Exploring the Culture and Cuisine of Izmir in Türkiye
Top Places To See Near Izmir Türkiye
If you’re planning a holiday to Türkiye, one place you really need to visit is the coastal area around Izmir. With its wonderful culture and cuisine the city is full of historical and amazing food. Izmir is in fact Türkiye’s third biggest city with a population of over 4.3 million. It’s a real hot spot combing unique natural beauty, ancient history and amazing food. On a recent trip over two days we packed in an exciting itinerary full of adventure, culture and cuisine … and unforgettable memories.
Discovering Culture and Cuisine in Beautiful Izmir
After flying from Zurich to Izmir airport with Turkish Airlines (changing planes in Istanbul) we checked into our centrally located hotel, Hotel Mövenpick in Izmir and went for a walk along the promenade. It was packed with people leisurely chatting and strolling and we watched the fishermen sitting along the dock patiently waiting for their catch to bite.
Even though it was only May, the temperature was pleasantly warm and it was lovely to see how busy and alive it was even until quite late in the evening. It’s also a great place to spot sunsets and we were lucky enough to enjoy some great ones whilst we were there.
Modernity and Tradition in Izmir
Izmir combines modernity and tradition. It’s situated at a point where the Anatolian Peninsula extends into the TurkAegean Sea and is one of the oldest cities in Türkiye. According to legend, it was founded by Queen Smyrna and was previously known as Smyrna. The city dates back to the third millennium BC and was one of the most advanced civilizations in its day.
Today is is known throughout Türkiye as “Beautiful İzmir”, a bustling city with a busy harbour full of yachts, ships, and ferries. Its palm tree lined promenade is popular with tourists and it is famous for its seafood and restaurants serving “TurkAegean” Cuisine. Just behind the city is a landscape rich in history with ruins and monuments dating back to countless ancient civilizations.
Konak Clock Tower Izmir
Izmir itself has some key monuments to visit including the Konak Clock Tower in Konak Square. This 25m high tower is a symbol of İzmir and was built in honour of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II’s 25th year on the throne by İzmir governor Kamil Pasha, Navy Brigadier Said Pasha, and Mayor Eşref Pasha.
With a base of white marble and very intricate stonework, the clock was a gift from the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
Historical Elevator in Izmir
Another important building is the Historical Elevator in Izmir. This elevator tower was built in 1907 and houses two elevators between Mithatpaşa Street and Nihat Bey Street. The tower has 3 floors and during World War I, the lower floor was used as a casino, the middle floor as a photo hall, and the upper floor as a cinema. Today it’s a cafe, bar, and restaurant, offering tourists a unique view over İzmir.
Kemeraltı Bazaar Izmir
Whenever you’re in Türkiye it is always great fun to visit a Bazaar. In Izmir the Kemaraltı Historical Bazaar, with ceramic, wooden, and glass souvenirs, local handicrafts and evil eye beads, silver jewellery, antiques and lots more.
Unfortunately with our packed agenda we didn’t manage to visit Kemaraltı Historical Bazaar on this trip – but it gives me a definite reason to come back to this beautiful town. 🙂
We set off the next morning in our very comfortable minibus to Urla, a coastal city steeped in history.
The city and the surrounding area is well known for its mosques, baths, and caravanserais (roadside inns) which date back to the Ottoman period. As an important coastal city, Urla has been home to a number of different civilizations over the centuries and they have all left their mark on this historical place.
We were lucky to have an excellent guide with us, Serdar Çelenk. Serdar is an expert in Turkish history and has published a number of books. He told us all about the ancient city of Klazomenai and the Bronze Age site of Liman Tepe, where Türkiye’s first underwater excavations took place, revealing so much of the ancient history of this region. It’s not all history though, as this region boasts not only the most beautiful beaches but thermal springs and spas, and excellent cuisine, making it very popular with tourists.
Brunch In Urla
Our first stop was on Saturday morning was brunch in a restaurant outside the main town in Urla. Urla is particularly well known for its gastronomy and we weren’t disappointed.
We enjoyed the most wonderful spread of fresh olives, cheeses, a variety of hummus, freshly cooked eggs as well as other mezze. The food was all fresh and tasty and we ate it outside in the garden, washed down with copious amounts of Turkish tea.
Urla is also famous for the Karası grape and the Urla Wine Route and there are a lot of places where you can experience the wonderful local wines. It is also well known for being the first place in Anatolia to produce olive oil, in the ancient city of Klazomenai. Even today it is an important olive oil producer.
After brunch we went for a walk along the promenade. Everyone was out sitting out in the pavement cafes enjoying a coffee or two, cats were basking in the sun and the views were beautiful.
We found some antique boats in a dockyard and Serdar told us that students from Ankara university are currently examining these historic sail and rowing boats as part of a project to find out more about the history of the region.
Urla International Artichoke Festival
Next stop was the Urla International Artichoke Festival which takes place once every year for three days. There were stalls bursting with artichokes of every shape and size. As you passed by, the artichoke sellers expertly demonstrated their peeling skills.
There were peeled artichokes, cooked artichokes, raw artichokes, vacuum packed artichokes – in fact all manner of artichoke delicacies. The festival also hosted a number of workshops and events, with talks from local and international chefs, academics and manufacturers and even musical recitals and concerts too.
