Last time I was in Turkey it was like this. Flown to Istanbul. Driven to a hotel by a scary Turkish Nigel Mansell. Worked three 16 hour days at a conference, not leaving the hotel once. When I did manage to get some sleep I was woken with a call to prayer to a god I don`t even worship. I felt Turkey owed me, so I went to find out what exactly it has going for it.
I flew from Stanstead with Pegasus airlines, a budget airline that doesn`t scrimp on efficiency and courtesy. This new service is hoping to increase tourism to Izmir, a cosmopolitan city popular with holidaying Turks but not currently a staple of the short-haul European market. This could be about to change.
Izmir sits on the westerly coast of the Aegean. This thriving city has suffered a chequered history, particularly during the Turkish-Greek war of the early twentieth century. Yet this should not overshadow its ancient history (still visible in the many ruins surrounding the city) and its recognition of an expanding population with an infrastructure developing to meet the needs of tourists and locals. The SwissÇ¶ïtel Grand Efes beautifully represents this development. Located in the centre of the commercial district, the Grand Efes offers everything you`d expect from a five star hotel, from the range of choice at the breakfast buffet, the artwork on display to the quality of leisure facilities on offer. It is no surprise that the hotel is the recent recipient of the `Best Spa Hotel in the World` award. After I indulged myself in a sauna, Turkish scrub and a back massage I felt the wonderful combination of being both completely energised and utterly relaxed.
Izmir boasts 8,500 years of historical interest, the most impressive being the myriad of Roman ruins in the city and in the surrounding area. Many artefacts are displayed at the Archaeological Museum; however, roaming ancient ruins in their original setting under the warm Turkish sun truly inspires the imagination. A trip to Kadifekale is also worth a visit. This castle built by Alexander the Great boasts beautiful vistas over the Aegean.
The delights of Izmir are understated. There are many beautiful little beaches only accessible by boat -secret jewels the locals will share on occasion. Unassuming restaurants near the seafront tempt you in with scents of roasting lamb. We were seated in a courtyard, warmed by dappled sunlight, with refreshing drinks topped up by attentative waiting staff. A range of succulent lamb dishes were served with accompanying local vegetables; roast tomatoes, stuffed aubergine, and grilled peppers. This meal at the Tavaci Recep Usta restaurant can not be rated highly enough. The arable land surrounding Izmir produces the vegetables and the lamb, all of which was beautifully fresh, and aromatic. Herbs used to enhance dishes came, we were told, from the local Kemeralti market. This rabbit warren bazaar delights the senses with a buzz of local colour, sounds and smells.I even saw someone buying a kitchen sink.
An hour`s drive out of the city, Alacati is an unspoilt little town perched on the tip of the Cesme peninsula. Narrow streets invite a wander, with a stop for traditional lemonade at one of the many cafes. Alacati oozes character with a laid back vibe. This atmosphere is enhanced by the many windsurfers for whom Alacati is a Mecca, with safe, sandy beaches and an average of 330 windy days a year.
Turkey owed me, and Turkey more than delivered. Izmir is a traditional city but looks forward. It is a city that buzzes but is not overflowing. The climate was perfect for my visit, hot but not humid. It relaxed me and even let me sleep. If I was woken to pray in Izmir, I feel I would just worship the city itself.
Izmir direct flights with Pegasus Airlines start at just £74.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Four times a week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
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