While some parts of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast have succumbed to overdevelopment, head out west to the area around Izmir and you’ll still find many small, charming resorts and sights to explore.
As Ilknur Içingir, who owns the Zeytin Konak hotel in nearby Alaçati puts it: “Here you will see some of the ‘real’ Turkey, rather than the tourist version you get at some of the main beach resorts.”
The authorities have certainly spruced up Izmir, beyond its old winding streets and bazaars. Seasonal flowers now grace the vibrant streets, a double-decker bus takes tourists to see the sights and there are boutique hotels in the Basmane area.
Tolga Tuyluoglu, UK director of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, says: “While it is true to say that Izmir hasn’t attracted the same levels of investment in recent years as other parts of the coast, such as Antalya, the potential here is vast. Over the next couple of years we will be promoting niche and special-interest tourism, as well as traditional sun and sea holidays.”
Tuyluoglu has particularly high hopes for the luxury market and independent travellers. “Don’t forget that Izmir and the surrounding areas are one of Turkey’s most important regions historically and culturally,” he adds.
Beyond the city
While your clients are enjoying a refreshing glass of limonata – freshly made lemonade garnished with mint – in one of the cafes on the promenade that runs the length of the city, they may want to consider exploring the untouched areas beyond Izmir.
A handful of specialist, independent tour operators added Alaçati, Cesme and Sirince to their programmes last year and have continued this in 2011.
New products on offer include the Kanuni Kervansaray Hotel. This converted caravanserai, adjacent to Cesme’s newly-renovated marina, opened last year and is now featured by operator Anatolian Sky, while Kusadasi Golf Club, the region’s first major 18-hole golf course, opened this month.
Courtyard, Kanuni Kervansaray Hotel
A choice of resorts
The resort of Kusadasi is considered a good all-rounder for families. There’s a choice of good beaches and plenty to occupy children of all ages, with several water parks in the vicinity and many shops, bars and restaurants.
While this area can get busy with tourists in the summer, Usadasi, a smaller beach resort southeast of Izmir, has fewer holidaymakers. Alternatively, Alaçati is a former Greek fishing village about 40 miles from Izmir. Here, traditional stone houses have been carefully and sympathetically restored, some doubling up as excellent boutique hotels. The pretty shore is lined with cafes, while the nearby coastline is dotted with beaches and unspoilt coves.
“Alaçati works for couples and is a great base for water sports enthusiasts as it boasts some of the finest wind conditions in Europe,” explains Tuyluoglu.
Well-heeled locals and in-the-know foreigners also head to Cesme. This pretty peninsula 40 minutes west of Izmir is family-friendly and good for a spot of nightlife, while the thermal waters and spa facilities of Balcova and Ilica attract visitors from mainland Europe and a growing number from the UK. But if your clients want to get away from the crowds and the heat then the pretty hillside village of Sirince is famed for its local wine and handmade lace.
Don’t forget, the ancient city of Epheseus is nearby. For many years it was the second-largest city of the Roman empire, behind Rome, and the ruins are definitely worth a visit.
Slightly off-the-beaten-track areas worth exploring include Akyaka. Nestled at the head of the Gulf of Gokova it is an area of outstanding natural beauty and retains a tranquil feel, mostly because of its riverside location.
Buildings are strictly regulated here so it still has an air of traditional charm. Many structures are built in the ‘Mugla’ style – octagonal structures with whitewashed walls bedecked with colourful bougainvillea. This also remains a favourite destination for holidaying Turks, who come to eat at the seafood restaurants.
What to tell clients
- Izmir’s seafront esplanade, or Kordon, is where much of the city’s social activity takes place, with a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants. It is great for people watching.
- The city has a large park, called Fuar, which is a good place to chill out with many bars, restaurants and kebab stalls. There are also many mosques you can visit – just remember to observe local sensitivities.
- The classical sites of Aphrodisias and Pergamon are spectacularly well preserved yet attract only a fraction of the number of visitors compared with the better known ancient sites such as Epheseus.
- The ancient city of Bergama, in the mountains 70 miles west of Izmir, has an incredible old castle.
Anatolian Sky offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the Zeytin Konak hotel for £637 per person this month. The price is based on two people sharing a standard room and includes transfers and flights with Onur Air from Stansted.
Book it: anatoliansky.co.uk, 0844 571 9128
Milestones’ two-week, half-board Best of Turkey tour, which takes in regional highlights such as Izmir, Troy, Pamukkale, Antalya, Cappadocia and Ankara, costs from £1,325 including flights and home pick-up.
Book it: milestonestours.com, 0845 678 4646
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