Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Izmir: hard to love, hard to leave

Turkey's Aegean coast sure does attract a lot of travellers for a lot of reasons. The apple of the proverbial coast's eye is of course Antalya, stock-full of resorts, beaches, restaurants and nightclubs. Izmir is different though. Many say it's a hard city to love, simply because it's so modern, lacking the historical charm that cities like Istanbul have a lot of.

You may not love it at first, but after a little time you'll start to see why it's such a hard city to leave. This is mostly due to one thing: the city mayor. Mister Ahmet Piriştina effectively scrapped urban developer's plans to build a free way along the coast and instead turned the area into a bustling pedestrian area. He is a man that still believes in the "little people" rather than money.

Local hero: Check
Pedestrian friendly seaside: Check
Old historical centre: "uhh..."

Not so fast on that one. I said the city is modern but there is still hope for finding a trendy and very charming café or tea house in Izmir and that's in Alsancak, the older part of the city that is currently being totally restored back to it's old charm. Actually, it really reminds me of something off of a Greek island and the new restaurants and bars planned to move in should be just the thing this city needs.

Spare a day or two to visit Izmir on your Balkan tour or if you're on your way further down the coast. Here are a few "must-have" experiences that every Izmir visitor should have:

  • Jog/walk/run/loiter along the city's waterfront
  • Take in the views of the Kadifekale castle (yes that's right Izmir has a castle)
  • Shop at the bazaar where you'll find everything from colourful songbirds, wedding dresses, spices, grilled meats, dried fruits and glass lanterns
  • Sip a Turkish coffee after an inevitably exhausting shopping trip
  • Soak in the local luxuries at a hamam, for a few extra Euro you can get a massage as well
  • Dine like the divine at waterfront restaurant or a small family-run place near the bazaar
I'd recommend starting in Izmir and then heading down along the coast towards Antalya and other such places. It'd be a shame to miss this diamond in the ruff, it is after all Turkey's third largest city! You can find flights with Onur Air, take a train or go the slow route... by bus. It's up to you but if you do happen upon Izmir, let me know!

[I'm convinced black and white photography can make any city look good, these all come from Ronn ashore on flickr]