Kusadasi is 20km (12 miles) southwest of Selçuk; 95km (59 miles) south of Izmir; 220km (136 miles) west of Pamukkale; 151km (94 miles) north of Bodrum.
Twenty-five years ago, when Kusadasi was discovered by the yachting set, it was a typically unspoiled community of fishermen and farmers, with barely a dirt road running through it. Have times changed. Far from the village that attracted holiday-seekers in the first place, Kusadasi has built itself up into a frenzy of tourism, leaving much of its original character in the wake of cruise ships full of tourists ready to disgorge the contents of their wallets on jewelry and carpets on their way in and out of Ephesus. Unfortunately, the local businessmen are more than willing to oblige.
On the opposite end of Kusadasi’s economic spectrum are the package tourists in from England and middle-class Turks sunning themselves atop concrete hotel blocks in the center of town. The city’s redevelopment of the waterfront certainly was a positive improvement, creating a stretch of sandy beach and seafront promenade. But in spite of the city’s loss of innocence, the fringes of the city limits and beyond boast some of the most splendid coastline around. And if you’re based pool- or beachside, particularly at one of the hotels listed below, or on a day-boat excursion, it really doesn’t matter how overdeveloped the center of town is. If you’re looking for a beach holiday and a convenient jumping-off point for a visit to the surrounding archaeological sights, then Kusadasi may be just the right compromise.
No self-respecting tourist stays in Kusadasi without allotting a day for the ruins of Ephesus. But many people simply don’t leave enough time to explore the other significant sites within easy reach.
The ancient sites of Miletus, Priene, and Didyma are three of the best-preserved Ionian settlements in Anatolia, and worth an entire day of scrambling down steps and over crumbled ruins. For the highest level of independence and flexibility, I recommend that you rent a car; at as low as 68YTL ($50) per day, the cost is actually less than hiring a taxi to do the same circuit. From Kusadasi, follow signs to Söke (where signage seems to have fallen by the wayside; just stay on the main street through to the other side of Söke), then follow the signs to Priene (38km/24 miles from Kusadasi). From Priene, it’s 22km (14 miles) along the old road to Miletus, through miles of cotton fields and sadly downtrodden nomad camps. From Priene, it’s another 22km (14 miles) to Didyma, from where you can either backtrack along the new road to Söke, or continue down to Bodrum (from Didyma, 139km/86 miles; follow the more modern road via Mugla).
Day tours to all three sites are available from most travel agents in Kusadasi for around 54YTL ($40) per person, depending on the tour company.The ancient Greek city of Priene, later inhabited and left relatively unchanged by the Romans, was the first city built on a grid plan. Formerly a port city and now stranded in the middle of acres and acres of cotton fields, Priene was once an important member of the Ionian League, around 300 B.C. The oldest remains here date to this time, and it’s worth the short climb up if only for the Temple of Athena, which sits at the highest point of the city atop Mount Mykale, and a small Greek theater. The temple was built by the architect Pytheos, the same man responsible for the construction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The theater was used for both performances and as a meeting place for the ekklesia — the people’s parliament. Notice the first tier of seating, which is furnished with both bench-backed and “armchair” seating designated for spectators of particular importance. Another section of similar seating, called a prohedria, was added to the center of the fifth tier at a later date.
One of the best-preserved buildings in Priene is the bouleuterion (Senate House), located south of the Greek theater. The bouleuterion is roughly square in shape (21m*20m/69 ft.*66 ft.) with three sides of tiered seating capable of seating a mere 640 people. The building contained both a central altar and an eternal flame. Among the many private houses is one occupying a whole city block, and obviously inhabited by one of the city’s wealthier citizens. The house referred to as the Alexander the Great house is actually named for a small marble statue of Alexander (now in the Berlin Museum) that was found in another part of the city. Priene is open summer only daily 8:30am to 6:30pm; admission is 2YTL ($1.50).
Miletus, still for the most part buried under rubble, is actually larger than Ephesus. In fact, you’ll be driving over half of it on the entry road to the Roman Theatre, one of the noteworthy ruins. Having surrendered to the silting up of four harbors, the city’s fate was much the same as that of Ephesus. In fact, the hill 6.5km (4 miles) to the west of the theater was actually the island of Lade, destroyed by fire by the Persian fleet in 494 B.C.
Miletus gave the alphabet to the classical world and was also the breeding ground for many philosophers and scientists, including Thales, who calculated precisely the arrival of the solar eclipse. The archaeological site is notable for the great Roman Theatre and the Baths of Faustina, while a surprising quantity of remnants from the city’s Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman eras remains for the most part buried or overgrown with bone-dry shrubbery. Several maps and archaeological guides are available to help you walk through the ruins, including those sold at the entrance gate. Miletus is open daily 8:30am to 6:30pm in summer, and until 5:30pm in winter; admission is 2YTL ($1.50).
