retuning the car and flying out of Antalya back to Istanbul. Having only booked accommodation for Çeseme and deciding to ‘wing it’ (as usual) for the remainder of the journey, deciding on which towns to visit along the way, we maybe didn’t plan the best course of action here. Nonetheless and in true travellers form, we made the utmost of our time and managed to sleep in some rather ‘interesting’ places (Bodrum hotel room had fluorescent lime green walls and bars on the windows) along the way! Touching base on only four of the main places of attraction, we unfortunately had to miss out on many of the wondrous areas along this coast but will definitely return again to explore these and maybe re-visit some of the other towns at a more leisurely pace in the future!
Çeseme (pronounced chez-mah meaning fountain), was our first port of call. She is a very pretty, tiny resort town popular with locals, on the Aegean sea and only an hours drive from Izmir airport. We booked a lovely room at the Kaplan Butik Hotel, a small affair run by a very hospitable and kind husband and wife team. It was perfectly clean, quiet and had individual balconies overlooking a small marina and local seafood restaurants. We visited the restaurant VANTUZ twice as it was right in front of our room and we could reserve the best table from the comfort of our balcony whilst at the same time enjoying aperitif! Situated about a ten minute scooter ride from the city centre, it was a pleasure to escape the hustle and bustle of holiday makers at the end of an activity packed day and just relax whilst watching breathtaking sunsets.
View from our balcony
There are some great beaches in Çeseme and we managed to visit the most popular ones during our time. Altinkum Beach aka Golden Plaji is loved for its golden stretch of sand and clear cool water. A free public beach (near a camping site that was, unfortunately, overrun with rubbish) is available for you to plonk your sarong down or a numerous variety of ‘pay for the day’ private Beach Clubs are there for the wild at heart. These charge for entry and parking, a sun lounge, umbrella and a free drink. Packed with families and the cool crowd, they are not bad for a day, but party hour time starts at 430pm most afternoons and dance music is blared from the enormous speakers situated around the ‘club’. We tried Copacabana which was ok. Very low key and not a rave at sunset!
The longest and most popular stretch of beach is Iica Beach and is home to a large variety of five star hotels and resorts and is the closest beach to the upmarket neighbouring town of Alaçati. Similar to Chewang Beach in Koh Samui (refer to ‘Best beaches in Koh Samui’ blog), it is packed to the rafters with sun loungers, umbrellas and people and not really our scene. Small pockets of pebbles and sand are overcrowded with sun worshippers of all ages with burnt or tanned flesh, all squashed together like sardines! The sea here was not that great either, having lots of rocks and coral to gingerly walk over in the attempt to reach water that was no deeper than your knees. Not a big fan of this style of precarious swimming activity, we only visited once and didn’t go back. We did see a guy though who was the spitting image of George Michael (maybe an impersonator) so that was worth it! The nearby Thermal springs and mud baths are also an attraction, but we gave those a miss as well due to the hordes. Give it a try when it’s a quieter season and maybe it is lovely. We just couldn’t stand the over crowdedness and brashness of it all.
For those of you who love wind-surfing, there is a special beach dedicated just to you and this activity! Diamond Beach or Pirlanta Plaji is great for kite and wind surfing or just lazing around. Not overly crowded, it was a nice change from the usual style.
We went all out posh one day and treated ourselves to a VIP style of experience at the Paparazzi Beach Club. Situated on the quieter side of Çeseme and not far from our hotel, it has a fantastic restaurant with great service and a huge wooden pontoon that stretches into the perfect turquoise water. We were fortunate enough to get two sun loungers here and spent the day diving off the pontoon’s edge into the clear sea which was overrun with tiny fish. With no sand or pebbles, rocks or coral, it was a lovely change to our usual routine of plonking down on the ground and no beach bags full of sand to sprinkle all over your hotel room floor when you got home!
Us at Paparazzi
The town centre is lovely and full of authentic little Turkish bistros and winding, skinny streets to meander through and of course a multitude of shops and stores offering everything from blow up beach toys to knock off designer handbags and clothes. It is worthwhile indulging in a few hours here just poking around whilst licking a creamy, local gelato and buying some knick knacks that catch your eye. Along the water front is a fantastic marina area with million dollar powerboats and yachts to drool over, a long promenade to stroll along with restaurants and bars of all varieties and also some ‘reasonably priced’ high end boutiques in which to splurge and spend your Lira!
