A day in…Kusadasi, Turkey

Once a sleepy farming village, Kusadasi is now the largest resort on Turkey’s Aegean Coast and used by cruise ships as the gateway to Ephesus.

During the Ottoman Empire a small island connected to the mainland by a causeway was called ‘Kus Adasi’ or ‘Bird Island’ in English, it is from this island that Kusadasi was named. An abundance of beaches, a wealth of sightseeing opportunities, excellent restaurants, lively bars, classy beach clubs, 2 waterparks and beautiful sunsets every night all help to make Kusadasi a first rate holiday destination. The waterfront with its array of cafes, bars and restaurants is the perfect place to sit and watch the sailing boats docking……….

There’s so much to do in Kusadasi, it’s hard to narrow down what to do in a day. The world famous archaeological site of Ephesus is definitely worth a visit. You can book it as a tour (which I prefer as you get lots of really good information about it) or you can do it yourself by jumping on the dolmus and paying the entrance fee to get in. Also while you’re in the area, head up into the hills to the house of the Virgin Mary, recognised by the Vatican as a place of pilgrimage. You’ll see a small chapel, which has been built on the foundations of a humble dwelling where Mary’s believed to have spent her last days. If you want to, you can collect water from the Holy spring and leave a prayer in the form of a ribbon on the prayer grid. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate this serene setting though. Tucked high in the hills above the coast, it’s really something. From here you’ll carry on to the world famous archaeological site of Ephesus for your walking tour. Tick off a list of sights including the Temple of Hadrian, the Marble Street and the Celsus Library. Just so you know – there’s no filming, photography or hats are allowed inside the House of the Virgin Mary.

One of the best things to do when in Turkey is go for a Turkish Bath, you’ll come out feeling like a new person (and your skin will be as smoooooth as a babies bottom!) The hamam, or Turkish bath, stands for far more than getting a leisurely bath or cleansing. It is a rite and a ritual in which the elements are harnessed for the cleansing and purification of the body. Since it’s creation, the Turkish bath has been much more than just a place to cleanse the skin. It was intimately bound to everyday life, a place where people of every rank and class, young and old, rich and poor, townsmen or villagers, could go in freely. Women as well as men frequented the hamam, although of course, at separate hours. It’s a wonderful experience while on holiday here and a very relaxing one. There are a few Turkish baths to choose from, personally I love the old hamam in Kaleici and the Ada Saray hamam on the road to Kustur. It’s best to go for during the first few days of your holiday as it will prepare your skin for a deeper, more even tan.

The boat trip is a great, cheap day out. Explore the Aegean sea on a gulet (traditional sailing boat) It lasts all day and lunch is included in the price (fish/hamburger meat, salad, pasta, rice, bread and soft drinks) You have to pay extra for alcohol and ice creams. You sail out of the harbour at Kusadasi and stop off at a few bays where you can spend some time on the beach/swimming or jumping off the top deck of the boat.

Kusadasi isn’t just about Ephesus, monuments and bazaars. You can trek, dive or enjoy the sun, sea and sand, or try fun new sports like quad biking. You’ll head for the Quad Club just outside Kusadasi where an instructor will welcome you and give you a short briefing explaining the route you’ll follow. After that, you’ll get on your quad bikes and head off on a fun quad bike adventure. As you follow your instructor, feel the wind on your face as your convoy snakes its way along the winding trails and then relax with free time in the sun. This is one excursion i’m yet to do, but my friend has been on it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but be warned you get very, very dirty – so wear old clothes.

My favourite excursion is the jeep safari, it’s a very fun, dirty day out. Basically there’s lots of jeeps riding around a gorgeous national park and you stop off to jump in waterfalls an see stunning views. The whole day is a giant water fight! It’s jeep vs jeep, but in actual fact it’s every man for themselves – with water balloons, water guns and plastic bags being used as weapons. It’s a whole lot of fun, i’ve done it numerous times and it never gets boring. There are 2 different itineraries available (depending on where you book) with one you eat pide (Turkish style pizza) is a little cafe in a town called Guzelcamli and with the other you have a barbecue in the National Park. after riding around the National Park for a couple of hours, it’s off to the Cave of Zeus – a beautiful hidden treasure tucked away behind a forest area. According to legend, when Zeus provoked and annoyed his brother Poseidon, he used to hide in this cave to rest. While Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, made the seas rise, Zeus hid from his bad temper and wrath in the calm waters of this cave. It’s the best place ever to cool down in the Summer heat as the water is freezing. After that they take you to the beach where you can chill out before it’s time to head back to the hotel and have a very long shower and try to get clean.

Even though you get to see a lot of the The National Park area on the jeep safari, it’s still worth jumping on the dolmus from Kusadasi to spend a day (or an afternoon) there. Avoid going at weekends when it’s packed with Turkish people from the surrounding areas. It really is beautiful, with gorgeous green mountains on one side of you and crystal clear blue water on the other. There is a cafe but most people like to take picnics and make use of the picnic benches nestles under the pine trees. There are a handful of beaches there, most are stony, only the first beach is sandy.

