Victoria’s (Turkish) Secrets – VI
The arrival of the stork heralds spring, and on Sundays boys carry their girlfriends’ handbags in Şirince… more fascinating insights into Turkish life on a day out with Victoria Liechti, Client Services Manager at Kusadasi Golf & Spa Resort.
A pretty pass…
A lovely winding drive through hills of terraced vines and fruit orchards brings you from Selçuk town up to the pretty old Greek village of Şirince, a drive of approximately 11km from our resort in Kusadasi. The story goes that freed Greek slaves built the village and named it Cirkince (which means ugly in Turkish) to stop outsiders following them. Following the 1920’s Greek and Turkish population exchange, the true beauty of the village was discovered and its name changed to Şirince – which means pretty!
Park just at the entrance to the village for only 3TL and wander the cobbled village streets. These narrow streets are the domain of the village women who sit outside to sell their handmade wares – everything from lace crochet table cloths and wooden children’s toys, to homemade jams, honey and even chewing gum! Some of the houses are open to be viewed, and as you wend your way through the streets you should find your way to the Orthodox Church in a courtyard, with wishing well and lovely panorama over the whole village.
From here you will see restaurants offering Turkish Village Breakfast, and most of the produce that they serve was made or grown in the village itself. Select one with a fabulous view and sit down to enjoy a table full of delicious fresh and organic produce, whilst overlooking the beautiful greenery and view over the village rooftops.
Courting Turkish style
Fortified by breakfast, you may want to spend more time here. The village is also well known for its olive oil and pomegranate juice, as well as fruit wines and you are likely to be invited inside one of the old Greek stone houses to sample these, sipping the various flavours, and maybe haggling over prices when you can’t resist buying more than one bottle!
Generally Sundays are busy in Şirince with Turks travelling from Izmir or Aydin to enjoy the village atmosphere, boys carry their girlfriends’ handbags and buy them daisy chains to wear as crowns!
If you go there on a Saturday we highly recommend you head back down to Selçuk to the outdoor market, just behind the bus station in the centre of town. Not only do they sell a huge variety of seasonal, locally grown fruits and vegetables, but also cheeses, olives, fresh organic eggs, gifts, textiles, linens, pots and pans – pretty much anything you can think of, including ‘genuine fake’ clothes and bags!
Even if not buying, the sights and sounds of Turkish people doing their weekly shop, the banter and the haggling, with the knocking-down of prices as the day draws on, are all part of the fun of market shopping.
Selçuk is a lovely town in which to stop, one of the most visited touristic destinations due to its closeness to the ancient city of Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary and the Basilica of St John the Apostle.
But the town is not just about visiting historic buildings, it has a charm that grows on you. Due to the number of visitors it has more decent cafes and restaurants than most comparable inland Turkish towns, and lingering at an outside table over tea or coffee is one of the delights of this laid-back town. When doing so, any time during the spring and summer months, it would be impossible not to notice the presence of one of nature’s most iconic birds – the stork.
You may know that storks are believed to bring prosperity and health for that season to those who see them in the air for the first time. You’ll inevitably spot the untidy, voluminous nests all around town, at the top of nearly every telegraph pole, on the crumbling tops of stone and brick-built columns, and on the peaks of the ruins of the aqueducts. These storks return from Africa year after year.
They are said to be the messengers of the beginning and end of the summer, generally arriving during April and leaving by the end of September in the meantime having their babies in Selçuk. Whether standing aloof astride their nests, pushing morsels of food into the gaping beaks of their offspring, or wheeling gracefully against the backdrop of the azure Aegean sky, Selçuk’s storks make for at least as impressive viewing as its most famous historic sites.
Unfortunately the impressive Byzantine Selçuk Turkish era fort, commanding the highest point of the hill, is currently off-limits to visitors, but it makes a great backdrop for photographs of the town’s other major tourist draws.
The Basilica of St John, one of the 12 disciples who tradition has it died here in Selçuk in 100AD, was once one of the greatest religious structures of the Byzantine world before suffering terrible earthquake damage. Built on a cruciform plan by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in mid-6th Century, it was until quite recently little more than foundations and a jumble of tumbled pillars, but now thanks to much renovation you can at least get an impression of what the church looked like in its heyday.
Columns and sections of wall have been rebuilt, as have the tiers of seating built in front of the apse. Devout visitors tend to concentrate on the tomb of St John the Evangelist over which the church is said to have been built. The entrance to the church grounds is through the so-called Persecution Gate. Early visitors believed that the relief carving above the arch showed early Christians being martyred, hence the name. It’s since been shown that the scene is of Odysseus and his warriors scattering a group of maidens on the Greek island of Skyros, to discover the hero Achilles hiding in their midst.
Museum and mosque
A short walk below the Basilica of St John is the must-see Isabey Camii Mosque, built in the late 14th Century and boasting a large twin-domed prayer hall, the roof partially supported by Roman columns recycled from the ruins of Ephesus. Visitors can enter the building without removing shoes as a patch of mosque floor just beyond the door is kept free from carpets.
And finally, even if you have only a passing interest in archaeology, it’s well worth visiting the Ephesus Museum. Its display of three statues of goddess Artemis would once have graced the nearby Temple of Artemis. The exhibit shows the chaste Greek goddess of hunting bizarrely covered with multiple rows of eggs (fertility symbols) and a rash of mythical creatures. There is also a room devoted to the finds from the terraced houses discovered at Ephesus, providing a vivid picture of upper class domestic life in the Roman times. The museum is open April to mid November.
Back to the beach…
After your tour you may like to visit a beach. Heading out of Selçuk, back past Ephesus and towards Kusadasi, you will see the signs for Pamucak beach, at 12km one of the longest in Turkey with beautiful fine golden sand, dunes and long grasses. Cows roam free to graze. You can go for a long walk to the end of the peninsula, join the fishermen in trying your luck to catch dinner, or just sit at one of the small cafes and absorb nature. A hidden undiscovered beach that is rarely busy, even in the middle of summer, despite the 5 large hotels and several camping grounds that are located nearby.
If visiting Selçuk -Pamucak area in January, it is worth noting that the annual camel wrestling championship event takes place near Ephesus, as the event travels around the Aegean coast. This is a traditional Anatolian sport with male camels wrestling each other to the ground over a female in heat, but be reassured that it is more about pomp and ceremony and in no way resembles the blood-sports found in other countries. It is worth going once just to see, especially as the sport is declining due to the cost of keeping the camels just for competition.
On your return journey, the lights of Kusadasi may entice you to the new shopping centre by the yacht marina where there are bistro-style cafes and restaurants offering a relaxing atmosphere, fast-food outlets, bars with tranquil music, and water fountains with coloured lights. If you walk along the palm-tree lined main promenade and head to the Scala Nuova shopping area by the cruise ship Ege Port, you’ll find a Starbucks café next to where the ships dock, or you can sit at Nicci Port Bar with a cold Efes beer rubbing shoulders with passengers from some of the largest cruise ships in the world.
All this before you head back, exhilarated but perhaps a trifle tired, to our beautiful hilltop Kusadasi Golf & Spa Resort, where you can enjoy your nightcap on your own terrace or balcony. Finish your evening appreciating the view to the Greek island of Samos, across the 18-hole golf course, or down over the fertile plains of Soke, which provide sunflowers and cotton in this lush and green corner of the Aegean coastal area of Turkey.