Take an hour out of your beach schedule to explore the famous Çeseme Castle and Fort which dominates the skyline. At only 8TL (AUD $2) per entry, it is a bargain and well worth the climb to the top just for the 360 degree panoramic views of Çeseme alone! Built in 1508, it has undergone some renovations of course, but now houses a large museum dedicated to the story of the Naval War between the Russians and the Ottomans displaying many rare artefacts including coins, pottery and maps.
If you are fortunate to have the time, take the 20/30 minute ferry ride (there are two per day) from the Port to the nearby Greek Island of Chios. MB and I didn’t get the chance to do this but next time definitely! Instead, we walked up the steep roads to get a glimpse of real life around the interesting back streets of the town, taking in the architecture of the ottoman houses from a bygone era and also the newly renovated, original Caravanserai (roadside inn) next to the castle which is now a five star boutique hotel!
Overall, Çeseme was a fabulous little place with so much to do and see! We were only there for two days/ three nights, but we crammed a lot it in as usual! I highly recommend a visit here if you love tranquility, fun, good food and a bit of history!
Street in Alaçati
Alaçati (pronounced ala -chaté) is a breathtakingly quaint, blue and white grecian-style upmarket town about 25 minutes drive inland from Çeseme. Renowned for its ancient stone houses which have now been converted into luxurious boutique hotels, an expensive shopping precinct, narrow cobblestone streets and numerous windmills, it is a MUST to visit when in this beautiful area!
Deciding on a whim to stay here only one night so as to get a real feel for the place and a good look around, we miraculously found a room in a small B&B called Elā Otel opposite the ancient graveyard (it was very quiet) near the main street entering the centre! Score! Blue and white with fuchsia bougainvillea cascading from our intimate little balcony, it was both simple and central if not a tad overpriced, but that’s high season and demand for you!
Our B@B in Alaçati
Trust me, Alaçati is so damn pretty it’s ridiculous! With photo opportunities at every turn, it is an Instagrammers paradise! Originally settled by the Greeks in the 17th century, the vast number of Aegean style bistros and bars pay homage to the history of this blue and white tinted tiny town. Being a popular tourist spot for people from all over the globe, locals and celebrities it was indeed extremely busy the day/night we were there. The small streets were overflowing with people from late afternoon till the wee hours of the morning and the atmosphere was both electric and overwhelming all at once!
We had a good look around on the afternoon of our arrival and walked to the famous windmills for a photo and also to check out the view of the flat surroundings of this area. If in need of a slice of Turkish retail therapy, the shopping here is fantastic! If you are particularly lusting after some designer sunglasses, this is the place for you as there are a ridiculous number of Optical stores here all offering state of the art and top of the range styles at exorbitant prices! Worth it though for an enviable pair of European shades! Independent little stalls and chic boutiques are everywhere selling everything your heart desires and the jewellery is amazing. I picked up some lovely little bracelets featuring the traditional Blue-Eye and Hand of Fatima symbols and a flamboyant coloured kaftan and MB went crazy in a local designer mens store where everything was 80 percent off! Kah-ching! Antique and second hand furniture and design shops are popular here too with Indian, Arabic and art-deco pieces on offer and I could have gone door and chair crazy if our budget and suitcase space had allowed us!
A delicious meze and seafood dinner in one of the little restaurants on the street and a nightcap in a small intimate bar near our Otel rounded out our fleeting visit. Mornings are very quiet here in Alaçati and is the best time, I think, to find your way around and sit for a quiet espresso or çay in one of the cafés and observe your surroundings.
Street in Alaçati
All in all, Alaçati is both beautiful and homely and worth the trip even if it’s for only a day or a night. You never know, you might even spot a celebrity wandering down the street as it is said that many of the huge houses in the surrounding area are owned by some of the most rich and famous in the world!
