Our Turkey Road Trip Part 2: Aegean Turkey from Kusadasi to Akyaka
After two nights in Kusadasi, and some mightily sweaty sightseeing at Ephesus, it was time to move south. We hired a car out of Izmir Airport for ten days and set off on our drive through Aegean Turkey to Antalya. We would then return inland via Pamukkale, and finish off with two days in Istanbul.
Surprisingly, we headed to deepest non-touristy Aegean Turkey, starting with a village with a sad history.
Our first trip was short and leisurely, just 50km on back roads to Eski Doganbey on the Dilek Peninsula. If you want somewhere with unspoilt nature far away from mainstream tourism in Aegean Turkey, the Dilek peninsula would be an excellent place to stay. Güzelçamlı is the largest (and only) resort here.
I had come across Eski Doganbey by reading about the “Ghost Villages” of the Aegean Turkey, of which Kayaköy is probably the most famous. While Kayaköy is mostly empty and ruined, Eski Doganbey is being revitalised by families returning as well as artisans, and it seemed a somewhat less depressing place to visit.
The background of these abandoned villages is the exodus of Greeks from the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th Century after the First World War and the subsequent Greek-Turkish War. Eski Doganbey is a curious mixture of abandoned semi-ruins and lovingly restored stone houses enveloped in lush greenery in a small valley. The first cafes and quiet pensions have opened.
It was a last-minute diversion which made a really nice change from all these ancient sites. There was not much going on in November, but it is such a beautiful village! Even a small B&B has now opened, and I am happy this beauty is slowly brought back to life.
Another half hour from Eski Doganbey on pretty countryside roads with barely a tractor on the road, but plenty of happening village cafes, the impressive and mostly intact theatre of Miletus came into view. If this sight doesn’t make you turn off the main road, then I don’t know what else does. It was advertising at its best! A minute later we parked next to the only other car, and walked up to the theatre.
It turned out that the theatre was the star attraction here. Otherwise, sun-bleached clusters of stones were all what remained of a once very large and prosperous Greek port city. No, I don’t want to de-emphasize one of the once most important cities of Asia Minor, its great wealth due to its Great Meander port (now long silted), cradle of Greek Naturalistic Philosophic and Scientific perspectives around 600BC. It all ended when the Persians conquered and ransacked it, only to be expelled by The Army of Alexander the Great roughly 300 years later, but its Golden Age had passed.
If you’re a history scholar I am sure this all is really interesting. We gave the theatre a really good viewing then glanced over the somewhat lacklustre rest of it and started thinking about lunch.
But… one more ancient Hellenic site stood in the way of sitting down somewhere cool and stuffing our faces. The site of Late Hellenistic Period Didyma, once we had found it, has myths and modern pageantry. Once we’d found it in a moderately sized village with a heck of a lot of one-way streets.
Here stands the remains of the unfinished monumental Temple of Apollo. It was a huge project – to be grander than the Athenian Parthenon, and started in the 5th Century BC and building went on for centuries. Its oracle was the second most important after Delphi. It allegedly encouraged Emperor Diocletian onto the last wave of persecution of Christians in the 3rd Century AD. Constantine the Great, becoming Emperor just a few years later, quickly put a stop to it and became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity – on his deathbed.
Today, it’s a partially submerged ruin with some mighty columns in the centre of a peaceful village, and I highly recommend a visit. Oh yes, and the much photographed medusa heads await for photo opportunities onde their protective roof. If you are lucky, you can observe some modern Apollo worshippers celebrate there on certain auspicious days.
My husband rejected the scenic but somewhat touristy gastronomic offerings with the Apollo Temple view, and we continued our journey with grumbling stomachs.
After a few kilometres on the long but smooth road to Mugla, we noticed lots of trucks by the road. A truck stop cafe, but not the way we know it. This one had vines, an outside terrace and ladies making gozleme by an outside oven. Nobody spoke any English, but Google Translate did a good job telling the owner that we’re vegetarians, upon which he invited us into the kitchen and lifted the lids on anything meat-free that we could eat. We easily had one of the best meals in Turkey here! Some lentil soup – simple but so full of flavour, accompanied by the crepe-like goezleme filled with cheese and fresh herbs.
