KUSHADASI/EPHESUS-PAMUKKALE-BODRUM-DATCHA-MARMARIS- DALYAN-FETHIYE-PATARA-KAS –ANTALYA-CAPPADOCIA
This itinerary is mostly for people who want to explore different beaches, seaside night life, a bit of history and adventure during summer months. If you are interested in hiking, then July –August is way too hot; even the fabulous ruins we have visited were too hot at times and it is advisable to get there as early as possible.
We arrived by ferry from Greek Island of Samos to Kushadasi, our first stop on the Turkish Coast, the South Aegean. By the time we finished the passport control and walked off the terminal it was getting dark, we didn’t have any reservations and didn’t have a chance to buy a local sim card. But nevertheless, while I stayed with the luggage, bf quickly found a nice room in a hotel right across the seaport and this being a late hour got us a very nice rate (about $25) in a four star hotel.
After a quick shower we went to explore the city and were completely blown away by the intensity of its night life. This party atmosphere of music, drinking and celebration continued thru our entire trip as we moved down south towards Antalya. If anybody has a perception of this being a conservative and strictly religious country, this isn’t so, at least on the Mediterranean Coast. There are some traditional restaurants that do not serve alcohol, but most restaurants do and as a rule each town has a “bar street” with back to back bars and night clubs.
Kushadasi is a good base to explore Ephesus, which we did the next day. Ephesus is the best preserved European ancient city, capital of Roman Asia Minor. A legend traces its origin to 10th century BC. For me, Ephesus is probably the most impressive and the best preserved ancient city I have been to and I recommend reading its history prior to visiting. The excursion should take between two to three hours and it gets very hot around noon. We also stopped in nearby Selcuk to get fresh produce at its famous, and somewhat overrated market; and truthfully, the city can be skipped all together.
After Ephesus we had a pretty long drive east to Pamukkale. I have been to Turkey at least 6 times but never had a chance to go there until now. The drive is long and while some parts are on a good highway, some others go thru towns and are pretty slow. Overhaul, it took us about four hours with a quick stop for lunch in one of the local restaurants.
Pamukkale itself is a tiny touristic town concentrating at the lower entrance to its famous UNESCO World Heritage nature reserve. Pamuk means cotton in Turkish due to the snow white saucer shaped travertines (pools). There are two entrances to the park: one lower in town and the upper by a parking lot. We stayed in a place run by a Tajik woman who was happy to accommodate us because most tourists arrive for a day excursion by bus and are not staying over.
In order to avoid the heat and the crowds we started our ascent at 9 am. Actually the walk up is very easy, the white rocks are very smooth and you must walk barefoot. Unfortunately I broke a toe walking up by hitting it on a steps but nevertheless the experience was very pleasant. There are cascading waterfalls throughout the ascent but unfortunately the park is not getting as much water as it used to and part of the mountain is closed to visitors. On the top there is a café and gift stalls.
Another attraction is an Antique Pool with mineral warm water amidst sunken Roman marble columns. The swim is nice but there are way too many tourists arriving by bus loads. Above the pool, there is a 10 minute walk up to the Hierapolis, the ruins of a Roman and Byzantine spa city with a well preserved Roman theater.
Next, we embarked on our longest drive of the trip (about 5 hours) back to the coast, to Bodrum. I love Bodrum; I have been there several times and it doesn’t disappoint: A wide long marina with numerous fresh seafood restaurants, bars, hotels, music and shops. The best bar with live music is at the Yacht Club at the northern end of the marina. We got a place right on the marina for the next three nights and had a fabulous sea view from our balcony.
We drove around the Bodrum peninsula and checked out the beaches in Turgutreis, Gumusluk and Bitez, but the highlight was splurging on a private boat for two hours , sailing the azure waters and swimming off the boat. At the end of the trip we realized that it is much better swimming of a boat then going to an organized beach and it is true for the entire coast.
After three nights in Bodrum, we took a car ferry (must pre-book) across the Gulf of Gokova to Datca Peninsula and stayed overnight in Datca. The town itself is touristy (every town on the coast in the summer is touristy) but it seemed to cater more to Turkish families then foreign tourists. Most accommodations rent for a long term and most of the ones we saw had a kitchenette. Since family vacations is not our scene we only stayed there one night. There is a huge overnight parking lot in the center and most of the restaurants are beach side. As in all other place the night life is centered by the beach and the marina.
Next day we made our way to Marmaris, 70 km south east of Datca. Marmaris is huge, loud, busy and happening. We chose to stay for three nights in one of the numerous hotels on the beach and to walk to Old Town at night. Most beach hotels offer breakfast and free lounge chairs and umbrellas. At night, the miles and miles long promenade takes you all the way to Old Town with its numerous restaurants, bars and clubs on its bar street. Many places have live music. In Marmaris you don’t go to sleep early.