Typical houses in Bodrum
Now beautiful Bodrum is a very different story as we only managed to stay here one day and two nights and even THAT was a miracle! Having booked a lovely place on AirB&B two days before (get a load of us being organised) we left Çeseme early for the 4 hour drive or so to Bodrum. Stopping along the highway at a huge local lakeside restaurant, we decided to give our owner of the AirB&B a quick call to tell him our estimated arrival time. Lucky we did, as we were then informed that indeed we DID NOT HAVE A BOOKING for our three night stay but he had reserved it for September instead as his place was not available now! Even though we had paid and reserved and had a booking reference number, it was not to be as there had been some communication breakdown along the way. Now we were stranded! No hotel or booking and two hours away from the busiest place in Turkey AND on a Saturday night! Lord help us! I spent the next two hours in the car frantically trying to find a room… anywhere …even for just one night! Not to be…. EVERYTHING and I mean everything was either booked or was so damn expensive for one night (think no less than AUD$1000 on some sites) that it was ridiculous. Also it became apparent that most hotels were ‘all inclusive’ package deal style, which meant that all meals and beverages were included in the price! We found this very odd, as why would you want to spend all your time at the hotel when there was a beautiful town to explore! We gleaned that a lot of British people used this system for a ‘one stop shop’ budget style of accommodation for holidays. Not for us though I’m sorry! So…what did we do I hear you ask?
Well basically we just had to get into Bodrum itself and stop at any hotels we could find and ask if they had a room available. The traffic upon arrival into here was bedlam and bumper to bumper and this proved to be an extremely trying time for both of us! Two hours later after arriving in Bodrum and driving up down and around the city centre we finally found a funny little hotel (aptly called the Second Best Hotel, the one with green walls and bars ) which had a room for two nights! Not that great a deal and ugly as hell, we leapt upon this chance like we had scored a suite at the Ritz! By 8pm that night…only 10 hours after leaving Çeseme, did we plonk our weary bodies down in our ‘cell’, shower, change and head out into the balmy night!
Bodrum, or ancient Halicarnassus is in the Mülga province. It is a very unusual, pretty place renowned for its Arabic/Grecian style of architecture. Houses are usually white or cream, some with blue accents and square in shape and with flat roofs. Stunning to look at, you could be excused for thinking you were in Santorini or somewhere in the Middle East! I loved them! At one stage, MB and I came across a deserted suburb full of these wonderful abandoned little houses all left to go to ruin! Such a shame as they had such potential for renovation and promise for a new life.
Gümbet, the main town centre is probably not everyones desired ‘cup of çai’ (pronounced chai) as it is packed to the rafters with tourists, shops, traffic, kebab stores and general hustle and bustle. The main bus terminal is also situated here alongside the main taxi rank. Think chaos and you are getting the feel of it I’m sure! It’s ok of course for a look around and a spot of shopping or a quick coffee/kebab but it is better to head down to the water and stroll the very long promenade crammed with restaurants and bars all eagerly vying for your patronage or take a walk out to visit the Castle protruding into the sea. At night, the beach here transforms into a wide, twinkling dining area with Nargile (Turkish water pipe) cafés for you to relax and puff away to your hearts content. This is an extremely popular pastime for both locals and tourists and smells deliciously fruity! Tables and chairs from the various surrounding restaurants are also arranged here, so you are free to dine with your feet in the sand whilst listening to the lap of the sea, music and people watching! Quite a lovely idea and very organised! Major nightclubs, which are the reason many of the younger crowd are in Bodrum are also here but out of the main area. We didn’t venture into any but you could here the muffled ‘doof doof’ sounds bouncing off the water.
The popular beach areas to visit are Turgutreis and Gûmüslük. Both are quite a long 18-23 km drive out of town, so hiring a scooter is advisable if possible to avoid the full on traffic jams and parking issues. Buses and taxis of course are another viable option if driving is not your thing. We took a ride on our hired scooter to check out these areas and have a swim. They had a much more laid back vibe and some cute boutique hotels and are well worth a visit. I would seriously avoid Camel Beach (Kargi Koyu) as this is where all the tourist day trip boats anchor releasing the masses onto the beach, all pushing to claim their tiny patch of sand for the day! A Camel farm for joy rides is the main attraction here and the aroma is not overly becoming!
