After five fabulous and busy days soaking up the hustle bustle of Istanbul, we boarded a one hour Turkish Airlines flight to Izmir, in southwestern Turkey. We picked up a rental car at the airport– two notes on that– 1. they deliver rental cars with no gas (probably because gas is soooo expensive here) 2. when you go to fill up at the airport gas station, refill the EZ Pass like card the rental car guy gives you inside with the gas station attendant. You will need it to pass through toll booths on highways. We learned this the hard way as the gentleman did not communicate that to us and there are no humans to take money at toll booths. Thus we had to illegally turn around and drive for half an hour back to a gas station to refill the card, illegally turn around again (there are few places to turn around on Turkish highways!)… Pain in the ass.
After solving that hiccup, we drove on towards Ephesus, “the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean, if not all of Europe” (Lonely Planet). Ephesus was settled and discovered in the 10th century BC! That is mind bending. Ephesus was also the capital of the Roman province of Asia and had over 250,000 inhabitants. What was incredible to us wandering around with guidebook in hand, is how ornate, well built and advanced people were thousands and thousands of years ago. The Terraced Houses (pay additional fee, but don’t miss!) are a great example — seven houses from Roman times are being excavated and restored and are on view. These houses boasted indoor plumbing (hot and cold water!), a myriad of types of marble, frescoes, mosaics and glass windows. The streets made of marble and Temple of Hadrian are also magnificently beautiful and inspiring.
It really made me think about how temporary our own time on the planet is– these incredible and sophisticated civilizations have come and gone for thousands of years. Thousands of years from now, will people be wandering around the ruins of LA or NYC marveling at how we lived? Sorry to get so heady on you there!
A few logistics, it is a million degrees at Ephesus in the summer. Do not wear pants (as I did!), there is no need to be as conservative in your dress in the south of Turkey. Wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat and bring a big bottle of water as there are no services once you are in the site. We had lunch in the town of Selcuk, just a few moments from Ephesus. Not much to see here but we did have delicious tender chicken shish kebabs at Ejder — run by a charming family, they are proud of the food that they make (as they should be) and ask all diners to sign a guest book which is brimming with notes, foreign coins, etc.
Ejder restaurant in Selcuk and me looking heinous but how good does that chicken look? And what a happy coincidence that it came with fries….
Exhausted and certain that we had suffered heat stroke after hours of exploring Ephesus, we drove up the picturesque windy road to the hilltop town of Sirince. Which is adorable. With tiny cobblestone streets, petite shops and cafes, Sirince oozes charm. We easily found our hotel, Gullu Konak by following a sign and asking. And what a little lovely oasis Gullu Konak is!
Set in three old stone houses, Gullu Konak is a delight. With stunning views and grounds teeming with lavender and roses, the property is intimate and restorative. The staff is fantastically charming and professional (minus one guy sitting in reception huffing cigs but didn’t see him too much. Who was that guy?!). Our room was small yet perhaps my favorite room of the trip (and we stayed in 6 hotels, most 5 star!).
I felt like we were at a friend’s weekend house in the South of France smooshed with Napa. For me the stand out rooms on the property are in the Residence building where we stayed. Also, if you’re honeymooning or just after a little more romance and privacy, the Vineyard House sounds divine. Speaking of a similar vibe to wine making areas of France and California, they do make wine in Sirince! Skip the “fruit wines” that are prolific here. The labels alone are enough to scare you straight.
Although we ventured out to a local spot for dinner on our one night here, I think that was a mistake. Not that it wasn’t good, it’s just that our breakfast and lunch at Gullu Konak the next day were exceptional and the property is so lovely, you shouldn’t leave except to wander the town and do a little shopping.
lunch at Gullu Konak is served in this beautiful room with air conditioning! Can imagine a cozy fireside dinner in the winter here too.
Speaking of shopping, ironically in this teeny tiny town is where I found my favorite pieces of jewelry on the whole trip! Demetrius of Ephesus is a jewel box sized shop in the tiny heart of town.
A sign proudly hangs above its entrance proclaiming them as the makers of all the jewelry in the movie “Troy,” which also ironically Napper and I had just watched on the flight over. Terrible movie, but Brad Pitt looks ever so handsome and the jewelry was remarkable, so we wandered in. The owners are friendly without being pushy and I found really unique, beautiful, well made pieces. The sport of bargaining is as alive and well in Sirince as it was in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, too!
treasures at Demetrius of Ephesus
All in all, our one night in Sirince at Gullu Konak was heavenly and a perfect quiet respite after the bright lights of Istanbul. I can’t recommend it enough and wish it was in California so I could go every weekend…
Next week I’ll regale you with tales from three days on a gulet (a traditional Turkish sailing yacht), boutique hotels and St. Tropez inspired fun on the Bodrum Peninsula!