We trundled on through very mountainous terrain on a really good motorway and descended upon Akyaka just before nightfall. Akyaka is a very small resort at a river mouth and has mostly holiday rentals and small “boutique” hotels. There are barely any international tourists there. Its probably not one to spend your entire holiday, as it really is quiet, and the beach is not the best, but we loved it as an overnight stop on our road trip.
Map of our Aegean Turkey road trip
Here is a map of our entire trip! We started in Izmir on a Sunday night and returned on a Sunday, so the “big loop” drive took us 8 days. We then added two days of relaxation on Cesme peninsula. Admittedly, it was a bit ambitious, and due to weather, we skipped a beach day and a couple of sites on the coast near Antalya.
Where we stayed
We booked the Kerme Ottoman Palace in Akyaka at a days notice for approximately 32 Euro for a double including breakfast.
It gets mixed reviews. However… for the price, this was an absolute steal. The hotel is new but built in a faux-palatial style, with lots of wood and ornamentation. The common areas were beautiful, and so was our room. Super comfortable beds, everything worked well. We did not have issues with cleanliness although there is the loose tile here and there. The pool was already on winter break in November. It’s about a 10minute walk along a little creek to the centre with its cafes and restaurants.
I use Booking.com for most of my accommodation. At the time of writing, it is impossible to male bookings on this site without a Virtual Private Network. Bookings made outside Turkey are unaffected. On this trip I made a few booking prior to the trip, and some others while already in Turkey. I used a mixture of contacting properties directly, Expedia and Trip.com. All worked well, although Turkish Lira conversion rates by online payments were sometimes really unfavourable.
We flew to Izmir on Pegasus Airlines and rented a car from Sixt. Finding parking isn’t a problem even in a city like Kusadasi, if you are willing to pay a small parking fee. The main reason we hired a car was to gain access to out of the way archaeological sites. And to get to this par tof Turkey, you really need your own transport. We had a few minor issues with our cheap hire. The manual was in Turkish only, car ran out of AdBlue, a tire kept losing pressure slowly. These were minor hiccups that didn’t made us change our trip.
The roads on this section of the trip (and basically all major routes on our road trip) were excellent, with plenty of petrol stations and smaller places for snacks. There are road tolls on small sections of the road, especially around Izmir, but often there is an alternative route. In ten days, we paid approximately 5 Euro in road tolls.
The only thing I really recommend is sticking to driving during daylight hours only, unless you are on a major toll motorway. But even then, drivers without lights are common, and going along the coast or through the mountains, its best and safest to drive during the day.
Where to Eat
Akyaka: This small town has an astonishing number of restaurants, probably due to the influx of Turkish tourists during the summer. It is also somewhat famous for its “balik ekmek”, the humble fish sandwich. With the closeness to the sea, it is guaranteed fresh and served in many places in town. We visited Sandal Balik Ekmek, a simple but super clean place. There are a lot more restaurants in the small village centre than the map suggests.
Other than that… look out for the motorway services and the adjacent independent restaurants. We ate at several simple restaurants and all were excellent.
Internet and SIM Cards in Turkey
We bought a Turkcell SIM Card for your two-week stay. It cost approximately 120 TL (about 20Euro). It included absolute tons of data (I think 10GB) as well as 60 world-wide minutes. You can only buy them in Turkcell shops. You will definitely need a passport to purchase one. They often become invalid after 30 days, so it is worth enquiring in the shop.
We travelled with an older edition of the Lonely Planet Turkey. In retrospect, I wish I had bought the Rough Guide to Turkey, but the current issue is 2016, meaning the content is about five years old. However – if you just need an Istanbul Guide, Rough Guides has an up-to-date Istanbul Guide!
If you want to delve deeper into the history of Asia Minor, there are a few recommended books.
“In the Land of a Thousand Gods” is a rather scholarly but excellent historical review of ancient Asia Minor by a German professor of ancient history. He personally led some expeditions to sites mentioned here, and if you are deeply into historical details, I recommend this one.
An excellent one full of details both historical and technical (hiking), is “On the Lycian Way”. It is for those who literally wish to turn every stone, but it will not cover the sites mentioned here.
To learn about the more recent history of Turkey, I read “Midnight at the Pera Palace”, an account of the s history of the Turkish Republic. It’s not just about Istanbul or the Pera Palace Hotel. it’s a fairly easy read about the foundation of Modern Turkey.
Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in myself or that I have at least visited. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links. In this case, this post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com. This means that I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you book through the affiliate links. More details on my affiliate link policy are here.