View of Bodrum bay
Another popular destination is the stylish marina in Yalikavak. Home to the wealthy and awash with million dollar yachts, you feel poor just walking around! Designer boutiques and famous restaurants are filled with the ‘beautiful people’ and everyone wears heels! Go if you have time even just to watch everyone taking selfies next the various watercraft!
A huge bonus of staying in Bodrum is its proximity to the gorgeous greek island of Kos. Only a quick 45 minutes by ferry it is a day trip worth taking and an amazing one at that! We had met two lovely Lebanese/Australian girls and they raved over it! I am really disappointed that we didn’t have time for this, but we had to decide whether to spend our one day actually in Bodrum or flit over to Greece! But since this trip was exploring the Turkish coast, we decided instead to wait and visit the Greek island of Rhodes off the coast of Fethiye.
We would have loved to have explored more of Bodrum and spent more time here, but it was not meant to be. We would certainly come back one day to see more of her beauty and of course the crazy island of Kos!
Fethiye (pronounced fet-ee-yeh) is a magnificent city about a 3 hour drive from Bodrum (with a quick stopover in the seaside town of Marmaris ) and towards the town of Antalya. It is another MUST DO on your list if you are touring the Turquoise coast.
We managed to secure a hotel, the Yeniceri City Hotel, for 4 nights in the centre (miracle) with a balcony overlooking the ancient tombs of Amyntas and a sea view! Bonus! Now at last we could have time to explore this lovely, ancient and historical area without rushing or stress! There is so much to see and do here and of course it was busy, but the frantic pace slowed slightly as we relaxed, hired a scooter, found some of the best eating places and beaches, made friends with some locals and had some amazing experiences.
Me on the balcony of our hotel in Fethiye
A visit to Fethiye is not complete without taking a trek up the hillside to closely examine the mammoth Tomb of Amyntas. Carved into the rock face in 350BC in honour of ‘Amyntas son of Hermapias’ it is overwhelming in its sheer beauty, size, scale and precision and is just there, in the middle of town, for all to enjoy! Illuminated at night, it is a magical sight and up close even more powerful. We stood in awe of these ancient relics and just touching them and being inside made you feel energised. There was no one around when we visited early one morning and were fortunate to have the place to ourselves! A small coin donation is required to enter. Many smaller tombs are dotted around the hillside too if exploring the largest is not for you.
Tomb of Amyntas
Next tick off the list is a trip to the ancient ghost town of Kayaköy. An abandoned village of grecian style churches and homes since 1923, Lebessos as it was once known, had both Greek Orthodox Christians and Anatolian Muslims peacefully living together until the Greco-Turkish war had them all turfed out and barred from returning. A tragic story, this once pretty and happy little village now sits sadly empty and alone drawing many tourists to reflect on this unfortunate time in its history.
Ghost town of Kayaköy
For a more upbeat and less depressing outing, take the scenic ride/drive through the forest and Lycian Way to the spectacular beach of Ölüdeniz (pronounced ohloo-deneez). Famous for (literally) turquoise blue water, a lagoon and an adrenalin junkies paradise due to the copious amounts of Paragliding facilities available (Gravity Tandem Paragliding being the most popular and cheapest) it was one of my favourite places! With its white pebbled beach seemingly stretching on forever combined with the backdrop of the coloured sails of the para gliders floating overhead, it is a truly wondrous sight. Many people choose to stay in this area and I can totally understand why as it is home to some of the best beaches in Fethiye and has its very own lively town centre as well.
Fethiye has a numerous amount of hidden beaches and coves carved into her little coastline, some of which are only accessible by boat. MB and I decided to hire a private speedboat one afternoon (from Ölüdeniz beach) so to be able to fully appreciate this breathtaking scenery from the water. Good value at 200 TL (approx AUD$55) for a private two hour tour, we had the sea to ourselves and managed to visit the Blue Cave and Butterfly Valley ( a better choice by boat as walking there is a one hour steep and precarious downhill route, not to mention the return uphill version which we would not enjoy)! Butterfly Valley is also a remote camping facility for those outdoorsy folk amongst us.
