Discover the Turkish region of Izmir, a hidden gem for overseas holidaymakers
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“But no naked people there now”, Hikmet continues, to our relief.
In fact, the beach in question is next to an abandoned holiday village and these days is used as a resting point for private boat tours cruising the beautiful bays of Kuşadası on the Aegean coast.
A little while later, we find ourselves bobbing gently in the clear turquoise waters close to the empty beach on a sunny autumn morning.
Our 12-metre-long yacht - The Albatross - is owned by a Turkish couple, Talha and Asiuye Boroglu and run with their family friend, Attila Ozdes.
They moved from Istanbul to Kuşadası to follow their dreams of buying a yacht and living the coastal life. They have just finished their first summer season.
“We are very happy we now get to do what we want to do,” says Asiuye, who previously worked in TV production. “Istanbul was really stressful. This is more calm.”
I decide against a swim in the water, which is around 19 degrees at this time of year, although Jonathan assures me it’s refreshing and there is decent underwater visibility with a snorkel.
The trio offer private day boat trips for up to 12 people and overnight trips for four. Day trips - six hours including lunch and non-alcoholic beverages - cost 400 euros last summer.
Following our trip, a delicious meal of Turkish mezze followed by red snapper overlooking the sunset at seafood restaurant Oksa, near Kuşadası marina, provides the perfect end to the day.
Kuşadası is a popular coastal town on the beautiful Aegean coast and serves as a great base for exploring the rest of the region.
The ancient city of Ephesus - one of the best preserved ancient cities of the world - is 14 miles away.
Here, we explore the spectacular 2,000-year-old ruins of one of the largest and most important cities in the ancient Mediterranean world, which was home to over 200,000 people.
It also contains one of the largest and well-preserved libraries of the Roman world - the library of Celsus - built in 135 AD.
Our guide tells us that Ephesus has ‘the world’s oldest advert’. There’s a carving in one of the ancient streets, which, back in the day, pointed the way to a hidden brothel across the street through an underground passage.
Also nearby is the House of Virgin Mary, the place where the mother of Jesus is said to have spent the last days of her life.
The house was discovered in the nineteenth century following a series of visions by a Roman Catholic nun. Since then the house, near Selcuk, has become a pilgrimage site for Catholics, attracting over a million visitors in the high season every year.
A perfect contrast to the hustle and bustle of the major tourist spots around Kuşadası is Ciy restaurant, which sits high on a hillside with views out to sea and the Greek island of Samos.
The restaurant, which is owned by chef Damla Özay and serves ‘healing Mediterranean cuisine’, occupies a beautiful site, complete with a 600-year-old olive tree in the garden from which the restaurant makes its own olive oil.
However, if you want to escape the foreign tourists and holiday like a Turk on the Aegean coast, then Alaçatı, a town on the Çeşme Peninsula, two hours north of Kuşadası is a true hidden gem.
Known for its beaches, old stone houses with pretty blue painted doors, and a strong winemaking tradition, there is plenty to like in this charming town.
Alaçatı has many boutique hotels and one of them - Gaia Alaçatı - is a simple but stunning retreat, with sustainability at its core - and an incredible Turkish breakfast spread to boot.
The town’s huge Saturday market winds through the streets outside the hotel and the stalls are an impressive place to explore. Unlike markets in foreign tourist hotspots, this one is primarily aimed at locals and we’re able to browse without any pressure to buy. Our guide tells us that the main industry in Alaçatı is tourism and more than 90 per cent of it is local. Stone windmills have been a symbol of Alaçatı for 1,500 years. The town’s four restored windmills were built about 300 years ago.
Further into the town, during a walking tour of its Bougainvillea-lined streets, we visit Alaçatı Pazaryeri Camii - a Greek Orthodox church that was built in 1874 and converted into a mosque during the 1930s after the population of Alaçatı changed. The orientation of the building has changed inside but if you peek behind the curtain at the back of the mosque, you can still see the old altar and Christian symbols. Later, we collectively agree that our lunch at the rustic outdoor eatery Kapari, where I opt for a simple grilled salmon salad and homemade lemonade, is delicious.
Izmir may not be the first place most UK tourists think of when booking a Turkish holiday but the region is mentioned in Forbes Best Places to Travel in 2023 for a reason.
Whether you’re a history and food enthusiast or prefer sunbathing and snorkelling , this region has everything you need.