Spend a couple of hours (though a full day would be better) at one of Turkey’s biggest themed water park, Aqua Fantasy or Adaland. Thrilling slides for those that are daring, wave pools, waterfalls and restaurants make for a splashing good time! Top up your tan, snooze in the shade, tackle adrenaline-pumping rides like the Kamakazee, go White water rafting or just relax on the lazy river – there’s something for everyone. On Treasure Island younger visitors can slide through the 25m Pirate Tunnel or test their balance on the Lily-Pad Raft Walk. The little ones get their own separate section so it’s a fun day out that’ll please everyone.

The horse safari is another fun excursion if you’re into riding. Saddle up for one of the best ways to experience the outdoor life in Turkey. A short drive from Kusadasi will bring you to the start of your tranquil trek. You’ll enjoy a ride to Pamucak Beach, where you can ‘swim’ with the horses. After some time at the beach relaxing, you’ll return to the ranch. You have the choice of a half day or full day excursion, although I did a half day and that was more than enough. The only problem with this excursion is if you’re an experienced rider, which I am, you can’t choose a group to go in so you are stuck with less experienced riders and it’s all very basic – walking and trotting.

The village of Sirince is a great place to go for a couple of hours. A winding road through the mountains takes you up to the village of Sirince. It’s a peaceful place (in the morning before the bus load of tourists arrive!) that hugs the hillside and is famous for its homemade wines and olive oil. You can go on wine-tasting sessions, it’s nice just to wander round this pretty village and browse the souvenir stalls that sell handmade goods. Personally, I prefer going as early as possible when it’squiet and there’s hardly any tourists around. There are lots of lovely, quaint restaurants that serve delicious Turkish breakfasts or homemade gozleme (Turkish pancakes). Not only is it good for breakfast and lunch, but it’s a fabulous place to stay for dinner too. In some of the restaurants you can go up to the counter and pick what you’d like for dinner, most of it very fresh and homemade. The last dolmus leaves the village very early at night (around 9pm) and if you miss that, well I suppose there are plenty of pensions there.

There are lovely beaches to choose from in Kusadasi and around. Ladies beach is very popular, it can get very busy in the height of Summer, there are sunbeds and umbrella’s available to rent for the day, watersports and a boulevard of bars, cafes and restaurants running parallel to the beach. Green beach and Long Beach are also popular and then there is Silver Sands and Love Beach which are further along the coast near the National Park which are beautiful, wider and far less crowded.

There is no shortage of shopping opportunities in Kusadasi. You have the Wednesday Market, that sells clothes and handbags and other textiles. In Selcuk (a town 20 minutes away) you have a market on a Saturday which is well worth going to. There are tourist shops that sell ‘Genuine Fake’ bags, clothes, belts, watches, sunglasses and shoes. The upmarket designer stores are located near the Port where the cruiseships dock and can be quite pricey. Not far from the port of Kusadasi is the Grand bazaar – an undercover shopping area filled with shops aimed at tourists. You’ll find plenty of jewelry, leather, belly dancer outfits, and other souvenirs to take home with you from Turkey. The shops have people standing in the middle of the pedestrianized street and they will try to engage a conversation with you then bring you into their shop. ‘Hayir’ means no in Turkey – don’t be afraid to use it. There’s also a shopping outlet in Soke which you can get to on a dolmus that houses shops such as Quicksilver, LTB, Adidas, Nike, Adidas, Benetton and Levi’s. Don’t forget to haggle on the market and in the tourist shops, I usually start with a ridiculously low figure and gradually work my way up until I feel like I’m getting a good deal. Work out a price you want to pay and don’t go above that, even if it means walking away and going to another shop – there are plenty to choose from, and prices can vary so it’s worth shopping around before parting with your cash. Another trick I sometimes use is separate your money, then when you reach a certain figure take it out and say that’s all you’ve got, that will sometimes work.

Not only in Kusadasi great fun during the day, it really comes alive at night. Bar Street, basically a street full of faux Irish bars with names such as Jimmy’s, Paddy’s and Kitty’s, is the most popular area to dance until dawn. Bar Street stays open until around 4am, can be pretty expensive and you’ll hear the same type of music coming from every bar. This is usually where you’ll find half the population of Kusadasi come 1am when the party really gets started. Kaleici, which is the old part of the town, is full of narrow cobbled streets with bars and restaurants scattered around. It has a lot more character than Bar Street and much more choice of venues. There are karaoke bars, gay bars, Turkish bars, rock bars, live music and so on. It’s like a maze, and very easy to get lost in – especially after a few drinks, but isn’t that half the fun?! There is also Ladies Beach, which is like a mini resort in itself which is a nice place to start the night off with a lovely meal overlooking the beach where you can watch the stunning sunset.

For a more expensive night out, there are also beach clubs such as Miracle, Jade, Soho and Hammam. During the Summer months they hold concerts from well known Turkish artists and famous DJ’s. The only real nightclub in Kusadasi, Aura Moonlight, is located opposite the Marina. Kusadasi has a great choice of restaurants that serve cuisines such as; Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Italian and some fabulous fish restaurants near the Marina end of town. Planet Yucca and Saray are the most popular tourist places both located near Kaleici. Their menu’s serve a wide range of food from different countries so there’s something to suit everyone. There’s live music at Planet Yucca, and lots of dancing at the Saray. The Turkish restaurants such as Alo 24, Bul Bul, Esenay, Lezzet Evi and Avlu, are much cheaper if you’re on a budget.

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