The Temple of Apollo is really all that’s left of Didyma, but the time spent getting to and from the site is well worth it. Didyma served as a sacred sanctuary under the custody of priests called Branchids, and was connected to Miletus via a marble road, only partially excavated and visible on the opposite side of the modern road. Ongoing excavations by the German Archaeological Institute around this marble road have recently revealed an unidentified but sophisticated complex of structures; in the near future, they hope to post their findings on the organization’s website, www.dainst.de.
The temple, or Didymaion, with columns soaring over 20m (60 ft.) high, was the largest building of its time when it was erected in the 6th century B.C. (Reconstructed in the 3rd c. B.C., the temple was eclipsed in size only by those in Ephesus and Samos.) Though burned and plundered, the temple is still an amazing and inspiring sight, and much of it remains intact. The entrance to the temple is open, revealing the site of the much-revered oracle of Apollo. Don’t overlook the colossal column behind the temple, which consists of layers and layers of massive stone discs supporting each other like so many felled dominoes. Across from the entrance of the temple is the 150-year-old stone Medusa House (tel. 0256/811-0063; www.medusahouse.com; 99YTL-148YTL/$73-$110 double), a nine-room inn where an overnight will allow you an after-hours stroll through the ancient site. For everyone else, Didyma is open summer only, daily from 8am to 6:30pm; admission is 2YTL ($1.50).
Area BeachesAlthough Kusadasi built itself up around the idea of a beach resort, it wasn’t until 2001 that the city took it upon itself to create an actual waterfront and beach. There’s not much sand to speak of, and what little there is, is hardly worth a special trip, especially given the tourist element it attracts.
Still, it’s an improvement and the waterfront promenade makes for a great sunset stroll. Nevertheless, I recommend that you skip this beach and try the new Papaz Hamami Beach Club to the left of the causeway to Güvercin Ada.
The town’s most infamous beach, known by the locals as Ladies’ Beach for the overabundance of exposed boobs, draws more than its fair share of sordid macho types. This narrow stretch of sand is located about 3.5km (2 miles) south of town, easily reachable by any dolmus. A bit more up to speed is the beach at Grand Blue Sky, which is surrounded by such resort amenities as outdoor cafes and watersports facilities.
Adjacent to Blue Sky Water Sports is Aquaventure Diving Center(tel. 0256/612-8330), offering courses at all levels in addition to their boat, cave, and reef dives. Single dives run about 58YTL to 66YTL ($43-$49) plus a modest equipment rental (10% discount if you bring your own equipment). The five-star Korumar, at the rocky north end of Kusadasi, also has a top-flight watersports and activities center. Use of the pool and beach for outside guests costs 8YTL ($6) weekdays and 14YTL ($10) on weekends.
A National Park
Acting as a buffer between the Greek island of Samos less than a mile offshore and the Turkish mainland, Dilek National Park (Dilek Milli Parki; tel. 0256/614-1009), on the Dilek Peninsula, houses a military base as well as a mountainous natural preserve that descends into the sea. A day trip to the quiet isolation of the park’s beaches, where pine trees act as natural shelter for picnickers, is definitely a better alternative to the unexceptional beaches closer to Kusadasi.
To do this, you’ll really need a car to make it worth your while. Although minibus service (1.50YTL/$1) leaves from the otogar every half-hour to take you the 20km (12 miles) to the park (dolmuses also depart regularly from the otogar; cost 1.50YTL/$1), you still have to get to your chosen beach, which can mean up to an additional 9.5km (6 miles). Naturally, the closest beach, IçmelerKöyü, is the most crowded, with its sand and shady stretches located only .8km ( 1/2 mile) from the entrance. There are no public facilities at this beach. Aydinlik Beach and Kavakli Burun are progressively less frequented (5km/3 miles and 7km/4 1/3 miles, respectively, from the entrance), with nothing but pebbles between you and the shoreline. Both of these have toilet and changing facilities, along with basic snack bars. The last beach, a pristine pebble stretch opposite the Greek island of Samos, is Karasu Beach. Freshwater showers are available, as well as toilets and changing rooms. There are snack bars open at each of the beaches during high season. The park opens daily at 8am and closes promptly at 6:30pm. Admission is 1YTL (75¢) per person or 3.50YTL ($2.50) per car including passengers. For a convenient dinner spot on your way back from the park, try Degirmen.