|The ancient city of Ephesus in Izmir Province was once the capital of the Asian state of the Roman Empire.|
When I found out that I’d be traveling to Izmir, Turkey, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Fellow travelers had often regaled me with tales of the beauty and vibrancy of Istanbul, or the magical caves of Cappadocia, but Izmir remained unknown to me—and undiscovered by many—although I doubt it will remain that way for much longer.
“No trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to Izmir. It’s the perfect hub to enjoy the full range of attractions that lure visitors to Turkey—with its spectacular archeological wonders, fantastic seaside restaurants, dynamic nightlife, beautiful beaches and welcoming residents,” says Ebru Ejder, director of the Turkish Culture & Tourist Office of New York.
Because of its location and proximity to Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean, clients who have previously traveled to Greece may feel some familiarity with Izmir’s Mediterranean cuisine, its balmy and temperate climes and the hospitality of its locals.
But Izmir is still very much a destination unto itself. The city, known as Smyrna until 1930, has a history that goes back more than 3,500 years, weaving a tapestry of peoples and cultures, from ancient Greeks and the Roman Empire to the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great and the Ottomans.
Today, the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism has put a grand spotlight on the province of Izmir as the country’s next big tourism draw and a great addition to a trip to Istanbul or Ankara.
“Our government is promoting Izmir in both national and international campaigns to develop its tourism infrastructure,” says Ejder. “There are so many exciting projects such as commercial fairs, large-scale concerts, festivals and other inter-cultural activities planned for the next five years.”
The Ancient and the Modern
Although Izmir is a modern metropolis, visitors can still see influences of its long history in the city itself and its surrounding provincial areas and landmarks. They include the Agora (ancient city square) of Smyrna in the city center and, to the south, the Ancient City of Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis, said to be the first temple constructed out of marble and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
For clients who also wish to experience more of Izmir’s modern treasures, there is plenty to choose from as well, especially when you consider day trips or short stays in some of the province’s laid-back beach towns, such as Cesme and Foca, and the main beachfront boardwalk in the city of Izmir itself.
“I advise [travel agents] to include the archeological and biblical sites in their clients’ itineraries, as well as the nearby towns with their beautiful beaches and nature, such as Kusadasi, Cesme and Bodrum,” says Ejder. I especially loved the quaintness and natural beauty of Cesme, with its rolling vineyards and natural hot springs.
Your clients might also be surprised to learn that the province is home to a number of vineyards that produce some of the country’s best vintages. One vineyard of particular note is Urla Sarapcilik, which is in the process of opening its own boutique accommodations and a professional wine tasting room on its luxurious grounds in the city of Urla.
In Izmir itself, the historical Kemeralti bazaar still functions as a bustling marketplace near Konak Square. Walking through its labyrinthine alleyways and streets will make your clients feel they have traveled back in time, and the shops offer a multitude of bargains as well as beautiful Turkish handicrafts. A stroll along the cobblestone streets that hug the coastline reveals Mediterranean restaurants serving all manner of culinary specialties, including Izmir’s famous meatballs and roasted fish.
Accommodations range from chain hotels to unique historical boutique properties such as the Cesme Kanuni Kervansaray Historical Hotel. For a stay in Izmir itself, I highly recommend the Moevenpick Izmir, which has well-appointed guest rooms with luxury amenities, including Molton Brown toiletries, in a prime location near the city’s waterfront. For clients seeking a beachside resort, the lavish Sheraton Cesme boasts an award-winning hot-springs spa.