South of Marmaris, the area is called the Turquoise Coast of the Mediterranean as opposed to the Aegean. This is also where the ancient Lycian 500km-long way is located. Any ideas of hiking it in July were rejected in favor of the sea and the beach. Our first stop on this segment was Dalyan, a home of the archeological site Kaunos and the Kings’ Tombs. There is a small private boat outside of the Saki Restaurant to take you across the canal and then a nice straight walk. The impressive Kings’ Tombs are visible from the trail but are not accessible.
Next, we stayed for two nights in lovely Fethiye. Few years ago I spent couple of hours there and since then wanted to come back. I was not disappointed. Fethiye is considered a good base for the Oludeniz beach resort, which was actually overrated. Great swimming but there are thousands of people and small children packed together on pebbled beach (must have beach shoes to get in) and no good food vendors whatsoever. Notwithstanding, Fethiye itself is definitely worth one or more nights stay. Its most impressive attribute is its fish market. In the center of the market, there are several fresh seafood stalls, where you choose your food. Around it in a circle there are several restaurants that cook it for you: fry or grill or whatever you like. You pay for the seafood first then separately at the restaurant a fixed fee for cooking and other extras of your choice like salads, mezes and alcohol. We ate there both evenings and then had cocktails on their very active bar street.
On the way to Kas, we stopped for couple of hours at Patara beach, claiming to be Turkey’s longest beach. The beach is organized, has chairs, umbrellas, food and showers.
Our last seaside town was Kas. We loved it so much that we stayed for two nights. It’s mostly occupied by foreign tourists, has lots of food, drinks and entertainment venues. Our main discovery was the boat trips. Frankly, until Kas we were very condescending towards organized boat trips but this was our last destination so we decided to try it. Surprise surprise, we loved it so much that we reserved the same boat for the next day.
It took awhile to choose the boat out of tens of boats at the marina. We carefully examined each itinerary and checked out the boats. You get assigned a reserved spot on the boat and get your own mattress. We chose the boat with least amount of people (20 something), and a spot that promised the most shade. For about $20 you get a good 8 hour boat trip, a very decent lunch included (fresh fish or chicken), 4 swim stops and afternoon tea/coffee and cookies. You can also buy coffee, tea, beer or wine on the boat, the service is very good as well. The boat passes by Kekova Island where you can see parts of the sunken city of Simena together with submerged Lycian tombs.
Our flight to Cappadocia via Istanbul was out of Antalya, where we spent our last night. Since we stayed an extra night at Kas we kind of missed Antalya. There is an active pedestrian street in its Old Town but we didn’t really have an opportunity to explore it. We got there late in the evening and left early in the morning.
There are two airports in Capaddocia, Nevsehir and Kayseri, both about 30 to 40 minutes away. You must pre-book a transfer ahead of time, there are no taxis or any rides outside the airport. It is hard to believe but true.
There are several towns and villages one can stay at in the area but Goreme is definitely the center of everything and has the most services, hotels, restaurants and tour operators.
The must do activity in Cappadocia is a balloon ride. It is expensive but once in a lifetime unforgettable experience. Besides the excitement of a balloon ride itself, the landscape of Cappadocia is breathtaking and is hard to describe. The best I can describe the Rose Valley is pink lunar dessert. However, the availability is not assured, the industry is heavily regulated and the flights are often cancelled due to bad weather and wind. Some people can wait a week and don’t get to fly which makes it difficult to plan a return trip. We were very lucky, we had a good weather and our hotel arranged for a flight even though most companies were sold out. On a good day there are two departure times and it is best to go on the earlier flight (pick up 4 am) because the weather may change later and second flights get cancelled more often.
There must be a mention about Goreme hotels called cave hotels. Some are truly build in caves, some are built in, around or just using parts of natural rocks to create an illusion of being in a cave but nevertheless very luxurious and comfortable. I recommend splurging on a nice hotel this being part of Cappadocia experience.
Other activities in Goreme are a quad tour which we took and horse back riding which we didn’t. The quad tour took us into the desert, the views are astonishing but be careful of the dust, must cover the face…
We also got a car for a day and drove outside of Goreme. Notables are a castle in Ortahisar, it was fun to climb the 18 meter fortress; rock cut churches of Soganli -nice walk; Derinkuyu underground city.
There is an abundance of good restaurants and I recommend choosing the ones higher up on hilltops with outdoor sitting for the views; Goreme at night is beautiful. A special mention goes to the Organic Wine House. We accidentally stumbled on it while exploring Goreme and kept coming back all three evenings. The bar just opened couple of days prior and the owner was extremely nice and accommodating. He invited us to taste his best bottles and comped us with lots of food. The bar’s setting is very exotic, it is carved into a rock, has comfortable mats and pillows. We stayed for hours and met other travelers as the place is very conducive to conversation and meeting people.