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Turkey’s Aegean Coast

Exploring Spectacular Wonders

The Aegean coast of Turkey, from Marmaris in the south to the opening of the Dardanelles at Canakkale, offers spectacular natural and man-made wonders and an easy introduction to the fascinating culture of modern Turkey. To make it even better, western Turkey is remarkably inexpensive.

Those coming from the Middle East can cross into Turkey’s southern border from Syria. From Israel, take the bus through Syria or boat to Rhodes, one of several Greek islands-- including Kos, Samos, and Lesbos--that offer access by ferry. Greek Cyprus, however, prohibits direct travel to Turkey.

For the first-time traveler to the region, Bodrum, reached from Kos, is an ideal starting point. Roam the crusaders’ Castle of St. Peter, with its comprehensive underwater archaeology museum, and the tomb of King Mausolus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Pansiyons, family-owned guest houses, range from inexpensive to ridiculously cheap. My wife and I have enjoyed clean and comfortable rooms for as little as $10 a night, and even cheaper rooms are widely available. In Bodrum, we stay at spacious and friendly Yenilmez Pansiyon on a back street two blocks off the West Bay.

Large, comfortable Greyhound-style buses connect all cities and most smaller towns. Off the main bus routes, a minibus (sometimes called a “dolmus” in guidebooks, though not by Turks) will take you to almost any town or village on the map. If you want to go somewhere really remote, merely ask around and private cars instantly become taxis.

Long-distance travel on larger buses will cost only about $1-$2 per hour. Minibus charges begin at about 50 cents and rarely cost more than $3-$4. Private cars will cost whatever you bargain for; be sure to settle the fare before riding.

Many Turks speak English and will often approach you to chat. Drivers and passengers alike will do anything to assist you. We have been walked to hotels and helped in innumerable ways over and over again. On our first trip, we learned to trust the kindness of Turks and cross the country free from worry.

If you have a week, you could add Pamukkale and Ephesus to your itinerary and return to Greece by ferry to Samos. Both Pamukkale and Ephesus are easy to reach on main bus routes. Five hours from Bodrum, Pamukkale’s cascading travertine pools and remarkably preserved Roman baths attract hordes of Turkish tourists. I strongly recommend a side trip to little-visited Roman city of Aphrodisias.

Every traveler to Turkey will want to make the pilgrimage to Ephesus--another half-day bus ride north from Pamukkale--for its magnificent paved streets, well-preserved theater, and Biblical associations. Make your base the genuinely Turkish town of Selcuk, where you can splurge (for a couple of dollars extra) by staying in a hotel overlooking a Roman aqueduct and dining on the scrumptious national cuisine with Turks instead of tourists. Staying in Selcuk also means that you can walk to Ephesus along a shaded path past the lone standing column at the Temple of Artemis.

Follow a string of ancient sights all the way from Bodrum north to Canakkale, at the mouth of the Dardanelles. Take a minibus to Didyma and its huge temple to Apollo, once second only to Delphi. Then travel by minibus or hired taxis along the coast to the isolated, ruined cities of Miletus and Priene. Past Ephesus, make the lovely port of Ayvalik an overnight stay and explore its ruggedly scenic peninsula. From Ayvalik, visit nearby Pergamum. The isolated, magnificent citadel of Troy commands a sweeping view of the coast and evokes the spirit of Homer’s great epic. You can visit Troy as a long side trip from Ayvalik. Or go on to Canakkale for the night and explore the World War I battleground of Gallipoli across the Dardanelles the following day.

To continue your journey, take the six-hour bus ride to Istanbul or return to Ayvalik for the ferry crossing to Lesbos.

For More Information

Resources and Contact Information: Lonely Planet’s Turkey, www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/middle_east/turkey, is the most comprehensive and reliable guide, with an extensive section devoted to the Aegean coastal region.

The Turkish Government web site at www.turkey.org provides useful travel and visa information and links to some tourism sites.

For the official U.S. government opinion on the safety of travel in Turkey go to the U.S. State Department’s page at www.state.gov.

The Kurdish separatist movement’s radical PKK has attacked tourists and tourist sights in Eastern Anatolia; however, terrorist incidents have been rare along the western coast. The recent earthquakes caused no damage along the western shore of Turkey and should not interrupt travel plans in the area.