Bodrum, Izmir and Ephesus: 5 highlights on Turkey's beautiful west coast is written by Jacob Gowland Jorgensen. The editors were invited by Turkey's tourist office. All opinions are, as always, those of the editors.
Bodrum and other gems on Turkey's west coast
In this guide, we take you to 5 highlights of the central west coast, and with a mix of well-known and lesser-known places, there is something for both those who have not been to the area before and those who return years later year.
Izmir: A port city worth visiting
A little boy runs by with a kite. A pair of giggling schoolgirls eat ice cream. And two old men sit in the afternoon sun and hope that a fish catches the hook.
We are at the central harbor square in Izmir at the beginning of July. And my first thought is: It's nice here. And locally. There are no beach chairs or tourist crowds, because here there are just people enjoying themselves, walking on the promenade and admiring the horizon towards the Mediterranean.
The locals are getting ready to eat in one of the many small restaurants in the area, which with an excellent combination of a varied range of food and fairly low prices draw everyone in the area in for an evening in the glow of the lights. Baked aubergine, small kofta meatballs, squid and hummus are quickly shared between us before we walk back along the promenade to our waterfront hotel, the classic Mövenpick, which has a nice view from the bar on the top floor.
We have landed on the west coast of Turkey, which has just changed its official international name to Türkiye, and it feels good.
You can tell that Izmir is an ancient city. Once upon the dawn of time, it was founded as Smyrna and has seen empires come and go for thousands of years.
Today, Izmir is probably best known as a large port city, but I can see on the local maps that there are as many as 48 beaches in the area towards the Mediterranean . Some wide with fine sand, others small and tucked away in little secret coves.
The city is clearly a popular destination for many locals, so if you want to experience some of the authentic Turkey, Izmir is an excellent place to start, and Izmir can easily be combined with several other experiences and places in the region.
There is also a large airport in Izmir, which is the one we landed in, where we have a short transfer and Istanbul got here well and fairly quickly with Turkish Airlines.
We go down a flower-filled strait with all the Mediterranean atmosphere you can muster. Here are small restaurants inside the small town houses and colors, light and warmth.
Welcome to Alacati, 75 km west of Izmir.
Alacati, or Alacati as it is written in the local language, is a picturesque mountain village located in the middle of a peninsula facing the Mediterranean. Today, it has spread so much that it reaches both the northern beaches such as Ilıca Plaji, and it has become a popular destination for city dwellers from all over western Turkey.
Alacati balances on a knife edge between original charm and tourism. One of the initiatives to maintain the village elements is to focus on small, charming boutique hotels that, with their unique character, offer a completely different experience than a large chain hotel, and therefore of course we also go to such a hotel.
And that's what it's called Gaia. As in the ancient Greek word for Earth. Here is cosiness, earthy colors and peace for the soul at a peaceful little strait in the middle of the city.
We are welcomed, and at the bar in the courtyard are two beautiful smiling people who seem like they have been taken straight out of the ancient Greek tales of the Iliad and Troy, set on this side of the Mediterranean.
However, these young people are just up to date with mobile phones and small tattoos, but still. They turn out to be waiters at the Gaia Hotel, and somehow it fits the mood so well.
In the evening we walk through the city, which is now buzzing with life. There are people and a summer atmosphere everywhere in the small streets, and we therefore find a local restaurant just outside the center, because there is better space here.
We sit in an open courtyard while the local fish specialties are brought in, and if food can make you happy, that's probably what's happening right there. On the other hand, it is quite cheap, and it is always a nice combination.
On the walk home to the hotel, we must note that music has now been put on all around, and with the sound of cheerful summer evenings we go to rest with Mother Earth inside Hotel Gaia.
Alacati is definitely a good experience. You just have to think carefully about when you visit the city, because summer and weekends are very popular with the locals. So if you want a more peaceful experience, you should probably visit the city at other times.
Ephesus, Ephesus, Ephesus, Ephesus.
Dear World Heritage has many names, and a few hours' drive south of Alacati you will find a particularly exciting city, namely the ancient city of Ephesus and the entire area around it.
The guide tells us that Ephesus was one of the largest ancient cities and may have housed up to 250.000 people.
What makes it most interesting, however, is that a good part is so well preserved that you can get really close to the life that rich Greeks and Romans lived here. You can enter the living rooms, the colosseum, and yes, the toilet too.
We entered the villas, which were originally cooled with water from the mountainside and had built-in underfloor heating and conversational kitchens. They were now quite advanced in their shoes then.
There are of course also a variety of temples and shrines, but the most impressive building is still the library, which is reached by walking down the original main street.
The Library of Celsus at Ephesus was apparently the third largest library in the Roman world, and when we stand before it we get associations with both Petra in Jordan and the most beautiful places in Rome.
