Beautıful Towns of İzmir
Today I will explore the beautiful towns in the vicinity of Izmir. On my route, I will stop by Urla, the hometown of the acclaimed Turkish writer and poet Necati Cumalı; Seferihisar, the first “cittaslow” in Turkey; Selçuk, home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World - the Temple of Artemis; and Şirince, an adorable village near Selçuk.
As soon as I leave the airport in Izmir, I drive west to Urla.
I have repeatedly passed Urla on my way to Çeşme, and I have told myself that I would visit it one day. Here it is, lying before me and greeting me with lovely pine trees by the roadside. It is a wonderful alternative destination if you are bored with the more-crowded Çeşme. I start my tour at the home of the renowned writer and poet, Necati Cumalı. The personal belongings of this celebrated man of letters, whose outstanding Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer) novel was adapated into a movie, are interesting. I find out that he was a lawyer, and that the movie was shot in the nearby village of Bademler, and was later awarded the Golden Bear at the 1964 Berlinale Film Festival.
I have heard a lot about Tarihî Urla Katmercisi, a historic restaurant that specializes in Urla’s local treat, katmer – a crisp, flaky pastry- located in the Malgaca Market. I visit the restaurant and try this delicious dish. Following this experience, I go to the Malgaca Market. It reminds me of the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. A bazaar like Malgaca is not unusual for Turkish people; however, it is appealing to foreign tourists. After wandering around the market, I go to the most charming and most-visited quarter, the Iskele (Port) Quarter to explore its old houses on cobblestone streets, fish restaurants, port and beach. One of the most well-known streets in the quarter is named for Yorgo Seferis, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963. This eminent writer was born in Urla and moved to Athens with his family in 1914. His childhood home currently serves as a hotel.
This quarter calls to mind the late singer Tanju Okan, whose songs often get stuck in our heads. He lived in this quarter for years. I now realize why he sang a lot about the sea, the moonlight, the beach and the waves. I suddenly find myself humming his famous song that has the lyric, “The sea and moonlight have asked for you. Where are you?”
I leave Urla and drive south to Seferihisar, Turkey’s first “cittaslow” – a verified ‘slow city.’ If you want \ a little break from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, and want to slow down, and purchase and dine on fresh natural food, you should definitely visit Seferihisar.
Municipalities given the “cittaslow” title have proven that they’re protecting and promoting local identity and culture. The Seferihisar Municipality, a member of this network since 2009, carries out various projects relating to the environment and local production.
As a traveler with a hearty appetite, I am glad to drop by Ulamış and the Doğanbey Organization for Women’s Work to purchase products such as jam and spreads made by local women, and to eat at a restaurant which has reintroduced nearly-forgotten local recipes. I like the lentil soup, the meatballs and the salad; but, it is a privilege for me to try authentic dishes such as tarhana (dried yogurt) soup with mastic gum, with stuffed bread and samsades for dessert.
Now, it is time to explore the popular Sığacık farmers’ market. It takes place at the Sığacık Castle on Sundays. No product from any wholesale retailer is allowed in this market. Only local products by local farmers are for sale. Plastic bags are replaced by classic string bags and paper bags.
I arrive in Sığacık, located five kilometers from central Seferihisar. Whenever I am traveling, I like visiting local second-hand markets, as well as the fish, fruit and vegetable markets early in the morning, and taking pictures. However, I miss the daily fish sale at Fishers’ Cooperative at 10:30 AM. I have to make do with taking pictures of the beach, the castle and fishing boats.
I enjoy the state of stillness and calmness I have found in Seferihisar and the coastal landscape while driving to Selçuk. This is a town packed with history. I climb Ayacık Hill to visit the castle from the Seljuk era. On the hillside is the Basilica of St. John, dedicated to John the Apostle, and Isa Bey Mosque, built next to the church in 1375, in honor of the Aydınid Isa Bey. The blend of stones and pillars from the Temples of Ephesus and Artemis, and the mosque’s Seljuk tiles are good examples of how different cultures are interwoven here.
I brush up on my knowledge about history while I am revisiting the ancient city of Ephesus and the House of the Virgin Mary. I follow the tradition and have my photo taken at the famous Library of Celsus, which was once home to 14,000 books. Dreaming of the magnificence of the streets of Ephesus in its heyday, I drive six kilometers towards the sea from Ephesus to Pamucak Beach, a blue-flag beach; however, as it is winter, I’ll just relax with the peace of the sea.
Since you’re so close, you should definitely visit Şirince.The story goes that the village was formerly named Çirkince – meaning “kind of ugly” -, and renamed Şirince – meaning sweet, pretty, charming – after the Governor of Izmir visited and said, “Such an adorable place like this can only be called Şirince, not Çirkince.” This is a former Greek town with striking ancient houses. No house impedes the view of another.
The village’s natural beauty and local, handmade products draw tourists from Turkey and abroad. Famous for its figs, Şirince used to be the second -largest fig exporter of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Today, it is inhabited by 600 people who are mostly farmers.
The Şirince sunset marks the end of my trip to Izmir. With its different stories in different spots, this town stands out as one of the best holiday destinations.
Write: Senem Tongar Photo: Ajlan Dürüs