The Blue cave
The James Bond film Skyfall is also famous here as part of it was filmed at Çalis (pronunced chalish) Beach. A holiday and retirement haven for numerous English expats, Çalis Beach is just out of the city centre, full of pubs, bars and takeaway shops and a long, brown stretch of sand with calm water. It was not our style, so we only took a ride out here to have a look around and buy provisions from the nearby supermarket.
Shopping is phenomenal here in Fethiye too! Numerous alleyways and brightly lit streets in the main town offer a multitude of buying bargains and I needed more than two hours I had available on our last day to fully appreciate it! Jewellery shops, designer boutiques, sports stores and even wedding dress specialists are crammed side by side in this small area. Intimate cafés and alfresco bistros compete for attention amongst the shopping sites and are good way to window shop whilst sipping on a chilled glass of the local wine!
Pretty shopping street
Café in shopping street
The Fethiye Fish Market is also located here and comes alive at night with music and seafood restaurants surrounding the wailing fish mongers and cooking up platters of delicious local produce. We went twice and had a marvellous experience both times. The family owned restaurant HILMI is a popular choice as is BALIK BAZAAR. Both are great but we preferred Balik Bazaar as we had visited Hilmi’s sister ship restaurant on the waterfront one night and it was far more organised, romanic and generally better. There are also a number of upmarket style restaurants along the waterfront in town which serve fantastic food alongside excellent service. If you need an escape from seafood and meze and are longing for a more carnivorous evening, head to MANCERO KITCHEN. Five star with succulent steak choices and an extensive but not expensive wine list, we enjoyed every minute and also met two wonderful locals who told us many places to visit…all of which are mentioned in this blog!
Seafood feast at the Fish Market
The large greek island of Rhodes is located just 1.5 hour ferry ride form the Port in town and is a day trip in which to invest. We pre booked tickets for the day before from the Tourism office near the port, but you can purchase them on the day. 350TL (approx AUD $100) for two people for a round trip, it was good value as well I think, considering you go to another country for lunch! Make sure you have the relevant visa or an EU passport to enter as customs is strict. We went on the Aegean Prince and the journey there was uneventful but the return was terrible as the weather turned and the wind made it impossible to go fast, thus it took us four hours to get back!
Fast Cat to Rhodes
Regardless, we had a fabulous albeit quick day riding around the island. We hired a scooter from the office opposite the ferry terminal and as long as you have an International or European drivers licence all is ok. [FYI: They don’t recognise Australian motorbike licence.] We grabbed a map and took off in search of a greek paralia (beach) and some authentic greek cuisine and ended up on the sand and in a bistro at lovely Tsampika Beach. Offering only snack style food we opted for a simple Greek salad and juicy Gyros washed down with an earthenware jug full of local rosé. Both were tasty and filling and the waiter/owner Adonis was far from a greek God but lovely and friendly nonetheless!
Greek flag on Tsambika Beach
Time was pressing and we needed to have a look at the Old Town and I had to do a serious amount of ‘greek sandal shopping’ before our 4pm departure! The Old Town was equally absorbing and full of shops (yes, lots of sandals) taverna’s and relics. We could have spent all our time here and had a lovely relaxing lunch and explored, but the pull of a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean was stronger! Next to the ferry port, some cafés and little restaurants and a small beach is available for those who don’t want to venture outside of town. Customs to get back onboard the boat for the treacherous ride home was the most frantic and disorganised we have ever encountered! There is one line for two boats and everyone was travelling to different areas. It was a case of survival of the fittest and a push and shove fight to stand your ground in the queue and not get trampled to death or run over by suitcases! It was awful. Never mind, the day trip was worth every Lira and we would definitely do it again! Many expats who live in Fethiye do this as a Visa run every few months which is not a bad idea and a great excuse to grab some Aegean delights!
Rhodes Old Town
So… that concludes our whirlwind trip of the Turkish Turquoise Coast! I truly hope you enjoyed the ride along with us and can imagine yourselves there! The whole ten days were fun, hectic, exhausting, exhilarating, interesting, annoying and remarkable in every way and you know what?… We wouldn’t change a thing!
…”No road is long with good company”…Turkish Proverb