It is nothing short of quite fascinating, and regardless of whether you know and understand the history behind the place or not, you naturally get a sense of adventure. Even the visiting children are clearly quite taken with the building.
We are in Ephesus on a hot summer day, so we are happy for the water bottles we brought, because before we get out of the area the temperature reaches 36 degrees, and even a cooled Roman villa cannot cope with that.
Before we got to Ephesus, we visited Mary, the mother of Jesus, because she is said to be buried here. So is the apostle John. There is a small modest house and burial place near Ephesus, and of course we visited that as well. Look for “Virgin Mary Church” on the map.
Today's highlight was the remains of the Temple of Artemis and the local history museum. Because when you find yourself in an area with such an extensive history of civilization, there are of course some gems among the treasures you dig up, and several of them were gathered there in that museum. Really nice, and it was also inside, so we could cool down a bit ourselves. Perfect.
We had a nice lunch in the mountain village of Şirince, 10 kilometers from Ephesus. The restaurant was aptly called Artemis Restaurant and had both an idyllic view, many fine dishes and wine tasting.
It is rare to be in an area where so much of human history has been collected, and where a part can still be experienced even on foot. It was the experience we had in Ephesus that is highly recommended. It is also very well organized, just like when we were there the natural paradise of Cappadocia Some years ago.
We experienced most of Ephesus in one day, and filled with impressions we drove towards the beaches to the south; namely towards Bodrum.
Bodrum is one of the fancier seaside resorts in western Turkey, and there are probably several reasons for that. Because here you have a rather crisp combination of beautiful nature, fine bathing opportunities and impressive history, and all combined with a cozy town and a rather fantastic climate.
Although Bodrum is in many ways a seaside resort, it is far from a charmless charter hell, because it clearly has some soul and a lot to offer besides sun, water and sand, and of course we had to experience it all.
We drove into the hotel on the hill above the town, The Marmara Bodrum. It is a relaxed luxury hotel with a dazzling view and service that perfectly matches the view. And with prices starting at 100 euros for a huge room out of season, it's still far cheaper than many other places. And then there is local art, beautiful roof terraces and small gardens, which together with the pool make it a place you wish you had visited earlier in your life.
The only downside is that you are not close to the water, but they have – of course – their own Beach club with transfer directly from the hotel.
Bodrum is located with a spectacular view of the island of Kos, and you get that view so well up on the hill. It is also a fairly used hotel for weddings, and there was just one Iranian wedding underway on the terrace with a small group of guests. We asked them how it was that they held the wedding there, and the bride smiled and said: "Because in Bodrum we can celebrate as we want." And you can understand that.
The first place we had to visit in Bodrum was Zai Bordum. It is one of the original gardens of Bodrum, where – as they themselves put it – literature, art and gastronomy come together under the olive trees.
When you enter through the garden gate to the well-kept house, you step directly into one open air art gallery with a library and an unusually pretty little garden, where they serve café classics and cold lemonade.
Our excellent guide Ceylan Erkaplan said that she comes here once a week with her daughter, because here you really get down to speed. And furthermore pulled she often on the paths in the low mountains around the city - also with tourists who found out about her via the local tourist information.
Guides come in many guises, but we always get the most out of those who both know the local area more than well, are good at languages, have some personality and humor, and – not least – know when you can't handle hearing more. And here in Bodrum, she took us to one of her favorite places, which we had never found ourselves, and we were also the only ones who weren't locals.
We continued into the city and climbed the huge Crusader castle by the harbor, took in the lunch restaurants on the promenade, went to the bazaar and dipped in the sea. All within a few hundred meters of each other.
We saw their colosseum and then of course we went to the local supermarket and bought Turkish tea in bundles. Down at the bottom of the supermarket, they had found an old excavation when they had to build the supermarket, so it had been integrated into the supermarket, and we could therefore shop for tea and delicacies while we just got to say hello to whoever is hiding in the grave!
The experience that really convinced me that Bodrum is much more than an ordinary seaside resort was a trip to Maçakızi, which is located on the northern part of the peninsula, where Bodrum city itself is located on the southern part.
Here there is a bang a luxury hotel, Macakızi Bodrum, which can probably best be described as a posh luxury hotel directly on the beautiful rocky coast, and with one more beautiful and artistically decorated outdoor space after another.
The artist group “Istanbul '74” had used the unusual surroundings to create all sorts of art and installations that were both funny, beautiful, strange and whimsical. So here, where the young, beautiful and rich come to see and be seen, there is also one more divine experience after another.
We just didn't see that coming.
If, after all, you don't have 400 euros to spend the night here, you can also come and eat and swim, and that way get access to it all for a significantly lower amount.
Good trip to Bodrum, Izmir and Ephesus
Regardless of whether you choose Bodrum, Izmir or Ephesus, there is a lot to look for Turkey.
Have a nice trip to Turkey's beautiful west coast.
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