Urla International Artichoke Festival has been held annually since 2015 and if you’re in the area when it next takes place, do make sure to visit.
In addition to the artichokes there were all types of fruit, vegetable, flowers and food specialities on sale too.
Even these pretty little flower crowns!
Köstem Olive Oil Museum
After the hustle and bustle of this lively market it was time to visit the Köstem Olive oil museum. Situated in Urla’s Nohutalan Village, it was founded in 2004 and tells the history of olive oil. Here you can find a replica of the oldest olive oil press in the world and learn all about the history of olive oil making over the centuries.
It was all really fascinating to see these huge machines and learn all about the process of making olive oil.
We also met the owner of the Olive Oil museum, Dr Levent Köstem.
As well as the museum there is an onsite restaurant and a beautiful garden which makes it a great location for families with children to visit.
As well as olive oil (all produced organically) the shop sells lot of other things Turkish delicacies such as pomegranate molasses, organic peanut butter, wine and herbs and gifts too. The online shop is only in Turkish but you can see the variety of items stocked on the shop’s website.
Asma Yapragi Restaurant In Alacati
Next stop was lunch in the idyllic setting of Asma Yapragi Restaurant in Alacati. The beautiful garden is filled with chaises longues, bathtubs filled with flowers, greenhouses you can sit and eat inside, long tables and colourful, cushions and chairs. Everywhere was brimming over with plants and flowers. It’s an Instagramer’s paradise!
Inside the “kitchen” there is a table prepared with a huge selection of freshly prepared mezze from which you can choose. The mezze were mostly vegan or vegetarian and were truly out of this world.
In fact I could have quite happily have eaten simply mezze as there was so much choice and it was all so fresh and delicious. The red pepper hummus is particularly good and is a from a recipe belonging to owner’s aunt.
The main courses were also very good. We had lamb with rice plus minced beef in pasta and veal balls in a yogurt sauce with cinnamon and the setting was idyllic. However, it was the Mezze that stole my heart! 🙂
Before we knew it, it was time to hit the road again.
Next it was time to explore the picturesque village of Alaçatı, about an hour’s drive from İzmir. Thanks to its pristine beaches Alaçatı has become one of Türkiye’s most popular summer destinations. With its beautiful stone houses and cobblestone streets, it is also a great day-trip destination for sightseeing, shopping, and trying the local cuisine. We also managed to indulge in a spot of retail therapy and had a great time wandering around the narrow little streets.
And we met this cute kitty on a bike.
Up in the hills above Alaçatı you can see lots of windmills and it is also a popular place for windsurfing and kitesurfing due to its windy conditions. There is a good beach a couple of kilometers to the south as well many lovely bays along the coast which are only accessible only by boat.
The Alaçati Herb Festival
Alaçati is well known for its gastronomy and very year the village hosts the Alaçatı Herb Festival. So if you’re visiting in April it’s definitely worth going along to!
Visiting Çeşme Near Izmir
Another lovely town to visit is Çeşme. Very popular as a summer resort with the residents of İzmir, it has white-sand beaches stretching along the coastline, with lovely houses, several large hotels, and lots of seafood restaurants.
It is also home to the ÇeşmeCastle 16th-century castle (above) and an ancient caravanserai. The castle also houses a small museum which tells the history of this area and about the Battle of Chesma, a naval battle fought here.
It’s another popular windsurfing spot as well as a popular spa destination. The area is famous for its natural mineral waters which contain high levels of sodium chloride, magnesium sulphate, and calcium bicarbonate. The thermal springs at Ilıca are the most well known and there you can also enjoy underwater massage, electrotherapy and hot mineral pools and baths. As it was the weekend there were lots of people sitting out on the packed restaurant terraces, relaxing and chatting and it’s another good shopping destination with lots of cute little boutiques.
Restaurant Tavaci Recep Usta Izmir
In the evening we went to a great restaurant in Izmir called Tavaci Recep Usta. It’s well known for the quality of its meat and its lamb specialities and is very popular indeed.
It’s a large spacious building where the ceiling is removable so it’s actually open to the elements. After a great selection of starters and salads, (with the most delicious salad dressing made with pomegranate molasses), we enjoyed a vegetarian tartare, roasted lamb with rice and a very tasty veal dish.
Walking back to the hotel along promenade the area was alive with people of all ages dining outside, with table and chairs and picnics on the grassy areas in front of the promenade. Scooters were whizzing by, young people were hanging out in groups, singing or playing the guitar as the street dogs lay around watching and relaxing…. It really felt like the height of Summer even though it was only May.
Selçuk and Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary and Artemis Temple
The next day we headed to Selçuk to see what really were some of the highlights of our trip! Selçuk is where you will find the ruins of Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary and the Temple of Artemis.
You can find out more about these amazing places in a separate blogpost coming soon!
More Information on Visiting Izmir
For more information on Izmir and Türkiye, make sure to visit the GoTürkiye website here.
Do check out the TurkAegean, Coast of Happiness video here too:
We hoped this article has given you some ideas on places to visit in Izmir, Türkiye and inspired you to travel.
For more information on Izmir and the surrounding area please visit the GoTürkiye website here
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